The issue is not just what we read, but how we read it. Spiritual reading is reading with an inner attentiveness to the movement of God’s Spirit in our outer and inner lives. With that attentiveness, we will allow God to read us and to explain to us what we are truly about.
We can read Scripture in a way that strengthens our adoption by making us dependent not on our information download but on the living whisper of God’s Spirit. In the space remaining, I’d like to suggest a practical way of coming to Scripture that can be practiced daily upon the foundation of The Slow Life.
The Short Read of Scripture: Reading for Awareness
First of all, though I’m knocking Scripture-reading if it’s only about information download, I’m not knocking the long, slow, studied reading of Scripture. Far from it; the long read of Scripture is critical, and information is a good thing. Scripture only becomes corrupted when we rely on it in an unhealthy way. Most idols, by the way, function in the same manner: they are good things that, in the words of Tim Keller, we wrongly make into an “ultimate thing.” As disciples, it’s important that we know and study each act of Scripture, as Jesus did, discovering how the Spirit speaks through each phase of the story. Without Biblical literacy, we can become too dependent on our limited, subjective reading of Scripture. Without study and context, we will no doubt misread what Scripture actually says. So reading many chapters and studying with commentaries is urgent work. At the same time, the long read without what I’ll call “the short read” can be shortsighted and even damaging. As with most everything, it’s all about balance.
When I say “short read,” I mean engaging a short passage of Scripture to hear and discern the whisper of God’s Spirit through it.
When we read Scripture, do we allow it, as Nouwen said, to read us? Do we allow it to go through us and cut us, to provoke, challenge, and comfort us? The writer of Hebrews says, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” Do we allow Scripture to cut us accordingly? How might we read in a way that opens us to the voice of the Holy Spirit? As with food, it’s not just what you consume, it’s what your body can process; after all, we know that many vitamins pass through our body without actually nourishing us. So we must develop practices that can help us receive and process the words of Scripture until it becomes the Word of God within us.
As an example, here is a simple practice for allowing the Scripture to become the Word of God for us:
A Simple ‘Short-Read’ Practice
Choose a passage of Scripture that is anywhere from about 5-15 verses. You can choose any passage, though I wouldn’t start with a genealogy or the Levitical Code. Contrary to popular teaching, while all Scripture is inspired and useful, it’s not all equalfor instruction.
For this exercise, you will read through the passage three times.
The first time, read slowly, but without stopping. After the last verse, pause and breathe deeply as you reflect on the passage. What do you notice in your mind? In your body?
Read again, more slowly. This time, notice words or phrases that strike you. Don’t judge or critique or analyze; just notice. After reading, pause and breathe. Let your body rest. Notice if you are becoming aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit. You may feel a warmth in your body or a quieting of your mind. You may experience yourmind jumping here and there, struggling to focus. Notice and then attend to what you notice. In other words, don’t judge yourself or the experience; just be in it.
Read a third time, and this time, listen for the voice of the Spirit speaking to you through the text. What do you hear Jesus speaking? See if you can hear the whisper that says, “I am with you; I am here; You are mine.” Again, pause and breathe. Finally, pray in response to the Scripture. Your prayer may be as simple as “help me, Jesus” or “show me how you are with me,” or “help me to love as you love.” Try to put some simple words to whatever longing rises up in you.
As you practice a slow reading of Scripture daily and weekly, according to the exercise above or some other manner, you will become more comfortable being in the tension of reading and listening. You will begin to notice themes that emerge. Over time, you will learn how you become aware of and hear the Spirit of Jesus through the text.
When the Holy Spirit highlights something for you, make a note of it. If you don’t know what I mean, just keep practicing reading the Scripture; God will be faithful to teach you when and how He’s speaking and how you best hear. When a word or phrase becomes “sticky,” let yourself be stuck there.
On a related note, make a note of anchors that God may give you. Sometimes the Holy Spirit will highlight verses or phrases that are significant for us to cling to, even if we don’t even know why they are so captivating to us (although many times, we will know immediately).
For example, I was reading the Psalms in North Carolina one summer, once again battling a deep depression, andthe phrase “You [God] have exalted my horn,” absolutely leapt off the page and punched me. You know, metaphorically, and in a good way. I nearly started weeping, even though I didn’t know what a horn was or why it would be exalted. When I got back to my computer later, I looked it up in order to understand the context. But I already understood enough to know that God was saying, “I am with you, I have not forgotten you.” The Spirit was speaking to me on a level deeper than my conscious comprehension. I’ve never forgotten that moment.
We don’t just need to know about God, we need to experienceGod. Sometimes people look at experience as though it’s not trustworthy because it’s subjective, as though it would be better to just rely on information about the Bible. But when you read the Bible, guess what? It’s about people who had experiences of God! We don’t exalt our experience above Scripture, but at the same time, Scripture reading without experience of the character of God will invariably become idolatry. God experience and God encounter is what helps us read Scripture rightly.
A Prayer for Coming to the Scripture
With all this in mind, here is a prayer that can help ground you as you come to Scripture.
Jesus, as I come to Scripture, I confess how easily my thoughts become confused. Sometimes I take my thoughts about you as the entire story of who you are, as if they could contain you. Or I believe my dark thoughts of doubt and suspicion and cling to them instead of you.
Lord, as I read, interrupt me, still me, quiet me, and comfort me. Challenge me with the reality of your goodness. Let the words in Scripture point me to who you are and to what you’re doing. And let me be like you, Jesus, you who found your story in Scripture.
In seeing you, I am transformed. In hearing you, I am changed. So open my eyes and ears to behold and hear, through these words you have given me.
Through Christ my Lord, Amen.
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