This daily devotional for Lent 2015 could change your life. Really! That is because it brings together the power of prayer and the power of God’s Word in a way that does change lives. In these pages you are invited to a way of praying Scripture that has transformed lives for millennia. Every time people have followed the steps presented in these pages, they have found their faith come alive and their experience of God deepened.
As author of this devotional I claim no originality for this way of praying God’s Word, but am simply passing on a way of engaging God’s Word as old as Scripture itself. Early Christians called this way of praying Scripture, Lectio Divina (pronounced lex-ee-oo dih-vee-nuh), or, “Divine Reading”. The word lectio simply means “reading”. The adjective divina refers both to the ‘divinity’ of God’s Word that is read and to a ‘divinely’ inspired way of reading and praying His Word. Through this ancient way of praying Scripture, the Spirit of God leads in listening to Him and responding to Him, just as He led the psalmists.
Before I learned this way of “Divine Reading” I had approached the Scriptures mostly for information. I looked to God’s Word for principles and precepts by which to live. That was good as far as it went. But now through “Divine Reading” I look to Scripture not just for information, but for transformation. Ancient spiritual writers called Lectio Divina, this way of praying Scripture, “letting the Word of God descend from your mind down into your heart.”
Lectio Divina is based on the way the ancient Hebrews and first Christians engaged Scripture. It recognizes that any vital and growing relationship depends on active listening and talking. And the more intimate the relationship, the more active listening and talking there will necessarily be. So if we really want an intimate, growing relationship with God, we will actively pursue listening and responding to Him. I think you will find Lectio Divina to do just that.
THE STEPS OF LECTIO DIVINA, OR PRAYING SCRIPTURE
Lectio Divina is a process consisting of the following four steps:
- READ a short Bible passage (in this devotional it will be from the Psalms) as if for the very first time. Read the words with fresh eyes, slowly and prayerfully, listening for God. Now read the passage again, and at least one more time. We have been programmed to read quickly and master material, but this kind of reading is different. In this you are reading slowly, steeping yourself in God’s Word. You are marinating in the juices of His grace and love. As you read the text, listen for a word or phrase that jumps out at you or speaks to your condition.
- REFLECT on the word or phrase that grabbed you, that stirred something within you. Savor those words, turning them over and over in your mind. Meditate on them and ponder them. For instance, you might be reading Psalm 23, which begins: “The LORD is my shepherd.” As you read you might be drawn to what it would mean to have a shepherd. What would it mean for a shepherd to guide you? To care for you? Pay attention to the feelings and thoughts that move within you. Do not hurry what is happening here. Give God’s Spirit time to lead you through the words.
- RESPOND to God by talking with Him about what you have read and pondered. What do you want to say to God about what His words have stirred within you? As God’s Word touches you it may call for praise, complaint, thanksgiving, petition, confession, question, etc. You respond to God as honestly as you can, presenting your feelings and thoughts to Him just as they are, and not as you think they ought to be.
- REST now in God’s presence for a few moments, sitting comfortably and relaxed with Him. You might think of this step as two lovers sitting in silence enjoying one another’s presence. There isn’t a need to say or do a thing! Just be aware of God’s presence with you and all around you. “Be still,” the Lord invites through the psalmist, “and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). The old monks called this “lap time with God”.
Complete your time by praying the Lord’s Prayer, or your own prayer of thanks for God and His Word.
- RECORD I am adding an optional fifth step of RECORD to the four steps of Lectio Divina. This is because many people find it helpful to RECORD, to write in a journal or notebook how they experienced God as they prayed with the psalmists. The RECORD might include one or more of the following:
- I sensed God saying to me…
- I experienced God as…
- The emotions that stirred within were…
- The text prompts me to pray…
- Feel free to record anything else…
PRAYING WITH THE PSALMISTS DURING LENT
The Book of Psalms is probably the best place to begin praying Scripture. Eugene Peterson points to the Book of Psalms as the place where Christians have usually begun to pray:
Most Christians for most of the Christian centuries have learned to pray by praying the Psalms. The Hebrews, with several centuries of a head start of us in matters of prayer and worship, provided us with this prayer book that gives us a language adequate for responding to the God who speaks to us. (Introduction, The Message)
There was a time when Christians prayed the Psalms every day. By praying the Psalms at home and at church they learned the language of prayer and experienced the transforming power of God’s Word.
By making the Book of Psalms their prayer book, Christians were actually following Jesus who made the Psalms His prayer book. A quick reading of the Gospels will show that Jesus had immersed Himself in the Psalms. He likely had learned at His mother’s knee how to pray with the psalmists. We see Jesus in His humanity relying on the Psalms for wisdom, encouragement, and guidance. The Psalms clearly shaped how Jesus prayed and the way He lived (e.g. Matthew 27:46 and Psalm 22:1; Luke 23:46 and Psalm 31:5). He often read Himself into the experiences of the psalmists, as you will be encouraged to do in this devotional.
It was by Jesus’ example that early Christians learned how to pray the Psalms and put themselves into the psalmists’ shoes. For instance, when the first Christians were arrested and ordered to never speak in the name of Jesus, they called a prayer meeting and prayed Psalm 2 (Acts 4:1-31). By doing this they gained insight into what God was doing in the world and how they should respond.
The Apostles frequently quoted psalms and prayed them. They encouraged believers to recite psalms (Colossians 3:16), and to speak to one another with psalms (Ephesians 5:19). Eugene Peterson cautions:
If we dismiss the Psalms, preferring a more up-to-date and less demanding school of prayer, we will not be without grace, but we will miss the center where Christ worked in his praying. (Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer)
Twentieth century theologian, pastor, and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, prayed the Psalms every day and taught his underground seminary students to do the same. Bonhoeffer called the Book of Psalms “the great school of prayer”, and in his book, The Prayer Book of the Bible, assured: “Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian Church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.”
Saint Athanasius (A. D. 296-373) was one of the first theologians to write extensively on the Psalms. He taught that by praying the Psalms people not only express themselves, but the Psalms, in turn, impress people by shaping their lives. I am confident that praying with the psalmists every day during Lent will impress you!
AN OVERVIEW OF PRAYING WITH THE PSALMISTS
This daily devotional is written to encourage and assist you in praying with the psalmists so that you might live in a growing awareness of God’s presence in your life. You will find 47 psalm passages with brief contextual and interpretive notes. Hopefully the notes will help get you started each day as you READ, REFLECT, RESPOND, and REST (optional: RECORD) in God’s Word.
Out of 150 psalms in the Book of Psalms, why were these 47 chosen? I simply looked at my Bible for psalm passages that I had marked, underlined, and returned to many times for encouragement and guidance. I thought they might do the same for you.
People often ask how much time is needed each day for praying with the psalmists. To get started, why not try in fifteen minutes to read the brief explanation, then using the four R’s of Reading, Reflecting, Responding and Resting. Why not take up the psalmist’s challenge: “O taste and see that the LORD is good”? (Psalm 34:8)
A GROUP GUIDE:
Using Lectio Divina
Jesus said that only two things survive this world: people and God’s Word. What better use of our time then, than meeting with others around God’s Word! Many people are discovering group Lectio Divina as a wonderful way of doing that. Group Lectio Divina is growing rapidly in popularity in churches and small groups around the world. Throughout the early centuries of the church copies of the Bible were rare thus a form of group Lectio Divina was practiced as people gathered in small groups to read, mediate and pray God’s Word. They believed Jesus’ promise that “where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20).
In addition to individually praying with the psalmists you might enjoy getting together with others in group Lectio Divina. You might find that it will as well deepen your own praying with the psalmists. It can be quite helpful and encouraging to discover what other people sense God’s Spirit saying to them through a psalm text.
This form of group Lectio Divina and praying the psalms works best in a group of four to eight people. You will need a facilitator, not to teach, but to lead the individuals through the steps found below.
For group Lectio Divina the same steps are followed as when doing it alone, although in a slightly different order. But in a group you will add the step of RELATE. This provides time for each member to “relate” or share with the group the fruit of his or her Lectio Divina. There are planned moments of silence that you will find important for the process. The suggested time for a group to pray with the psalmist(s) is one hour. Here’s what the hour of group praying looks like:
- OPENING PRAYER – Ask God ‘s Spirit to speak through His Word
- READ: SLOW READING OF TEXT ALOUD – Listen for a word or phrase that especially touches you, or speaks to your condition.
- SECOND READING OF TEXT ALOUD (Different reader) – Pay attention to the emotions the text stirs in you.
- THIRD READING OF TEXT ALOUD (Different reader)
- REFLECT: Each person mulls over a word or phrase that speaks to you. What do you sense God’s Spirit speaking personally to you in the text?
- RESPOND: On the basis of your reflection, what do you want to say to God?
- RECORD (optional): Write down how God is present to you in praying the text. If the group chooses not to RECORD then proceed to the next step.
- (At the end of the RESPOND or RECORD time the facilitator brings the individual members’ attention together again as a group.)
- RELATE: Each person shares his or her experience of God’s Word with the others, i.e. what they sense God saying to them in the psalm text. Each sharing is to be brief, personal, and prayerful.
- REST: Simply rest in the presence of God, sinking into His love.
- CLOSING PRAYER: Express gratitude for God’s presence and His Word.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer. People are often wonderfully surprised by what God’s Spirit will do as they gather with a few others trusting Him to speak His Word to them. God’s blessing on you as you listen to Him!