Scripture Meditation

A Bender Byte Moment

By Ron Bender © 2011

Throughout the gospels we see Jesus bringing out deep and profound insights into Old Testament Scriptures. How did he do this? He didn’t come out of the womb reciting Psalms! One of the great mysteries of the incarnation of God in Christ is that he had to learn and grow spiritually (Luke 2:52, Hebrews 5:8) just as we do.

Jesus Meditated on Scripture

Based on how Jesus embodied and taught from the Old Testament Scriptures, especially the Psalms, we know that he spent years meditating on themprobably in the spirit of what is now called “Lectio Divina.”

We have no doubt that Jesus not only studied the Scriptures, but that he also engaged personally and deeply with them, memorizing passages, ruminating on them, and praying through them.  And we can imagine that in his times of solitude and perhaps in group settings also that he read the Scriptures in a quiet, contemplative, and personally reflective way.

Out of Jesus’ profound way of praying the Scriptures blossomed astounding wisdom, compassion, and power.  And the writings of the Apostles in the New Testament demonstrate that they followed the Master’s example by studying and prayerfully absorbing the Old Testament Scriptures and the Gospels.

Learning to Meditate Deeply on God’s Word

Many Christians engage the Bible only with their minds, thinking about what they read and learning what they should believe. But what about the rest of our being? In addition to thoughts, the human person is made up of emotions, will, body, relationships, and soul (Mark 12:30-31). The Word of God needs to work it’s way into all the parts of our personality so that we are formed more and more into the image of Christ.

This is why the Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). For Scripture to interact deeply with our whole self requires that we read it reflectively, prayerfully, and in conversation with others. One way to let God’s Word dwell deeply in us to use the ancient practice of “Lectio Divina,” which is Latin for “Divine Reading.”

Lectio Divina was developed as a formal discipline for Scripture meditation in ancient times by Benedict of Nursia (480 – 547). It has been expanded further over the centuries by monks who follow Saint Benedict’s “Rule,” but it isn’t just for monks! Or Catholics. Anyone can benefit from this disciplined and delightful way of praying a Bible passage.

In Lectio Divina we read and re-read a Scripture passage (a story from the Gospels or a Psalm work especially well) slowly and prayerfully as a means of furthering our intimacy with Jesus and submitting to his kingdom rule in our lives. We approach the living Word of God ready to hear the Lord speak to us, anticipating that the historical and inspired text will be freshly applied by the Holy Spirit to the personal text of our lives today.

The Underlying Lectio Divina Process

The underlying process of Lectio Divina engages the whole person before Christ as it flows through four R’s as we slowly read, silently reflect, prayerfully respond, and simply rest in God’s presence.

Lectio (Listen / Read)

Benedict’s way of reading the Scripture emphasizes listening deeply, “with the ear of our hearts” (Benedict’s Rule, Prologue). There is no hurry in Lectio Divina. Nor is there any intellectual strain to figure out the Scripture’s meaning. We simply wait quietly on the Holy Spirit as we read, listening for the still, small voice of the Lord (1 Kings 19:12) to speak personally to us through his Word. (See below for discussion on the importance of silence in Lectio Divina.)

Meditatio (Meditate / Reflect)

As God speaks to us we reflect on his Word by “ruminating” on it in our minds. We may focus on one phrase or one word at a time. Like the virgin Mary who pondered in her heart the message of Christ’s incarnation (Luke 1:26-38) we gently and slowly repeat the Word to ourselves over and over so that it interacts with and informs our thoughts and feelings, our beliefs and desires. We’re renewing our minds to be transformed in God’s wonderful ways (Romans 12:2).

Oratio (Pray / Respond)

Because God has come to us we can go to him and so we respond to his Word by offering our hearts to him in conversation. We express to our Loving Lord whatever feelings or longings are stirred up in us by the Scripture.  We confess to him a sin, struggle, or hurt.

As we let the Scripture open our heart to God in this way we find that his arms of grace are open wide to embrace us. In his care our deepest selves find the acceptance, comfort, and healing that we long for.

Contemplatio (Contemplate / Rest)

The Lectio Divina process ends with resting quietly in God’s arms. No words are necessary at this point. God’s Word has focused us on Christ’s indwelling presence.  So we simply stay there with Christ in love, joy, and peace. We’re tasting the Lord’s goodness (Psalm 34:8).

Benedictine monks (followers of Benedict) and many other devout Christians have continued the rich spiritual practice of Lectio Divina over the centuries, often modifying the process of how the Word is listened to and responded to.

The Crucial Demeanor

One of the most dangerous things in the world is to study the Bible without submitting to God. Lectio Divina cultivates an attitude of humility and submission to God. You get out of the way and you open yourself to be spoken to and transformed by God. And you find that he brings his life to your life through the Scripture. The disciplined way of reading slowly and prayerfully helps you to listen to the Lord.

Practicing Lectio Divina over time trains us in this demeanor of submission before the Lord which is the key to every aspect of our spiritual life in Christ.

How I Learned to Meditate Deeply on Scripture

I learned to meditate deeply and pray quietly on Scripture from Pastor Jim Friedman.  He didn’t call this “Lectio Divina” – he’d just say, “Let’s open up God’s Word together and listen to what he has to say to us.” Then we’d be quiet together in God’s presence.

When Jim opened his Bible he opened his heart. He’d read the passage deliberately and then he’d listen silently. Then we’d each talk about what we noticed and how the passage interacted with our lives. Then he’d ask me (or someone else when we were in his discipleship group) to read the passage again in a different translation and we’d listen and mediate and share some more.

Finally, we’d talk to God together about his Word and what he was speaking into our personal lives. It was later that I found that this form of meditation has been around for a long time called Lectio Divina.

Group Lectio (Also for Private Meditation)

I have found it especially meaningful to share scriptures with others in groups. I have had the pleasure of leading men with addictions, pastors, and other ministry leaders and church groups. The way that I was mentored by trusted people who instructed me.

A group can be a very rich and deeply personal sharing of souls if the leader knows how to guide the group effectively! It’s important for Group Leaders to learn the process from a spiritual mentor and to use it personally in their own lives before leading other people. As you absorb the quiet spirit and gentle rhythm of Lectio then you can naturally share it with others. (In the spiritual life you can’t very well pass on what you haven’t personally experienced and integrated into your life with God!)Just teaching is not part of the process. True scripture meditation involves a spirtual connection not just one way flow of information.

It takes time for new members in Groups to participate effectively in the purpose and pacing for meanaful rhythm to take place. The conversation in a Lectio Group is different than it is typical in Christian small groups.  Lectio is not a time to analyze the Bible passage or give opinions on what it means like we may do in Bible study. Nor is it appropriate for lengthy sharing of personal needs or giving advice like may be done in some support groups.

Three Readings

One way to do Lectio is for the group to read together through a Bible passage three times.  Each reading is offered by a different member out loud (which is the way the Scriptures have been experienced by most people for most of our history) so that we can literally hear God’s Word ministered to us.

Focus Questions

Each reading is guided by a focus question to help us engage deeply with God’s Word. The leader gives the focus question before each reading of the text.

Typical focus questions are:

1.  1st Reading: Listen to the Holy Spirit minister God’s Word to you. What one word or phrase especially touches your heart?

2.  2nd Reading: Enter the passage. What emotions do you have? What personal struggle or longing in your life today is God speaking into? (Be specific.)

3.  3rd Reading: Receive what Christ has for you today. What is your personal invitation from the Lord? What do you sense God might be saying to you?

Sometimes four readings are done. In that case there is no sharing after the first reading which is used to get acquainted with the whole passage.  And then the three focus questions above can be used for the last three readings.


After the three readings there is a period of silence of about three to seven minutes for further meditation, prayer, and resting in God’s presence. In the quiet we learn to hold our thoughts and feelings in the flow, images, and experience of the Bible passage. We’re following the advice of the ancient spiritual writers: “Let the Word of God descend from your mind down into your heart.” (Our heart is our will, not our feelings; it’s where we make our choices.)

As we quietly marinate in the juices of God’s Word we’re absorbing God’s grace and truth, training our will to attend to his presence, listening to him speak into our lives, and submitting ourselves to be formed in the image of Christ.

In Group Lectio Divina the silence is an opportunity for group members to hold one another before Christ who is actually present in the person of the Holy Spirit.  The group’s quiet concentration on Christ and prayerful attentiveness to what he’s saying through the Bible passage assists individuals in learning to “be still and know” that the Lord is God (Psalm 46:10).

Some group members will struggle with the silence at first. Many of  us in our culture today fill our lives with noise and activity. Being quiet and still in a group our bodies may feel antsy and jittery. Our minds may wander. We may not feel connected to God. It takes mentoring from experienced group members and practice to learn how to use silent prayer to connect deeply with God, your own self, and the others in your group.

Participants may wish to journal their reflections during the silence. This helps with being still and attentive to God. And it provides a record of your meditation and conversation with God that you can refer back to.

Spiritual Conversation

In a Lectio Group the sharing is brief, personal, and prayerful.

  • Brief. Members have three chances to share with their group. In the first round they limit their sharing to literally one word or phrase. In the second turn they may share an emotional struggle in about a sentence or paragraph. Then for the last sharing each member usually has a couple of minutes or more to share.
  • Personal. Listen for the Holy Spirit apply a Scripture passage to your life today. Pay close attention to your experience with the text – how you feel, what personal struggles you become aware of, or what hopes or longings are stirred for you. Then when you are prompted by the leader you may share your experience with your group.
  • Prayerful. All of the Lectio process is meant to be prayerful. The slow reading and re-reading of Scripture, focus questions, silence, brief sharing, and unhurried pacing are each aspects that are designed to help group members be conscious and appreciative of God’s presence.

It’s very special when people share openly with one another what God seems to be saying to them or how things are going in their relationship with Christ.  As members listen to one another they can feed off of the fruit of others’ meditations. Soul talk like this promotes spiritual friendship as members draw closer, not only to one another, but also to Christ in one another!

The Four Rhythms with Four Focus Questions

Leaders of Lectio Groups may use different focus questions for each reading to guide members in listening to God and sharing with one another.

Using the same flow described above, I developed alternative focus questions for Lectio Divina that I have been using in my personal devotions and in the groups I lead. I find that this approach helps give focus on each of the four ancient rhythms of Lectio Divina, using one focus question for each. (Keep in mind though that each of the four aspects of Lectio overlap and flow throughout the whole Lectio process).

I’ve found that these questions are especially helpful for teaching people how to uses Scripture to listen for a personal message from God:

  1. Lectio: Notice the theme of the Bible passage. What title would you give to this text?
  2. Meditatio: Listen to the Holy Spirit minister God’s Word to you. What is the one word or phrase that especially touches your heart?
  3. Oratio: Enter the passage and offer a prayer. What emotions, personal struggle, or longing in your life is stirred by the Scripture? What do you need share with God in prayer? (Be specific.)
  4. Contemplatio: Receive from the Lord. What personal invitation does Christ have for you to receive and rest in? What does God seem to be saying to you from the Bible passage?
Different Focus Questions

Another variation of Lectio Divina that I have used emphasizes what I consider the three-fold purpose of the Christian life (focusing on one for each reading): worship God, grow in Christlikeness, and serve others:

1.  What do you appreciate and admire about God in this passage? (Worship)

2.  How is God inviting you to grow spiritually? (Grow)

3.  What is God calling you to do with him for others? (Serve / Mission)

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