Savoring God's Voice In Scripture
Scripture is better savored slowly than swallowed on the go.
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I don’t know about you, but I try not to eat in my car as much as possible. For one thing it’s dangerous and easy to get distracted. But I also don’t like that no matter how careful I attempt to be, I inevitably get out of the car covered in whatever I was eating. But more than anything, eating in the car causes me to house my food even more quickly than normal. Maybe my subconscious believes the faster I eat, the cleaner I’ll be at the end. Even if that’s the case, I have a large body of evidence suggesting that it’s inaccurate. So for all these reasons, I try not to eat in the car.
Unfortunately, there are a few times each month I find myself in that very predicament. I often have a standing weekly meeting right in the middle of lunchtime. As a result, I tend to grab a sandwich to hoover on the way. Every time is the same. I unwrap it prior to driving. I get safely on the road, take a bite and next thing I know, I’m covered in the remnants, but is sandwich itself, is no where to be found. I may have eaten it, but I certainly have not enjoyed it.
Now, the way I eat in the car, is entirely different than the way I just enjoyed my beautiful wife’s Thanksgiving meal. Tami is an exceptional and hardworking home cook. Of all the spectacular meals she’s makes us throughout the year, Thanksgiving may just be her crown jewel. Every bit is crafted from scratch and made with care. And it shows. Every bite is perfection. As a result, I fight the urge to put it away like a dog eating table scraps and instead try to mindfully savor each bite. I don’t want to just eat it, I want to also enjoy it. Furthermore, it deserves far more enjoyment than a stale sandwich an apathetic teenager slapped together while irritated I had the audacity to interrupt their day by paying them to do the job for which they were hired. My mediocre sandwich can be swallowed on the go, but my wife’s cooking deserves to be savored.
Now I share all this in more detail than is probably necessary because I want to illustrate an important reality about recognizing God’s voice in Scripture. The Bible is the chief means the Holy Spirit has given us to hear Him speak. Think about this: God so longs for us to hear His heart and know His character, that He went to the work of having it all written down. The problem is, many of us consume Scripture the way I consume a sandwich in the car - in a hurry that allows no space for true enjoyment. So here’s my big idea:
Scripture is better savored than simply swallowed on the go.
Understand, I think it’s important to be efficient with the time God gives us. I’m always looking for ways to better accomplish more in less time. But when it comes to listening to God in His Word, efficiency doesn’t mean getting through whatever we’re reading as quickly as possible. It means gleaning from it everything the Spirit wants us to hear. So the question is, how do we slow down and savor Scripture in a way that invites the Holy Spirit to speak through it?
The practice I’ve found to be most fruitful is Lectio Divina (Latin for “Divine Reading”). Lectio Divina is a way of savoring Scripture popularized by Christian monastics. It mixes reading, meditation and prayer. It helps us move from merely reading to gather information, to savoring Scripture in a way that transforms us from the inside out. There are a multitude of ways to approach this way of reading, but let me walk you through how I do:
1. Position yourself to listen.
Listening demands that we be quiet. If you’ve ever tried to communicate with someone who isn’t present, or continually interrupts you, then you’re acquainted with the frustration of not being truly listened to. Getting quiet enough to listen to God’s voice not only means quieting our outer surroundings (which is relatively easy to do), but also quieting the noise inside of us (which is far more difficult). Our thoughts run wild, uncomfortable emotions and memories surface, and for some reason we’re immediately aware of all the tasks we need to accomplish. Positioning ourselves to listen invites us into a few minutes of silence where we bring intention to our breathing and offer God the simple prayer, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.
2. Choose a digestible number of verses.
There can be great value in reading large sums of Scripture at once. Savoring a specific word from the Spirit typically isn’t one of them. So if you’re going to experiment with Lectio Divina, my recommendation is to choose somewhere in the rage of 2-4 verses to read four times slowly, allowing for silence, contemplation, and response between each reading. If you’re not sure where to begin, the Psalms make for a great starting point. Read a Psalm a day and then narrow down 2-4 verses to use as your Lectio.
3. Read the verses once, allowing the words to wash over your heart and mind.
Think of this as simply holding the words in your heart. You’re just getting a sense of what God is saying. You aren’t trying to parse them out, or dissect them. You simply want to hold them and soak them in as best you can. So after you’ve slowly read these verses the first time, just hold them in the silence for a few moments.
4. Read the verses a second time, asking the Holy Spirit to draw your attention to a word, phrase, or image.
I rarely read a verse in which I could not glean a great many things. But the reality is, we can’t absorb everything any text says in one sitting. That’s one of the amazing realities of Scripture. As a result, we ask the Spirit to direct our attention to one thing. There may be even just one word that we need to hear. Maybe there’s a phrase the Spirit wants to lock away in our hearts in a new and fresh way. Maybe there is an image in the text God knows we need to pay attention to. As we sit in the silence after the second reading, this is what we’re listening for: a word, phrase, or image.
5. Read the verses a third time, asking the Holy Spirit what He’s inviting you to.
It could be something He’s inviting you to believe as true. It could be something He’s inviting you to do, a specific action to take. Maybe it’s something He wants you to see of Him, of yourself, the people around you, or the world as a whole. We’re not looking for an invite for someone else. We want to discern what the Spirit is inviting us to in this time.
6. Read the verses a fourth time and respond to all God has said to you.
Pay attention to what comes up in you as you hear the Spirit’s invitation. Is it resonance, or resistance? Is there fear, doubt, or insecurity? Maybe joy, or hurt? This isn’t about judging what comes up, just noticing it, so that you can talk to Him about it. What matters is that we live in the open with God by bringing everything inside of us to Him. So respond with honesty and openness. Ask for His grace to say “yes” to whatever it is that you’ve been invited. This is where the conversation goes two ways. He speaks and we respond.
Now what you probably notice is that it’s virtually impossible to do this on the fly. It need not take you an hour, but it does require time, intention and space. And that’s the point! If we want to learn to better recognize God’s voice, we have to embrace the fact that Scripture is better savored than simply swallowed on the go. So carve out at least 10-15 minutes, position yourself to listen, choose a text, and savor all the Spirit wants to say to you.