Encouragement From The Word

Reading for Formation

This Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I am beginning a series called, “How Do I…?” in which I will spend some time on practical tips for some of the basic disciplines of following Jesus that not everybody fully grasps.  This week, the discipline is prayer.’

One of the points I’ll make is that prayer is not only talking to God, but listening to God as well.  The primary way we hear from God is from his Word, the Bible.  We can read the Bible for information – to learn something – or for formation – to be shaped in the image of Jesus.  Each is valuable, and each has its place.  But too often, we focus on reading the Bible for information; rarely do we read the Bible to be formed.

An example of reading the Bible for formation comes in the ancient practice of holy reading, what the ancients called lectio divina.  It’s a practice whereby we read a short passage of Scripture four times, with each time having an emphasis:

Read:  what word or phrase stands out for you?

Reflect:  how does the passage impact you?

Respond:  talk to God about your reaction.

Rest:  embrace God’s thoughts for you as a result of your experience.

Let me suggest that you try that for a few moments, using the passage below.  Let the Lord speak; don’t worry about the meaning of any part of the passage in this exercise.  See if God has a word for you in this part of the Bible.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 5.14-16, NLT)

Read.  Reflect.  Respond.  Rest.

God is in charge.

Encouragement From The Word

How great is our God!

Spend a few moments reading, and re-reading, Psalm 29 (NLT).  Then, use it as a jumping-off-point for prayer as you consider the characteristics of God that it gives us.  How great is our God!

Honor the Lord, you heavenly beings;
    honor the Lord for his glory and strength.
Honor the Lord for the glory of his name.
    Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea.
    The God of glory thunders.
    The Lord thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars;
    the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
    he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
    with bolts of lightning.
The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks
    and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”

The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
    The Lord reigns as king forever.
The Lord gives his people strength.
    The Lord blesses them with peace.

Encouragement From The Word

Holy reading

Today, I encourage you to spend a few moments meditating on God’s Word.  The word “meditate” has been hijacked in contemporary society, and sometimes, Christians are afraid to use the word for fear that they are practising some sort of eastern religious act.  Not so!  Meditation has been part of church life since the earliest days of the Christian faith.  One of the ways we practise meditation on the Word of God is through holy reading, what the ancients called lectio divina.  In this practice, we read a passage of Scripture to get familiar with it; we pause, and then we read it again to discern a word or phrase from the passage that the Lord may be highlighting for us; again we pause, and read it a third time, taking time to hold that word or phrase before the Lord to know why he has highlighted it for us; and finally, we read it a fourth time and rest in God’s care and provision, thinking prayerfully about how we might respond to what the Lord has said to us through his Word.

Try it with this passage:

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.
    O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
    I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom;
    I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place.
Others were given in exchange for you.
    I traded their lives for yours
because you are precious to me.
    You are honored, and I love you.  (Isaiah 43.1-4, NLT)

How did the Lord speak to you through this passage?  How can you respond?

Encouragement From The Word

Listen to my cry

Read these verses over a few times.  What is the Lord saying to you through them?

O Lord, hear me as I pray;
    pay attention to my groaning.
Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
    for I pray to no one but you.
Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
    Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.

Psalm 5.1-3

God’s best for your weekend.

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

How majestic!

Today, just take a few minutes and let the Word encourage you itself.  Read this a couple of times, slowly, letting the text wash over you.  Ask the Lord to highlight a word or phrase that may be pertinent to you.

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!

Your glory is higher than the heavens.

You have taught children and infants

to tell of your strength,

silencing your enemies

and all who oppose you.

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—

the moon and the stars you set in place—

what are mere mortals that you should think about them,

human beings that you should care for them?

Yet you made them only a little lower than God

and crowned them with glory and honor.

You gave them charge of everything you made,

putting all things under their authority—

the flocks and the herds

and all the wild animals,

the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,

and everything that swims the ocean currents.

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!  (Psalm 8, NLT)

So what word or phrase jumped out for you?  How will you bring that to life today?

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

God speaks to us

When we want to experience God in prayer, we often think of talking to God.  But what about listening to God?  In a personal relationship with the Lord, it’s like any other relationship, in that there is dialogue.  But how does God speak to us?  Through Scripture.  How can we read Scripture so that, through it, God speaks to us?

This message is inspired by John 10.22-30, particularly verse 27:  “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

In this message, we also engaged in the practice of lectio divina with Isaiah 43.1-4.  Have a listen!

Encouragement From The Word

God’s Love Letter

How do you read the Bible?  By that I mean, do you read it to gain information, or do you read it to hear God speak to you?

These two are by no means mutually exclusive; I love it when, in my reading the Bible in preparation to preach, for example, God also takes the passage and speaks to my heart.

Most of the time, we tend to read Scripture to “get something out of it”, like the consumers the world has shaped us to be.  Too often, though, our desire to get something out of it comes with an agenda.

What if we could read the Bible, and let God set the agenda?

Think of the Bible not as a newspaper to be scoured, only to line a bird cage later; think of it as a love letter from God.  We read love letters differently than we read newspapers.  There is more interest; there is deeper engagement.

There is an ancient practice in the Christian tradition that in Latin is called lectio divina; in English we just call it ‘holy reading’.  Once we prepare ourselves with silence and peace, there are five movements in the process of holy reading (thanks to Ruth Haley Barton for the alliteration):

  • Read.  Read the passage you’ve chosen slowly, allowing the words to sink in.  Perhaps a word or phrase may jump out at you; take note of it, and after theimages-1 passage is finished, keep a few minutes’ silence to pray over that word or phrase.
  • Reflect.  Read the passage once again, and keep silence to ask how that word or phrase you identified speaks into your life right now.
  • Respond.  Read the passage yet again, and in silence, respond to your reflection; pray with and over your word or phrase, to let God know your feelings about it.
  • Rest.  Read the passage a final time, and use your time in silence to rest in the Lord.  Soak in his presence, and be open to how God may move.
  • Resolve.  This final step encourages you to live out the experience you have just had, letting that word or phrase stay with you for the day or the week or however long God may want it to stay with you.  Let it live in you as you let the Holy Spirit live God’s life in and through you.

This process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours if you want it to.  Give it a try; read the Bible like a love letter from the One who loves you unlike anyone else can.

“…you are precious to me.  You are honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43.4b, NLT).