“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
Recently, Bruce Wesley kicked off the new year by challenging Clear Creek Community Church to “Seize an opportunity in the New Year… [to] do something simple in your relationship with God.”
As I think about the simple things I’ve done to grow in my relationship with the Lord over the years, I think back to times someone challenged me to journal as I read Scripture. That was a simple practice I adopted and God drew near to me through it.
Or, I think about our 40 Days of Prayer and Fasting, following simple prompts to draw near to God on a daily basis.
But there has been one practice I’ve embraced over the last year where I made an intentional effort to draw near to God. As a result, I can attest that God has drawn near to me.
So, if you’re looking for a simple way to draw near to God, I want to encourage you to seize this opportunity with me in 2023.
The practice is called lectio divina. That’s a Latin phrase that simply translates to “divine reading.” It’s reading or listening to the Bible with an acknowledgment of God’s presence with you. This kind of devotional reading aims at growing intimacy with the Lord, more than gathering information about him.
This isn’t Bible study, it’s divine reading.
If you think about the first 1,500 years of church history, a majority of the known world was considered illiterate, and many who could read didn’t have their own copy of the scriptures to read. So instead, these saints of old would gather for a time of lectio divina. They would listen to the Bible read with the desire to be with God and hear from God. And perhaps, a brief and memorable word would become their daily bread, something that would encourage them throughout the day or week until they could come back to God’s word again.
What would it look like to approach reading the Bible that way in the new year?
Well, lectio divina is traditionally made up of five movements. I try to incorporate these five movements in daily devotional time with the Lord. It usually takes about 30 minutes each morning.
1. Silencio — Quietly prepare your heart
Personally, I try and begin by spending five minutes in silent prayer, simply asking God to meet with me, slowing down, relaxing my breathing, and intentionally acknowledging God’s presence with me. St. Ignatius of Loyola suggests beginning this time of prayer by standing in front of the chair you’re about to sit in and imagining God has already been waiting to meet you there.
2. Lectio — Read the word
Read Scripture slowly, perhaps even out loud, lingering over words as the Holy Spirit leads. As you are encouraged or convicted, or something catches your attention, don’t rush past it. Stop. Consider what God might want to say to you in that moment. My rhythm is choosing a Bible reading plan where I read a chapter a day of either the Old Testament or New Testament plus a daily Psalm. The psalms are the “prayer book of the Bible,” so I begin there allowing the psalm to guide my worship and devotion. It’s no coincidence that often the psalm for that day divinely expresses some emotion or thought I’ve been trying to express to God. Acknowledge God’s forethought in bringing you to whatever text you read that day.
3. Meditatio — Meditate
Consider reading through the selected text a second time, savoring the words. Think about Christian meditation as ruminating and gnawing. Ruminate like a cow chewing its cud, turning it over again and again for the purpose of fully digesting it. Gnaw on the scriptures like a dog gnaws on a bone to get as much meat and flavor as possible. Meditating is another practice that slows me down. Instead of rushing through a time of reading the Bible, I stop, write down certain words or verses that God brings to mind, and then prayerfully meditate on them.
4. Oratio — Respond in prayer
Allow the scriptures you’ve just read to guide your prayers in response. Who did God bring to mind as you read these verses in the Bible? Use that as a prompt to intercede for them in prayer. Where were you personally convicted or challenged? Use that as a catalyst to commit to following Jesus in a different way or to confess sin. Author Basil Pennington suggests choosing a “word of life” (a simple phrase from your daily reading) and allowing that to guide not only your responsive prayer, but a sense of unceasing prayer throughout the day. I recently hung a small keychain on my key ring. Every time I reach for my keys and see it or touch it, I use that as a reminder to pray whatever “word of life” God brought to my mind that day. Consider doing something simple like that to guide your prayer, connected to your devotional reading.
5. Contemplatio — Contemplate, rest, and wait in the presence of God
What if instead of closing our Bible and quickly rushing off to our next agenda item, we instead committed to rest in God’s presence for a few minutes after we read his word? As an efficiency-minded person, this is a practice I must force myself into. I have to resist the urge to speed through my time with the Lord in order to move on to the next task of my day. To be honest, the most important moment of my day is when I am resting in God’s presence. And that shouldn’t be rushed. Resist the urge to pull out your phone. Resist the urge to fill the silence with your words to God. What if you committed to two-to-three minutes of silence with the Lord and allowed him to speak to you as you concluded your time of lectio divina.
This is a simple practice of drawing near to God. I’d challenge you as we begin a new year, to seize the opportunity with me to meet with God in a daily rhythm like this. It may be challenging or awkward at first, but when you draw near to God, he will draw near to you.