How to read the Bible, part 2 — Engage — God is speaking … to me.

Once we’ve done the first step of Bible reading — listening to the God who speaks — we move on the the personal step: engaging.

The second step in what is known as lectio divina is called meditatio, from which we get the word “meditate.” While that may seem obvious, what we mean by “meditate” isn’t so obvious. Eugene Peterson likes the image of a dog chewing on a bone, going over it again and again and again. Like a dog meditating on a bone, so we meditate on and personalize the Scriptures.

During the first step of Bible reading called lectio, we are simply listening to the text as best we can, seeking to hear the Voice of God as clearly and keenly as possible. In meditatio, we personalize what we’ve just heard. “God isn’t just speaking. He’s speaking to me.”

Where scholars helped us during lectio. Now, we turn to the story-tellers and poets.

How am I addressed by our Lord in these words?

What is Jesus speaking to me that undermines my idolatries?

What is being said that comforts me in my afflictions?

What behaviors of mine are being confronted?

How is my vision for who God is expanded?

What stories from my life and especially the past week of my life are highlighted by what God is saying to me?

Who is the “me” that is being addressed by God? And how does the fact that God is speaking to me shape who I am?

As I read through the passage over and over again, I try to find the question God is speaking to me behind each part of the passage.

I don’t want to miss a question. I want to be deeply and personally engaged. If God is not just speaking generally to the world out there, but is speaking specifically to me, I want to hear it all. Sometimes, this can go on and on. But generally, I am looking for somewhere between five and eight statements — things I’ve heard in the lectio phase — each of which are followed by a question or a string of questions.

For instance, if the statement I’ve isolated from the passage is God saying, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5), I may follow that statement up with: When have I felt forsaken by God? Was I really forsaken? How might Jesus have been with me in that experience? When have I known his presence in an otherwise “god-forsaken” time? How did it change that experience? How might I need to hear Jesus speaking this promise in what I’m going through right now?

That one statement could then lead to a whole new set of questions: Who has forsaken me? My parents? My friends? My church? What did that feel like? What would it look like to forgive that person/those people? Who have I forsaken? Who needs me to make sure I don’t forsake them right now?

One statement from the Scriptures can snowball into a whole conversation with our Lord. As we chew on the passage over and over again, considering it from every angle, trying to hear every word spoken to us, we are more deeply and fully engaged.

If I am ever going to preach a passage, I must first be engaged by the God who is speaking these words. As my preaching prof, John Zimmerman, repeated during every class, “If it’s going to happen through you, it must first happen to you.” If my goal is to have the people of God I preach to be personally engaged by the Word of God, it’s essential that I don’t skip this step in the lectio divina process.

Links to the other three posts in this series: ReadEngagePrayLive