Spiritual Disciplines, Part 2: Scripture Study
by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
Welcome back to my three-part series on spiritual disciplines. You can find part one, “Ending with Examen,” about the Examen prayer here.
One of the most important spiritual disciplines for Christians, as well as in many other faith traditions, is spending time reading and studying the sacred texts of the faith. For Christians, our sacred scriptures are found in the Bible.
As a pastor, I’ve had a lot of people – good, churchgoing Christians – tell me that they don’t know very much about the Bible. This becomes a reason to not study the scriptures – as in, “I don’t know enough about the Bible to understand what I’m reading, so I’m just not comfortable reading it.” Unfortunately, this is also the reason they don’t know very much about the Bible in the first place! Kind of a Catch 22 situation.
Although it’s true that knowing about the historical context of the scriptures, knowing the ancient geography and political arrangements, and knowing the original languages of the Bible does help to understand the scriptures better, there are plenty of good methods that allow anyone to read the scriptures and listen for a Word from God.
One that I’m fond of is often called the African Bible Study, because it was developed by evangelists and missionaries in Africa to help Christians who lived in remote and impoverished villages where educated clergy were rare. It’s a series of three questions used to investigate the text. Simply read a story in the Bible, and then ask yourself, “What is God doing in the story?” Next, ask “What are God’s people doing in the story?” Finally, ask yourself, “What does this mean for us, as God’s people, today?” It’s a great way to let the Bible guide your actions and the actions of the Christian church based on what God and God’s people did before. And note, sometimes (read: often) God’s people didn’t get it right the first time! Thank God for second chances!
Another popular method is the Lectio Divina, which is a part of the wider movement of Benedictine spirituality. It’s a four step process. First, read the passage slowly and reflectively. Read it more than once if you’d like. Pay attention to any words or phrases that might leap out at you. Second, meditate on what you’ve read. Think about the ways that the text connects to you and your life. Third, pray to God a prayer which has been inspired by the reading and meditation. Even if it’s a simple prayer like, “God, I don’t understand this passage; help me to understand.” The final step is contemplation, and depending on your point of view it’s either the easiest or the most difficult. That’s because this is not something that we do, but something God does. Sometimes after reading and praying, you’ll sense a presence, hear a voice, feel the movement of the Spirit. This is God using the message of the scriptures to affect change in us. We can’t force this. We can only receive it.
I hope these methods help you if you feel like studying the scriptures is too difficult. But most of all, if you feel like you don’t have the expertise, then don’t do it alone! Christianity is not a singular endeavor. It takes place in the context of communities of Christians. There are plenty of people and churches that would love to help you delve into the scriptures. My own church, the Custer Community Church, has three different weekly small group Bible studies and a monthly Pastor’s Bible Study. Whatever community you’re a part of, you’ll find that the most rewarding Bible studies are the ones you do with sisters and brothers.
Come back next week for the final installment on spiritual disciplines: “Faith 5 with Family.”