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What Is Lectio Divina?

Written by Mark Riner on

Peanut butter and jelly. Bacon and eggs. A pencil and paper. Salt and pepper. Some things are meant to be together. More than that, it is hard to imagine one without the other. I would suggest that, for Christians, one of these pairings is reading your Bible and praying. It’s a pairing practiced by Christians since the ancient days, called “Lectio Divina.”

Maybe you grew up singing songs like, “Read your Bible and pray every day and you’ll grow, grow, grow!” Perhaps you’ve been a part of a small group or Bible study where Bible reading and prayer were both included in the weekly studying. Either way, it is evident that because Bible reading and prayer are so essential to the Christian life, they often go together.

How Do Bible Reading & Prayer Connect?

But how can our Bible reading and prayers connect? Even if we read our Bible and pray regularly, these times—whether personally or with our family—cover vastly different topics.

As Don Whitney writes in his excellent book, Praying The Bible, praying the words of Scripture can transform your prayer life. It is helpful. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it because Bible reading really does impact our prayer life. But what about the other way around? Is our prayer life vital to our Bible reading as well? Yes! We see this numerous times throughout the psalms. For instance, in Psalm 119:17, the psalmist exclaims, “Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” As he studies the Word, the psalmist is asking God to give him understanding.

Lectio Divina: Praying for Understanding

This practice of praying Scripture for understanding goes back almost as far as there has been a Church. Origen—a theologian, Christian scholar, and recognized early Church father—was born in 184 AD and was the first to express the importance of this practice. In a letter to Gregory of Neocaesarea, who was a third-century Christian bishop, Origen encourages Gregory to read Scripture. He states,

“And applying yourself thus to the divine study, seek aright, and with unwavering trust in God, the meaning of the holy Scriptures, which so many have missed.  Be not satisfied with knocking and seeking; for prayer is of all things indispensable to the knowledge of the things of God.  For to this the Saviour exhorted, and said not only, ‘Knock, and it shall be opened to you; and seek, and ye shall find’” but also, ‘Ask, and it shall be given unto you.’”

Origen was convinced that praying through Scripture was essential to understanding Scripture.

This thought spread continued and was established in the early Church. It was taught by many of the other early Church fathers; including Augustine, Ambrose, and Basil. During the sixth century, praying through Scripture was coined as, “Lectio Divina,” which is Latin for divine reading. Lectio Divina was ultimately developed into a four-part process by a monk in the late 1100s. I give you this history lesson because this process, though not essential to praying while reading Scripture, is something I have found to be beneficial.

What Is Lectio Divina?

Lectio (Reading)

The process of Lectio Divina begins with, you guessed it, reading. To pray while reading the Scriptures, we need to read Scripture! The central premise of reading the Bible in this context is to not go too fast or too slow. There is a time and place to read a large amount of God’s Word in one sitting. There is also a time to deeply study the meaning of the text by examining the original language, doing word studies, or cross-referencing to other passages.

Both types of research or reading are significant but neither is the idea here. With Lectio Divina, the concept merely involves reverently reading God’s Word slowly—recognizing each word and allowing it to sink in slowly.

Imagine a child who adores his father. The child is listening to his father speak. He would not naturally ask his father to talk as quickly as possible. Neither would he dissect every word, comparing it to conversations with others. He would simply listen, embracing and drinking in the comments from his loving father. This is the idea behind the reading in the Lectio portion of Lectio Divina.

Mediatio (Meditation)

The second step in Lectio Divina is meditation. As you think about what you just read, certain statements or ideas may stand out. Continuing with the father/child metaphor, after the father finishes speaking, certain words the father said may stand out to the child. Those statements may remain in the child’s mind for days. In this way, meditate on the Scripture you are reading and allow it to stick in your mind and soul.

Oratio (Prayer)

The third step of Lectio Divina is prayer. As you have read and meditated, talk to God about his Word. Ask him to give you understanding. Like David in the Psalms, express the emotions that come to mind when reading and mediating: love, gratitude, anger, fear, hope, anxiety, sorrow, joy, longing. Lectio Divina is designed to be a personal, affectionate time between you and God. Don’t feel like you need a scripted prayer. Just talk about the Word with him!

Contemplatio (Contemplation)

The final step in Lectio Divina is the contemplation of God’s Word and what he has done through your intimate time together. Rest in his truth. And as you finish this time of prayer, don’t let it conclude your time with God for the day. Rather, let it set the tone for your day as you take the words of your father and his presence with you.

For the Christian, prayer and Bible reading go together as naturally as bacon and eggs. Let’s follow in the footsteps of the psalmist and Christians throughout history by joining these two spiritual disciplines in a way that helps us connect to God, perhaps like we never have before. To God be the glory!

Mark Riner

Mark serves College Park as the Leadership Development Pastoral Resident. He is passionate about helping others understand and apply the Bible and theology to their everyday lives. Mark loves spending time with his wife, Brittany; their two children, Maggie and Calvin; and other friends and family.

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