When I first began meeting regularly with my spiritual mentor, he put me on a daily Bible reading plan. Each morning I read, and listen to, a chapter of Scripture, and journal my thoughts and impressions, and then pray about what I have heard God say to me in that passage. I have been thoroughly enriched by this practice and look forward to it every day. But why? Why would someone who has studied the Bible for years, has a degree in theology and a Master of Divinity, and has preached hundreds of sermons over the past thirty-one years, be so suddenly enamored with reading his Bible? It’s because in this discipline, I am not studying the Scripture, but rather allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to me through the Scripture. And I have been blessed!
For example, this morning my reading was Luke 23. As I read, I listened, waiting for a word, a phrase or an image to jump off of the page and into my mind. This always happens when I do this, and this morning it was the image of the women who had been with Jesus since his early ministry days following Joseph of Arimathea as he took the body of Jesus and laid it in the empty tomb. After watching him do this, the women went home to prepare the spices so they could properly embalm the body of their beloved Jesus. But because it was the Sabbath, they waiting in obedience to the commandment (verses 55-56).
A flood of emotions came to me as I pondered this image. The sorrow of the women. Their courage! Their devotion to Jesus. And their submissiveness to God in waiting through the Sabbath. I imagined how the attitude and behaviour of these women must have encouraged and warmed the Father’s heart as Jesus lay in the grave. Such love must have touched His heart! This reflection led me to consider how I give encouragement and show love to the Father, and to a beautiful time of prayer with Him.
Alan Roxburgh describes this practice this way in his book, “Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World”:
Dwelling in the Word is different from the practice of Bible study. In Bible study we analyze a passage in order to get at its basic meaning. Usually such analysis depends on study guides, commentaries, and teaching summaries. The goal is to get a clear understanding of what the text was intended to say and, sometimes, how to apply it to our lives … Dwelling in the Word is a different practice with different goals and therefore a different method. “Dwelling” suggests sitting before and living with. We bring ourselves and wait (or dwell) before the text in a spirit of receptivity. Dwelling is not driven by the need to get the text right, but by the desire to listen for how God might be addressing us. We might say Bible study is how we read the text; dwelling is letting the text read us.”
This practice is something we can (and should) do with one another as well! Recently I met with Elizabeth Pierce and Carl Nash to plan the preaching messages for the month of May. As we went over each of the week’s passages of Scripture we read, listened, and shared the things that we were seeing in the texts. The longer we hovered with each passage the more we saw! A comment or question would lead one of us to check another translation, or even the original Greek, as we sat before the passages allowing them to speak. Thoughts led us to corresponding passages in other parts of the Bible and, over time, each passage said more and more to us. God was speaking! It was truly an enriching experience.
In the last year, we’ve encouraged our church to practice listening prayer, rather than just saying our prayers. And this exercise is similar. There is certainly a time and place for the study of Scripture – and we should never give that up. But can I also encourage you to regularly spend time listening to Scripture as well? Dwelling in the Word is a wonderful way to hear God speak into your life – perhaps in ways you would never have imagined! Such a blessing!