Steve Macchia Blog

Part Three: Scripture-based Reflective Prayer: Respond, Rest

For the third week in a row, I’m happy to welcome a guest blogger, Dr. Kathy Johnson, for the final part of her delightful three-part series. Kathy is a former D.Min. Student of mine at Gordon-Conwell and wrote her doctoral thesis on “Scripture Based Reflective Prayer.” As a result, she is a person we need to listen to in our desire as spiritual leaders to go deep with God in our prayer closets. Enjoy these three very practical, personal, and biblical reflections.

In this final post in my series on Scripture-based Reflective Prayer (Reflective Prayer) I will expand on the final two stages: Responding and Resting.

Responding

“I call on you, O God, for you will answer me.”  ~ Psalm 17:6

The third stage of Reflective Prayer is Responding. At a certain point, our prayer moves from being centered in the intellect to being prayer from the heart. Prayer happens as the living Word touches our hearts and we respond to him at a deep inner level. Praying with Scripture draws us into a deeper encounter with the Living God through his Word. In this stage, we turn the Scripture passage into a dialogue with God, taking time to speak intimately with him about what he has shown us in our reflection. We may ask the Lord what he is saying or how he wants us to apply the truth of his Word to our specific life situation.

Listening is Key

Listening is an integral part of prayer. We move from reflection to responding as we, with open hearts, make ourselves available to the Spirit of God so that he is speaking and we are listening. Many times we think that prayer is supposed to be us talking and asking for things while God listens. In Reflective Prayer, we learn to listen and to be comfortable with silence.  Take time to wait for him to respond to your prayer and speak to your heart. Many times he is just waiting for us to open ourselves to hear him and to give him time to commune with us.

Resting

“Be still and know that I am God.”  ~ Psalm 46:10

The fourth stage of Reflective Prayer is Resting in God’s presence. This stage gives us the opportunity for an intimate time of communion with the Lord. Resting is the point in our prayer experience where the living God infuses his love into our hearts. We simply rest in the presence of the One who loves us and invites us into his transforming embrace. God himself calls us into this silence of heart, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). David longed for times of being in the presence of God and gazing upon his beauty (Psalm 27:4). There are times in all loving relationships when words are not necessary. In this stage we stop speaking and, in silence, simply enjoy being in the presence of God. This is a place where deep transformation of our hearts and lives occurs. Just take time to be with him and let him love you and refresh your soul.

Action

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit.”  ~ John 15:8

One of the results of encountering the Lord in prayer is that our lives are changed and we become more like Christ. As we draw close to him and his Word transforms our hearts, we will begin to live more and more like a fruitful disciple of Jesus. Our desire to obey him will grow stronger as we spend time with him. The process of Reflective Prayer is not concluded until it arrives at action. This is why it is helpful to ask, “How is God calling you to act in response to what he has shown you?”

Try it for yourself

I would encourage you to try the four stages of Reflective Prayer with one or two verses of Scripture. Have a pen and paper so you can write down any insights that the Lord gives you. Remember to begin with a few moments of silence.

  1. Read – Read the verses slowly and prayerfully several times (out loud if possible), savoring the words and letting them sink in. Write down any words or phrases that seem to stand out.
  2. Reflect – Now begin to think about the words or phrases that stood out to you. Come in faith with the expectation that the Lord will speak to you. Ask him a question such as “What does this mean?” to help you reflect more deeply. Write down any insights that God gives you.
  3. Respond – Prayer is a two-way conversation with the Lord. Respond from your heart to what he has been revealing to you in his Word, especially taking time to listen to what he may be saying to you personally. You may want to write out your prayer to God and anything he says to you.
  4. Rest – At any time, when you begin to sense the presence of the Lord, stop any mental effort you are making and just rest in and enjoy his presence.  This is the time to savor the special moment of connection between you and God. Treasure God’s Word in your heart.

Katherine Johnson is a lover of God, wife, mother, ecstatic grandmother of two, life-long missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators, author, teacher, scuba-diver and Girl Scout. She and her husband live in Dallas, Texas. Find Katherine’s blog HERE and her series of Scripture-based Prayer Guides at www.scriptureprayerguides.com.

Katherine Mills Johnson © 2013 All Rights Reserved



Part Two: Scripture-based Reflective Prayer: Read, Reflect

Once again, I’m happy to welcome a guest blogger, Dr. Kathy Johnson, for the second part of her delightful three-part series. Kathy is a former D.Min. Student of mine at Gordon-Conwell and wrote her doctoral thesis on “Scripture Based Reflective Prayer.” As a result, she is a person we need to listen to in our desire as spiritual leaders to go deep with God in our prayer closets. Enjoy these three very practical, personal, and biblical reflections.

In this second post in my series on Scripture-based Reflective Prayer (Reflective Prayer) I will expand on the first two stages: Reading and Reflecting.

Need for Silence

It is always good to take a few moments to prepare ourselves to encounter God through his Word. In the silence of our hearts we turn our thoughts and attention toward God and invite the presence of the Holy Spirit, acknowledging our need of him and our willingness to hear him speak to us though his Word.

Reading

“Speak, for your servant is listening.”  ~ 1 Samuel 3:10

Near my home is a traffic sign that makes me chuckle every time I drive by. It says, “Slow Duck Crossing.” For years I looked both ways to see if I could spot a duck, but I never did. Finally, one day I slowed down, parked, got out of the car, and was rewarded with the sight of several ducks swimming in a nearby pond. In some ways, the first stage of Reflective Prayer is like looking for a duck that we may miss if we drive too fast. If we take the time to slow down and give our full attention to God, he will speak to us through his Word.

The first stage of Reflective Prayer is reading. We approach reading with the knowledge that we are listening to the living Word of God. Slowly reading a short passage several times, we savor the words and let them sink in deeply. This is the opposite of reading quickly in order to finish a certain amount of material. Fast reading only lets the words go skin deep. In Reflective Prayer, we read for depth, not breadth. The goal is to listen to the Word of God, cultivating the ability to attend deeply to what God is saying whether it be through a sentence, phrase, or single word. St. Benedict calls it attending “with the ear of your heart.” We follow the example of Samuel, who said, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:10).

This kind of reading and listening involves our intellect and at the same time is a prayerful and reverent act. We are deliberately and consciously turning to God with our minds and hearts. Listening to the voice of God involves being attentive to his sometimes still, small voice. Like the prophet Elijah, we may hear God, not in the earthquake or fire but in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-12). As we realize God is beginning to speak, our reading begins to move into the second stage, reflection.

Reflecting

“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” ~ Psalm 119:97

The second stage of Reflective Prayer is reflection. As we read, we naturally begin to reflect or meditate as we savor the truths that God is revealing. An example from Scripture is Mary, who pondered in her heart what she saw and heard of Jesus (Luke 2:19). The Psalmist knew the delights of meditating on Word of God: “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long” (Ps 119:97). It is a natural progression that as we read and immerse ourselves in the Word of God, we begin to think about it and consider its meaning.

Reflection can take the form of whatever is helpful. Some may use their imagination to view the passage through the eyes of the author or someone mentioned in the verses. Others may use a journal to reflect on what they have read. We may ask a question such as “What does this mean?” A monk named Guigo once said, “Reading, as it were, puts food into the mouth, meditation chews it and breaks it up.” The word ruminate has a similar meaning as the word ponder or meditate. Just as a cow chews the cud in order to gain the most nourishment, so we chew the words in order to gain spiritual sustenance.

A Word on Meditation

“The word of Scripture should never stop sounding in your ears and working in you all day long, just like the words of someone you love. And just as you do not analyze the words of someone you love, but accept them as they are said to you, accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart, as Mary did. That is all. That is meditation. Do not look for new thoughts and new connections in the text, as if you were preaching! Do not ask ‘How shall I pass it on?’ but ‘What does it say to me?’ Then ponder this Word long in your heart until it has gone right into you and taken possession of you.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Next time I will write more about the third and fourth stages: Responding and Resting. I will also provide some practical ways you can begin exploring this spiritual discipline yourself!

Katherine Johnson is a lover of God, wife, mother, ecstatic grandmother of two, life-long missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators, author, teacher, scuba-diver and Girl Scout. She and her husband live in Dallas, Texas. Find Katherine’s blog HERE and her series of Scripture-based Prayer Guides at www.scriptureprayerguides.com.

Katherine Mills Johnson © 2013 All Rights Reserved



Part One: Introduction to Scripture-based Reflective Prayer

I’m happy to welcome a guest blogger, Dr. Kathy Johnson, who is offering us a delightful three-part series. Kathy is a former D.Min. Student of mine at Gordon-Conwell and wrote her doctoral thesis on “Scripture Based Reflective Prayer.” As a result, she is a person we need to listen to in our desire as spiritual leaders to go deep with God in our prayer closets. Enjoy these three very practical, personal, and biblical reflections. Welcome, Kathy!

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” ~ Luke 24:32

Do these words of the disciples on the Emmaus road describe your personal time with God?

Do you long to experience a deeper relationship with God in prayer?

Prayer is centered in relationship. Deep relationship with God and prayer have key elements in common. They are both a two-way communion between God and his beloved children. Intimacy of relationship is fostered by time spent together; true communication happens when both listening and speaking occur. When a Christian experiences intimacy of relationship with God in prayer, then prayer becomes a delight rather than a duty.

Research Shows

My recent research among a group of Evangelical and Catholic Christians who had been practicing their faith for 20 years or more showed that the vast majority were dissatisfied with their prayer life. Most believed that 2-way communication with God was important but, in reality, few practiced it. Scripture-based Reflective Prayer can, by its very nature, be a powerful tool and spiritual discipline to help Christians deepen their relationship with God and grow in their prayer life. This happens by encouraging thoughtful reflection on God’s Word, listening to him speak, responding to his voice and delighting in his presence.

This blog entry will be a very brief introduction to Scripture-based Reflective Prayer. I hope to whet your appetite for this kind of prayer and to give opportunity to practice it right away.

What is Scripture-based Reflective Prayer?

Since the early centuries of the church, Christians have encountered God through praying with the Scriptures. Scripture-based Reflective Prayer, or Lectio Divina (literally, “sacred reading”) as it is sometimes called, involves reading, pondering, praying, listening, and ultimately encountering Jesus, the Living Word of God. This tried and true way of praying with Scripture encourages intimate encounter with God. In it, we read the Word with an openness of heart, allowing it to penetrate our hearts and transform our lives though the work of the Holy Spirit. We converse with Jesus much as the disciples did on the Emmaus road when he opened the Scripture to them.

In Scripture-based Reflective Prayer (“Reflective Prayer,” for short), we enter into a conversation with God. It is very different than Bible study done for the sake of gaining information about God. The aim of Reflective Prayer is to nourish and deepen our relationship with God through Scripture and prayer. This intimate encounter with God should lead to the genuine transformation of our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this process we are also empowered to become more fruitful disciples of Jesus Christ.

The Four Stages of Reflective Prayer

Reflective Prayer consists of four prayer-filled stages:  Reading, Reflecting, Responding, and Resting.

  1. Read Read the verses slowly and prayerfully several times (out loud if possible), savoring the words and letting them sink in. Write down any words or phrases that seem to stand out.
  2. Reflect Now begin to think about the words or phrases that stood out to you. Come in faith with the expectation that the Lord will speak to you. Ask him a question such as “What does this mean?” to help you reflect more deeply. Write down any insights that God gives you.
  3. Respond – Prayer is a two-way conversation with the Lord. Respond from your heart to what he has been revealing to you in his Word, especially taking time to listen to what he may be saying to you personally. You may want to write out your prayer to God and anything he says to you.
  4. Rest At any time, when you begin to sense the presence of the Lord, stop any mental effort you are making and just rest in and enjoy his presence.  This is the time to savor the special moment of connection between you and God. Treasure God’s Word in your heart.

What I have described is a very brief and introductory explanation of Reflective Prayer.  The beauty of this type of prayer is that it is really very simple. I will explain more in my next two blog entries but you can jump right in and try it for yourself today! One very important thing to remember is to slow down and take your time. Choose one verse (two, at most) of Scripture and use the 4 steps to lead you in praying with these verses. Have a pen and paper to record your thoughts and prayers.

Katherine Johnson is a lover of God, wife, mother, ecstatic grandmother of two, life-long missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators, author, teacher, scuba-diver and Girl Scout. She and her husband live in Dallas, Texas. Find Katherine’s blog HERE and her series of Scripture-based Prayer Guides at www.scriptureprayerguides.com.

Katherine Mills Johnson © 2013 All Rights Reserved



The Contrite Heart

The convicted, broken, contrite heart that’s receptive to the will of God is a sweet offering sure to be blessed of God.  To offer our brokenness to God by way of a contrite spirit is showing sincere remorse, regret and/or sorrow for our daily sins or offenses. Literally meaning, “worn out, ground to pieces” the word contrite is ideally suited for the image of a heart broken open for a deeper work of forgiveness and sanctification to occur.

For those who are more pliable to the Spirit, a contrite attitude toward our brokenness and our desperate need for God is trustingly displayed. You may have heard about the sculptor who after finishing his work of art sees that there’s a crack in it. Knowing that it was imperfect, he decides to start over. He breaks the sculpture into pieces and then adds water. Once he does so, the sculpture became clay once more and he is able to re-create his work of art.  So it is with our lives…imperfect and flawed, needing to be broken and forgiven, we become whole once more by the gentle and loving hand of God the Master Artist.

For many, however, the genuine nature of a contrite heart meets internal resistance due to our pride and stubbornness. A contrite heart requires mourning over and regretting remorsefully our sinfulness and disobedience to God’s commands.  The essence of the gospel is that once admitting our arrogance and pride and submitting our lives into the hands of the Sculpture God, we are baptized as the water of His grace softens the hardened clay of our brittle hearts.  When we encounter defiance in our heart toward the need to become malleable to God, a spiritual wall is erected between God and our soul.

King David had a hard time coming to recognize his need for a broken, contrite heart after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, his sin of murder toward Uriah her husband, and his sin of lying to God and others about his multiple offenses (read 2 Samuel 11 for the detailed story). It wasn’t until he was confronted by Nathan the prophet (2 Sam. 12) that he finally was convicted of his sinfulness, and was broken and contrite before the Lord.  Here was the shepherd boy turned king, leading the people of God, his army and officers, a musician and psalmist unlike any other, suffering from the struggle of running away from the most important response of all: repentance.

Psalm 51 is considered his tome on confession, forgiveness, and faithfulness – all ensuing as a result of his broken, contrite heart.  It’s the way we too must think and feel about our own sin, and our desperate need for God’s merciful touch of healing. He owns his sin and turns to God, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your compassion blot out my transgressions” (vs. 1). He prays for cleansing, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean” (vs. 7).  He pleads for renewal, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (vs. 10).  He delights in his restoration, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me” (vs. 12).

Psalm 51 proclaims the goodness of God and the righteousness of the people of God, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (vs. 17). Yes, a contrite heart is what pleases and honors God and brings about His favor (cf. Isaiah 61).  This is foundational to everything in life. Being a Christian means being broken and contrite – for this is the flavor of deep unending joy, peace, praise, and witness. Jonathan Edwards said it well, “All gracious affections that are a sweet aroma to Christ are brokenhearted affections. A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble brokenhearted love” (Religious Affections, p. 339). Will you open up yourself to God with a contrite heart today?