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.
“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.
“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.
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