Formative reading of Bible seeks conversation with God – The Daily Advance


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Leaders can take those they are leading only as deep as they have gone. Christian leadership (pastor, teacher, small group leader) requires dependence on Scripture.

Jesus said in Matthew 11: 15 to His disciples: “He who has ears, let him hear.” Jesus is calling His followers to listen deeply to His words; not just for knowledge but also for wisdom and insight. Most Christians could benefit from an approach to Scripture that encourages listening for insight and a deeper intimacy with God.

The most common reading of the Bible is an informative reading. This reading attempts to find meaning in a passage of Scripture and will then apply the meaning to a particular context. On the other hand, formative reading attempts to hear from God in a divine conversation, using Scripture to reflect on what God is revealing to the reader.

The first element in formative reading is reading a Scripture. The focus is not on the volume of reading but rather the quality. Try focusing on just a few verses or even a few words. In this stage, one must read the passage many times over, putting interpretation and application on hold. If words or phrases stand out, note them. The goal with formative reading is not just knowledge but putting knowledge into practice.

The second element is meditation. Meditation is not necessarily a separate step, but it may involve a spiraling movement from one sense of the Scripture to another.

In her book, “When the Soul Listens,” Jan Johnson writes: “You and I meditate every day when we consider how to land a better job or redecorate a room. In fact, if we know how to worry, we know how to meditate.” Encouraging words to the Christian who has permitted worry with regularity — merely re-direct that obsessive attention to a biblical text. Johnson continues: “When studying, we ask questions about the text; in meditation we let the text ask questions of us.”

The third element is prayer. Prayer may seem to be the most apparent aspect, but it is often the most overlooked. Some might think of praying extensively as daunting, and if prayer is considered primarily as telling God about needs, then there is little wonder. However, if prayer arises out of a dynamic interaction with God through His Word, time becomes of little consequence. Prayer becomes less chore and more joyous.

The final element is contemplation. Contemplation is an even more profound form of prayer where one rests in God’s presence. Here the focus is not on agendas or lists. The focus is on enjoying God for who He is.

A more profound form of prayer requires preparation. Think of the words of the psalmist in Psalm 42:1-2: As the deer pants for water, so my soul pants for God — my soul thirsts for the living God. When can I meet with God?

This kind of passion for God is possible, but it is the result of disciplined training. In contemplation, one silently waits and listens for what God has to say in the stillness.

The Rev. Chuck Hartman is pastor at UpRiver Friends.

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