Lingering in the Text: Reading in the Presence of God

Formed (1)

I've been slowly working my way through John's Gospel over the last month or so, and the other morning I found myself in chapter 4. Before opening up my Bible, I sat silently before God for a few minutes. I then asked Him to teach me, to guide me through the passage. I started to read. I was in v.v. 46-54. I read it once out loud to myself. I noticed that Jesus came back to Cana, "where he had made the water wine". I kept reading. There was a man who "heard that Jesus had come", and he needed help. His son was dying. I reflected for a minute; the last time Jesus was in Cana, someone needed help. I continued reading out loud, listening to the text. Jesus responded to the man in need in a way that almost felt dismissive. I finished reading the passage. I then read through it a second time. This time, I slowed down at v.v. 48-50. I asked myself some questions. Was Jesus being dismissive? Does he care about this man's dying son? 

What I noticed on this second time through the passage was that the official said to Jesus, "Sir, come down before my child dies". I noticed an act of persistent faith. I asked some more questions. Maybe Jesus wanted the man to prove his faith? Maybe Jesus wanted the man to wrestle with why he was asking Him for help? 

I read through the passage a third time. I was still drawn to v.v. 48-50, only this time something stood out that made it click. In v. 50, after Jesus told him to "God, your son will live", the text says that "the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way". This man did not see a miracle, he did not experience a "sign" or "wonder", he simply heard and "believed the word that Jesus spoke". I was being taught by the Holy Spirit that faith or belief shows up in persistence and movement. The man asked for help, persisted, even when Jesus appeared dismissive, and then he believed the word of Christ by going on his way. 

I then started journaling. I wrote and prayed, and I asked God to show me where I might need to hear this very thing in my life. The question I arrived at was "what am I not believing that God is showing or teaching me, and what does belief look like for me?". 

What I've tried to do is model what "lingering in the text" looks like. This isn't study, and this probably shouldn't be done with large portions of Scripture. The goal is to slowly make our way through a passage with a posture of faith, and humility, allowing the Holy Spirit to shape and form you through the authoritative word of God. This sort of reading has been referred to as "spiritual reading" or maybe you've heard the term "Lectio Divina". The goal of this kind of reading is to slowly make our way through the text, not for the goal of finding an answer or performing in depth exegesis, but rather to simply be with Jesus, so that we might become like Jesus, and do what Jesus did. If the Scriptures really are the word of God, and they are "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness". If they are "sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart", then sitting under them, and allowing the Holy Spirit to apply them to our lives, will effect change in us from the inside out. 

  • Stop and Pray: Before opening your Bible, ask God to guide you through the passage. Ask him to show you something. Ask him to speak to you through His word. 
  • Listen: This is exactly what it sounds like. Read the text and listen to what you're reading. Maybe you read out loud, or maybe you listen to someone else reading the passage. As you listen, note anything that stands out. Underline, highlight, or mark it off in the margin of your Bible. What questions do you have? Write those down as well. Then read the passage again, doing the same thing. Do this slowly and be sure to do it 2-3 times. 
  • Pray: This is where I typically journal, but you don't have to. Those observations and questions that you made are a great place to start your prayers. I noticed the kind of faith the man in John 4 displayed, how it was a persistent and active faith. That is where I began my prayer. I started praying that God would grow that sort of faith in me, and I asked him to show me where I needed to specifically live this out. Where am I not believing the promises of God? 
  • Obey: James talks about hearing the word, and he compares it to someone who looks in a mirror. If we hear the word, and choose to do nothing about what we've heard, we're like a man who "looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like" (1:24). If spiritual formation is about creating time and space to be with Jesus, then we must be sure to not squander that time and space. If you are reading the Scriptures and you notice that there is a change that needs to take place in your life, that's the Holy Spirit telling you something. You can either obey, opening the door wider for the Spirit to continue working in and through you, or you can ignore Him. But the more we ignore or "quench" Him, the more difficult it will become to hear his voice. 

I would encourage you, along with fasting and prayer, to fold this practice into your regular rhythms. Remember, start small. Spiritual formation is a process that takes time. But God is faithful, and He is calling us to continue "working out our salvation with fear and trembling".