Welcome to Linger Longer, our little mini-course on the spiritual disciplines. Last week, we talked about some basics of spiritual disciplines and how to establish a quiet time routine that works for you. If you're new to the series, you might want to start there.
The framework that we're using for our conversation is drawn from David Mathis' book, Habits of Grace, which I highly recommend. This week, we'll be talking all about the first category of spiritual disciplines: Hearing God's Voice through His Word.
This category includes all sorts of Christian habits: from Bible study to meditation to scripture memory and everything in between. We could spend the rest of our lives talking about this, and we'd never cover everything, so today, we'll just talk about some of the basics to get the conversation started.
Have you seen the videos floating around facebook of Esther Walker? They're conversations between a woman and her mother about life and God and scripture, and once you start watching, all you'll want to do for the rest of the day is sit and listen to Nana Esther's wisdom.
I want to be like her when I grow up. Don't you? Nana Esther is a woman who knows the Word of the Lord deep down in her bones. It saturates her speech and colors her conversation and changes the way she looks at life. But that wisdom and knowledge didn't come overnight. No. It's the fruit of a lifetime spent listening to God's voice.
Listen to God's Voice
Psalm 119:15–16 “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” (ESV)
God has chosen, throughout time and history, to speak to us through his Word. If you want to abide in Jesus and be like Nana Esther when you grow up, you must first listen to his words.
We need scripture to guide us, to correct us, to convict us, to encourage us, to transform us, and to sustain us. Without its deep and abiding presence within us, we'll never have what we need to live the life that God has planned for us.
In Women of the Word, author Jen Wilkin puts it like this: “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know…the path to transformation runs from the mind to the heart, and not the other way around.”
We become students of the Word so that we may know and love the God who has spoken more deeply than before and become the people he has created us to be.
So how do we do that? We do it through reading, studying, and meditating on the Word.
Read the Word
The first step to practicing the spiritual discipline of hearing God's word is simply to open your Bible and read it. Reading is for breadth. You may not understand everything you read right from the get go, but that’s OK. Just make a commitment to read and do it.
Whether it’s a few verses or a whole chapter, commit to whatever amount you can handle each day. When you’re starting out, it may help to use the SOAP method to guide your daily reading. Grab a notebook and jot down your thoughts about your reading, using the following steps as a guide.
Study the Word
If reading is for breadth, then studying is for depth. Once we have mastered reading the Word well, we move on to studying it in detail. This could include working through a study on a book of the Bible with a group or simply reading more slowly on your own, using the aid of a study Bible and commentaries to help you really dig into the passage.
Studying the Bible can be intimidating, to say the least. As if figuring out where to start isn’t hard enough, once you get going, there’s the problem of deciphering what in the world the text is saying. But I’m here to tell you that studying the Bible doesn’t have to be hard or difficult. It just takes practice.
You don't have to go to seminary to be a good student of the Word, but you do have to put in the time, effort, and practice it takes to get there. No one who decides they want to run a marathon is ready to tackle it overnight. It takes months of training to get there.
The same thing is true for Bible study. There's no quick fix or instant understanding. You won't have things figured out immediately. And that's OK. It's in the seeking and the striving and the slowing down to wrestle with the words of truth that it finally starts to sink in and change your way of thinking.
Meditate on the Word
Meditating is for the heart. When we read Scripture, we get the big picture. When we study Scripture, we examine it with a magnifying glass. When we meditate on Scripture, we take the truths we learned while reading and studying and apply them to our hearts. Meditating is marveling at the Word. It’s basking in God’s truth. It’s sitting back and allowing wonder to take root. Meditation is where transformation happens.
Mathis says that meditation is often the "missing link" in our personal devotions that "bridges the gap between hearing from God and speaking to him." When it comes right down to it, we do a pretty good job of reading and studying the Word, but because we're distracted and busy and ready to move on with the day, too often we stop short of meditation. We check off our reading, say a quick prayer, shut the Bible and get on with our day.
But when we do that, we're missing out on the good stuff, because meditation is the place where the Word of God takes root in our hearts and begins to shape us into the people we were meant to be.
So how does it work? Well, it's often simply a matter of paying attention to the parts of scripture that seem to catch in your heart and give you pause when you read. Did a verse, or even a particular phrase stand out to you? Instead of breezing past it to get through with the day's assigned reading, stop and mull over the words of truth. Linger there. Let it lodge in your heart. Then allow it to lead you into prayer.
There's so much more we could say on the subject. But know this: hearing God's voice is a skill that's honed over a lifetime. Esther Walker wasn't born with the wisdom and knowledge that she possesses now. It came to her little by little over decades spent listening to God speak.
If you don't know where to start, try the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John). Read, study, and meditate on the story of Jesus' life. You'll never be the same.
Until next time, grace and peace.
Linger Longer: Spiritual Disciplines for Everyday Life
January 8 // Linger Longer: One Day at a Time
January 15 // Linger Longer: Hear God's Voice (Word)
January 22 // Linger Longer: Have God's Ear (Prayer)
January 29 // Linger Longer: Belong to God's Body (Fellowship)