Methods of Spiritual Maturity - The Bible as a Means of Grace

Last week we opened with the Spiritual Journey and the distinctive gift to theChristian community of the Wesleyan-Methodist movement: our growth ingrace.  In the end of our time, I talked about the Methods of growth or the Means of Grace, practices that have helped Christians grow for centuries.

When it comes to our faith, there it is not surprising that the Bible and Bible reading is at the top of the list for us to grow.  Christians are known for studying the Bible, examining it, looking at the original languages, debating it’s authenticity.  But knowledge alone is not what helps us grow spiritually. 

In his preface to the 52 Standard Sermons, John Wesley set down his understanding of the implications and power of time in the Bible.  “At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me.  Let me be ‘a man of one book.’  Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men.  I sit down alone: only God is here.  In His presence I open, I read this book; for this end, to the find the way to heaven.”

“The Bible is a means of grace insofar as it enhances our awareness of God’s presence, purpose, and power in our lives (pg 54, Exploring the Way).” 

For that type of reading to take place we need to add to our desire for knowledge, an equally passionate desire to know God and be known by God.  This means we don’t read the Bible merely for information but with a desire for transformation, to become more like Jesus Christ, to become children of God.

To read the Bible in this way, we can go back to the Jewish roots and heritage of our faith.  Nowhere is it more evident than in the opening verses of the Psalms where we find these words, “Happy are those who…delight…in the law of the Lord and on his law they meditate night and day.”

In the sixth century we find the work of Benedict and Pope Gregory, refining and clarifying for Christians, the approach to Bible Reading known as Lectio Divina.  Gregory is credited with comparing the Scriptures to a river or lake or ocean where it is, “…broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading but deep enough for the elephant to swim”  (ETW and Soul Tending). 

Think about it.  How can we teach the same story about Daniel in the Lion’s Den at Vacation Bible School and then turn around explore it in theological education and it have equal impact?  Or consider our growth in grace – that someone at the level of convicting grace can find meaning in the same scriptures as someone who has experienced entire sanctification?

There is wealth of beauty in the oceans.  This summer I was at Myrtle Beach and I learned to boogie board with my kids.  I loved it!  I really have never liked the shallows much until this year.  It was a blast and we had a great time.  But the shallows are only part of the ocean.

In Exploring the Way, the shallows are described as information (pg 56-57, ETW)
·What is in the Bible: the stories, history, poems, prophecy, gospels
·What were the writers trying to get across to their readers?
·Where did these works come from?  Who wrote them?
·What were the customs and traditions from that day?
·How have these writings shaped theology, doctrine and values of the people?
·What are the lessons and applications for our day?

This is GOOD STUFF!!!  It is important stuff.  This is where we put most of our emphasis in Seminary, in Bible study, in our lives.  But it is only part of the stuff.

You see, I’m also a certified scuba diver.  I don’t dive as much as I’d like but what I know is that there is so much we don’t see every day!  I’ve swam with a Loggerhead sea turtle, watched a stingray chase a crab on the ocean floor and played football with a sea cucumber. 

In the deep we move to look at formation
·We from knowing about God to knowing God
·We move from studying to listening.
·We move from mastering the Bible to allowing it to master us (B. Mulholland, Shaped by the Word).
·The Bible changes from a telephone book to an actual phone – from answers to conversation.

William Law, an English clergy who very much influenced John and Charles Wesley, wrote, “When in reading Scripture you meet with a passage that seems to give your heart new motion toward God, turn it into the form of a petition, and give it a place in your prayers (50, Soul Tending).”  Think about it.  Have you ever had a verse in the Bible stand-out for you?  Did it make you stop and consider the meaning for you more?  Did you feel the need to sit with it – wrestle with it – have it speak to you? 

Then in part, you've practiced, at least in part, some of the practice of Lectio Divina.  Lectio is the latin for “reading” and “divina” the latin for “spiritual” or “holy.”  Lectio Divina puts into practice what the writer of Hebrews says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:12)”

Saint Benedict is largely credited with refining the practice of Lectio Divina and it became widely used in Christianity.  Dr. Dwight Judy, Professor of Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary noted that Lectio is the basic form of The Upper Room devotional and most devotional outlines.  Author and Professor Jane Vennard, shares in her book, “Be Still (pg 72),” one of the most common practiced forms of Lectio:

Read (Lectio): Read aloud a few times, listen for a word or phrase that stands out.
Reflect (Meditatio): Take that word or phrase and ponder it, chew it, mull it.  What does it say?
Respond (Oratio): How are you led to respond? Worship? Thanks? Sad?
Rest (Contemplatio): Relax in God's presence.  Be patient.
Return (Incarnatio): Movement back into the world to practice what we've heard/experienced.

Typically, a group of verses chosen would be between 4-8.  It is usually a complete paragraph or story.

The scripture which we are using today is from Mark’s gospel (I go through the Lectio process on the MP3 or you can follow it on your own).

Mark 4:35-41 ESV  On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side."  (36)  And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.  (37)  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  (38)  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"  (39)  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  (40)  He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?"  (41)  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

A Visual Form of Lectio is one that I've been working with lately.  Some of us find that in our world, we “hear” from God in what we see whether that is in art or creation. This isn't really just for visual learners but anyone.  Finding a spiritually inspired work of art would be the beginning place. 

As you view an image, move through these steps:  (Jesus image):
            Look (Read):  Consider deeply the image and what is being “said.”
            Linger (Reflect):  What is the verse or word being given to you?
            Led (Respond): How are you being called to respond?
            Lay (Rest): Be in God's presence.
            Live (Return): Moving back into the world with how we've been changed.

Take time to reflect on the image.  As you look at this image, what words come to your mind?  If there are people or a person in the picture, what might they be saying?  Specifically, what Scripture passage or phrase does the Holy Spirit inspire them to speak to you?  Maybe it is a word or phrase that inspires you to look up a Scripture.   Certainly, there are those images, icons or symbols that attract us right of the bat.  BUT, we need to realize that there are also images that don’ attract us or inspire us with joy or peace that are just as likely to be used by God.  You may need to intentionally look in this direction as well.  (Click here for a link to an image to try this practice).  

Whatever that verse or word or phrase, take that as a guide for your prayer through this coming day.  Read or say that verse or phrase out loud if you have time or space to do so.  If not, silently reflect and pray.  If it is a full story, consider using more of Lectio.

BONUS!  Here is Martin Luther's advice to his barber (adapted from Be Still, pg 76).
Begin by choosing a Bible passage and then read it through five times.
First time, just hear the words.
Second time, reflect on the immediate teaching found in the passage.
Third, consider the emotion/gratitude that you received in reading.
Fourth, listen for the sin; the correction given for your life and confession.
In the final reading, allow yourself to rest.


Works Cited
Vennard, Jane.  Be Still.  Designing and Leading Contemplative Retreats.  156699229 ISBN
Soul Tending.  Abingdon Press.  068703079 ISBN
Exploring the Way. Leader’s Guide.  Upper Room Books.  0835898075  ISBN
Mulholland, M. Robert.  Shaped By the Word.  083580936 ISBN


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