I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. (Psalm 130:5)
Last week I wrote a first installment about the discipline of contemplating Scripture. This spiritual exercise is ancient; people have been contemplating Scripture for centuries. It begins by reading over slowly, several times, a passage of Scripture which you’ve selected ahead of time, taking notice of whatever words or images come to mind. You then ponder the word or image which captured your attention, making note of any thoughts or feelings you associate with it.
Contemplation turns into prayer as you ask the Holy Spirit to show you if anything that comes to mind requires further reflection. Sometimes nothing at all comes to mind and contemplation simply becomes an opportunity to experience with your imagination the richness of God’s word to us in Scripture. At other times you may discover a need for direction or comfort, or an area of doubt or resistance to God, about which you’ve not been fully conscious. The time for contemplation draws to a close with prayers of thanksgiving for whatever you experienced and for wisdom to know how God wants you to use it.
This week, to give you an idea of how the Holy Spirit can use contemplation to search our heart and mind and re-direct us, I offer an example from my own experience: Last fall I was contemplating the passage in Luke’s gospel where Jesus gets in Simon Peter’s boat (5:1-11) and instructs him to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (v.4). The phrase that held my attention was “put out into the deep.” I prayed about this, asking the Holy Spirit to speak to me through these words and reveal to me whatever he wanted me to discover.
For several months prior to this I had been praying for guidance about what the next phase of ordained ministry might be for me. What came to mind as I was contemplating this passage was a sense that I wasn’t trusting Jesus enough to be willing to follow him wherever he might lead me. I discovered I was not comfortable with the notion of “putting out into the deep.” I wanted to know ahead of time where that would lead me.
I had always thought of Jesus as being by my side, but it suddenly occurred to me that Jesus was calling me to be by his side – wherever he might go. There is a big difference between the two approaches to being by the side of Jesus. Contemplating this passage helped me to uncover my wariness about following him. I was valuing safety and the familiar above responding to his call to me.
After spending time in contemplation, I made a few notes in my journal about what the Holy Spirit revealed to me so I could return to it again when useful. I finished this time of contemplation by turning in prayer to the Lord, thanking him for what he had shown me, and asking him to set me free from my fear of following after him without knowing where he might lead me.
If you were to contemplate this same passage from Luke’s gospel, you might well focus upon a different aspect of the story. However, the Holy Spirit can use the same selection of Scripture to speak to many people, addressing each person’s own particular set of circumstances and problems. Each of us has different needs and struggles in faith, but the same passage of Scripture can be used as a diagnostic tool for any number of people.
Contemplation of Scripture can be done alone or in a small group. Once a month I join about thirty women for a morning of teaching, contemplation, prayer and reflection. This group is called JourneyMates. The leaders of this ministry meet regularly to plan each session, prayerfully preparing the teaching segment and selecting a theme and a passage of Scripture. If you would like more information about this program, click here: http://www.journeymates.org/index.html
Whether done alone, in a group, or under the care of a spiritual director, contemplation of Scripture can bring forth healing and wholeness for the mind and soul. As I’ve noted before, the word of God…is sharper than a scalpel and pierces through our defenses down to our soul and spirit, joints and marrow – and not only is it able to discern what’s really going on with our heart and mind, it is able to regenerate them (my own paraphrase of Hebrews 4:12). Along with reading, studying, memorizing and using Scripture in prayer, contemplation is an important discipline – and diagnostic tool – in the life of every Christian.
Next week: summing up the role of Scripture in our lives.