Lectio Divina

What it is?

“Lectio Divina is the deliberate and intentional practice of making the transition from the kind of reading that treats and handles, however reverently, Jesus dead to a way of reading that frequents the company of friends who are listening to, accompanying, and following Jesus alive.”1

A new way of reading the Bible

Eugene Peterson does one of the best jobs of introducing lectio divina that I know of.  Here are some quotes from him:

Barth insists that we do not read this book [the Bible] and the subsequent writings that are shaped by it in order to find out how to get God into our lives; get him to participate in our lives. No. We open this book and find that page after page it takes us off guard, surprises us, and draws us into its reality, pulls us into participation with God on his terms.2

All writing that comes out of this [Holy Spirit] School anticipates this kind of reading: participatory reading, receiving the words in such a way that they become interior to our lives, the rhythms and images becoming practices of prayer, acts of obedience, ways of love.3

If Holy Scripture is to be something other than mere gossip about God, it must be internalized.4

The Reformers insisted on what they called the “perspicuity” of Scriptures,  that the Bible is substantially intelligible to the common persons and requires neither pope nor professor to interpret it.5

Why lectio divina is an important spiritual discipline

We know that all of Scripture is God’s revealed word. In that light, as we thoroughly immerse ourselves in His word, we cannot help but be washed by the cleansing power of His presence. However, many of us, especially in this 21st century Western culture, read the Bible for information only. This is, without question, important. Paul encouraged Timothy to careful study of the Scriptures. In my definition, study is primarily for information and intellectual understanding. If, however, this is the end of all of our encounters with God’s word, we will be missing a major purpose of the Scriptures. The Bible is also intended as a means for encountering the living Word. In relating to the Pharisees, who spent hours studying the Bible, Jesus upbraided them for not using the Scriptures to commune with the living Word. Paul said that “All Scripture is God-breathed”. Lectio divina has been used throughout the history of the church to allow the Scripture to be a vehicle whereby we encounter the living God.

Some have questioned the scriptural basis for lectio.  To read why we believe that it is a practice very much rooted in scripture, read more.

Basic Components to lectio divina

Historically, lectio divina  is broken into 4 parts:

  1. Lectio-Reading Slow attentive reading of a small portion of scripture.  Putting oneself in the presence of God.  Allowing oneself to be addressed by the Holy Spirit.  Listen for the word or phrase that “stops” you…that gets your attention…that “summons” you.
  2. Meditatio-Reflection  Allow your faculties/reason, imagination, memory, emotions to begin to work with the passage.  Consider why that word or phrase stood out…what do you notice?  Consider not what the Bible scholars might say, but how is your heart responding to this word?
  3. Oratio-Prayer  Is there a prayerful response to what you are hearing and feeling?  A short, simple prayer – spoken or silent.
  4. Contemplatio-Contemplation A time to reflect more deeply, to “rest in the word” – resting in God.   Rest, allow “digestion” to take place.  There may be a picture, another scripture, an insight, a direct word from God at this time, an invitation.

Jeanette Bakke breaks it down this way:

  • Reading seeks for the sweetness of a blessed life
  • Meditation perceives it
  • Prayer asks for it
  • Contemplation tastes it.

Guigo II, a 12th Century monk puts it this way:

  • Reading, as it were, puts food whole into the mouth
  • Meditation chews it and breaks it up,
  • Prayer extracts its flavor,
  • Contemplation is the sweetness itself which gladdens and refreshes.

Basic Approach

Here is one approach to the practice of lectio divina

  1. Select a portion of Scripture (not more than ten verses). I would recommend the Psalms, Proverbs, the Gospels or the pastoral (versus the doctrinal) epistles
  2. Ask God to speak to you through this passage.
  3. Read the passage through one or two times very slowly. As you read, ask God to highlight one thought or one word to you as you read. Sometimes, it is helpful to write the passage out in full. Write this down in a prayer journal as well as the word or thought that came to you.
  4. Read the passage again slowly, asking God to show you how your life is touched by this passage. Again, record your thoughts in a prayer journal.
  5. Read the whole passage at least one more time. This time, ask God to show you if there is an invitation for you in this passage. Again, record your question and what you believe God may be showing you in a prayer journal.
  6. Using the Scriptures as a springboard, pray about whatever God has brought to mind. The prayer could be for you, for others, or for a situation. It could be a petitionary prayer (i.e. asking God for something), an intercessory prayer (i.e. standing in the gap for another person), a prayer of confession, a prayer of thanksgiving, or even just a cry for help.

Some Scriptures to start with

This is only a minute sampling of the passages in the Scripture with which to begin. If you are not familiar with the Scriptures, start with these. After you have sampled these, other passages can be found by simply reading the Scriptures. Begin your time by asking God to highlight a section as you are reading. Then, take that small portion, and practice the discipline of “Praying the Scriptures.”

Exodus 20:1-20 These are the ten commandments (known in Hebrew as the ten words). Take them very slowly. Do not attempt to use more than several verses at a time.
I Kings 19:9-13 Elijah was very discouraged after God had accomplished a great victory over the enemies of God. Shortly after the victory, the enemies made a very strong counter-attack. Elijah had fled from the place where God wanted him.
Psalm 1:1-6 This Psalm contrasts the way of the world with the way of the man or woman of God. This Psalm has ministered to me many times as I have converted it to prayers.
Psalm 5:1-5 One of my favorite prayers is “Oh God, oh God help!”. This Psalm expresses this prayer very well.
Psalm 91:1-14 Break this up into at least two parts. Notice how, as the psalmist journals the prayer, God breaks through and speaks. Allow Him to speak to you as you let this Psalm soak in.
Matthew 9:35-38 Jesus demonstrates His compassion for the crowd and implores the disciples to enter into a life of prayer and action.
Isaiah 55:1-13 Again, take this in at least two parts. Take your time. Not too long ago, I spent several weeks with verses 6-9. God revealed Himself to me as the “untamed Lion” that C. S. Lewis described in the Chronicles of Narnia. “Is He safe?” asked Lucy of Mr. Beaver. “Of course He’s not safe. But He’s good.” he answered. Allow God to show the extent to which His thoughts and His ways are not yours. Then bask in the warmth of His faithfulness.
Matthew 17:14-21 Jesus reprimands His disciples for not being able to do what He did. He directs them to the true source of His power.
John 21:15-19 Jesus’ first and last words to Peter were “Come follow me.” Allow these final words to the one who had denied Him to speak to your heart.
I Cor 13:1-13 Paul’s Psalm of Love. Allow the searing and healing light of God’s truth and His call to penetrate your heart. This passage took me more than two weeks the first time I converted it prayers. It is a gold mine of truth waiting to be unearthed.
I Peter 1:13-16 God’s call of holiness as recorded by Peter.



1Eat this Book: A Conversation in the art of Spiritual Reading Eugene Peterson page 86

2Ibid page 6

3Ibid page 10

4Ibid page 20

5Ibid page 51