Divine Reading: Using Lectio Divina in Your Sermon Preparation

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Lectio Divina is an ancient practice that simply means “Divine or Spiritual Reading.” While the exact origin of Lectio is unknown, we do know that it was a spiritual practice used as early as the 4th century as a result of Origen’s theology of reflecting on God’s Word to find hidden meanings. It was then used by the earliest monastic communities, formalized by Benedictines in the 6th century, further explained by the Carthusian monks in the 12th century, and expounded upon by John of the Cross. During the Reformation, John Calvin used and encouraged others to use this spiritual practice. Most recently, it has experienced a revival as a favorite practice in many churches. It is used at spiritual retreats, with children and teens, and with 12 step programs.

For many preachers, this can be a tool we can use to intentionally listen to what God would say to us, and through us, about the text on which we are preaching. We all know that the best sermons happen when we struggle with a text long enough to discover what God would have us say. Because of the busy lives most preachers have, however, we often write the sermon as we would a term paper. We do research, we spend hours looking for stories to use as illustrations, we read commentaries looking for insights and more often than we would like to admit, we forget to be still and listen with “our hearts and souls” to God.

Developing a weekly or even daily practice of Lectio Divina around our preaching text carves out time for us to listen, be still and hear what God would have us speak in our unique ministry settings.

We still need to do all of the background work and academic study, but using Lectio regularly reminds us that God is the one speaking and that we are the humble servants who have been called to deliver God’s message.

Using the traditional four-step process of Lectio, I suggest the following weekly spiritual practice:

  • Prepare a sacred space: Grab your Bible, and some things to use as you reflect such as some paper, paints, clay, paper and pen, or a journal and markers. Go to a peaceful place where you can have at least fifteen minutes to an hour of uninterrupted prayer. You might want to light a candle, gaze out a window, or hum a soft melody until you settle into this sacred time.
  • Step One: Read the Scripture. Read the text, that you plan to preach on, slowly. Savor the words as if you have never read or heard this passage before.
  • Step Two: Reflect. Be still. Do not force thoughts. Simply be with the Word of God, trusting that God is present through the sacred text. Do not rush this time and do not begin writing your sermon. Let this be a time with no agenda.
  • Step Three: Respond. As you have pondered the text during your time of reflection, perhaps a word, phrase, or image has come into your mind. You can draw or paint the image, write your thoughts down in a journal, create a symbol from clay, or doodle on a sheet of paper. Let whatever images or words come into your mind without editing, judging yourself, or wondering how you will use them in the sermon.
  • Step Four: Resting. Then just be. Do nothing. Let whatever image, message, thought or word simmer. Do not begin writing your sermon or working on the outline. Be still and remember that God will guide your words and speak through you at the proper time. There is no rush.
  • Leaving the sacred space. After you have rested, slowly close the Bible and gather your things. Stretch, slowly stand up, and gently return to work. You might do something unrelated to your sermon so that the experience has time to simmer and begin to take shape.
  • Sermon Preparation. As you return to work on your sermon, trust that being still and listening to God was important time. Sometimes the phrase or image you received during Lectio will be used in your sermon. Sometimes, it will simply open your mind and heart to receive something through study you might have otherwise missed. Sometimes you will not be able to see the connection between the time spent in Lectio and the sermon, but that does not mean that God is not inspiring you.

Lectio Divina is not a “magic pill” designed to make your sermon better. It is a spiritual practice and the more you use it, the better you will become at hearing God and discovering insights into the text. Like any spiritual practice, the more you use it, the richer the experience and benefits will be.

I pray that you will consider using Lectio Divina and I pray that it will help you connect with, and hear God speak to, your heart.

To learn more about Leanne Hadley’s work please visit her website: leanne-hadley.com or on her Facebook page: Leanne Cares about Kids.

Leanne Hadley is an ordained elder in the UMC and has a DMin in the spirituality of children. She has dedicated her entire career to working with and studying the spiritual lives of children. Her work experience includes working as a chaplain, directing a migrant ministry summer program, Minister to Children and Families, and Founder of First Steps Spirituality Center. She is passionate about strengthening congregations by helping them understand the spiritual lives of children and deepen and expand the ministries they offer to children and families.

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