The Scripture engagement practice called Contemplate is an intimate way of communicating with the Lord (it has been traditionally called Lectio Divina or “divine reading”). All too often in prayer and worship, we talk to God but don’t give him a chance to communicate back to us. Contemplate is a tool to help us use God’s Word to have a personal conversation with him.
The four traditional stages of Contemplate are reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. The steps were created simply to provide structure and guidance for people who wish to learn how to perform this practice.
The four steps of Contemplate have been compared to “feasting on the Word.” Reading is taking a bite of food. Mediating is chewing food. Praying is savoring food. Contemplating is digesting food and making it a part of your body. Too often we are “fast food” Bible readers, rapidly gulping down the Bread of life (John 6:35. The result is that we are unable to properly absorb our “spiritual meal.” Instead, slow down. Savor your time in God’s Word and find joy in meeting God.
A suggested basic flow to the Contemplate process could include the following steps:
Reading: Reading is the first and foremost part of Contemplate. After preparing your heart and mind to be in God’s Word, slowly read the passage you have chosen. Note specific words. Think about the intentionality of the word ordering. Look for repetition, themes, pictures, and dialogue. Stay alert for a single word, phrase, verse, metaphor, or message that catches your eye, stirs you, moves you, or connects with you emotionally.
Then read the passage again. Stop at whatever had tugged at your heart and reread that significant piece over and over, lingering over the words and phrases. Repetition will help to keep that piece of Scripture in the forefront of your mind.
Meditation: Think about what the parts that stood out to you meant to the original audience and what the author might have been thinking when he wrote it. Think about the specific part of the passage that spoke directly to you. Focus intently on why the Holy Spirit might have chosen these words to speak to you. Reflect on how it might connect to your life. Is it relevant to something that you are going through? Do certain people come to mind whom God may want you to reach out to or reconcile with?
When you’re thinking about a passage in God’s presence, ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate that passage so that you can grasp the connections to your own life. Meditation engages us holistically: heart, mind, emotions. When we enter into the world of the Bible, it starts to influence us and change us. Meditation is a way to guard against splintering our Bible reading into information that is divorced from our lives.
Have you ever thought that Christians are not supposed to meditate? Biblical meditation (e.g., Genesis 24:63; Joshua 1:8; Psalms 1:2; 48:9; 77:3; 119:15; 143:5) is not the same as Eastern meditation. In Eastern meditation, the objective is detachment and an empty mind. In biblical meditation, the objective is attachment to God and sustained focus on his Word. Peter Toon in Meditating as a Christian defines biblical meditation as “thinking about, reflecting upon, considering, taking to heart, reading slowly and carefully, prayerfully taking in, and humbly receiving into mind, heart and will that which God has revealed.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Meditating on the Word, says simply that “you should accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart as Mary did. That is all. That is meditation.”
Have you ever noticed your mind so centered on something that it just won’t let go? You have a thought, often unhelpful or something you’re worrying about, that repeats over and over. In biblical meditation, we are retraining our thoughts to mull over “whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Philippians 4:8). Instead of worrying over something in a harmful way, we are choosing to redirect our thoughts on the things of God, especially Christ as found in his Word.
Prayer: The next step is to take all the thoughts, feelings, actions, fears, convictions, and questions you have meditated on and offer them to the Lord in prayer. Meditation flows naturally into prayer. In your prayer, you are bringing your life and Scripture together in God’s presence. Praise God for who he is. If you feel convicted about a poor relationship, apologize, request forgiveness, and ask for guidance on restoring the relationship. If you feel thankful for something that God has done for you, pour out those feelings of thanksgiving. If you feel a specific anxiety about something in your life, present it to the Lord and pray for the guidance and peace to be able to submit to God’s will. Simply talk to God and tell him what you’re feeling, just like you would with a good friend or family member.
Contemplation: This final stage (though frequently overlooked) is vital. The “task” in this stage is to simply be silent in the presence of God (Psalm 46:10). This is one of the most essential aspects for building a growing relationship with the Lord. Many testify that at the end of a Contemplate session, they have a feeling of closeness and intimacy with the Lord. One of the most valuable things that you can do with this feeling is to relax and embrace it. Just be with God. You don’t need to always be talking at God. In this stage, simply sit in the presence of God and feel his tender love and embrace. Resist worrying about your cell phone, work, friends, family, illnesses, and whatever else holds you back from God and sit in the love that is shared between you and Jesus.
Part of contemplation (some people make this a separate stage called “living”) is to commit yourself, with the help of God, to act on the truth that he has implanted in your heart. God is calling you to submit to his Word and live it out (e.g., James 1:22-25; Matthew 7:15-27; Romans 2:12-16). Living out your faith is a way to follow Jesus that happens more automatically as you know Christ better and become more like him.
At the end of the contemplation stage of a particular portion of Scripture, you will naturally come to a place where you will feel you are finished. Your choice then is to repeat the process with another passage or phrase from Scripture or simply close off your Contemplate session with a prayer of thanksgiving.
The Scripture engagement practice called Contemplate is a process that will take some getting used to. Try not to quit if you aren’t enjoying it after your first few attempts. At first each step may seem rigid and awkward, but after some practice and experience everything will flow together and you can learn to have life-giving communication with God.