“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
-Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)
A couple of years ago, I answered the three questions posed in that passage with a guilt-ridden, “Yes.”
I was exhausted, worn-out, and definitely headed toward burn-out. The ways that I connected with God in the past- prayer, Bible study, and journalling- weren’t working anymore. Prayer felt cold, studying the Bible was a chore, and journalling- rather than cathartic- was emotionally exhausting. God seemed distant in a way that I had never experienced. It was disorienting. What was wrong with me? I felt like a horrible Christian for not wanting to pray or read my Bible. As a Christian minister, I felt even worse that I was encouraging my students to study the Bible and pray when my own devotional life was in shambles.
It was in the thick of this negative self-talk and shame that I read Matthew 11:28-30 again.
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life…
Ugh, but how Jesus?
Walk with and work with me- watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
That word, unforced, jumped off the page at me. Unforced. My devotional life seemed pretty forced to me. I expended so much energy doing what I thought I should be doing that my relationship with God turned into a duty, a check-list. Rather than an unforced rhythm of grace, it was a forced regimen marked by guilt- something had to change.
At the time I was reading a book about the Benedictine practice of Lectio Divina- a combination of prayer and Bible study. Lectio Divina, meaning “Divine Reading” in Latin, is a 3rd century practice combining prayer and Bible reading. This is largely used in Benedictine orders of monks but is also practiced among evangelical Christ followers who are looking for different ways to engage God’s Word other than traditional Bible study. Think of this discipline not so much as an intellectual exercise but as engaging in an experiential way, seeking out the Bible as God’s Living Word, his very breath. The goal of Lectio Divina is not necessarily to gain more knowledge of the Bible but to connect with the Holy Spirit through the book he inspired and to commune with God through his Word for us.
After talking with some good friends and my husband, I came to an important realization. The fact that I no longer connected with God through my typical Bible study methods wasn’t a reflection of any character deficiencies or inadequacies. God didn’t want me to be stuck in shame about this. Rather, God used these feelings of disconnectedness to lead me in new ways of engaging in prayer and Bible reading. Like a snail that had outgrown its shell, I needed to leave behind my old ways of connecting with God in order to grow and develop.
I began to incorporate lectio divina and other meditative approached to prayer and Bible reading in my devotional life. It was freeing and rejuvenating. My relationship with God deepened and I began to see my life with him, not as a place where I had to fulfill deadlines or checklists, but as a place of rest and sanctuary. I still enjoy intense Bible study and I occasionally journal, but those are no longer the exclusive ways that God develops my relationship with him.
Are your routine spiritual practices feeling a little dull or dry? Are you feeling “tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?” Maybe God is leading you into a season of encountering new ways of connecting with him. Try Lectio Divina once this week and see what you think.
Lectio Divina has 4 movements: Lectio (read/attend), Meditatio (meditate/ponder), Oratio (respond in prayer), & Contemplatio (contemplate)
Start by quieting your mind and your heart for a couple of minutes, maybe use a breath prayer to slow down. Sometimes I like to light a candle to remind me of God’s presence.
Try this using the familiar Psalm 23 (NIV)
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Other recommended passages: 1 Corinthians 13, Isaiah 40: 21-31, Colossians 1:15-23
Lectio: Read the text once or twice out loud (or listen to it using a recording of the Bible), allow yourself to simply listen and not try and figure out what it means. Thank God silently for his Word.
Meditatio: Read the text again, paying attention to any words or phrases that light up for you, that are resonating for you or just seem to stick out.
Sit in silence for a couple more seconds, thinking about the words and phrases that stick out, maybe say them or think them in your head.
Oratio: Read the text again, being mindful of the words or phrases that are lighting up to you. When the text has been read, respond to God in prayer. Thank him for revealing himself to you in his Word.
Contemplatio: Read the text a final time. When finished, ponder over what God is communicating to you through his Word. Sit in the knowledge that God is with you and that is Word is living and active.
Finish by thanking God and perhaps using a breath prayer a couple of times.
What I love about Lectio Divina is that I can just come as I am. I don’t have to pour over commentaries (although commentaries are wonderful) and I don’t have to summon intellectual energy if I don’t have any to give. The practice is completely dependent on God to show up. I can’t make God to speak through the text and I can’t force the passage to present a certain meaning to me. I simply have to wait for God. All that is required of me is to be open as I read the passage. For some this might be uncomfortable and that’s ok. I challenge you to set aside 10 minutes and try this practice. Come with an openness to God and free yourself from any expectations of how you think it should go. Allow yourself to come to Jesus and rest.
Share your experiences with Lectio Divina in the comments section. Or if you have other disciplines that have been helpful in seasons of disconnectedness with God, share about those.