Devotional reading luxuriates in the text, waiting for ways that words, ideas, characters, and situations in Scripture can prompt insights. Below are five ways to spend time with Scripture, which in my experience provide ways to see the text anew. Sometimes what I discover is a new detail I never noticed before or a question I never asked of the text or myself.
- Retell the passage from the perspective of the different characters.
Usually the Bible tells stories in the third person; that is, he/she/they did this or that. Read a passage, and then retell the same story as each character would have told it. For instance, the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19 can be retold as if Jesus, Zacchaeus, and the crowd is telling it. Jesus’ story might begin something like this: “One day, as I entered Jericho, pressed by crowds, I noticed a little guy up in a tree.” By putting myself in each person’s shoes and seeing through their eyes, I always notice new aspects of the text.
- Interview each of the characters.
I often ask, “If I could ask this character any question, what would it be?” And this first question leads to other questions, and I end up interviewing the character. For instance, I’d love to ask the prodigal son: How old were you? How long were you gone? How did you lose your money? What was your relationship like with your brother before you left? What was your first conversation with your brother after you returned? Did you have a mom? What were the long-term consequences of your actions?
- Read the passage five times with each of the five senses in mind.
This one may seem a little odd, but I find that a text can either feel too distant or seem too familiar, and this practice helps me enter into the world of the text afresh. As an example, with the story of Jesus walking on the water, a focus on the five senses might prompt these thoughts: blisters from rowing hard; the salty taste of fish stuck in a back tooth from the feeding of the 5000; the sound (or not) of Jesus’ footsteps while walking on the water; the smell of sweat; looking through squinted eyes because of the stormy wind.
- Find the good news in the passage.
I presume that the authors wrote these texts to shape the hearts, minds, and communities of God’s people. Sometimes the good news comes by looking at God’s actions, other times through heroic acts of faith, and still other times through negative examples. Whatever the case, make an effort to discern the message of good news in each passage.
- Read the passage out loud.
Part of reading Scripture in a fresh way is making a familiar text unfamiliar. By reading a text aloud, we slow down and attend to specific features. To slow down ever further, read a verse multiple times, putting the emphasis on different words each time. Ask yourself where the emphasis is in the text. Good readers can go even further by exploring the nuances that emerge when emphasizing different words through pitch, tone, rate, and pauses.
With any of these five practices, transformation comes not because of a formula or a new trick but through reading in a way that leaves one open to God’s work in us.
Kenneth L. Cukrowski