It’s dangerous to study the Bible without submitting yourself to God and listening to the Holy Spirit. If you’re not careful, without realizing it you might distort Bible verses say you want or use them to craft your own message or agenda.
Jesus confronted the Pharisees for diligently studying the Scriptures but not coming to him as their Savior and Lord (John 5:39-40). They manipulated the words of Scripture because they did not rely on the Holy Spirit that infuses the words with life and love (John 6:63; Ephesians 1:13-14).
In Lectio Divina we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly so it brings us joy and helps us love God and one another (Colossians 3:14-16). We submit to the word of God and come to know Jesus as the living Word (John 1:18).
In this blog we answer the question, what is Lectio Divina? We introduce the history of Lectio Divina, identify the four steps of Lectio Divina, and share 14 passages from our booklet of over 70 Lectio Divina Guides.
What is Lectio Divina?
Lectio Divina is a spiritual discipline of meditation on Scripture in which you slowly and prayerfully read and re-read a text in order to listen and apply God’s word to your life. It’s an ancient monastic practice that is used by many Christians today.
You can use Lectio Divina with any passage of Scripture, but a Gospel story or Psalm work especially well. You simply read and re-read the text slowly, carefully, and prayerfully.
The goal is not intellectual knowledge but conversational intimacy with God. In other words, you’re not seeking information as much as formation — you’re learning to apply the historical and inspired text to the personal text of your life today.
There are a variety of ways that people do Lectio Divina. Some are more analytical and similar to Bible study, and others are more meditative, emphasizing quiet prayer and reflection.
It’s helpful to both study Scripture and meditate on it because they help us in different ways. Bible study especially focuses on our mind, ideas, thinking, and worldview. Scripture meditation emphasizes our heart, feelings, desires, and prayers.
In the Soul Shepherding Institute we teach Lectio Divina as a reflective and heart-engaging method of Scripture meditation that cultivates listening to God, submission to our Lord, authentic community, and emotional-relational health. Our approach is adapted from St Andrews Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Valyermo, CA.
History of Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina is Latin for the divine reading of Scripture. It was developed by Benedict of Nursia in the 6th Century. In the 12th Century it was formalized by Guigo with four steps of reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation.
In Benedict’s famous Rule for monks (480 – 547) he urges us to listen to God’s word “with the ear of our hearts.” We’re listening for the living Word of God to speak to our hearts.
This is why his approach to Lectio Divina has us read Scripture slowly and prayerfully.
Six centuries later Guigo, a Carthusian monk (known for being contemplative and ascetic), elaborated on St. Benedict’s practice of Lectio Divina. He systematized the process of Lectio with the four steps that form a spiritual ladder of intimacy with God.
Although Lectio Divina has traditionally been known as a monastic practice, today many Christians from diverse traditions practice this way of praying Scripture.
Lectio Divina Process
The best way to learn how to do Lectio Divina for yourself or people you are ministering to is through being guided by a spiritual director or mentor who is experienced. We do this for you in Soul Shepherding’s online video course, “Lectio Divina: Going Deeper in God’s Word” by Bill and Kristi Gaultiere.
Four Steps in Lectio Divina
One method of Lectio Divina is to do four readings, one to focus on each of Guigo’s four steps. But these four steps are perhaps best understood as four underlying rhythms that are embedded in the process of Scripture meditation.
In Latin Guigo’s divine reading steps are lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), and contemplatio (contemplation). You can use four R’s to remember the four steps as read, reflect, respond, and rest.
In Lectio to read the word of God is to take it as food and put it into your mouth. You listen carefully to Scripture — without hurry or intellectual strain. You wait quietly for Holy Spirit to bring God’s word to life. Then you pause on the portion of the passage that you’re drawn to.
To meditate on Scripture is like chewing your food. You reflect and ponder its deep meaning. Gently repeat to yourself a phrase from the Scripture, turning it over and over in your thoughts and feelings to renew your mind (Romans 12:2).
Praying Scripture is like tasting your food. You respond to the words with feelings, confess your sins or struggles, and ask God for what you or others need.
To contemplate on God’s word is to digest its sweetness. You rest quietly in God’s loving arms. No words are necessary at this point and may detract from simply being in God’s loving presence. This is the goal of Lectio Divina.
Some spiritual teachers add a 5th step in Lectio Divina of incarnatio, which is incarnating the Word by living it out in your daily life.
Three Questions in Lectio Divina
Soul Shepherding’s Lectio Divina Guides use three focus questions to guide separate readings of the Scripture. After each reading time is allotted for quiet prayer or journaling. This works very well as a simple three step model for doing Lectio Divina. It’s especially effective for leading Lectio Divina groups.
1. One Word
What is one word or phrase the Holy Spirit impresses on you? In silence meditate on that.
What do you feel? What specific situation in your life today relates? Write down a prayer or pray quietly.
What is God’s personal invitation to you from the Scripture? You can write down what the Lord may be saying to you or a prayer of thanks. Or simply rest quietly in the Spirit’s presence.
How to Pray in Lectio Divina
“Let the Word of God descend from your mind down into your heart,” is the work of prayer according to the ancient spiritual prayer masters. That’s how Scripture heals and transforms us. Lectio Divina is a method for doing this.
After each of the three Scripture readings in Lectio Divina you stay in quiet prayer for about 3 to 12 minutes (depending on how much time is available and spiritual readiness).
Learning how to benefit from the spiritual discipline of silent prayer is a challenge for many people, but it is central to Lectio Divina. For many people profiting from silent prayer requires caring for anxious feelings that underlie their antsiness and wandering thoughts.
A spiritual director can support your meditation by spiritually holding you in God’s presence. You can absorb the quiet spirit, attentiveness, and calm that’s being offered. You can learn to hold your thoughts and feelings in the flow of words from the Bible passage.
Praying Scripture in Lectio Divina is like marinating in the juices of God’s life-giving words.
It’s also important to talk with your spiritual director or friend about your emotions and experiences with Lectio Divina. This helps you apply the word to your life and grow to be more present to God.
Best Practices of Lectio Divina
There are a variety of applications for experiencing and sharing Lectio Divina. Here are the most popular:
1. Personal Devotions
Lectio Divina is an inspiring way to freshen up and deepen your times of devotional reading in the Bible.
2. Small Groups
Practicing Lectio Divina with a small group can help group members be vulnerable, prayerful, and emotionally connected to God and one another. You can learn to feed off the fruit of others’ meditations, as well as your own. Lectio helps groups to prioritize spiritual formation in Christlikeness as the ultimate goal of Bible study and community.
3. Spiritual Direction
When you talk with a spiritual director (like those on Soul Shepherding’s staff) it can help you experience God’s caring presence and hear God’s voice. Meditating on recommended Lectio Divina Guides between sessions can continue your spiritual growth process.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate Lectio Divina is on a spiritual retreat. You could do this as a private retreat at a Benedictine monastery. Or you could join a community retreat like the ones in the Soul Shepherding Institute.
As part of Sabbatical coaching for pastors, missionaries, and other leaders we recommend doing a series of Lectio Divina Guides to provide spiritual intentionality. To learn more visit SabbaticalGuide.com.
6. Ignatian Meditation
The practice of Ignatian meditation is similar to Lectio Divina as a method of quiet, reflective, and prayerful meditation on Scripture. The main difference is that it focuses on using your imagination and senses to enter into Gospel stories and engage with Jesus.
Lectio Divina Passages
People often ask us, “What are the best Scripture passages to use for Lectio Divina?”
We selected over 70 Scriptures for Lectio Divina on the themes of spiritual formation and soul care with Jesus. On each Lectio Divina sheet we’ve put the Scripture, an opening prayer, the four steps, three focus questions to guide your readings, and space to journal.
To pick a Scripture to meditate on or share with others it’s easy to peruse the index of Bible verses and spiritual formation topics. As you do this simply pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you to the Lectio Divina Passage that will be most helpful.
Here are some passages from this booklet:
“Help for Discouraged Leaders” (1 Samuel 30:1-6): David finds strength in the Lord when his men turn on him at Ziklag.
“Surrounded By Angels” (2 Kings 6:8-17): Elisha prays for his servant’s eyes to be opened to see the spiritual Kingdom of God.
“Two Ways to Live and Lead” (Psalm 1): Going your own way vs. listening to God.
“The Dark Night” (Psalm 13): Take heart from David in a Dark Night of the Soul or other times of trial.
“Baptized in Christ” (Matthew 3:13-17): In Christ, the heavens are opened to us as they were to Jesus at his baptism: “You are my beloved child and in you, I am well pleased.” And the Spirit remains on us!
“Jesus’ Easy Yoke For You” (Matthew 11:25-30): Learn to live and work in Jesus’ unforced rhythms of grace. This is the Lectio Divina that inspired our book, Your Best Life In Jesus’ Easy Yoke.
“Jesus’ Glory in a Small Group” (Matthew 17:1-13): Christ our Lord shows us how to be a spiritual formation group.
“See Jesus Seeing You” (Mark 1:14-20): As with his first disciples, Jesus sees you and calls, “Come, follow me.”
“Peace! Be Still” (Mark 4:35-41): With Christ, we can be at peace — even before he calms the storm with a word!
“Receiving God’s Word” (Luke 1:26-38): Mary’s great prayer of submission. (Especially good for Advent.)
“Failure and Faith” (Luke 22:24-34): As with Peter, we all fail at times. The key is Jesus’ prayer for us that our faith in God not fail. (Especially good for Lent.)
“Join the Father’s Work” (John 5:1-20): Jesus heals the invalid at the Sheep Gate Pool.
“The Radiant Son of God” (Hebrews 1:1-4): Captivate your heart with Christ to let him shine out from you to others.*
Revelation 1:9-19 “Riveted by Jesus in his Glory” Jesus appears in a vision, shining forth like the sun in his divine glory.
Experiencing Lectio Divina
Drs Bill and Kristi Gaultiere, co-founders of Soul Shepherding, have developed an online course on Lectio Divina for you. It features short videos and handy tools to revitalize your personal devotions in the Bible and your small group meetings.
You’ll discover the spirit and pacing of the steps in Lectio Divina and how to listen for God’s voice. You’ll learn how to experience God’s presence in Scripture meditation and how to lead others in a small group.
This online course features 7 videos of 10-20 minutes, practical handouts, and a small group leader’s guide.
Get access to Lectio Divina: Going Deeper in God’s Word.