I am horrible at directions. You know the old joke, “She couldn’t find her way out of a paper bag?” Yep, that’s me. My husband, on the other hand, can go somewhere ONCE in HIS WHOLE life and find his way back to the exact location without ever looking at a map. I can know you my whole life and still need written directions to find your house.
Imagine my glee when I purchased a “smart phone,” with a built in turn by turn navigation system. All I have to do is touch the little blue arrow, and “speak my destination,” and a wonderfully lively animated voice tells me exactly where to go. Sure there are other buttons that I can push to look at the map, change routes, or even read the written directions, but I don’t have to. I can just tell her (yes a female voice), where I want to go and listen to her tell me how to get there.
There are, however, some glitches in the system. Sometimes she tells me the “number” of an exit on the highway when the off ramp has a street name. Other times she doesn’t tell me to turn until I have driven right past the turning lane. If I tell her to “find a business,” she can’t tell me if the business has shut down. On more than one occasion I have driven around looking for a Starbucks that doesn’t really exist. In short, while, my lovely phone navigation friend has saved me on more than one occasion I have learned something. If I REALLY want to make sure that I get to my destination I need to LOOK at the map and READ the directions.
There might be a roadblock, a closed street, or a lot of traffic. I might need to find another route. There might be a funky left exit on the highway when I am used to getting to the right. There might be 2 names for a street. The variables here are never ending.
Recently, I had breakfast with two of my youth pastor friends. We got to talk about what students need in our youth programs. All three of us admitted a sad truth.
There was a time, for each of us, in our youth ministry careers when we did not raise the bar high enough for our students. We either talked over their heads or treated them as theological idiots.
What do I mean? We used words like, “justification, sanctification and redemption,” without ever teaching them what they truly mean. Navigating to the other end of the spectrum we thought that games, hype and a “relevant” talk that never actually used any scripture, would bring, “The Jesus,” to their level. Yet, for each of us a moment came when we saw that our youth weren’t changing. They continued to, ”Cuss, dance and chew, and hang with those who do.” Our hearts longed for transformed students and not only were we seeing no difference, they seemed to be running way from the Lord. Sure, they were showing up, in droves. They loved the lights and the spectacle, but their lives were, “A mile wide and an inch thick,” so to speak.
Each of us, youth guys, coming from different backgrounds, different arenas of ministry, and different geographic location all came to the same conclusion, “Our expectations for our students were too low.” It felt good to allow them to listen to our perky navigational voice, while not really showing them the way. This was so much easier than getting out the system and teaching them to truly USE it.
So we raised the bar. We raised it high. We refused to lower it one bit, with one great exception, we showed our students HOW to get there. Somehow the realization came that we had been allowing our students to half pay attention to the way. When we weren’t around to tell them where to go, they were getting off course. Our youth needed to learn how to check the directions for themselves. They needed to learn the age-old skill of map reading.
Infusing our students with the WORD of God, we got into the nitty gritty of where to go. You see we can talk about him until we are blue in the face, but until each of us SEE him with our own heart we can’t ever KNOW who he is. Someone who has a father, who has been absent, neglectful, or abusive, hears that God is our Father and that is the image that paints their worldview. In their mind’s eye they now see a God who will disappoint and hurt them. Saying, that the first line of the “Lord’s Prayer,” is to our “Father, then we follow it with the word Hallowed,” seems distant and removed. However, showing them the Lord the Father, in the Bible we see someone totally different. We see one who sacrificed his ONE AND ONLY son because he loves us so much. We see a God who has fed and clothed and taken care of the physical needs of the destitute. Learning that he “saves the crushed in Spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) He has known us before we were born. (Psalm 139) There is a purpose and a plan for our lives that is meant for good. (Jeremiah 29:11). We have the right to call a God that feels so far away, “Daddy,” when we understand that through relationship with him we become “adopted,” as his children. (Galatians 4: 6 &7) Jesus, his own son, was obedient to submit to HIS will but for a moment in time he struggled with his “Dad’s” choices for him too. (Matthew 26: 39-42) Now our kids have a clear portrait of which this “God the Father,” is and they start to WANT to get to know him a little better. They may even want to pray to him and ask him to help provide their, “daily bread.”
Instead of trying to find ways to dance our way through a message we are instructing our kids, not preaching at them. Conversion of a lifestyle starts to happen, when we coach on the “how to.” Get down face to face and ask those in front of us- line-by-line, word-by-word if they understand what is being said.
Now don’t get me wrong, I believe there are great catalysts to get students to look at the Word and to get it into their hearts. Sometimes we simply need to know if when they go home our youth are reading a version of the Bible they can comprehend. (“I try to read the Bible, but it never makes sense to me.” I usually ask, “What translation are you reading.” Or “When you turn to the title page what kind of Bible does it tell you it is?” If the answer is something like, “New King James Version,” that is a good starting point as to why it feels so “hard.”) Other times we might use an audio Bible so that they can hear the Word.
The point is, are we trusting that the Bible is living and active? Are we trusting that we don’t have to “pimp” God? Do we believe that it is HIS job to change the heart towards him? Will we believe that the letters will jump off the page, to be written on their hearts and mind and draw them close to a Savior?
For the idea of Salvation isn’t really that hard. As Pascal stated, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” We want to know that we have someone bigger than us that can wash us clean of our sin. However, understanding “being clean,” from our sin, living this out daily and allowing Christ to be IN CHARGE of EVERY ASPECT of our life? That one I am still at almost 40 attempting to figure out.
Ask yourself this hard question. How many teens in Middle or High School do you KNOW personally that are GENUINELY living passionately, out loud for Christ, in all aspects of who they are? If you are totally honest it is probably a handful, if that.
We blame ourselves for not meeting them at their level. We are right. However, we are going about it all wrong. We are showing our students all of the qualities in the voice that tells us where to go. Isn’t it a lovely voice? All you have to do is listen and watch and success is instant. But that isn’t real life. Real life is about heartache and discouragement and feeling lost some days. Real life is when other people are mean and we can’t stop them. Saying, “love your enemy,” just sounds ridiculous and hollow. But walking our students through how to treat your enemies, and why Jesus said that is an entirely different message all together.
Where do we begin? With ourselves. My friends and I all agreed that we “Can’t give what we don’t have.” We need to be in THE WORD- daily too. We need to admit to ourselves that when it “seems dry,” it might just be a heart issue. You can tell me to not be anxious when my navigation system get glitchy, but if I know WHO is really guiding me and how much He loves me with His whole self I can take a deep breath and feel safe. I know when the voice is silent; there is a map that shows me the way.
Then we take time, real time to teach our what all the words we say mean. We let them wrestle with God and we trust that He will win the match. We aren’t afraid that something that is meant to be a blueprint, a guide and a love letter will fail them. We really believe that the Lord himself is whispering those words, past the mind into the soul.
Don’t know where to begin with your students? Below is a copy of how to practice “Lectio Devina,” with your students. A straightforward way of reading and praying the Bible, I have loved using this exercise with students of every kind and background over the years. It is a favorite, because of the simplicity of the activity. The goal is to allow the Holy Spirit to talk to the group through “THE WORD.” Basically, by taking a small passage no more than 5 verses, you reflect on it. Then you take time to journal. Finally, you discuss the thoughts in your journaling. This has been powerful. First of all students come to see that reading the Bible is not overwhelming. You can read it verse by verse and understand how God speaks to us. There is no preconceived notion of “biblical foundation. Secondly, through the journaling, as a leader we get an honest assessment of what our students understand. The verse might read,” John 14:6
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The student might journal that Jesus is saying, that he is one of many paths to God, (yes this HAS happened). You are thinking, “What?” However, you see what they are really getting out of it when they read and you can gently help them see the intention of the verse. BE CAREFUL, however, to not throw
Water on the students as they really try to read the Word. Don’t ever laugh or judge their answers. Listen and get them excited to READ GOD’S WORDS to us daily.
Lectio devina is a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures. Time set aside in a special way for lectio divina enables us to discover in our daily life the way that the Lord speaks to us. He has given us in black and white (and sometimes red) a way of connecting to him and knowing that he DOES talk to us today.
Very often our concerns, our relationships, our hopes and aspirations, naturally intertwine with our reading the WORD. We can attend “with the ear of our hearts” to our own memories, listening for God’s presence in the events of our lives. We experience Christ reaching out to us through our own memories. Our own personal story becomes salvation history.
How to Practice Lectio Divina:
Lectio Divina as a Group Exercise
This is a time to come together and study the Scriptures in a way that it comes close the heart. We come to understand that the Word of God is living and active and not simply sitting on a page before us. Before you embark on this, you may want to take a week or so teaching students that the Bible is God’s living words to us. Help them to understand that every element is true. They may need to have a foundation of understanding why you want to approach study this way. If you feel you need to “call” it something else please feel free to do so. However, the name isn’t as important as the time spent.
• This works best in a group of between five and ten people.
• A group leader coordinates the process and facilitates sharing.
• Choose a text of the Scriptures that you want to focus on. It makes no difference which text is chosen, as long as one has no set goal of “covering” a certain amount of text. Keep the amount simple and concise. This is a great way to spend a couple of months working your way through a book of the Bible with your students.
• The same text from the Scriptures is read out three times. After each reading there is a time of brief silence. Each member in the group will need a “journal.” This can be a notebook or even just a piece of paper.
• The first reading is for the purpose of hearing a word or passage that touches the heart. A word or phrase may jump off the page at you. When the group hears it. What is the one thing that jumps out at you? When the word or phrase is found, the group’s members take a few moments and write about it. After the silence, each person shares which word or phrase has touched his or her heart, why and what did they feel like this verse says. If students are uncomfortable writing, they can draw a picture, or even just a few words will work fine. This is not about judging grammar or literacy, this is about expression.
• The second reading is for the purpose of “hearing” or “seeing” Christ in the text. Each ponders the word or phrase that has touched the heart and asks where the word or phrase touches his or her life that day. What does this phrase mean for you in your every day life? Students once again journal about it. Then, after the silence, each member of the group shares what he or she has “heard” or “seen.”
• The third and final reading is for the purpose of experiencing what Christ wants us to do with what we have heard. Members ask themselves what Christ in the text is calling them to do or to become today or this week. Journal once again. After the silence, each shares for the last time, and the exercise concludes with each person praying for the person on the right of him or her.
o Read the scripture through three times in a row and have students journal only once.
o Discuss after the scripture is read without journaling.
o Use an audio bible, like “Street Lights” (www.humblebeast.com/streetlights) to accentuate the way the Word is read.
o For those who do not want to “share” thoughts with the group give them the opportunity to have a “journal” conversation with the leader of their group. Students may be comfortable only sharing one or two thoughts. Take their journal homes and write to your students based on their responses.
Those who regularly practice this method of praying and sharing the Scriptures find it to be an excellent way of developing trust within a group.
Teaching Students to Use Lectio Divina as “alone time” with God:
• Choose a text of the Scriptures that you want to focus on. It makes no difference which text is chosen, as long as one has no set goal of “covering” a certain amount of text. However, keep the amount simple and concise. This is a great way to spend a couple of months working your way through a book of the Bible with your students.
• Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent. Some Christians focus for a few moments on their breathing; others have a beloved “prayer word” or “prayer phrase” they gently recite. For some, the practice known as “centering prayer” makes a good, brief introduction to lectio divina. Use whatever method is best for you and allow yourself to enjoy silence for a few moments.
• Turn to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow says, “I am for you today.” Do not expect lightning. In lectio divina, God is teaching us to listen to him, to seek him in silence. He may not reach out and grab us; rather, he gently invites us ever more deeply into his presence.
• Repeat the phrase over to yourself. Memorize it and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories, and ideas. Do not be afraid of distractions. Memories or thoughts are simply parts of yourself that, when they rise up during lectio divina, are asking to be given to God along with the rest of your inner self.
• Speak to God. Whether you use words, ideas, or images – or all three – is not important. Interact with God as you would with one who you know loves and accepts you. And give to him what you have discovered during your experience of meditation. Experience God by using the word or phrase he has given you as a means of blessing and of transforming the ideas and memories that your reflection on his word has awakened. Give to God what you have found within your heart.
• Rest in God’s embrace. And when he invites you to return to your contemplation of his word or to your inner dialogue with him, do so. Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary. Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.
• Sometimes in lectio divina, you may return several times to the printed text, either to savor the literary context of the word or phrase that God has given or to seek a new word or phrase to ponder. At other times, only a single word or phrase will fill the whole time set aside for lectio divina. It is not necessary to assess anxiously the quality of your lectio divina, as if you were “performing” or seeking some goal. Lectio divina has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the Word.
• Invite students to journal at home as well during their time. Hold them accountable. Ask them how their time is going? Invite them to bring their journal to you if they feel confused by something.