In our small groups, we can encourage one another in a number of spiritual rhythms—Bible study, confession, prayer, and so on. But how might our small groups actually learn together how to meditate on God’s Word?
It can be a goal of our small groups to not just increase biblical knowledge and encourage private devotional reading, but to actually cultivate and practice devotional Scripture reading—reading for the purpose of increased fellowship with God—together. Devotional Scripture reading, or biblical meditation, has often been described as a middle road between reading and prayer: our minds are engaged in God’s Word, yet our words come directly from our heart and are expressed to our Father in prayer.
Learning to Meditate Together
For centuries biblical meditation has been practiced both individually and communally—and we can restore this practice in our small groups today. The church fathers spoke of “descending with the mind into the heart”—a helpful phrase describing biblical meditation. Meditation engages the mind by focusing it on God’s Word. In the midst of a thousand concerns and thoughts, it directs our minds to stillness on God’s Word in his presence. Like a centripetal force, meditating on Scripture slowly pulls us inward toward the center of communion with God.
The best place to begin Scripture meditation—whether individually or in a group—is with the Book of Psalms. It’s important to remember that the psalms were written for congregational use; they were penned to be read aloud, sung aloud, and prayed aloud with others. As Eugene Peterson once noted, just as a farmer uses tools to cultivate the ground and produce crops, so we can use our prayers to stir up our hearts and become more like Christ. If our prayers are tools, in other words, the Psalms are our toolbox. God has given us 150 rich, impassioned songs and prayers for our devotional life. Unlike any other genre of the Scriptures, the psalms enable us to express ourselves, understand our hearts, find perspective for our circumstances, and pray God’s Word back to him.
In our group prayer, we can pray the psalms to our Father in a powerful way—together, we can descend with our minds into our hearts.
Here are three recommendations for making the most of these prayers.
First Reading: Content and Meaning
Gather your group and introduce the topic of biblical meditation. Before beginning your reading and prayer time, ask the Lord to bless your time of reflection together.
In this first reading, read the psalm aloud. Since it was written to be read (or sung) aloud, there’s likely a natural rhythm and flow to it. The first time through, get a feel for the psalm’s content, and pause for a moment whenever you see the word Selah. After the first reading, take about five minutes to ask basic questions about the psalm’s content and meaning. What was the psalm’s original context? Was the psalmist primarily writing a private prayer or a congregational song? How would you put the message of the psalm into your own words?
Second Reading: Application and Meditation
Remind one another that the goal of devotional reading is increased fellowship with God, not merely understanding the psalm. With a basic understanding of the psalm’s content and meaning, now read the psalm aloud again, this time more slowly and with longer pauses. As one person reads the psalm, the rest of the group can follow along in their Bibles or simply close their eyes and listen. The goal is to personally absorb the psalmist’s prayer as much as possible. When you reach a Selah, pause for a few moments and reflect silently on the previous stanza.
After this second reading, take 20 to 30 minutes to discuss the psalm’s movements in a more personal way. How do you resonate with the psalmist’s cries for help? Where do you see yourself similarly in need of God? What aspects of your life are driving you to seek refuge in the Father?
Closing Prayer: Descending Into the Heart
After your discussion time, close with prayer together. A great exercise for our prayer lives is to learn to reword and then pray the psalm aloud. Take turns doing this, putting the most significant or applicable part of the psalm into your own words and praying it to our Father. Use the language of the psalm and add your own requests, praise, and prayer for others. (This exercise will be awkward the first time or two, but don’t get discouraged.)
In our groups, we have found new life in this historic pattern. Slow, meditative reading of Scripture, heart-level discussion and application, and deep personal prayer draws us closer to God and to one another. Groups can practice this kind of Bible-based prayer with visitors and non-Christians present, so long as it’s explained well. We’ve found that outsiders expect us to be doing spiritual things, and are refreshed by a group of people who long to be more deeply connected to God’s presence.
Our world is in great need of God’s Word, prayer, and fellowship, and we can enjoy each in biblical meditation together.