The first time I heard Reverend Anne read Scripture, she stood in the elevated pulpit at the front of the church. A petite woman, she wore a thick linen robe and a colorful stole. She quietly opened a Bible, folded her hands, and took a long pause—longer than I was accustomed to. A man in the pew next to me shifted his weight, making the wood creak; someone across the aisle coughed. Then the room quieted. The silence called our attention to God's presence already with us. For a few moments the distracting concerns of our lives were politely ushered out.
Reverend Anne spoke in a low, clear voice. She began reading—slowly, with breaks in between each word. As she brought us further into the passage, her words gained momentum. She became impassioned by what she read, her short red hair bouncing with fiery fervor. She looked out over the congregation with deep conviction.
When she finished, God's words, as recorded in Scripture, filled the room. They had been spoken into our beings and were alive and active among us. We had encountered them in a new way.
Reverend Anne reminded me then that God hasn't stopped speaking to us through Scripture. Though written thousands of years ago, these words take on new life as the Bible is read aloud in our churches, communities, and families. We gather to hear God speak to us afresh—to encounter the same God who has been speaking since the beginning and continues to speak today (see Genesis 1; Exodus 3:4-5; Jeremiah 15:16; John 1:1; Romans 8:26-27).
Reading so We Can Listen
But often our Scripture readings become rote. They feel stale. The words stay on the page—a product of ancient times, written to people who aren't us. In some cases we can't hear much difference between the breathless accounts of creation and the long genealogies! How can we read the Bible in a way that brings the words to life? How can we read Scripture in a way that allows us to listen to God speaking today?
Here are some steps to get started, gleaned from years of listening to Scripture come alive as I have sat on different pews and chairs, benches, mats and floors. Try practicing them on your own first. Then use them when reading the Bible out loud in your church, small group, or family.
1. Begin by setting your focus.
God is already present in the room. Give yourself time to settle into this awareness. Remove distractions; start with silence.
2. Slowly uncover each word's meaning.
Let your reading be a discovery—especially if the passage is familiar to you. Read with conviction, believing these words have significance for you and others.
3. Don't be afraid to pause.
Did something stand out to you? Don't rush through the reading. Take time to digest the words. Give people space to reflect on them and feel their weight. God has something to say to you and your listeners.
4. Get swept up in the passage!
Receive instruction. Delight in the teaching. Feel the range of emotion. Let this come across in your voice and delivery. Is the passage a letter, narrative, teaching, or poetry? Read it that way. Be aware of the cadence and tone of the passage and speak appropriately.
5. Let God speak to you, too.
As you read the passage out loud, let it speak to you just as it speaks to others in the room. When you are finished reading, take another moment of silence. Let the words sink into your heart. Rest in God's Spirit, giving others the chance to rest in God as well.
6. Stay watchful.
Go forward into your day and week expecting these words to continue to speak to you. Look for God to continue guiding, instructing, and forming you and your audience through the passage you just read.
Want to hear some examples of people reading Scripture?
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