Soaking in the Word
I imagine that most of the people reading this article will be familiar with the disciplines of studying and meditating on the word of God. When we study the word we are seeking to understand the literal meaning of the things that are written, as well as their historical and spiritual context. When we meditate on the word, we take the things which we have read about and seek a deeper understanding of how they apply to our lives. Often when we meditate on the word, we receive deeper understanding of things which we had only understood on the surface when we were concentrating on their literal meaning.
I needed to encounter the Bible at a level of depth which would unlock the spiritual reality behind the written word.
By 1995 these two disciplines had “bottomed out” for me. I was, frankly, bored with studying the same texts over and over again, and frustrated by my limited ability to experience the transforming power which the Bible described. Studying and meditating didn’t seem to be getting me any closer to what I really wanted: personal transformation and deeper intimacy with God. What I needed was a way to encounter the Bible at a level of depth which would unlock the spiritual reality behind the written word; the truths which Paul described as inaccessible to the natural mind, being discerned only by the spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:13-14). It was around this time that I discovered the writings of a French Catholic woman named Jeanne Guyon who expanded my understanding of the nature of the Bible and then showed me how to go deeper into its spiritual substance by “soaking” in the word of God.
A DIFFERENT VIEW OF THE SCRIPTURES
When we read the Bible we need to keep in mind that we are not really seeing the Lord as He is, but rather in shadows and fragmented glimpses — “through a glass, darkly”. God enjoys an eternal, spiritual existence outside of the boundaries of space and time. From this vantage point in eternity, He reaches into the world, inviting us into living communion with Him. What we see as we read the Bible or hear others talk about their encounters with Him is simply the imprint of infinity on time and space, a set of footprints left by God as He passes through history. Studying these footprints can tell us something about God, but the substance of who He is will remain hidden from us.
Every passage of scripture can become for us a doorway into the limitless substance of God Himself.
The Greek word “musterion,” the root of our word “mystery,” was used by the early Christians to refer to the secret wisdom or counsel of God, a spiritual revelation beyond what was obvious to the natural mind. They believed the words of the Bible to be full of mystery, which is to say that they believed that there was a power in the inspired word which went beyond its literal interpretation. If we can bring ourselves to believe this, every passage of scripture can become for us a doorway into the limitless substance of God Himself. This is not a realm which can be grasped and unlocked with the natural mind but which can only be spiritually discerned through faith abiding in love. Jeanne Guyon puts it this way:
"Whatever pains the philosophers have taken to know God by the effort of their intellect, they have not known Him, because they have not loved Him, and because all the rest of the knowledge of the most learned men of the world, who are destitute of love, is a deception. We no sooner love Him than we begin to have a real knowledge of what He is. It is knowledge by experience, which is only given by love; just as he who possesses a property knows infinitely better what it is worth than he who has merely heard of it...
How mistaken are those who make all piety consist in the effort of their minds to know an incomprehensible object, and who persuade themselves that prayer should be a continual reasoning! Oh, no! Prayer should be a continual loving. The knowledge of God should come by love, and not by sight or study. God only gives knowledge of Himself by His love; He who loves the most knows the most."
The error which she is addressing in this passage is the same one which the Pharisees had fallen into and for which Jesus rebuked them saying, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). Jesus was challenging them, as He challenges us, to not simply be satisfied with studying the footprints left by His passing, but to answer the invitation extended to us to go deeper into face-to-face communion with the Lord Himself.
Revival historians have observed that in times of visitation there is commonly an increased love for and attentiveness to the scriptures. This is because the manifest presence of God infuses the written word with the power to draw us into the depths of spiritual reality of which it speaks. Information becomes revelation, and we move from merely studying God’s footprints to a face-to-face encounter. This encounter is what millions of people have experienced through soaking in the presence of God during the current outpouring of the Holy Spirit. What Jeanne Guyon described in her writings was a way in which the common people of her time could enter into this kind of experience through the scriptures on an ongoing basis. It is available to us whether the body of Christ seems to be experiencing revival or not.
HOW IT WORKS
What follows is a synopsis of Madame Guyon’s teachings on how to let the presence of God inhabit the written word. This spiritual discipline is not intended to replace study and meditation, but to consummate them. I have amplified her teaching somewhat with illustrations based on my own experience with this practice. While her exposition of prayer occurs in almost of all her writings, the most concise teachings on this subject can be found in her books “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ,” published by Seedsowers, and “Experiencing God through Prayer,” published by Whittaker House.
1. Select a scripture to use as a focal point. She recommends that it be something simple and practical at first. If there is a particular scripture which the Holy Spirit has brought to mind, that would be an ideal place to start. She also recommends that it be a short passage – one or two sentences at most. Remember that the goal of the exercise is to encounter the Lord in and through the text, rather than trying to understand it with your mind. Trying to read too much may have the unwanted effect of getting your mind engaged in analyzing the text, and actually hinder you in passing through the written word into the Living Word.
Draw yourself into a place of peaceful, loving attentiveness to Him.
2. In an attitude of expectant faith, bring your heart and mind into a place of stillness before the Lord. This is essentially the posture which we take when we are receiving soaking prayer. This can sometimes take a lot of effort, as the mind and the heart are both restless and don’t seem to want to hold still for more than two minutes. Pray, worship, visualize; do whatever it takes to shrug off all distractions and fix the eyes of your heart on the Lord. Do not move to step three until your heart and mind are quiet and you sense the presence of the Lord within you.
3. Very slowly and gently, begin to introduce the words of the scripture into your mind, as if you were trying to drop pebbles into a pond without making any ripples in the surface. I find that this is much easier to do if I commit the scripture to memory first. Being easily distracted, I find it difficult to keep my spiritual vision fixed on Jesus while my natural vision is scanning a printed page. If you find the words starting to ‘dissolve’ in your mind, don’t try to hang onto them. They are there to focus your attention and “get you moving”, in the same way that a flashlight lens collects rays of light and focuses them. The light is only briefly in contact with the lens before it passes through, moving on into the darkness. In the same way, your attention will touch on the Scripture just enough to focus it on a particular revelation of the Lord before it passes on into the spiritual depths which lay beyond the written word.
4. If you find your mind beginning to wander or feel yourself moving out of the Lord’s presence, repeat step 3 to draw yourself back into a place of peaceful, loving attentiveness to Him. You can use the same Scripture, or move on to another – especially if you feel the Holy Spirit bringing it up in connection to the one in which you have just been soaking.
When we soak in the word, we are surrendering control to the Holy Spirit.
5. Continue in this form of prayer until the sense of the Lord’s presence lifts, or your spirit feels that it has drawn as much as it can out of the Scriptures you are considering. Resist the urge to wring any more understanding out of it than you have already received. Our ability to perceive the truth is always limited by our own sensitivity, and the word may have to work more fully in us before we can receive any more from it.
When we study the word or meditate on the word, our minds are largely in control of what we are doing and what we get out of it. When we soak in the word, however, we are surrendering control to the Holy Spirit, so the outcome may be widely different each time. We can, however, be assured that whatever we receive is precisely what we really need! In the long term you should expect an increased sense of the presence of Jesus in and through the written word, as well as a fuller sense of the spiritual substance which underlies it. As you continue to open yourself up to the Bible in this way, you will find that the fabric of your soul is changed to conform to the truth it contains, and therefore prepared to receive even more
The words which we read are only a shadow of a deeper reality.
The spiritual discipline which I have been describing should not be perceived as a gimmick or method any more than our practice of soaking in His presence. Soaking is based on the understanding that the love of God is being poured out on us incessantly, whether we are aware of it or not. When we soak, we are making a deliberate choice to be mindful to this truth and then opening ourselves up to receive what is already being given to us through His grace. When we soak in the word, we acknowledge that the words which we have read are only a shadow of a deeper reality, and we then invite the Holy Spirit to draw us into a revelation of the substance that lies beyond the doorway of the written word.
Like everything else in the Christian life, revelation is a free gift of grace (see James 1:5). All that we have to do to obtain it is acknowledge that it is freely available and then open our hearts to receive it. The more deeply united we are to Him in faith and love, the more readily we will be able to receive the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Those mysteries are, after all, nothing more than an unfolding of the revelation of Jesus Christ in and through all things, including the Bible itself.