United Methodism

Searching scriptures reveals grace-filled work of the Spirit

"If I tell you this, you're going to think I'm crazy."

The Rev. Wendy Miller of the Missional Wisdom Foundation often hears people say this when they try to describe the work of the Spirit in their lives.

According to Miller, this is common. It is not because the Spirit is usually inactive, but because the church has lost its language for describing the Spirit's movement.

However, Miller says searching the Scriptures, one of John Wesley's means of grace, can help us regain that language.

"The same things that are happening in the Scriptures are happening today," she says, explaining that readers have to look for the lessons and learn how to talk about them. "When we pay attention to that in Scripture, we are learning, and we're more able to say, ‘Yes, that's what grace is' as we see it in our own lives."

John Wesley preached that searching the Scriptures included hearing, reading and meditating on God's word and taught that Scripture leads people to belief in God, informs them of salvation and brings to light God's grace.

In "Sermon 16: The Means of Grace," Wesley taught about the specific means. He referred to searching the Scriptures as "the great means God has ordained for conveying his manifold grace to man."

Experience brings energy

Miller says Wesley's preaching about Scripture came from experiencing Christ personally.

"The Scriptures came alive for him," Miller said, "because he saw how the experience of knowing Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit energized a person to not only follow Jesus but also to live that life in the world."

The Rev. Steve Manskar, director of Wesleyan leadership at the General Board of Discipleship, says Wesley believed Scripture was "God's direct revelation to humankind."

"When we hold the Scriptures in our hands, open the book and read, we encounter something of the Divine," Manskar says. "God's word is an extension of God's life and love and mission into the lives, hearts and minds of human beings and communities. When we regularly read, listen and meditate upon Scripture, we make ourselves available to the power of grace to form our thinking, our behavior and our character."

Along with the other means of grace, searching the Scriptures provides "the means for God to heal the damage sin has done to the image of God within every human heart," Manskar says. "In the Scriptures, we find God's good news of love and justice, healing and hope, forgiveness and liberation that sets us free to love as we are loved."

Seeing grace

The Rev. Jim Noggle, lead pastor at Lakewood United Methodist Church in Lake Odessa, Mich., says Scripture allows God's people to see all of the forms of God's grace.

"If I'm looking at the various types of grace, I find them in the Scripture," he says. "We experience every form of grace in a deeper and more profound way by this exercise of daily looking into the Scripture."

This discovery of grace in the Scriptures prompts us to offer grace to those around us, Noggle believes.

"When we experience something that is good, we naturally want to share that," he says, and in so doing, "we become the reflection of God."

Manskar agrees, saying that people "become channels of grace for our neighbor and for the world"  having their own encounter with grace.

"As people habitually practice reading, listening and meditating upon God's word contained in Scripture, they open themselves to grace," Manskar says. "The encounter of God in Scripture helps to remove the barriers in our lives that block grace and prevent it from penetrating the heart. Searching the Scriptures over time removes those blockages and allows grace to flow into the heart and, in Charles Wesley's words, ‘forms the Savior in the soul.'"

Scripture shows the truth about who we are and about who God is, Miller says. This helps shape how we see others.

"Jesus says you need to give as has been given to you," she continues. "We learn over time the experience of grace – how grace comes to us; how the truth about us, however awful it is, is met by grace and mercy. And how do we extend grace and compassion to someone else? This is also a work of the Spirit in us to see other people differently than we otherwise would."

Practicing the search

For those who want to incorporate a practice of searching the Scriptures in their daily lives, Noggle, author of Rivers of Eden: Daily Walks in the Garden (CreateSpace/Amazon), said he thinks daily devotions, similar to the ones found in his book can be beneficial. Among other sources of accessible daily devotions are The Upper Room Disciplines, published annually by The Upper Room.

"I believe using daily devotionals is the best way to begin," he says. "They're short; they're simple; we can fit them in easily."

Noggle says "the contagious nature of God's word" will work in people's hearts as they daily search the Scriptures. "They will continue to grow and want more and more and more of God's grace."

Miller suggests approaching the Scriptures in a new way – something other than simply reading and trying to comprehend. If people can come to the Scriptures in a way that helps them truly encounter God and the Holy Spirit who is "within and between the lines of Scriptures," Miller said, what they read "becomes a living text."

Miller's book, Jesus, Our Spiritual Director: A Pilgrimage through the Gospels (Upper Room Books), invites readers to enter into the narrative of Scripture in a way that makes them present in the teachings. She said perhaps this would be a new way for some people to search the Scriptures.

Manskar considers prayer a key ingredient in the process of learning to search the Scriptures.

"A practical way to incorporate searching the Scriptures in your daily life is to practice daily prayer in the morning and at night," he says. "A Disciple's Journal, published by Discipleship Resources, is a great resource for developing the habit of daily Bible reading and prayer, both privately and with a small group."

Manskar also says that observing the Daily Office found in The Book of Common Prayer could be beneficial. This ancient tradition is a "pattern of prayer that is immersed in Scripture, particularly the Psalms and the prayers found in the Bible. Morning, noon, evening and night prayer are steeped in Scripture."

Manskar also recommends Dwelling in the Word (Church Innovations Institute, www.churchinnovations.org), a practice of prayer and reflecting on Scripture for small groups. It involves reading a passage three times and discussing different aspects after each reading.

After the first reading, participants are invited to share words or phrases that stood out to them. Following the second reading, participants share what the passage says to them. After the third reading, the group discusses what God is doing in this passage today.

"The group repeats this process of reading, reflection and conversation with the same passage of Scripture for up to a year," Manskar says. "That is why the process is called ‘Dwelling in the Word.' Something new will be heard or gleaned from the Scripture each time it is read."

Emily Snell is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

Originally published in Interpreter Magazine, September/October 2014.