2387880_s“When you are alone, listen to God,” he had posted in response to my Facebook status update. It was a timely reminder from a caring friend. I had been so caught up with the preparations for MAI-Asia’s Publishing Forum in Hong Kong that I hadn’t spent quality time communing with God. So, determined to heed my friend’s nudge, and before all the trainers and participants began to arrive, I had the luxury of enjoying a good soak in God’s Word.

Confession time…this hasn’t happened in a long time. What with caring for sick aging parents, meeting publishing deadlines, preparing for the Forum and looking after the household, I was constantly doing my headless chicken act. Quiet Times were hardly quiet, nor did I have much time. So I met with God on the fly. And comforted myself that my vibrant prayer life meant that I had a real relationship with God. But if “[God’s] Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105), then surely I was stumbling around in the dark.

That morning, as a light breeze blew on the rooftop of Breakthrough Youth Village in Shatin, Hong Kong, the Word shone bright and clear again. I was reading through Mark 4 and the various “seed” parables. But, for some strange (not so strange if you factor in the Holy Spirit) reason, I read and reread vv. 33 and 34. It wasn’t as though a light bulb had come on, but more a slow burn. I had always focused so much on the parables themselves that these two verses were “by the way”. What particularly struck me was “He did not say anything to them without using a parable.” (Mark 4:34a) That was how Jesus communicated with the throngs who came to see him, many unbelieving I am sure.

Yesterday, during my regular morning devotions with my beloved, the reading reminded me of what I’d done that morning in Hong Kong.

Lectio Divina, the classic spiritual exercise of “holy reading,” offers a way to let the Psalms shape us. We come to the text with an attitude of patient receptivity, in no hurry to get through the text. After all, it’s not so much a question of how much we read as it is how well we read. (John Wesley, “Advice for Spiritual Reading”. In A Year With God: Living out the Spiritual Disciplines, edited by Richard J. Foster and Julia L. Roller. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2009, Day 167.)

This particular devotional reading involved Psalm 119, hence the mention of the Psalms. But “holy reading” can be applied to all our reading of Scripture too. And when we do that, we find treasures to nourish us that we never expected. We find wisdom and truth for transforming the mundane and ordinary in our lives into extraordinary tools for God.

This transformation is what can happen when we come to the scripture formationally rather than informationally, when we allow the Word to address us through the text, when we willingly take the posture of the object that the text addresses rather than trying to control it. Instead of the analytical, critical, judgmental approach of informational reading, formational reading requires a humble, detached, receptive, loving approach. (M. Robert Mulholland Jr., Shaped by the Word. Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2000, 59.)

Listening to God formationally that morning, I discovered how blinkered I could be in my understanding of His truths. Because I often trawl Scripture for information, I find much light for my feet, but is there a warming of my heart? Nothing beats knowing that God is speaking directly to you. And that can only happen when we are in a posture of keen listening. I know firsthand the perils of reading with a purpose. Hey, I’m an editor (to the core!), and I’m doomed to pursuing linguistic fidelity ad nauseum. So, reading is gleaning information (or gaps thereof) and nitpicking the finer details. Hence, for me to read purely to “hear” what God is saying, takes extra effort, and humility. But it sure is worth it.

Labor to work yourself up into a temper correspondent with what you read, for that reading is useless which only enlightens the understanding without warming the affections. And therefore intersperse, here and there, earnest aspirations to God for his heat as well as his light. (John Wesley, “Advice for Spiritual Reading”, Day 167.)

I like feeling the heat, because it not only directs my path, it guides my heart. Why did God focus my spiritual eyes on Mark 4:33, 34? Because I needed to be reminded of how He does things. I needed to be reminded, on the eve of a Publishing Forum, why we publish and how we should publish. The Bible places a high premium on telling stories (“Jesus did not say anything to them without using a story”) in order to reach the lost. Even Nathan did that to reach a lost David.

Yet we so often place fiction on a lower level to non-fiction. It’s lighter reading, compared to the technical tomes/commentaries filled with information. Yet time and again, in the hard places where MAI does training, I have heard of how simple testimonies, written in a winsome way, have reached hardened hearts that would not have even begun to understand the theology contained in learned texts. Which is not to say that the latter are not critical for growing in spiritual maturity. But how many lives have been turned to the light because they have been warmed by God’s love wrapped and presented in a story?