Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:22-33)
Scripture is the inspired word of God. Through it we encounter the Lord and allow him to speak to us. But how do we listen in a way that enables us to hear him? Fortunately, we can rely on the wisdom and experience of Christians who came before us, who have much to teach us about praying with the Scriptures.
We have the desert fathers and mothers and monks of the early centuries of Christianity to thank for lectio divina, or the sacred reading of Scripture. In lectio divina, we choose a passage to read, such as the Gospel reading of the day. Then we ask the Holy Spirit to be with us as we read the text slowly. We may even want to read it aloud. After reading it several times slowly, we linger on a sentence or phrase that strikes us, and then spend time meditating on it.
For example, in the passage here, we may find ourselves meditating on Jesus’ words, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (verse 27). Perhaps we will see Jesus before us, speaking these words to us about a particular situation we are facing that scares us. Maybe another time we might linger on “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (verse 31), and we will think about how doubt may be undermining our faith.
The Holy Spirit inspires and guides our prayer. As we reflect on the text, we are led to pray to the Lord about what we have discovered and how we desire him to be present in our lives. Finally, we enter a period of active silence, waiting on God to give us his word or just resting peacefully in his embrace, open to receiving his abundant love.
Another way to nourish our prayer life is through Ignatian meditation. In this type of prayer, taught by Ignatius of Loyola, a sixteenth-century Spanish saint, we use our imagination to “fill in” the biblical scenes. First, we collect ourselves and ask the Holy Spirit to be with us. We turn to the Lord and ask him for what we desire: to get to know the person of Jesus so that we can love him, follow him, and share our lives with him. Then we read through the passage we have chosen.
We consider the context of the passage—for example, what has led up to the event described and what follows it. Then, in our minds, we imagine the place where the scene has occurred. What does it look like? What are the sounds and smells? What is the mood of the people, and what expressions do they have on their faces? In the passage here, we could easily imagine being in a terrible storm, with the wind blowing fiercely, rain pelting our faces, and looks of fear and trepidation on the faces of those around us. Perhaps we put ourselves in the place of one person in the scene—in this case, maybe Peter, or perhaps one of the other apostles who is taking it all in.
After we have imagined the scene in detail, we begin a conversation with the Lord. If something moved you about the scene, tell him, or ask him why it moved you. This could lead to insights about your own life. Perhaps God is calling you to “get out of the boat,” but you are afraid you will sink and are not trusting in the Lord to rescue you. Perhaps you are doubting God’s care for you. Be honest and tell the Lord how you feel. Then sit quietly and listen for his word to you. You might want to write about your experience of this meditation and/or share it with someone.
The Lord uses Scripture not only to speak to us but so that we come to know him as a true friend. It is in this type of prayer that we can encounter God, hear his voice, and receive his love. There are many resources, online and in print, to help you learn how to pray in these ways. Keep in mind, however, that it is not about following a prescribed set of steps but about allowing the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us to an encounter with Jesus and God our Father.
—Selection from Getting More Out of Prayer: Something More Faith Series, Mark Hart, series editor. TWAU Press 2018, available at www.wau.org/books.