Have you ever thought about how you read something?
When a good story is gripping you, we sometimes speak of the narrative as a page-turner. “I simply couldn’t put the book down.” With more introspective, non-fiction writing, there is a slow sensation that overtakes you, almost as if you are being read by the book’s words itself. “This idea is speaking directly to my own experience.” When reflectively reading scripture, we desire to open our souls before God in an encounter with Logos, the Living Word of God. The writer of Hebrews describes this experience as being actively alive: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” 
Intuitively, we adjust our expectations of what we read based on the genre of literature, writing style, author’s intention, and the method of delivery (book, article, text message, etc.). While this process is natural, it can also be learned. In particular, reading can become a formational practice of opening to the presence of the God within us while simultaneously being mysteriously alive within the words an author has crafted. All of this begs the question, how does a person read formationally with the Spirit of God? Reading can become a formational practice of opening to the presence of the God within us while simultaneously being mysteriously alive within the words an author has crafted. Click To Tweet
Reading Formationally with the Spirit of God
Three years ago, I began a Doctor of Ministry in Leadership & Spiritual Formation from Portland Seminary. Our Lead Mentor, Dr. MaryKate Morse, a Leading Voice for Missio Alliance, invited our cohort to consider how to read a book formationally with the Spirit of God. Given that we were seasoned Christian leaders between the ages of 30 and 70, with decades of experience between us, let alone overflowing personal libraries, MaryKate’s invitation felt strange at first. I am now a doctoral student, after all. Don’t I know how to make my way through a book, mining its insights as I go?
In her inimitable wisdom, MaryKate suggested a different pathway  through the thousands of pages that lay ahead of us. There are at least three interlocking processes at play whenever something is read for the purposes of learning: an academic process, a process of applied praxis, and a spiritual process. The most transformational reading experience involves all three.
The academic process is straightforward for the student, involving the consistent rhythm of reading and writing. Similar to drawing a breath, reading is the intake of information, concepts, and ideas. Writing is the exhaling of one’s core perspective about the idea that has been considered. It is the measurable output of an internal journey of reflective transformation.
The process of applied praxis invites robust dialogue and intentional listening to the contextual needs of a particular group of people or geographical area that one is reading about. Application must flow from thoughtful reflection upon what has been read, or else the application is in danger of being divorced from the practical realities – the actual context – in which a transformative idea is considered. In wise application of one’s praxis, we must remember that one size doesn’t fit all, and that the Spirit of God moves with unique particularity in different places.
Interlocked between the input (reading and writing) and output (applied praxis) of reading is a critical third element that is often left behind in the consumption of a new idea, or the rush to hastily apply a new process. This core element is the spiritual process of reading, a listening discernment of reflectively examining what the Spirit of God is saying within you as you read not simply for information, nor for application, but for ongoing transformation. The spiritual process of reading involves a slow dialogue with the Spirit about what is being read, while it is being read, as the Spirit ‘reads us.’ The spiritual process of reading involves a slow dialogue with the Spirit about what is being read, while it is being read, as the Spirit ‘reads us.’ Click To Tweet
Careful discernment in our reading takes place as we abide in Christ, and Christ in us. We read to be transformed ourselves, not simply to transform others. In MaryKate’s exhortation to our cohort, she urged us to “resist the urge to read in a forensic and analytical manner, nor also in a functional and consumeristic manner. Instead, we read to be critically reflective on yourself with the Spirit.”  She would echo this conviction a year later in an article for Missio Alliance, concluding: “As priests and leaders of Jesus Christ, his front-line people, we must read. We must continue throughout our lives to stretch and educate ourselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to see the world and engage the world.”
Reading, particularly deep and challenging reading, is often an individualistic, solitary pursuit, left to introverted bookworms. But what if reading for the Christ-follower was communal, involving listening, response, dialogue, and contextual application, all with the Spirit of God? In other words, what if we never read alone, but rather in the same spirit that Paul exhorts the Athenian philosophers, “For in him we live and move and have our being.”  What would it look like to read formationally with the Spirit of God, as a spiritual process that wed concept and practice, idea and application, all as a means of maturing the spirit in Christ? What would it look like to read formationally with the Spirit of God, as a spiritual process that wed concept and practice, idea and application, all as a means of maturing the spirit in Christ? Click To Tweet
This deliberate reading must frame not only what we read, but how we read. In a real way, we are the subject being read by the Logos of God, yet another page in the ongoing narrative that is the Kingdom of God, growing towards a conclusion better than we can ever imagine.
A Mid-Year Reflective Review
Aware that the Spirit of God dwells within you, alive and active, visit Missio Alliance’s Writing Collective page. Here you will find over 30 articles thoughtfully written in the past six months alone. Invite God to stir your heart and mind as you re-read, or read for the first time, an article that captures your attention. As you read, read slowly, thoughtfully, and deeply in a posture of openness to God. Invite the Spirit of God to sift you. Dialogue with God about what you read. Where is God inviting you to be more deeply formed as the Imago Dei in what you read?
 Hebrews 4:12, NIV.
 MaryKate Morse, Personal notes taken during Leadership & Spiritual Formation Cohort 5 Zoom call, Sept. 2019.
 Acts 17:28, NIV.