I have, of late, started listening to daily Gospel readings.
I should preface this by saying I’ve always preferred reading over hearing something read to me. If I need to know how to do something I will skip over seventy videos to find a written tutorial because somehow, my mind seems to comprehend the written word better than anything spoken aloud, no matter how visual.
And yet, as the autumn sets in, it’s dark enough during my nightly walks that it has become dangerous to look at my phone, since the bright light of the screen makes the dark world around me even darker. In fact, a few years ago I ate concrete once because I tripped over a sidewalk crack staring at a Bible verse—so I’ve a mind to be cautious about this sort of thing.
To facilitate safer walking, I found an app that reads me a bit of the Gospel each day, and closes with the Lord’s prayer. Simple, unadorned. And nice to listen to in the crisp autumn evening when all the houses with their golden windows are quiet and all you can hear is the rustle of the leaves.
What I’ve found, though, is that the newness of delivery has made Scripture feel new, too.
Hearing Jesus’ word read aloud is more like the experience of hearing him talk, and the writing of the Gospel simply hits differently when someone is speaking to you, aloud. But that’s not what throws me the most. Rather, it’s the experience of praying the Lord’s prayer aloud.
Look, I’ve said this prayer in my own mind roughly ten million times. The Lord’s prayer is what I tend to default to when I’m too scattered or upset to think of any other prayer. But the only time I tend to speak it aloud is in my church, which is an experience I have always loved: a collective assertion of our submission to God and acknowledgement of His Lordship, an echo of the unity and the communion of God’s people we are meant to, and one day will, fully experience.
So when my little app asked me to say the Lord’s prayer aloud as I made my nightly walking rounds, I found it a strange and unique experience. (No doubt, so have my neighbors, who probably hear me randomly saying a prayer as I pass by their porches at night). But speaking it on difficult nights has taken me way out of my comfort zone.
Of late, God has been convicting me about a few things, and I am frankly upset about them. Selfishness, on my end. It’s hard to hear God ask you to do more when your human heart thinks you are already doing quite enough for everyone on the planet, thank you, and not nearly enough for yourself. It’s hard, and so I argue. And struggle. And finally relinquish the battle, but not always frankly with the willing heart that I should.
And then the app asks me to pray the Lord’s prayer, out loud.
And something about reading it out loud feels serious, puts me right back in the church pew, in a way that saying it in my head or even alone in my room does not. Getting ready to speak the words aloud in forty-degree night air to God, after I’ve just finished telling God that I really seriously am struggling with His plans, is daunting.
The practice forces me to ask myself this question: do I believe what I am about to pray, now? Do I believe it enough to speak even though I am frustrated and tired and do not know what God is doing? Am I willing to say, verbally, ‘thy will be done’ when I am not sure I will like or even want that will?
I say the prayer. But the preparation to say it always forces a reflective pause—in the same way that communion does—and makes me ask myself if I am willing to take painful steps to holiness. If I am really aware of what I am committing myself to doing when I pray.
That’s just a small example of how listening to, instead of reading, Scripture, has just really shaken up my spiritual life in a good way. (It’s a good reminder, too, that the earliest Christians received the word in this way, and not as a written text, which is something our literate world has a tendency to forget).
So mostly I wanted to write this post to say that if you’re in a rut, or if everything feels sort of pale and wan spiritually, it might be worth shaking things up. It doesn’t have to look like listening to Scripture. It might be changing your Bible translation, going to a new Bible study or small group, even attending a new congregation for a Sunday.
Something little. Something small. Letting yourself encounter God in a new way might surprise you—and it might be the impetus for some new growth in your life.