Tag Archives: Hebrew Bible

Five ways to become a data-driven pray-er

The company I work for supports leaders in healthcare and higher education with research, consulting, performance technologies, and talent development.

Staff of our member organizations appreciate not only our detailed research studies but also tools like our one-page infographics, which boil down key insights into memorable suggestions.


This particular infographic, it seems to me, bears not just business acumen but spiritual wisdom.

Why not try using these five principles to better incorporate data into your daily prayer life?

Be data-literate

Read the Bible. Read the Bible. Read the Bible.

If you want to be a follower of the God who is made known through the Bible — the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament — you’ve simply got to be familiar with the source texts.

Nothing substitutes for regular Bible reading, whatever plan you may follow.

My personal favorite comes from Edward P. Blair’s Illustrated Bible Handbook (Abingdon 1985), long out of print but still available on Amazon.

But not all plans are equal, and the Church has long practiced reading the Bible — putting data, that is — in context.

Consider praying the Daily Office, the Church’s preferred method for regular Bible reading in the context of prayer.

Morning and evening, if you follow the Daily Office lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer, over the course of two years you will read the bulk of the Old Testament once, the New Testament twice, and the Psalms about every seven weeks.

Soaking in the Scriptures will over time make you very familiar with its stories and songs, its letters and lamentations, its biographies and prophecies.

Be curious

As you read the Bible and pray the Offices, give yourself permission to wonder about the strange language, the startling metaphors, the upside-down picture they paint of the Kingdom of God.

Just when the religious leaders think they’ve got everything figured out, a judge or a king or a prophet or the Messiah himself comes along and overturns their world.

The term “lectio divina” refers to an ancient monastic practice of letting Scripture catch your attention, then pausing to ruminate over a passage or even a single word.

To ruminate is to “chew the cud,” so to speak — to get every bit of juice and other nutrients out of what you’re eating.

Follow the data trail wherever it leads, and keep being curious about what else might be revealed to you.

Be action-oriented

One common method of Bible study for small groups is the so-called “African method,” which builds on lectio divina and invites you to consider what you will do based on the passage you have just read.

It’s a three-part method.

First, like in lectio divina, read a passage of Scripture and note a word or phrase that catches your attention.

Second, as you re-read the passage (in a small group you would have a different person read it the second time), listen again for the word that Scripture is speaking to you. Often it will be the same as you heard the first time, but sometimes a new phrase comes to the fore.

Third, resolve to take a specific action this week in response to what you have heard.

The higher education project I work on at my company has the inspiring tagline “analytics with a bias to action.”

Similarly, becoming a data-driven pray-er means looking for inspiration by asking “what must I do in response to God?”

Be communicative

In his sermon on the Last Sunday after Epiphany, Fr. Ralph Osborne — the rector of the parish I serve — invited us during the season of Lent to speak to others about our relationship with God.

Share with someone else the insights you’ve gained as you read the Scriptures more deliberately. Share with them the actions you’ve resolved to take based on your reading.

Ask them how their reading of Scripture strengthens their relationship with God. Ask them how they feel led to act in response to Scripture.

Speaking to others about what you’re reading and how it informs your prayer will also help keep you accountable to act as you have resolved to do.

Be skeptical

Finally, the infographic above suggests that being data-driven involves asking the right questions of the data you’ve collected:

Have I drawn the right conclusions?

Am I looking at these results correctly?

Are these good goals and benchmarks?

Whether you’re in the office, or at school, or in church, or at home, it’s good to ask questions in order to be sure you’re on the right track.

In spiritual terms, this is called “being humble.”

People have been writing and editing and proclaiming and teaching and arguing about and meditating on the words of the Bible for more than three thousand years now.

Being a data-driven pray-er means recognizing that your own interpretation is by no means the only one out there. Millions of Jewish and Christian believers have written millions of words about the Scriptures and the God who is revealed in them. Chances are, you’re not the first person to ask the question that’s on your mind.

Likewise, just as God will reveal himself to you as you read the Scriptures, so has God given insights and encouragement to other people. It could be that what they have learned will be important for you to know, too.

There are a lot of data points to consider, so keep asking questions in order to see how your conclusions line up with the voice of the tradition and the other data-driven prayers around you.


More like a literary festival, really

A nearby church posted this message on their sign last week.

Seems to me that the presence they describe would be less of an author signing and more like a literary festival, really.


The Priestly editor and the Deuteronomic editor will discuss their project to finally get the early history of God’s people (now available in a five-volume set called The Pentateuch) in order after their return from exile. They share stories of their uneasy collaboration and editorial disagreements with flashes of humor.

Israel Did What Was Wrong

They will be joined by their colleague the Deuteronomic Historian, who will discuss the ups and downs of Israel’s relationship with neighboring cultures. All six volumes are now available in paperback: Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 2 Kings.

Protest singer, he’s singin’ a protest song

The Major Prophets Ezekiel and Daniel (feat. The Three Isaiahs) will headline a panel discussion and karaoke session entitled “The Suffering Servant: Wheel in the Sky Keeps on Burnin’ While the Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Jeremiah requests lamentations only at karaoke.

The minor prophets Hosea, Joel, Amos (“I hate, I despise your festivals”), Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, disgusted by the commercialism and frivolity of the event, will appear outside the festival grounds in a dramatic reenactment of Israel’s harlotry (NSFW).

Rebuilding the Walls

Ezra and Nehemiah, with special guest the Chronicler, will describe the monumental task of rebuilding that faced the exiles upon their return from Babylon.

I Write the Songs That Make the Whole World Sing

The Psalmist (“Call me David”) will talk about the challenge of writing church music about both the love of God and human frustration with pain and suffering.

50 Shades of Grey

The couple featured in the Song of Songs (rated M for Mature Content) will share their honeymoon photos and videos. 18+ only, please.

Pithy Sayings

Don’t forget to follow the “men of Hezekiah,” who will share their images and uplifting quotes from the Proverbs of Solomon on both Instagram and Facebook throughout the festival.

We’re From the Philosophy Department

Landowner Job will join Qoheleth, Ecclesiastical Professor of Philosophy, and give his first-person account of losing everything and finding God. Prof. Q, lyricist for the Byrds (“To everything, turn, turn, turn”) will offer reflections on the vanity of striving.

A reception will follow — everyone’s invited to eat, drink, and be merry!

Storytellers’ Hour

Don’t miss Jonah and his tragicomic “Fish Tales of Nineveh.”

Esther will tell the story of how Purim came to be such a great party (spoiler alert: Haman gets it in the end), and Ruth is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face with “How to Win a Man and Get Along Great With Your Ex-Mother-in-Law.”


The Maccabees will thrill audiences of all ages with their stories of hardship and courage during the war over the Temple. Free menorahs and dreidels to the first 100 kids.

Ben Sirach and his fellow Wisdom writer “Anonymous” will read from their books, accompanied by Ben Sidran and his fellow jazz pianists (set list TBD).

From the Good News Department

Writers Matthew and Mark are joined by Dr. Luke (whose two-volume history is now available in audiobook form) to share their perspectives on Jesus and to discuss similarities and differences in their work.

Here’s Your Sign

Gospel writer John will discuss his approach to the life of Jesus and talk about the “signs” he weaves throughout his account.

Free wine tasting.

 My Baby, He Wrote Me a Letter

Megastar author Paul (“I Don’t Want to Boast”) of Tarsus will talk about the churches he founded and the leading apostles who owe everything to him, if he does say so himself.

Several other minor litterati will join Paul each day of the festival. Check the schedule for appearances by James, Peter, and John.

Coffee Talk

He brews. Get it? Hebrews!

Seriously, join the author over coffee to ask your questions about “this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul.”

Leaving Laodicea

Join John of Patmos as he describes the mystical visions he saw while vacationing on Patmos. “Hunter J. Thompson’s got nothin’ on me!” exclaims the author of the final book to be featured in our festival.

Searching and fearless

Step Four
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

“We want to find exactly how, when, and where our natural desires have warped us. We wish to look squarely at the unhappiness this has caused others and ourselves. By discovering what our emotional deformities are, we can move toward their correction … Without a searching and fearless moral inventory, most of us have found that the faith which really works in daily living is still out of reach” (12 Steps and 12 Traditions).

Notes from the first session of John Dally's "This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible" at Seabury.

Notes from the first session of John Dally’s “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible” at Seabury.

Three weeks ago, I wrote about one of the central ideas from the class I am taking at Seabury this fall: that the Bible is organized around two 9/11’s.

The Hebrew Bible, in particular, came into its present shape after the destruction of the Temple and the exile into Babylon. John Dally suggests that Israel’s judgment upon themselves is that “it’s our fault.”

So mortals ate the bread of angels;
he provided for them food enough.

But they did not stop their craving,
though the food was still in their mouths.

Whenever he slew them, they would seek him,
and repent, and diligently search for God.

But they flattered him with their mouths
and lied to him with their tongues.

Their heart was not steadfast toward him,
and they were not faithful to his covenant.

(Psalm 78:25-37 passim)

Perhaps the Hebrew Bible is also, to use the language of the 12 Steps, Israel’s “searching and fearless moral inventory.”

Step Four concludes with this reminder: “Therefore, thoroughness ought to be the watchword when taking inventory. In this connection, it is wise to write out our questions and answers. It will be an aid to clear thinking and honest appraisal. It will be the first tangible evidence of our complete willingness to move forward.”

What the priest Ezra and the people are doing in this morning’s reading from the Book of Nehemiah is repenting of their sins and laying before God and each other their written confession:

You have been just in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly; our kings, our officials, our priests, and our ancestors have not kept your law or heeded the commandments and the warnings that you gave them …. Because of all this we make a firm agreement in writing, and on that sealed document are inscribed the names of our officials, our Levites, and our priests. (Nehemiah 9:33-34, 38)

In a larger sense, the whole of the Hebrew Bible is the written confession of the people of God regarding their failure and their renewed desire to live as God intends, the “tangible evidence of their complete willingness to move forward.”

It is difficult to commit to a “searching and fearless moral inventory,” but I also draw comfort knowing that I am by no means alone in my struggles, that others have found a way forward into a “faith that really works in daily living.”

How do your prayers and your reading of Scripture both challenge and comfort you today?