Praying Between the Lines


Most of us are familiar with the expression, “Read between the lines.” It is an idiom used to capture the practice of inferring. Not stated explicitly or openly, it invites persons to find the hidden meaning behind a text or conversation. “She didn’t say she was frustrated. But, if you read between the lines, you could hear that she is disappointed by the lack of participation.”

“Reading between the lines” can name the quest for a deeper and intentional hearing. More than being meddlesome, it can express a desire to understand, to know more, to get the full meaning of something we read or hear. However, to be done well, we must be aware of our biases, inclinations, and motivations. Our listening should be authentic and not done to support a conclusion suited to our agenda.

This kind of listening leans forward. It is ears searching for answers. “What is really being expressed? What am I not hearing? What more is being said?”

When we read and study the Bible, this same method is applied. We are looking at the words, listening to the writer. But, it is important that we not only see the words but feel the Spirit behind those words. What is really being said about our life with Christ, about the practice of discipleship? How do these holy words speak to me and in my context? How am I being asked to respond? What is being asked of me?

Because these texts were written thousands of years ago, the Holy Spirit serves as our translator, our medium, our touchpoint. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27, NRSV).

Different from praying the Scriptures, where we pray the promises of the Bible over our lives or use them as a starting point in our conversation with
God, this is a kind of spiritual inquiry. The Holy Spirit serves as our Teacher, guiding our engagement while inviting us to open up, to listen up.
Consequently, in prayer and through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we can hear deeper meanings of sacred Scripture. Prayer can open our ears to words that we memorized as children, heard sermons about, or studied for years. Prayer can even give meaning to passages that we had discounted or dismissed. We can hear them again or, perhaps, hear them anew. More than words jumping off the page, they can come alive in us.

Praying between the lines can offer a way to hear the Bible as we have never heard it before. It is to read the Bible in conversation with the Spirit and in so doing, lean into the words. But, the questions are different now: “What of my life is repeating this truth? What am I really saying as a Christian and in light of this holy text? What would persons gather if they read between the lines of my life?”

Scripture, God-breathed, can become fresh wind for us, animating our lives in ways we had not considered. Praying between the lines invites us to listen deeply and to allow the Scriptures to search us, finding meanings we did not expect. “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Revelations 2:29, NRSV).

smcneillReverend Starlette Thomas* is an associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland and the Minister to Empower Congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. She writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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