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radek-dying-sea-20O Lord, how many are my foes!?Many are rising against me; ?many are saying to me, “There is no help for you in God.”? Selah

?But you, O Lord, are a shield around me,?my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. ?I cry aloud to the Lord,?and he answers me from his holy hill…? Selah

Deliverance belongs to the Lord; may your blessing be on your people!  Selah

Psalm 3:1-4, 8

After reading our 2015 Lenten Devotional, “Praying with the Psalmists,” people have asked me about the meaning of the word “Selah” found in the Psalms.  When they ask I often remember my mother’s words when I asked her what the word “Selah” meant.  Without any knowledge of Hebrew my mother’s answer to me was spot on: “Selah means to stop and think about what you just read, because it is very important.”  My mother helped me to pay attention to the Selah moments in the Bible, as well as to the Selah moments in life.  God calls us to stop, to reflect, and to consider.

The word Selah is used 71 times in the Book of Psalms and three times in the poetry sections of the Old Testament Book of Habakkuk.  Remarkably the word Selah is often inserted right in mid sentence, calling us to pay especially close attention.

Selah comes from a Hebrew word meaning, “to hang,” as in hanging something up to weigh it.  In the world of the Bible money, food, and various commodities were hung up on scales to weigh their value.  Similarly, when I was a boy picking cotton they would hang up my cotton sack on scales to be weighed.

Thus, Selah in the Biblical texts calls readers to stop and weigh, to carefully reflect on what they have just read.  Like railroad crossing lights Selah commands: “Stop!  Look!  And listen!”  Just as the Hebrew word “Amen” was put at the end of certain texts to express confidence in God, so “Selah” comes right in the midst of the text calling readers to carefully weigh and consider what they have just read.

I am realizing the need for more Selah moments in my life in which I stop and pay close attention.  Pay close attention to God’s Word, and pay close attention to God’s World.

I read quite a lot, and often read without weighing, without reflecting on what I have read.  Words just pour in.  With all the reading materials available on the Internet, bookstores, and libraries, my reading often feels like drinking from a fire hose.  I need to practice Selah.

But our hurried, rushed world requires me not only to practice Selah in my reading, but to practice Selah in my daily experience.  I find that an evening spent with friends is enriched by Selah moments in which I stop to weigh, savor, and reflect on the shared time.  So too, a concert, movie, game, or walk in the park calls for Selah moments to weigh and reflect on what I am experiencing.

Here is where I find the Church’s ancient spiritual practice of Lectio Divina to be helpful.  I can practice Lectio Divina both in reading words and reading life.  I practice Lectio Divina in reading God’s Word and books by following these four steps:

  • READ the text prayerfully and slowly three or four times;
  • REFLECT on words and images that stand out to you;
  • RESPOND by talking to God about what you have just read;
  • REST in God’s presence and let Him simply love you.

The same four steps of Lectio Divina help in reading life, such as a movie, a concert, game, or other experience.  I follow the same four steps:

  • READ the thing just experienced by rehearsing it three or four times in your mind;
  • REFLECT on words, images, sensations, and feelings that stand out to you from what you experienced;
  • RESPOND by talking to God and asking for His insights and understanding of what you just experienced;
  • REST in God’s presence and let Him simply love you.


P.S.  Recently my son Rhett and I recorded a podcast in which we discussed life transitions.  Rhett is a marriage and family therapist, and author of books The Anxious Christian, and What It Means to Be A Man.  I think you might enjoy and be helped by Rhett’s and my discussion on navigating life’s transitions.  Check out the podcast at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/rhett-smith-podcast-3- navigating/id979432816?i=338292471&mt=2

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