As I continue to share with you some of the things God spoke to me about whilst on sabbatical, I want to focus this week on the important but often neglected tool (or, in old money, discipline) that is meditation.
It’s amazing how, as I write the word meditation, my mind drifts swiftly to images of people with crossed legs, chanting some repetitive religious mantra. Why is it that, as Christians, we so quickly lose sight of the central place that biblical mediation has played in the lives of our forefathers (and mothers) for the last two thousand years? Take for example Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was executed by the Nazis. When asked why he meditated he replied, ‘Because I am a Christian’. In addition to the witness of so many in the church over the last 2,000 years, we find the practice of mediation used by those faithfully following the Lord again and again in scripture – at least 55 times in the Old Testament alone! Find examples in Genesis 24:63, Psalm 63:6 and Psalm 119:148.
So what is biblical mediation?
Richard Foster describes biblical meditation as ‘very simply, … the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word‘. How does it differ from just reading the Bible? Let me give you some simple images to help describe biblical meditation:
Chewing the cud
Perhaps it’s the small boy in me that loves how many animals have really gross dietary habits! For example, because of the inefficiency of their digestive systems, rabbits will often eat their own droppings to obtain all the nutrients out of the them (gross!). Cows, on the other hand, have the ability to chew the cud, swallowing and then regurgitating their food for a second or third chew! This image of continually revisiting and chewing over material is a great illustration of one form of biblical meditation. In Psalm 1:2 we read that the psalmist meditates on the law of the Lord ‘day and night’. Biblical mediation is the process whereby we intentionally focus the attention of our heart, mind, emotions and imagination on a small section of scripture and just keep visiting it, so that we obtain every bit of spiritual nutrient from it.
Why chew the cud of God’s word?
Because in a world that is rushing and filled to overflowing there is a danger that we never really grasp hold of the truth. We can know it in our minds as facts and information but it has not taken hold of us and transformed our thinking and practice. It’s can so easily just remain as data, sat on one of many shelves in our mind. However, when we meditate on a passage of scripture and chew it over and over, it slowly starts to change us.
This is what often happens to me when I meditate on God’s word:
- It uncovers heart motivations which I was not aware of.
- It reveals thought patterns that are in opposition to the gospel.
- It sharpens my view and vision of my saviour.
- It brings fresh encouragement and courage to my heart.
- It sparks new ideas and links biblical ideas together.
- It leads to prayer, repentance and devotion.
- It changes the way I want to live.
How do I chew the cud of God’s word?
I’m so glad you asked! It is very easy. Why not take a small passage of scripture, write it out on an index card and, in the morning, take ten minutes to quietly focus on the passage. Don’t be tempted to use lots of commentaries or online resources; just quietly focus on the passage at hand. Prayerfully start talking to the Lord about it and asking questions that will help you to understand the passage better. Allow the Lord to start sifting your heart with the words. Slip the index card into your pocket and use a few minutes here and there throughout the day to revisit the passage again and again. Finally, at the end of the day, grab a notebook and write down all of the things you feel God has spoken to you about through the passage. Just keep writing till you feel you have emptied the tank, and then turn what you have learned into prayer and look for some changes you need to make in your life.
Why don’t you have a go? Here are five passages to get you started:
- Psalm 1
- Luke 5:18-19
- Luke 11:33-36
- Romans 12:1-2
- 1 Corinthians 13
More next week…