First Thoughts: Biblical meditation (part 2)

As I continue to share with you some of the things God spoke to me about whilst on sabbatical, I want to return this week to biblical meditation. Last week we started to explore how one form of biblical meditation was a little like chewing the cud. How did you get on having a go?

Imagination: a tool for understanding
Francis Schaeffer once said, ‘The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.’ He was trying to capture the God-given importance of using our imagination to help deepen our understanding of the Bible, and thus the nature of God. So what might this look like?

Get yourself ready
If you are anything like me, I’m easily distracted! So try setting aside 15-20 minutes when you know you won’t be distracted by anything else. Find a quiet place. This could be in the lounge (with the door shut), or even sat in the car park at work, before heading in for the day. Make sure you turn your phone off! For many years, I’ve taken Nicky Gumbel’s advice of having a notebook next to me to write down any thoughts which distract me (eg must pay car insurance tonight) so I’m not trying to remember them whilst focusing on God’s word. Try it! You will quickly be able to settle your heart and give concentrated focus to the passage you are going to meditate on.

Now what?
Good question! My suggestion is you choose a small passage of scripture (ideally a single story or parable) and, as Ignatius of Loyola once said, ‘apply all [your] senses to the task.’ This requires the use of your imagination!

Let me give you an example: You may remember that, on Sunday 27th September, I preached from Luke 5:1-11 on Jesus as he calls his first disciples. That sermon started as mediation whilst away on sabbatical. As I started to meditate on the passage, I first read it very slowly aloud to myself (so I could hear the narrative). Then I walked (slowly again) through the narrative, trying to imagine that I were there. It begins on the beach; I tried to smell the sea, imagine the landscape, hear the wind blowing through the sails of the little fishing boats. I tried to imagine the sun reflecting on the water and the muffled sounds from the nearby village. This was using my imagination to try to inhabit the text and allow understanding to grow. I moved on and eventually got to the moment when Jesus asks a tired and weary Simon to push out a little further into the deep water and once more let down his nets. I saw the slight sinking of Simon’s shoulders, as he realised it was going to mean lowering and pulling up those tortuous nets; those that had only netted him heartache the previous night. I saw his quick, wistful look to the rising smoke from the village, knowing that a good rest was not that far away. Yet I also saw his lingering inquisitive looks at Jesus. I could see that something from the inside was stirring him to obey. Then, as so often happened with Simon, words were coming out of his mouth before he had fully computed them: ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ In that moment of meditation on the passage, I was struck by the fact that those words are the essence of true discipleship. Here’s what I wrote in my journal that day:

‘Because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ This is the essence, the beginning of all true discipleship. ‘Because you say so’ is choosing to live as Christ-centred in my decisions, emotions and will. See how the commitment that Simon makes cuts against logic, professional experience, his physical need for rest, and many other factors. However, in that moment Simon suppresses all of these other reasons – or, maybe better still, elevates this one simple desire, which is to be obedient to the calling of Jesus. ‘If you say so, I’ll do it.’

Biblical meditation is about trying to get to these types of insights. Why is this so important? Because then it is so very easy to personalise them and grow as a disciple of Jesus. This is part of the prayer that I wrote in my journal that morning:

Lord, this morning I want to follow you. I want to live a ‘because you say so’ life. I’m not fully sure I know the edges of what that looks like; however, I do know that I want to follow you all the days of my life. I want to walk as a simple disciple of you. I want to keep my eyes upon you and, because of your great love and mercy for me, everyday I want to be characterised by ‘because you say so’ decisions.

So what should I do now?
I’m so glad you asked! Why don’t you have a go? Here are three simple stories for you. Allow your imagination and senses to help you to meditate, and gain a better and deeper understanding of these passages:

John 4:1-26
John 5:1-14
John 9:1-12

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