If in-depth Bible study is like a day on a commercial fishing boat in a yellow slicker, hauling in the catch, exhausted at the end of the day, scripture meditation is more like pulling up to the table with a salmon roasted in white wine chatting about the catch with a good friend. The first is work. The second is our rest, God’s work. Our part is drawing near. Both are necessary to rhythms of life in the Word. But, when we’ve done the work and hauled in the catch, how do we go from fish to feast?
Here are nine simple though not simplistic suggestions:
- Practice the Presence of God while meditating on the Word. The mystery at the very center of our open Bible is that the Author is always present. Imagine reading a big, thick autobiography next to the author who is available for questions. “Whenever you read the Gospel, Christ Himself is speaking to you. And while you read, you are praying and talking with Him,” said St. Tikhon of Zidonsk. Suddenly, reading the Word in His Presence our attention is crystallized. The air is electric. The text jumps to life. Suddenly the Word becomes relational, the beginning of a flowing conversation. We know the truth and the Truth knows us. With every verse, the God of the Universe is sharing intimate self-knowledge with us, His children, and our hearts are simultaneously embraced and laid bare in the Presence of Divine Love. The mask of competency we usually wear to the Word falls away.
- Come to the Word with expectation but without agenda. Come hungry. Come with your hands open and empty as you do to the communion rail.
- Stash your phone two rooms away. Ever feel like you’re practicing the presence of your phone instead of the Presence of God? Yeah, me too. Science tells us that our focus is fractured just by having our smart phones in the same room with us. They suggest that for seasons of high concentration to find a home for your phone two rooms away. Why not put the ringer up, give it a regular station, and treat it like an actual phone?
- Hold on and linger. Read it out loud. Slow it down. Savor each word. Eugene Peterson quotes Baron Von Hugel in his writing on lectio divina, Eat this Book, who explains that meditating on Scripture is like, “letting a very slowly dissolving lozenge melt imperceptibly in your mouth.”
- Repetition is the key to Re-formation: I wonder how often we receive a message through the Word in the quiet of the early morning and then forget it by the time we sit down at the table with our bowl of cereal. We get a warm feeling and then the truth flits out the window. Determine to no longer be addicted to the “aha” moment but establish a habit for remaining in the word and walking it out. “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Jeremiah 6:16. The possibilities for transformation through habit are endless. Get out that dusty journal and make short notes. Capture the Word on a 3 by 5 card and take it out every time you wash your hands. Share the insight with a friend. Choose to not allow the seeds to get lost on the hard ground: “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22).
- Respond. Move from reading to prayer. Allow the Scripture to become a doorway to conversation: In what ways are you sensing the story of God pervading your story? What emotion does this word elicit? Get brutally honest. No more skimming the surface with God. The psalmist shows us the way. Where are you struggling? What nerve is this touching? What desire does this bring up to the surface? Do you feel hope rise up in response? Does this word give you a hint of who you are in God’s eyes? Is there wrapped in this word a gift of God’s self-revelation? Park right there and let the Word saturate.
- Allow the Word to Become a Doorway to Rest. We’re good at grabbing the remote, checking out the fridge, scrolling our phones, grasping our own definition of rest. We’ve got a hundred ways we choose rest. None of these are bad in themselves. Instead, let the Word become an avenue for resting in God. Take a few deep breaths before you begin. “Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:29).
- Memorize small portions. The more deeply ingrained the Word settles into our brains, the more the Holy Spirit can use it to renew our minds.
- Bring it to bed with you. I write about this simple spiritual discipline here, and how ten years ago Archbishop Venables shared a small gem on Anglican TV which transformed my bedtime routines and has become the key to finding peace through seasons of depression. I’ll offer this tidbit of his talk here. Abp. Venables shared in his talk that a priest had confessed to having nightmares and how he had asked the priest to recount his normal nightly schedule. “What do you do before you go to sleep?” he inquired. “Just a little time in front of the tv,” the priest admitted. The Archbishop decided to pry further, “And what is it that you watch?” “Oh, Murder mysteries, detective shows and the like.” “Ahhhh, son,” the Archbishop had said, “then that’s just where we need to focus. Swap out the violence with a scripture, a short one. Bring to bed with you just a phrase or two. Run it through the mind, inside and out and you’ll find your nights are much more peaceful.” Ask during the day for a phrase which speaks to your most pressing, present need and pray it in repetition as you fall asleep. Sometimes there’s a beautiful peace that covers this process. Sometimes it is more of a wrestle. But the wrestle always leads to blessing.
Now lets put it into practice. Join me for a lectio divina on Philippians 2: