In August of 1989, I found myself in the bush country of East Africa, living in a tent in front of a mud-and-sticks church building, six miles from the nearest settlement. As one who had been involved in mission trips before, I had learned to anticipate swallowing with difficulty some of my American expectations (not to mention a few other things!).
But one thing that shocked me was the lifestyle of the professing Christians I encountered. Lying, stealing, and immorality were generally accepted, even among church leaders. Theological understanding was as scarce as water, and doctrinal errors as common as malaria.
It didn’t take long for me to discover the root of the problem: No one in the church had a Bible, not even the pastor. They had a few Bible stories that would be retold, and the pastor knew about six sermons that were re-preached time and again. My traveling companions and I purchased some Bibles for the church, leaving with a prayer that the Word of God would transform the lives of those infant believers.
A healthy Christian life is impossible without the daily intake of God’s Word.
I grew up watching my dad read the Bible regularly. Between his example and the encouragement of Sunday school teachers week after week, I got into the Bible reading habit early in my life. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a Bible reader. Even today I sense my need for Scripture, and I crave the opportunity to meet with God through it. After all, the Bible is the primary means by which I can experience God personally and hear from Him directly.
What I’ve found, however, is that most people didn’t have the upbringing I had; and for whatever reason, Bible reading and meditation are scarce. Many professing believers who carry their Bibles to church every week know little more about it than those African believers in the bush.
What’s the Problem?
Some people have no appetite for Scripture, which indicates they aren’t Christians. But for those of us who are sincere in our faith, there are two main hindrances to our Bible intake: the pressures of time, and the perceived lack of benefit we get from reading.
Even the most devoted Bible readers—even those who find an extra five, ten, or twenty minutes a day—have trouble remembering what they read. They conclude that they must have a bad memory or that they’re a second-rate Christian. They wonder silently if it’s really worth the sacrifice of time for them to maintain a discipline that doesn’t benefit them. They feel frustrated, even a little guilty.
I have good news. The problem is not with you or with the amount of time you spend reading—the problem is a lack of biblical meditation. Learning how to meditate may be the key that will unlock the joys of Scripture and the life-changing power it contains. Meditation is the bridge between being a “hearer” of the Bible and a “doer.”
Beginning to Meditate
I’ve defined meditation as “deep thinking” on the truth of God’s Word—for the purpose of understanding, obedience, and prayer. (It’s important that we distinguish this process from daydreaming or Eastern meditation techniques. I am speaking of a focused, intentional desire to consider Bible truth.) This involves praying through a passage, asking questions about what you’re reading, rewriting the verses in your own words, or a host of other possibilities.
Jonathan Edwards, one of the preachers instrumental in America’s First Great Awakening, demonstrated well the concept of Christian meditation: “I seemed often to see so much light exhibited by every sentence [of the Bible], and such a refreshing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading; often dwelling long on one sentence to see the wonders contained in it, and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders.”
Such meditation is never an end in itself. Deep thinking on spiritual truth is the key to obeying God, to putting the Scriptures into practice. If we believe that the Word of God does apply to the situations we encounter every day, and if we are confident God can speak to us as we spend time in His Word, all that remains is for us to meditate.
It’s important that we differentiate this devotional Bible meditation from academic study. There’s great profit in academic Bible learning, particularly when you seek to teach others the truth of Scripture. But meditating on the Bible for yourself is vital. Rather than asking, “How can I teach this?” you are free to wonder, “How might I live this?”
There are times when a Bible portion will have such evident application for your life that it will virtually jump off the page and plead with you to do what it says. More often than not, however, you must “interview” the paragraph, patiently asking application-oriented questions until a down-to-earth response becomes clear. Here are a few questions I recommend. Does this text reveal something I should …
- Believe about God?
- Praise or thank God for?
- Pray about for myself or others?
- Change my attitude about?
- Make a decision on?
- Do for the sake of Christ, others, or myself?
When you have concluded your time of Bible meditation, you should be able to name at least one definite response you have made or will make. Rather than reading and forgetting the truth—or worse, reading and ignoring it—you are prepared to be a “doer” of the Bible. The blessings of Psalm 1 and Joshua 1:8 will be yours to enjoy.
Copyright © 2009 Revive magazine, Vol. 40, #3 “Bible Boredom,” by Life Action Ministries. Donald Whitney is the founder of The Center for Biblical Spirituality (www.BiblicalSpirituality.org) and a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life teaches Christians how to grow through prayer, Bible intake, silence, fasting, and more.