Don't Simply Read Through the Bible: Meditate On It - Radical

Don’t Simply Read Through the Bible: Meditate On It

The approaching New Year should remind Christians to read and study Scripture with resolve. It’s never been easier to dig into and meditate on the Bible. Diverse reading plans are readily available—your daily readings can be emailed to your phone and even read audibly to you!

Starting in January, many Christians will give it a try. Some will fall off the wagon in Numbers, while others will persevere and rejoice in Revelation. Regardless, may your zeal for Scripture sizzle in 2019!

But wouldn’t it be a shame to read a ton of Scripture yet not really be changed by it?

This happens when people read too quickly or in a shallow way. One important way to address this is through biblical meditation, which is the Bible study equivalent of stopping to smell the roses. Meditation is the process of absorbing the Word of God into your mind and heart and bones.

The Importance of Absorbing the Bible

Faster is not always better. A pot of chili can be completed in under twenty minutes on the stovetop, or it can be allowed to simmer three or four hours (or more) in a crockpot. People want their chili fast, so they usually opt for the stovetop. However, I’ve found that chili tastes better after stewing for several hours on lower heat. The beans are transformed into something special! They absorb the juices, spices, and flavors, giving it a more all-together taste than the quicker version.

Most Bible plans are more stovetop and less crockpot. The goal is to read a lot, fast, which allows the entire Bible to be skimmed in a year. There’s nothing wrong with that, just like there’s nothing wrong with a quick pot of chili. But something is missing.

Don Whitney writes, “[Bible] meditation . . . is like immersing [a tea] bag completely and letting it steep until all the rich tea flavor has been extracted and the hot water is thoroughly tinctured reddish brown. Meditation on Scripture is letting the Bible brew in the brain” (Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life).

When a person mentally stews in a verse (or small portion) of Scripture for an extended period—maybe ten minutes, maybe three hours, maybe a month—something happens to his mind and heart. It starts soaking in deeper truth and is softened and flavored by the process. God wants us to approach his Word in the crockpot way:

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps 119:97).

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Josh 1:8).

Learning how to let Scripture sink in deeply through meditation is not an optional task. It is a God-given responsibility.

Some Means of Bible Absorption

It’s one thing to talk about the importance of Bible absorption but another thing to learn how to do it. It’s impossible to even scratch the surface here but a few ideas might help.

1. Read It Repetitively

Most adults can read the entire book of Romans in under an hour, but just as a driver will miss many scenic details by going 80 mph on the interstate, so will the speed reader of Romans. It’s helpful and critical to get a broad overview, but significant details will necessarily be overlooked.

To better absorb the Bible, slowly read small pieces (like a verse or half a verse) again and again, out loud, emphasizing various words or parts with each reading. As you emphasize words and phrases, think carefully about what each part brings to the meaning of the verse as a whole. (The juices are soaking in)!

On a personal note, through the years, nothing has so effectively and consistently shoved God’s Word into my soul then this practice.

2. Break it down.

Any software program works for this. Copy and paste the text and give each keyword or phrase its own line. Here’s what it looks like using Romans 5:7–8:

one will scarcely die
for a righteous person—
for a good person
one would dare even to die—
shows his love
for us
in that while
we were still sinners,
Christ died
for us.

Once you get here, you can analyze it in all sorts of ways. For example, you could indent words and phrases in the text so that it is clear visually how they relate to surrounding words and phrases. Regardless of how you choose to analyze the text, the point is to get a better hold on its logic and structure

3. Ask it questions.

When we want to learn about someone, we interview them. Even small talk is a kind of interview where we are asking and answering informal questions and getting to know a person better.

You can engage in the same basic process with a text of Scripture. Have a conversation with it. While you are slowly soaking in a verse or two, ask a few questions:

  • What do you mean that God “shows his love?”
  • Is it possible to have love in the heart but not show it?
  • What motivates God to have love “for us” and why do people need the love of God?
  • What are God’s ultimate reasons for loving people on such a high level?
  • Does the Bible answer any of these questions in other places?
  • Why would Paul emphasize this point here in chapter 5 of Romans?

On a personal note, whenever I interview the text, I ask my questions directly to the author. “Paul, what do you mean by ‘shows his love?” “Paul, why did you put this particular verse right here?” And so on. I do this in a lighthearted way, but it’s actually helpful. It makes the whole process feel very much like a conversation.

I strongly recommend writing or typing both your questions and any answers you discover. Putting your thoughts in writing is a critical part of crockpot-style Bible absorption.

4. Read commentaries.

In my experience, commentaries provide a strong aid to meditation. After all, a commentary is a recording of someone else’s meditation on the same text. They will give you some questions you hadn’t thought to ask and highlight some textual nuances you couldn’t see for yourself. Just reading how someone else (especially a well-trained person) interprets and applies a text can cause it to seep further and further into your mind and heart.

Quick tip: In order to leave room for your own discoveries, it’s wise to save this step until later in the process.

5. Listen to a sermon.

This is similar to the previous point except that a sermon is usually audible and will typically be more focused on application than a commentary. Both are extremely effective at pushing the text into the soul.

Between Martyn-Lloyd Jones, John MacArthur, John Piper, David Platt, and Alistair Begg, you can pretty much hear one or more sermons on any given passage in the Bible, free of charge, anytime you want. Besides these and other well-known preachers, there are literally thousands of other doctrinally sound pastors with sermons available online. Our lives are too short to listen to even 1% of them!

We have a massive treasure of deep Bible exposition perpetually available to us. Christians today can stew in the crockpot of God’s Word while driving to work, walking on a treadmill, shaving, mowing the lawn, dusting bookshelves, or doing dishes. Every sound sermon causes God’s perfect Word to press further into your soul.

Will You Give It a Shot?

If you are interested in learning more about Bible meditation, I highly recommend Don Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life. Another great resource is David Platt’s messages from Secret Church 3: How to Study the Bible.

As 2019 begins, make Bible absorption one of your resolutions. Will you give it a shot? If you do, I believe your life will become spiritually juicier and full of joyful flavor!

Jason Dollar is the pastor of Rock Mountain Lakes Baptist Church in McCalla, Alabama. He is married to Page and they have five children.

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