Far from some vague, relative, philosophical abstraction of reality, Jesus makes it quite clear: to be His disciple requires that they follow His teaching, considered absolute Truth. It stands to reason that one cannot hold to a teaching that they have not learned.
As we look at this first essential of small groups, TRUTH refers to the priority the community of faith places on their ‘listening’ to its Leader Himself, Jesus Christ, who proclaimed Himself to be, among other things, Truth (John 14:6). His disciples hear Him best when their hearts and lives are open to His Word, the Holy Scripture.
Those who so intend, so incline their H.EA.R.T. to His Word in the following ways:
Hearing – They make themselves available to others who teach and preach truth based on Scripture. There has never been a time where this has be more accessible beyond sitting in a church service. Now we can listen to sermons, teachings, lectures, devotionals through radio, TVs, CDs, DVDs, podcasts, and streaming audio/video via the internet. Apart from the absence of technology and freedom to receive biblical truth (as denied in many countries banning such), there is no excuse for any believer to not access the Word of God through these mediums.
Examining – They take time to read Scripture carefully, thoughtfully, systematically and consistently to familiarize themselves with the heart and mind of God as revealed in His Word to them. The simple objective here is to know what He said. Each of the 66 books of the Bible, read from their individual beginnings to ends, is a manuscript record of His divine self-disclosure through inspired men.
Analyzing – They devote time to study God’s Word, seeking to go beyond familiarity to depth of understanding. This practice requires the use of such bible references as bible dictionaries, word studies, handbooks, language lexicons, maps, encyclopedias and commentaries aimed at helping the contemporary followers of Christ now to know what the historical followers meant when they wrote what they did then in response to Christ’s revelation. This is a much more formal practice requiring patience and humility.
Remembering -They devote themselves to cherishing God’s word by taking it to heart, knowing that we remember what is important. When we memorize Scripture, we carry His Word with us, refusing to leave it in a notebook or library or study desk because the place the Word truly belongs and was meant to reside was in our souls and be engraved on our hearts and minds so that we may live according to this living counsel of truth.
Thinking – The follower of Christ practices meditation – focused thinking – on biblical truth seeking to understand and apply spiritual principles to real life in personal ways. If what one remembers is important, then what one thinks about is both foundational and instrumental in affecting one’s mind and then one’s life.
Christ followers personally and interpersonally engage in these with the express purpose of then applying biblical truths and principles to their lives. As they diligently explore and honestly encounter God in His Word, they anticipate and participate in the spiritual transformation of their minds and and hearts as they submit their lives to Christ. They become conformed to the image of Christ through their obedience to His Word. The goal is not to become a stelllar Bible student but a devoted representative and reflection of the Christ who sets us free by His truth.
Many Christians in the world suffer being forbidden to access truth through the Scripture, but any Christian who has access to it, and yet chooses or neglects to discipline themselves to Hearing, Examining, Analyzing, Remembering, Thinking about His Word is disqualified from the greater depths of spiritual maturity available only to those who have a H.E.A.R.T. for Holy Scripture.
Consider also that of the 5 components mentioned, only “hearing” may be considered passive to an extent (though one could certainly make a case for “active listening”). The others must be actively and personally engaged by the Christ follower.
Individual Believer: how often and consistently do you personally, diligently access God’s Word on your own, with the intent not for more information but for greater intimacy and influence from your Master and Lord?
Small Group Leader: to what degree do you challenge, model and encourage your members to pursue the truth that is so readily available in and between your meeting times?
One of the objections raised by folks regarding the issue Scripture’s authority stems from the difficulty of how we (Christians) can place a great deal of trust in a manuscript written long ago by ordinary men, prone, as all men are, to defects and biases. I admit that, on the surface, this is what it seems, but the internal and historical claims of the inerrancy of Scripture go beyond this common objection. I submit that this common objection misses the point. The focus for debate really rests on something far more profound and transcendent. See if you can detect it in the passages below, usually used to affirm the authority and inerrancy of Holy Scripture:
2 Peter 1:16, 20-21 16We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
20Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness
Did you catch it? Human authorship or participation is not central. The issue is not about the reality of the weakness of man but about the existence and influence of God. I submit that there are 2 questions that need to be answered and upon which the debate should be waged is,
When considering publications like the NY Times, USA Today, Wallstreet Journal, Encyclopedia Britannica, Encarta, etc, no will argue that these are written by ordinary men, prone to defects and biases. Yet, of their millions of readers, subscribers and patrons few question the integrity of the writers in connection with their manuscripts, though many may disagree with them. Yet when it comes to the Holy Scriptures, the same concession is inadmissable and the integrity of the biblical manuscripts are thus discredited. Maybe it is precisely because the Scripture goes beyond orthodox literary decorum to claim divine inspiration.
If there is no God, the debate is over and Bible was written by men who either thought they were divinely inspired and they weren’t, or knew they weren’t but said they were. Either way, under those conditions, the Bible would be an unethical collection of writings based on that which is not truth, yet claiming superior authority, and, therefore, unworthy of any serious consideration…if there is no God!
But if, indeed, God exists, and if indeed, He does personally interact with human beings, then He most certainly can inspire men to scribe His truth for all men to encounter and thus the authority of Scripture can be firmly established. People may still disagree with its content but they cannot simply repudiate or dismiss its source. The summation of the internal claims of Scripture and the external, historical affirmations of those claims is that “Scripture is inscribed by men inspired by God.” The first part is obvious and undeniable. It is the second part that adherents cherish by faith but that antagonists must sufficiently disprove.
So let’s not rest arguments against the validity and authority of Scripture purely on the weakness of man. That fact is irrefutable. Let’s debate the issue on the true lodestone being the Living Lord Himself, God Almighty, the true Author of His Living Word.
When it comes to regular consistent biblical meditation, what are the obstacles you encounter? What are the challenges that mutate this timeworn, soul refreshing discipline into a soul stressing disappointment…more drudgery than delight? Why, at times, when we do it, does it seem to be less than worth the effort so that it becomes more something we “gotta do” than something we “get to do”?
When I talk to fellow followers of Christ, and the subject invariably comes around to the quality of our devotional life, I hear (and sometimes personally repeat) the same phrase: “I know…I don’t read the Bible as much as I should!” When I consider the context of my own walk, I would daresay that statement is probably an understatement…things are worse than mentioned. I realize now that it does little good to deluge people with tips and tools to succeed in this area when those very resources fail to deal with the underlying problems that are beyond the scope of these aids designed to…uh…aid!
This is really Part 2 of a previous post I published (“Stop and Consider”) where I referenced a quote cited in a version of Zondervan’s Quest Study Bible that highlighted the difficulty of meditation for Western culture in contrast to the East. Here is a portion of that quote:
“The author of this psalm [Psalm 119] was from another time and culture, one with a tradition that valued meditation. As a result, meditation came more naturally for him and others with his Middle Eastern background. We have to overcome some cultural obstacles to learn to meditate.”
Look at the very last sentence. In that previous post I addressed what we must value if our devotional times in Scripture meditation are to be beneficial and transforming. In this post we will deal with what we must vanquish.
Let’s also clarify what I mean by “scripture meditation”. Again, from that post,
Scripture meditation is focused thinking on and about the Word of God where the intention is for us to understand and apply revealed truths to our lives in humble response to God. The rewards include a greater understanding of Scripture, increased sense of personal well being, a more satisfying communion with God, and a transformed life as it is being conformed to the character and purpose of Jesus Christ.
In this post I will not deal with the personal barriers we need to overcome, but those obstacles that stem from our Western cultural mindset that inhibit our personal pursuit of depth and intimacy with God. Three of the cultural obstacles to meditation I believe need to be overcome are our concepts of time, self and Scripture.
Our Concept of Time: We Westerners are very results oriented. We want results and we want them now and if not now, then soon, but preferably yesterday! We are ingrained with the priority of time stewardship. Our motto: “Don’t just sit there — do something!” We sometimes unconsciously believe that we waste time if we are not “doing” something, making the most of our time with performing industry rather than pursuing intimacy. The problem: intimacy – knowing deeply and being known deeply – can’t be done well in the fast lane. Scripture meditation, knowing God more deeply, requires time in ways that are mutually intentional and beneficial but maybe not in rhythm with a “get it done now” mindset. Scripture meditation may be considered among one of the best investments of time we engage in…if truly knowing God is a life priority.
Our Concept of Self: We have been trained to think pretty highly of ourselves. We’re taught things like “God is our co-pilot” (which would actually make us the pilot…scary!); or “God helps those who help themselves (a very unbiblical concept bordering on spiritual heresy); or the 10 2-letter words that could change a life: “If-it-is-to-be-it-it-up-to-me” (and where exactly is God as Master in that?). Our culture prizes performance, productivity, and power or better…control. Meditating on Scripture is more about being under control than being in control. It is to abandon ourselves to the mastery and mystery of God as we explore His Word allowing It to explore us. In Scripture meditation what God has said is more vital than what we want to see. What we get out of it is not as important as what He put into it. We therefore meditate to discover what he has expressed from His heart with His kingdom being in the center of our pursuit.
Our Concept of Scripture: I say “Scripture” because that word is divinely designated. “Bible” is our term for the collection of these divinely inspired revelations. Our problem: we see the Scripture more like a book and less like the “breath” of God presented in textual form. The Bible is the most significant book ever written, but it is hard for us to see it as transcendently more than any other published manuscript. For many, the Bible is like the auto manual in the glove compartment of our car, the rules and regulations of a game or sport, the bylaws of a corporation. We know they’re important we’ll consult it when we need to fix or resolve an issue. With the way we check newspapers, emails, e-books, twitters and tickers, I am convinced that if we really believed that the truths of Scripture were divinely ‘extra-terrestrial’ in its source, infinitely powerful in its force, and thoroughly pervasive in its application to all of human life beyond the boundaries of time and space, we would no longer go to the Scripture merely for what we could get out of it but for Who is ready to meet us there and What He has already put into it for our ultimate well-being!
I struggled with including notes on “Our Concept of God” but realized…that’s a whole blog-post unto itself!
So what do we do with this awareness and what are ways to move practically over these obstacles? A few ideas come to mind:
These aren’t necessarily guaranteed to give you the results desired but they may get the ball rolling in your pursuit of the kind of truth that transforms. Ultimately, overcoming meditation obstacles remains a project best undertaken with God than for God…and that is precisely the essence of the kind of approach to meditation instrumental in facilitating transformed lives through the catalyst of a transformed mind: it is best done with God.
I love the illustration of our relationship with God seen in the letters of the word “guidance” where the “g” stands for God, the “u” stands for You and the “i” I. The word then reads “God, U [and] I dance”. In this rhythm of intimacy through meditating on Scripture, accept the invitation of God to the dance and then…let Him lead!
Frankly, meditating on Scripture is one of my favorite topics and disciplines. Though I have been doing this for over 40 years, I still consider myself a student who has neither yet perfected nor reaped the full benefit of this timeworn discipline and, in a manner, art. Let’s be clear: when I speak of meditation, I am not referring to the Eastern discipline of “emptying your mind” but actually of purifying and satisfying your mind and soul by filling it with divine content.
One of the clearest descriptions of meditation is “focused thinking”. Scripture meditation, therefore, is focused thinking on and about the Word of God where the intention is for us to understand and apply revealed truths to our lives in humble response to God. The rewards include a greater understanding of Scripture, increased sense of personal well being, a more satisfying communion with God, and a transformed life as it is being conformed to the character and purpose of Jesus Christ. These alone provide exciting incentives to make it a discipline to feast on. In Scripture meditation, thinking nice thoughts is not the goal. Living in true fellowship with God and others is. Look at what the psalmist says about one who meditates on the Word of God:
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers. Psalm 1:3
When someone tells me that they can’t meditate, I have learned to ask them if they have ever worried. When they answer that they have, I tell them that if they can worry, they can meditate! Worry is focused thinking on problems or circumstances in such a way that affects your mind and heart and, eventually, your behavior. Scripture meditation happens when a student of the Scripture, humble and open, takes the time, to come to the Word of God and engages it with their mind and heart as they read and study for the purpose of deeper fellowship with God and nourishment to their soul. Meditation enables Scripture to become the true soul food.
My daughter, Christine, and I were working through a meditation exercise using Scripture when toward the end of it, she read an instructional guide for Scripture meditation from one of the “help” pages in her Quest Study Bible published by Zondervan. I reviewed it and exclaimed to her that it was one of the clearest, most helpful, simple, yet profound explanations I had heard encountered.
“How Does a Person Meditate on God’s Word?
Meditation [on Scripture] is a combination of reviewing, repeating, reflecting, thinking, analyzing, feeling and even enjoying. It is a physical, intellectual and emotional activity-it involves our whole being.
In some ways meditation doesn’t easily fit into the Western culture. We value action and busyness more than stopping and considering. The author of this psalm was from another time and culture, one with a tradition that valued meditation. As a result, meditation came more naturally for him and others with his Middle Eastern background. We have to overcome some cultural obstacles to learn to meditate.
I especially loved the context clarifying the distinction between the Western and Eastern mindset as the pilgrim approaches meditation. In my opinion, the Eastern avenue seems to open up windows and doors for heart and mind of the Christian pilgrim to embrace more of the mind and heart of God, the mysteries of His infinite fullness. Our traditional, formulaic ways, usually, restricted and hindered by time, space and inner preoccupations, result in a more cerebral, lifeless, approach and result! But that’s for another day, another blog so…
I do know, however, that due to our cultural conditioning and predispositions against stillness, many would legitimately admit that they do not know how to meditate. One blog post won’t cure that (omen of more posts to come on this topic) but I have included here the brief article here from the Quest Bible along with their list of meditation techniques. I threw in a few of my own.
There are a variety of ways to meditate on God’s Word. Techniques include:
Remember, it’s actually putting into practice these and other techniques that facilitates spiritual nourishment as you feast on the wonders of His Word . I hope this article helps you to see the Bible as an invitation to that banquet table of divine revelation that can satisfy your mind and soul as you partake of and savor the fulfilling and delightful delicacies of the riches and depths of God waiting for you in His Word, the Holy Scriptures.