By LeAnne Benfield Martin
The snow fell rapidly and kept falling. I had never seen so much—not in Atlanta. We were snowed in and, forecasters warned, would be for days. My daughter’s school called to cancel classes, which did not surprise us; we couldn’t have made it out of our driveway, much less to school. So we played outside every afternoon, watched movies, ate together, and had time to ourselves.
But the most meaningful thing about that week of winter white was my meditation on Scripture. I had an assignment to write about discipleship, so every morning after breakfast, when my loved ones went off by themselves, I sat in my favorite chair with pen and paper, and my Bible opened to passages like Mark 8:34-38.
With the quiet beauty outside and the beauty of quiet inside, I spent some lovely hours with the Lord, meditating on his Word about discipleship. It was an otherworldly experience—to feel his presence in that way and to see his snow-covered trees through the living room window. I felt as though I were cocooned with him. Those were treasured hours, indeed, but I have had many more since then, without the snow.
When I was in the C.S. Lewis Fellows program, sponsored by the C.S. Lewis Institute (www.cslewisinstitute.org), I learned about scriptural meditation. The Bible is filled with references, particularly in the Psalms, about its importance. Scriptural meditation puts the focus on the Lord by starting with his Word. Other forms of meditation, such as those linked to Hinduism and Buddhism, tell us to empty our minds; scriptural meditation is about filling your mind with the Lord, his attributes, and his works.
Bill Smith, Director of the C.S. Lewis Institute Atlanta, says that scriptural meditation “goes beyond the gathering of information, moves toward communion, and has as its ultimate goal transformation.” The apostle Paul urges us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) and to “set our minds on things above” (Colossians 3:2). We can do that through Scripture.
In Meditating on the Word (Cowley Publications, 1986), Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that he meditated because he was a Christian: “Therefore, every day in which I do not penetrate more deeply into the knowledge of God’s Word in Holy Scripture is a lost day for me. I can only move forward with certainty upon the firm ground of the Word of God.”
Let It Brew
But how do we go more deeply into God’s Word? Is reading it not enough? Donald Whitney, author, Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality, and Senior Associate Dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says the difference between reading and meditating is like the difference between dropping a tea bag in hot water for two seconds and letting it steep for five minutes. “Let the Bible brew in your brain.”
Reading is a starting place; it exposes us to Scripture, according to Whitney. “Meditation is absorption; it leads to transformation, encounters with God. If I can’t remember what I read, that tells me I didn’t sufficiently meditate on it.”
In Joshua 1, God told Joshua, the leader of the nation of Israel, to meditate on the law every day and night “so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” (v. 8). A very busy man, Joshua had a nation to run, yet he meditated daily. He must have absorbed Scripture, likely in the morning, and then thought of it repeatedly throughout the day.
There are several ways to meditate on Scripture. Tim Keller, author and founding minister of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, spends what he calls a short amount of time (30 minutes or less) on Bible reading, meditation, and prayer. After reading the passage and choosing one or two insights that stand out, he asks questions that address adoration, repentance, aspiration, and more. He writes down his answers and then begins his prayer time.
Lectio Divina, or sacred reading, is another form of scriptural meditation. Ken Boa, author, speaker, and president of Reflections Ministries, writes, “This extraordinarily beneficial approach combines the disciplines of study, prayer, and meditation into a powerful method that when consistently applied, can revolutionize one’s spiritual life.” It includes four elements: reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation, “which consists of silence and yieldedness in the presence of God.”
My method is a combination of these and suggestions from Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (NavPress, 1997). Because writing helps me remember, I write down the verse or phrases that jump out at me, and then note whatever the Holy Spirit brings to mind—words, pictures, ideas, and ways to apply the text to my life. At the end, I write my prayer so I continue to stay focused.
Jana Harmon, former women’s director of the C.S. Lewis Fellows program in Atlanta, gives this advice: “Approach the Scriptures humbly, openly, surrendered. Ask the Spirit of God to guide you into all truth, to inform and transform your heart and mind towards Christlikeness. Listen. Dwell. Obey.”
If you feel intimidated like I did at first, remember that your heavenly Father loves you beyond measure. He wants to spend time with you and he wants you to know him better. Ask him to help you, to teach and grow you. Treat his Word with respect by not pulling verses out of context; study what happens before and after the passage. Come humbly, but with a sense of expectation that he will meet you there.
Another benefit of scriptural meditation is that it makes memorization easier. The more time we spend with a passage, the more familiar it becomes. We begin to know it on a deeper level. Memorizing it is the next step.
The Holy Spirit can use the Scripture we memorize to transform us. As a little girl, I learned many Scripture verses by heart, and they helped grow in me a desire to live for God. He still brings them to mind sometimes. One of them is Psalm 119:11: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Jesus provides the perfect example of the truth of this verse: when he was in the desert at the beginning of his ministry, he resisted Satan’s temptations by quoting God’s Word from memory.
In addition to re-reading and meditating on the passage over a period of several days, try these tips: write it down in a notebook and refer to it often, even after you learn it; make flash cards; read it aloud; record it and listen to it frequently; work on it with a friend or child who can encourage you and keep you accountable; and as always, pray for help.
Both of these disciplines, because they focus on God’s Word, work together to deepen our relationship with God and open up new levels of communing with him. He can use them to shape us into the likeness of his Son.
In the Fellows program, we meditated on Psalm 1. Verses 2 and 3 say that a man who meditates on God’s law day and night “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” Thriving beside the water, the tree bears fruit and provides shade, drawing others to it for refreshment. Its roots go deep, which makes it strong and healthy. It weathers raging storms, summer heat, and winter frost. It stands tall, with branches reaching toward the light, toward heaven.
I want to be like that tree: dependent on the Living Water for my daily sustenance, bearing fruit for him, giving shade to the weary. I want to know the Word of God, so when trials come, I can stand firmly rooted in it, heart and hands lifted in praise to my Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Friend.
LeAnne Benfield Martin is a freelance writer, wife, and mom living in Atlanta, where snowfall is a rare but welcome treat, at least for her family.
Gearing Up to Get in the Word
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
By Donald Whitney (NavPress, 1991)
Where God Finds You
by Anita Higman (Standard Publishing, 2012)
Discovering God’s Story
by Jim Eichenberger (Standard Publishing, 2010)
Training for Service
(Standard Publishing, 2011)
Training for Service Leader’s Guide
(Standard Publishing, 2011)