Late in high school I began to read the Bible with a pencil/pen and paper in hand. I don’t know who suggested I do this, or if rather the idea just spontaneously combusted in my still unformed brain. Whatever prompted it, it stuck.
Some time later it occurred to me that there was more value in reading the Bible slowly than in reading it fast. Again, I’m not sure whether this was a conclusion independently drawn or drawn from another’s wise words. Nevertheless, it too stuck.
Both ideas have been a gift.
My current practice is to each morning read a small portion of Scripture, perhaps a chapter, perhaps a portion of a chapter. I opt for bite-sized chunks that I can savor, think about, reflect upon, and remember. The thoughts stimulated by these reflections get recorded in the journal open in front of me and often morph into words of prayer.
I’ve done the ‘read through the Bible in a year’ thing and found it too easy to not pay attention to what I’m reading. I’ve decided to be the tortoise, casually reading through the bible once every four to five years, meditating upon it along the way. Hares consume at a much more rapid pace, but this serves me well.
And it has served others well. Tim Keller suggests a reason why. In his book Prayer (in which I was largely disappointed, but not completely), he expresses a concern that we too easily separate our reading of Scripture from our prayer life. He challenges Christians to engage in the reflective and interactive approach to Scripture known as meditation. As we meditate on the text God speaks to us, and, subsequently, we pray moved by what we ourselves have heard. It is, as Keller rightly notes, a conversation. Sometimes, Keller reminds us in chapter 10 of that book, we are content to grasp what a passage says and don’t take time to think about what the passage says ‘to me’. And that leaves us impoverished.
Recently in preparing a sermon I was confronted with the challenging words of Jesus, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) It would be easy to treat that text in the abstract and to simply accept that this is something Jesus said and be content to assume we know what it means. Far more value comes from chewing on such a text and asking questions that impinge upon one’s own heart attitude toward possessions. Do I care more for my things than I do for God? If I lost my things would I still trust God? Which is the greater source of my happiness: that I have things or that I belong to God? And so forth.
These are the questions that arise when one is pressing a text hard into his or her own psyche. These are the questions of meditation. Asking such questions may not generate satisfactory answers, but they will produce prayer. As we think about a text we hear God’s voice in it, and our impulse will be to speak back, if even to say, “God, I don’t like what this is saying.” Or, “God, my heart is more committed to things than to you. Will you fix that in me?”
It is true that we cannot see God, and, as someone recently told me, it feels artificial to attempt to speak, to pray, to someone we can’t see. I get that. But meditation helps us hear God so that, though I don’t see him, I hear him. And the one I hear, to him I can speak in reply.
Grab a bible, a pencil, and a composition book. Set aside some time during the week. Once. Thrice. Daily. Read slowly, listen, ask questions, respond, and pray.
And you can forget who made the suggestion.