Perhaps one of the greatest ironies should be assigned to our current situation: we have more access to Scripture and its rich historical truths than ever before and yet we have in our churches an ever-increasing lethargy when it comes to the exploration of said truths. In other words, we have the Bible in our pockets with information at our fingertips and yet we lack a desire to experience the Word afresh. Maybe instead of calling it an irony we could call it a tragedy.
The truth is, we have Study Bibles, Bible software, Bible studies, Bible apps, Bible commentaries, Bible dictionaries, Bible lexicons, and voluminous works after voluminous works of history’s finest theologians—and we’re not any smarter, any more holy, or any more passionate about God and his Word. What’s the problem?
In our drive-through Christianity in America, we value our time and our dollars, which means we don’t have the time or the capital to slow down and digest Scripture. Either we’re not hungry because we’re not walking with Christ, or we are hungry but we prefer the dollar menu rather than the fine dining banquet. We lack time and we lack passion.
Consequently, Biblical meditation requires us to swim upstream from our culture. When the Apostle Paul challenged Timothy to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, KJV), I can’t believe for one second that he meant it should be easy.
Biblical meditation is when the Spirit-filled reader ruminates on the word of God and is shaped by the Spirit to its message. When a person desires to meditate on the Word as we are told to do often in Scripture (e.g., Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:2, 19:14, 119:97-99, 143:5; Eph. 4:17-18), she reads the words on the page, brings its truth to mind, ponders it in light of what it says about God and herself, and seeks to apply it to every aspect of her being. While many various eastern religions emphasize the “emptying” of one’s mind, Christian meditation emphasizes the filling of one’s mind so as to align with the Triune God.
It is my contention that in order to have a healthy spiritual life built on sound, fervent, and frequent meditation on Scripture, we must do so experientially. This is by no means a new concept, for the Puritans built their ministries on this concept. What does it mean to mediate on the Bible experientially? Simply put, we are to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5).
Experiential Bible meditation is different from what’s practiced by many Christians today. Typically the Bible is read in a superficial way. The words are read in our minds or even aloud, and instead of getting out the exegetical shovel and doing the hard labor, we move on to the next thing. (Hence the appeal to short devotional readings—we don’t have time to spend processing and pondering a passage, so we need someone to help us get a little nugget and get it quickly).
In our 140-character world, it’s no wonder we can’t dig deep and do honest experiential Bible meditation. We’re trained to consume short amounts of information, oftentimes sharing an article on Facebook, for example, because of the headline instead of actually reading the entire article.
Inevitably, this type of consumption of content breeds spiritual lethargy. Therefore, we must slow down and return to experiential meditation—the process whereby we take a verse, or a set of verses and we spend time allowing our hearts, minds, souls, and hands to be shaped by the Spirit through the Word. It’s not enough to just read the Bible; the Bible must read us. Meditation is the key to experiential Bible reading. Instead of just reading words and passively processing them, true experiential meditation ought to stir the heart and motivate the hands. To read the Bible is to simply hold up a mirror. To read the Bible experientially is to gaze upon the mirror with inquisitive wonder.
Experiential Christian Living
So how does this work? What does it practically look like? To meditate biblically is to read the Bible through the power and promises of God in Christ. Bible reading ought to point us to Christ and the implications of his Kingdom in the world. Not only do we mediate on the Word for knowledge and understanding, we meditate on the Word for practice and piety. Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy. The Christian life consists of theology going in and doxology going out; doctrine in the heart and mind, worship with our lives. We dare not only hear the word; we must do the word, too (Jas. 1:22).
Biblical, experiential meditation means that we focus in on what the Holy Spirit inspired so we align our heads, hearts, and hands with what God intends to impress upon the soul. The head, heart, and hands paradigm coincides with repentance, faith, and mission.
- Repentance (Head) – When reading Scripture, we should, like King David, weep. “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping” (Ps. 6:6). The reason many people fail to exhibit righteous behavior and the fruit of the Spirit is because in our efforts to follow Jesus, we’ve forgotten about repentance. The Christian life is a life of ongoing repentance. If we wish to follow Jesus into the world, we must follow him with repentant hearts. The reason this must start in the head? “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). When our minds are renewed and refreshed, our hearts follow along. Instead of being deceived by our hearts (Jer. 17:9), we can be guided by the truth—the Word of God. Biblical, experiential meditation on Scripture aims to answer the question: “What sin have I let run amuck in my heart?” This type of meditation requires a true examination of self before God in his presence in front of his Word.
- Faith (Heart) – The charge of experiential meditation focuses on the gospel of King Jesus which corresponds with the Apostle Paul’s words: “[A] love…from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). Because the mind is prone to wander, the heart is not far behind. Instead of shrinking back into a lethargically obtuse spirituality, experiential meditation ought to push us to “draw near [to God] with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). We read the Bible to know not just about God, but to know God. When the Spirit works in us, he works via the means of his inspired Word. The Bible ought to be stuffed deep in the soul so our hearts are set on fire with a passion for the glory of God. It does no good to read the words of Scripture at the surface—we must plunge ourselves by faith into the Word of God so the Spirit can change us. It takes time, energy, focus, and affection. The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, so step one is to acknowledge our brokenness. We can then rely on the promises that he is near us, challenging us to grow with a heart full of child-like faith.
- Mission (Hands) – It’s not experiential if it doesn’t lead us to act. The Spirit works in the life of Christians who make it their practice to meditate on Scripture producing heads full of repentance, hearts full of faith, and hands toiling for the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58). Part of the reason the American church has been lazy in mission is because we’ve been lazy to pursue a heart of faith and repentance. It does no good to talk about disciple making if we can’t get the full-orbed Christian life straightened out. The mission of disciple making and maturing cannot flourish if the mind and heart is not full of the gospel. Biblical, experiential meditation fuels mission. When we are saturated in the Word of God because we’ve gazed into the mirror of God’s Word, love in action for our homes, church, neighborhoods, and cities is the result. We want experiential disciples who make disciples who make more disciples. We can’t do this without loving others and we can’t love others when we do not love the Lord.
Experiential meditation on the Word of God isn’t an end to itself; it begins as a life transformed from the inside out. It is the duty of God’s people to shape their minds through godly repentance, aligning their affections with hearts full of faith in a very big God, while cultivating a life of obedience to what God has tasked us with: discipling all nations.
Ultimately, experiential meditation does not make us more righteous. Reading the Bible doesn’t some how magically transform your standing before the Throne of God. The righteousness you need is in Christ and you have every last ounce of it. Experiential meditation helps us live in light of the righteous standing you have before God and leads us to a vibrant, difficult, real, sorrowful, joyful, and holistic walk with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You have been justified by his grace through faith, so now you can go in that same inebriating, experiential grace and live an abundant life for his glory.
Rev. Jason M. Garwood (M.Div., Th.D.) serves as Lead Pastor of Colwood Church in Caro, MI and author of Be Holy and The Fight for Joy. Jason and his wife Mary have three children, Elijah, Avery and Nathan. He blogs at www.jasongarwood.com. Connect with him on Twitter: @jasongarwood.