Today we are going to start our reflections for the season of Prayer, by looking at the practise of Christian meditation on scripture. Now I don’t know about you but when I think of meditation I get images that are shaped by the increased identification of meditation with eastern religions… the chanting of mantra, burning insence and sitting in positions that don’t look that comfortable to me in fact they rather resemble complex knots. A lot of that is just relaxation techniques, contemplative Christians talk of centering prayers, short sentences or verses of scripture that help us to calm ourselves and focus not on nothingness or the universe, but on God. Breathing exercises that help us to quiten our minds and bodies amidst the rush of everday life. It might make meditation seem complex and difficult, this morning I want to simply say that if you can worry then you can meditate.
When something is worrying you it is always on your mind, it becomes your focus, it can consume your time, you lie awake at night turning it over and over in your mind. That’s not necessarily a healthy process, it saps your strength, it does not always lead to a solution. I attended a business training course when I was in Napier, and the business man who took the course, talked of how he dealt with problems and issues that ‘worried him” about his business in a healthy manner. He said he took time out to sit in his thinking chair, and work the problem, he would continually ask the question why until he had explored the issue, from so many difficult angles and got it down to well thought out practical steps he could take. Christian meditation I believe is taking the time to think reflect and turn over and over again in our minds the word of God, so it is able to be used by God to lead us forwards.
The word Meditate has the same feeling as the word Masticate: which is to chew. When you worry something gnaws away at us, meditation is to chew it over, like a cow chews its cud. Cows have four stomachs and they will bring the grass they’ve eaten back up to chew it over again and extract all the goodness and nutrients they can get from it. That is a gross but good illustration of meditating on God’s word, chewing it over and extracting all the nutrients and goodness from it and allowing that to become part of us and to energise and direct our lives.
Our bible passage this morning is from psalm 119 and I want to look at what it has to say about meditating on scripture. Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms and it is an acrostic poem, made up of twentythree eight line stanzas, each starting with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It celebrates God’s word that the psalmist had at that time and it uses the whole of the language it was written in to do so. We had two sections read out today verse 97-104 which is the letter ‘mem’ and 105-112 which is the letter ‘nun’. The ‘mem’ section focuses on giving praise for the wisdom that God’s word provides and the ‘nun’ section acknowledges the value of God’s word in leading us through the dark and difficult times of life, like it is a torch illuminating a treacherous path at night.
For the Psalmist the focus on his meditation is the law, the Torah. We also have the rest of the Jewish cannon, the old testament and the gospels and epistles, Jesus said he did not come to do away with the law but to fulfil the law, so Christians beleive we have that fuller revelation of God, to meditate on. In the psalm itself there are eight different terms to refer to the scriptures, its not tying it down to a set torah, but it focus is on the psalmists relationship with the scripture and through them with God. If the psalmist was a Jew writing in the time of the exile in Babylon it would have been when the written books of the Old testament would have started to become available, and away from the cultic life in Jerusalem they would have been the focus for establishing synagogues and of keeping the faith alive, in a society that pressured all those who they conquered to adapt and be assimilated. Focusing on the Torah keeps the psalmists focused on God and God’s covenant. The book of Daniel tells the story of such Jews being indoctrinated in the Babylonian ways and religion, and we see Daniel and his friends resist and keep their faith and identity as they keep their spiritual practises.
The psalmist says he has a daily routine and discipline of meditating on God’s word. In Jewish society being a scholar and student of the scripture and having the day to devote to it was the highest privilege you could have. Today you can see yeshiva’s schools dedicated to Jewish students focusing on their scripture and related teachings, both in class room settings and also in pairs or small groups. But if this was the exilic period they may not have had the benefit of such schools or the time to do this and it could as easily speak of taking the time during the day to focus on the scriptures. As the psalmist goes through his day, his mind is thinking about the scriptures. Those he has read that day or he may be reciting scriptures he has memorised under his breath, and scripture memorisation is a great discipline, and groups like the navigators have got some great resources to help you to do that.
The psalmist says this meditation on scripture gives him wisdom, and in his exile environment, he says it makes his wiser than his enemies and gives him more understanding than his teachers. This is not a vein boast, but rather elevates the knowing of God and God’s purposes and ways as important and central in the face of all the other messages he is receiving from the society round him. It’s not that those things are unimportant but rather the central thing is that life is lived through that knowing of God.
The rest of this section of the psalm helps us to see what this daily meditation might look like. In verse 103 the psalmist talks of the word of God being sweet to the taste. There is the daily consumption of God’s words. There is a daily routine of reading scripture, again there are many different ways and means of doing that. For the past four years I have set myself the goal of reading through the bible each year. I use an ap on my phone called ‘one year bible’ which also gives me an email each day with readings from the Psalms or Proverbs, the New Testament and Old Testament to systematically read through the bible in a year. Each day they come with comment from Nickey and Pippa Gumble and a daily prayer as well. Here at St peter’s we provide people with the chance to use ‘the word for today” produced by Radio Rhema, which has a reading for each day and a reflection on one verse or section each day as well. Also the daily bread from scripture union. They are all just helps to allow us to have a regular input of God’s word.
In verse 104, the psalmist talks of gaining understanding from God’s precepts, not only is there the reading of the word daily there is the process of understanding what the passage is saying as well. That takes time and effort to reflect on scripture, not just to read it. It’s as we come to understand it that we are able to apply it to our lives.
That application to life is what is at the centre of this first section of our reading. In verse 101 and 102 the psalmist talks of obeying God’s word and not departing from God’s law. It is the process of understanding what God has to say and them allowing it to change us, to speak to our way of life. Contemplation leas to application. Thomas Morton was a famous monk from the 20th century, he was always wanting more time to spend on retreat to go away and pray and meditate on God’s word, one of the things that has made Thomas Morton one of the most influential Christians of the last century is that when he came back from those times of meditation and retreat he would have written very insightful and powerful books or essays on important social issues like the rise of the atomic age and how to respond to it, the challenge of living in a pluralistic society and how to relate and communicate and act with other religions. We may find it is simply how we react in difficult situations in our work place or family, seeing our job not simply as a necessary evil, but part of God’s calling on our lives., or to be encouraged to simply show love to our neighbours.
This is what is called an inductive bible study. Starting from the word by reading it, then coming to understand it, what does it say, understanding its message: what did it say to the people then and there and applying it: what does it say to us today and how am I going to live differently in light of it.
Then in verse 102 we also get what makes meditating on God’s word communication with God. The Psalmist says that god himself has taught him, it’s an affirmation of the fact that scripture is God’s word or as we had in our new testament reading from 2 Timothy, it is God breathed, but also that God is involved in the process of open the scriptures to us and teaching us. AS we have come to believe in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit has been poured out on us, one of things Jesus said the spirit would do was lead us into all truth, and bring to mind all that Jesus had said and taught us and as we reflect and meditate and chew over God’s word, God is able to speak to us.
The second section that we read today the ‘nun’ section talks of God’s word being a lamp for our feet and a light on our path, that it can be trusted to lead us through the dark and difficult paths of life. Along the rugged storm lashed coast of England there are lifeboat stations, and people go out in small boats from those stations out into the stormy weather to save the lives of sailors on ships that get into trouble. The people who man the lifeboats will tell you it is not the times they have gone out in response to emergencies that make them able to do their job and save people, rather it is the hours and days and weeks and months they put in practising and practising in the lulls between the storms that enables them to do what they do. It is as we allow God’s word to sink deeply into our lives in a regular routine of reading and reflection, meditating on the word allow our lives to be marinated in the word of god that enables the Holy Spirit to use it in those dark and stormy times.
I want to leave you with just a simple practical exercise for this week. Two spiritual disciplines which I believe will help you to develop meditating on scripture to be more a part of your life. It’ll take about ten minutes in the morning and maybe another ten or so at night and hopefully some time during the day when you’ve got a chance to take a moment or so to simply read the verse over again.
The first discipline is just to have one verse for the day, to reflect on this week. To chew over and contemplate. To carry with you and allow God to speak to you through. Maybe even to commit it to memory, can I say that is a challenge for me, my mind just does not seem to be wired that way. You probably notice that when I’m leading worship and even when we’ve sung a song over and over again I still get the lyrics wrong.
The second is to have a go at journaling. To take time at the end of the day to write down your reflections on that passage and how you have felt God speak to you through it during the day. When you write that sort of thing down it gives you the chance to reflect and actually think of how you’ve related to it and how God has related to you through it during the day. It also allows you to put it in the back of your bible and then look back at it in a month or a few months’ time and remember what God said and even how it has continued to be manifest in your life.
if you want to use or view the verse of the day reflections booklet her is the link to it as a pdf