Did your hear about the rabbi – no, this isn’t a joke – who always said if you study the Torah, it would put Scripture on your heart. One of his students asked him, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?” He answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading it can put the Word on your hearts, then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.”
Read it as a love letter…
I was in the hospital, umbilically attached to my bag of cancer-killing chemicals dangling from an IV pole, which takes anywhere from thirty minutes to several hours to empty into the blood stream. It’s always been my habit to bring a book wherever I go, but even more so since spending three or four lifetimes in hospital waiting rooms, examination areas, and chemo dispensaries (more attractively known as “Infusion Centers”). Another off-and-on habit of mine is to memorize Scripture from sheets of handwritten passages folded to pocket size. Especially during the first year or two of my dark days, the Spirit pointed out a bunch of passages that were spot-on applicable to me. So, in addition to a Bible and other books I was reading, I carried to the hospital and everywhere I went a sheet of these passages to memorize and meditate on.
One day I had my page of passages in one hand – tattered from living in my back right pocket – the other arm was occupied with needles, tubes, and tape. The nurse came to check on me, saw the worn handwritten paper in my hand and asked, “What’s that, a love letter?”
“No,” then I paused and thought better of it, “Umm… yeah… It’s a love letter — a love letter from God.” I paused again, this time for effect, more of a planned pause. Remember, I’ve been a preacher for a long time and was taught the power of the pause. During the pause his brow furrowed and his head tilted like my dog’s used to when she was puzzled. “These are passages from the Bible, God’s love letter. I’m meditating on them.”
This guy works with cancer-riddled people and everyday he sees desperate souls reaching for anything that will bring them comfort if not hope. These range from good luck charms to religious trinkets and artifacts. I’m sure, as a good health care professional, he’s always supportive of whatever works for the sufferer. He smiled and with a nod of approval went about his rounds.
I love the Bible and can’t imagine my life without it. Its truths are splints for my shattered soul. God talks to me through it and I wouldn’t like living without hearing his voice.
A suffering friend of mine, a former pastor who lost his wife to cancer, told me he doesn’t read the Bible anymore because he already knows what it says. Of course, I didn’t criticize him; he’s in enough pain as it is. But I thought that’s like not talking to your best friend because you’ve had enough conversations in the past or like not going to the doctor because you’ve been there before. The Bible is like food. You can miss a meal and survive, but if you quit eating you’ll die. It’s a love letter that begs to be savored again and again.
Not that I’ve received many love letters in my life but when I did I can’t ever remember being bored by reading them.
See yourself in the story
“The Bible is real history, but let us not make it into scientific history where we know it only as distanced selves dissecting an object. Rather it is the narrative of God into which we have been invited to participate.” David Fitch
If the Bible is a love letter from God to us, then it’s not just a story about him and bygone saints and sinners, but about us all. It’s not just a collection of texts – that can become quite boring after a while – but a story into which we entered at conversion. The Author wants to pull us into its pages and engage us in the story he’s been telling since the beginning. His-story, like a river flows circuitously through time and generations and he invites us into it for refreshment, purpose, and adventure.
I think we evangelicals read the Bible a little too scientifically and fail to engage the other side of our brains where the imagination exists. Unfortunately, the concepts of “imagination” and “meditation” have been co-opted by more eastern esoteric philosophies and even the terms themselves have become anathema in our circles. Nevertheless, meditation is a thoroughly biblical practice, one in which we empty our minds of one set of things in order to fill them with others. While the Bible warns against “evil imaginations,” at the same time it encourages a holy use of the imagination.
One of many ways to engage the Scripture with the imagination is to see yourself in the story as you read it. Some call it the “Picture It Method of Bible Meditation.” Let’s say it’s the Parable of the Prodigal Son you’re reading. Using your sanctified imagination put yourself inside the story and sort of “become” one of the characters. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel? Imagine yourself interacting with the other characters in the story. How do you feel about what’s going on around you? Do you have an opinion to share with the father, the older brother, or the prodigal in the story? What do you want to say to them?
And now that you’re not just reading the story, but experiencing it, how will you apply it to yourself? How will your experience change something in you and help you love God more than ever before?
Does anyone use this to one degree or another in your reading of Scripture? How does it help you?
FYI, you might benefit from my brief audio podcast on “How To Get More Out Of Your Bible“ wherein I share how to Investigate, Interpret, and Integrate the Scripture as you read it.