“I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
There are many kinds of Bible study: reading, synthetic Bible studies, group Bible studies, Old Testament references in context, subject studies, and more. There is a kind of Bible study that goes beyond these. It is meditation. Meditation is more mystical and more practical than these other types of Bible study.
In order to explain this, let me tell you first what meditation is not. It is not looking for a deeper, hidden meaning in the passage. It is not numerology or looking for a codified arrangement of the text. It is not saying that the plain meaning of the text is not the right meaning. Meditation does not have to do with our understanding of the text, but rather where we understand it.
Studying generally results in head knowledge. If we memorized Matthew 5:38-48, we might come up with all the right answers on a written exam about it. Would we do as well if we were put into a laboratory with evil people who sued us, hit us, forced us to carry their belongings, asked us for money, and persecuted us?
In order to pass the lab test, I need have my head knowledge transferred to my heart. Having Scripture knowledge in my heart makes it practical. My actions—planned and unplanned—come from there. That is where I should store all this good stuff so that when I overflow, good comes out. Here are three teachings from the gospels that describe how what we store up inside affects our actions:
“You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matthew 12:34-35)
“He went on: ‘What comes out of a man is what makes him “unclean.” For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean”‘” (Mark 7:20-23).
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man bri.ngs evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45)
Early in my Christian life I memorized hundreds of scripture verses. I knew them word-for-word, with their references. I could call them up at anytime. It did not occur to me, or to others, that I was not living them out. It was probably three years before I began to grow suspicious. I realized that it was one thing for my brain to spout scripture, and it was another thing entirely for my heart to overflow. I thought that memorizing scripture was hiding God’s word in my heart. It was not; it was hiding His word in my head. I might have been able to pass a written test on the Bible, but it was a sure thing that I would not pass the lab test.
I thank God that neither test is given, since we have been saved by grace. After we are saved, we are to be careful to do good works: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
Whether our good works are the fruit of the Spirit or words and actions, they come from our hearts. Let’s look at a few examples from the Bible:
“Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous’” (Luke 14:12-14).
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing” (Philippians 2:14-16).
“But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:39-42).
Each of these passages contains imperatives. Look at them again. What do they say? Do you understand them? You may have questions about them. If you have questions like, “Where do you draw the line?” “You mean I cannot invite my parents?” “How rich?” “Suppose he is wrong!” “Suppose he is evil!” then you probably understand in your head and not with your heart.
To understand with your heart, ask this question: “Is the command clear?” Then ask yourself: “True or false?” After you say, “True,” praise God for the command with thanksgiving. When you do this, you have begun to hide the Word in your heart. Continue to hide it in your heart by soaking in the Scriptures, musing and meditating on them. Pray for the lame and the blind, your enemies, and evil people. Confess anything that is hindering willing obedience. Then begin to long for and pray for opportunities to obey the commands unconditionally.
If you are a Christian and you do not understand what I am saying, something is very wrong. You might be hesitating because you would be out of step with your friends if you suddenly started obeying these commands from the heart. In other words, you do not want to be godly if it means being different from the rest of the saints.
Meditation does not take study. It takes prayerful, willing submission to the text. That is why it can be done all of the time.
“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8).
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (Psalm 1:1-3).
Is the Bible just in your head, or is it in your heart? We are in the lab all of the time.
This post coordinates with tomorrow’s reading in the To the Word! Bible Reading Challenge. If you are not in a daily reading plan, please join us. The summer plan will begin shortly!