Meditate? Isn’t that a bad word?

Published 1:30 pm Saturday, February 27, 2016

We have many different pictures that come to mind when we hear the word “meditate.” The word can be used to mean many different things, but the most common image (according to Google images anyway!) is that of a person sitting cross-legged with their hands resting on their knees, palms up, with two fingers pinched together. This is what many people picture when we think about meditation—many of us also think, “meditation is not something a Christian should do!”

The reality, however, is that the people of God have been called to meditate since before Christ was born. The first Psalm describes meditation this way:

1.  Oh, the joys of those who do not

• follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners,

•  or join in with mockers.

2.  But they delight in the law of the Lord,  meditating on it day and night.

These words are the first words of the entire book of Psalms for a reason: we are called to meditate on scripture “day and night,” so that it becomes a part of us. The Psalms are not just for reading, they are for meditating on!

Meditating on scripture is different from the cross-legged, pinched finger form of meditation which is rooted in Buddhism or other Eastern religions. Buddhist meditation is focused on practices like clearing or emptying the mind and the hand positions or “mudras” are gestures which help a person to focus on the moment, seeking wholeness, relax, or some other focus. Some Christians have found these practices help them to relax and be present in their lives. In fact, popular yoga includes these types of meditation without religious elements, but these practices are quite different from the call to meditate on scripture.

My favorite image for what it means to meditate on scripture is a cow. Picture a cow in a field. Chances are good that cow will be chewing! Cows chew for around eight hours a day. That thought makes my jaw sore, but it is essential for the cow to be able to get the nutrition and fiber it needs from its food. Most of the chewing a cow does is chewing their “cud,” or that ball of food that has been digested some, but not all the way, so it needs some more work.

The image of a cow chewing cud is unpleasant to some people, but this “rumination” is a great picture of Christian meditation. We are called to read scripture, but we don’t just leave the words of scripture behind when we close our Bibles. Instead, we turn them over in our minds and our heart throughout the day as an exercise in getting all the nutrition we need out of God’s Word. We can “chew on” a passage of scripture night and day and still have more that God wants to teach us through it! Reading scripture is not about how much we can read. Instead, it is about how well we read and meditate—even on a single passage or story. Scripture that is well chewed has the chance to change our lives!

There are many methods for chewing on scripture, but I want to share one here from Richard Foster’s book “Life with God” (a great book to read if you want to grow in your ability to read scripture in ways that change your life!). Foster gives this model:

1). Read the passage straight through, out loud, without stopping.

2). Read the passage again, silently. Stop to underline, highlight or write down portions of the scripture that jump out at you. Don’t worry about finding the “right” parts of scripture, focus on what stands out to you.

3). Read the passage a third time, focusing on the highlighted passages.

4). Write down one or more selections from what you highlighted on a note card (or elsewhere you will see it throughout the day) and carry those selections with you. Read them when you have a moment at a stop light, while you are on hold, or at any other pause in your day to help you think about what God is saying to you through those words throughout the day.

We are going to be exploring what it means to meditate on scripture during worship this Sunday at Courtland United Methodist Church, so come and join us for 11:00 worship if you want to learn more. Whether you come for worship or not, I hope you will join us in following the John reading plan for the season of Lent (time leading up to Easter) that is included with this column—it is great food for the soul!

May God speak to you as you chew on God’s Word!

Reading Plan for the Book of John

• Saturday, Feb. 27 – John 8:31-59
• Sunday, Feb. 28 – John 9
• Monday, Feb. 29 – John 10
• Tuesday, March 1 – John 11:1-37
• Wednesday, March 2- John 11:38-57
• Thursday, March 3 – John 12
• Friday, March 4 – John 13
• Saturday, March 5 – John 14
• Sunday, March 6 – John 15
• Sunday, March 7 – John 16
• Tuesday, March 8 – John 17
• Wednesday, March 9 – John 18
• Thursday, March 10 – John 19
• Friday, March 11 – John 20
• Saturday, March 12 – John 21
• Sunday, March 13 – Luke 19
• Monday, March 14 – Luke 20
• Tuesday, March 15 – Luke 21
• Wednesday, March 16 – Luke 22:1-6
• Thursday, March 17, 2016
Luke 22:7-71
• Friday, March 18 – Luke 23
• Saturday, March 19 – No reading. Be still.

• Before you read, set aside any “goals” you have for reading and open yourself to what god might want to say to you. Offer this simple prayer: “lord, here i am to listen. Speak to me your words of life!”
• Plan time in your day to read. The readings are not long, so 10-15 minutes is sufficient, but 20 minutes will give you more time to reflect and chew on the words you read.
• As you read, do not rush. It is better to sit with a single verse of scripture for five minutes (if that is all the time you have!) Than to rush to “finish” the reading.
• Handle the scripture gently. Don’t force it to mean something you want it to say. Instead, simply listen.
• As you read the passage, make a note of any verses that stand out to you. Come back and re-read these verses a few times. “Chew on” these passages by meditating on what they mean and savor what they are saying!
• Pray the text. Read it to god and lift to god in prayer those people and situations which come to mind as you read.
• Live the text. As you meditate on scripture, ask “how does this shape my life?” Consider what actions god is inviting you to take in response to these words.
May God fill you and change you as you eat this book!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or