On Scripture Meditation

In the circles in which I run, many folks seem nervous about meditation, mostly because they equate meditation with anti- or sub-Christian practices. This is understandable. A quick walk through the “Self Help” or “Religion” section at a Barnes and Noble will demonstrate that meditation is all the rage, regardless of one’s religious convictions. Some forms of meditation are, at best, unhelpful, and at worst, likely diabolical. But we must not thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. As earlier generations of evangelicals understood, there definitely is a place for meditation as a spiritual discipline. Specifically, evangelicals should be willing to make meditation on the Scriptures a regular part of their personal devotional habits.

In his book An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness, Andy Davis notes the importance of Scripture meditation (p. 246):

Few things are as fruitful and productive as a consistent pattern of meditation on Scripture, for by filling our minds with verses, we automatically push out impurity. This kind of meditation is simply deep, repetitive thinking on passages of Scripture, mulling them over in our minds to draw out the full truth, connecting them to other truths, applying them deeply to our own lives. Psalm 1 speaks of the blessedness of the man who constantly meditates on the word of God, likening him to a tree planted by streams of water, constantly fruitful (Psalm 1:2–3).

God Who Draws Near

In his book The God Who Draws Near: An Introduction to Biblical SpiritualityMichael Haykin agrees on the importance of Scripture meditation. Nevertheless, many Christians have no idea how to go about adding meditation to their normal devotional routine. Haykin offers nine helpful suggestions about biblical meditation (pp. 66-67), which I have summarized below:

  1. Find a place of quiet and solitude
  2. Approach meditation from a submissive, God-centered frame of mind
  3. Have a plan for consistently reading the Scriptures
  4. Cultivate the discipline of Scripture memorization
  5. Read aloud the Scriptures you are meditating upon multiple times
  6. Set aside the necessary time to read and meditate on the Scriptures
  7. Consider using a hymnal as an aid in Scripture meditation
  8. Ask questions of the biblical text to stimulate your meditation
  9. Move from meditation on the Scriptures to prayer arising from the Scriptures

I appreciate this list very much. In my own experience, I have found that reading the Scriptures aloud and praying through the Scriptures I’ve been reading to be very meaningful ways to meditate on the text and make sure I’m not just reading for the sake of acquiring more biblical knowledge. (The latter is especially tempting for those of us with some theological education.)

If you are interested in learning for a past evangelical who made meditation a central spiritual discipline in his own walk with Christ, check out Kyle Strobel’s stellar book Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards (IVP, 2013). If you want to read some practical advice on meditating on Scripture, check out this nifty handout by Don Whitney.

 

 

 

Why One Baptist Chooses to Observe Lent

I’m a Southern Baptist, which, among other things, means I’m a low church, free church evangelical. Furthermore, I’m a convictionally reformational Baptist, meaning I resonate with what I believe to be the best of the magisterial reformers in terms of Scripture and salvation and the best of the radical reformers in terms of ecclesiology and mission. Folks like me are supposed to be suspicious of Lent. Yet, beginning tomorrow, I will be observing the Lenten season for the next forty days, as I have done virtually every year for the past dozen years. Why?

Before discussing why I observe Lent, it might be helpful to discuss what Lent is. After all, many of this blog’s readers are low church, free church evangelicals like me, and I bet more than a few aren’t sure what Lent is and where it comes from. Lent is a key season of the Christian Calendar that is observed by many different Christian traditions. Specifically, for Christians in the West, Lent is a period of dedicated prayer, repentance, giving and self-denial that lasts from Ash Wednesday until Maundy Thursday; the latter is the day before Good Friday, which commemorates the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. You can read more about the history of Lent in this article by Ted Olsen.

Different traditions practice Lent in different ways. Some groups combine prescribed fasts (especially from meat) and mediating on the Stations of the Cross. Others take a less stringent approach, instead focusing upon voluntarily giving up some luxury (or, perhaps in the short-term, a necessity) during the Lenten season as a way to focus upon spiritual matters. For some traditions, Lent is an “ought” that should be observed by all Christians. For others, Lent is a “can” that Christians are welcome, but not required, to observe.

As a Baptist, I do not believe we should bind people’s consciences by prescribing extra-biblical traditions. And like many good Christian practices, even among the most scripturally punctilious of evangelicals, Lent is most certainly an extra-biblical tradition. For that reason, I would never insist that someone observe Lent. But I do believe it is appropriate to recommend Lent, which is what I’m doing in this post. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, especially of the low church, free church type, then I would encourage you to consider celebrating Lent over the next forty days.

For my part, I choose to observe Lent because it affords me an opportunity to disengage a bit from the culture of what Tim Suttle calls satiation—“the absolute satisfaction of every human need to the point of excess.” As a relatively affluent American evangelical, at least compared to most believers in the world, I’m particularly prone to satiation. And the more I’m satiated, the easier it is for my affections to become dulled to the most important priorities—the kingdom priorities—that ought to animate my life. So, if you want to think about this way, I’m making an Edwardsean argument for my own Lenten observance. (Recognizing, of course, that Edwards himself would not have been a fan of Lent.) I want to unplug for awhile (metaphorically speaking) in order to redirect my affections towards the One whose infinite beauty and worth surpasses all the good, but fleeting pleasures of this life.

If you’re interested in giving Lent a whirl, consider practicing some of the following spiritual disciplines during this season:

  1. If your health will allow, set aside a day each week to fast through breakfast and lunch, spending some extra time in prayer and Scripture meditation
  2. Voluntarily give up some good thing for the sake of some extra meditation on the best thing, the good news of the gospel (if you’re having trouble thinking of a good thing to give up, consider some sort of partial media fast like giving up television or internet)
  3. Memorize one of the passion accounts from the four Gospels or a different passage related to the cross and resurrection
  4. Spend some extra time reading through a devotional book such as John Piper’s Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die or Nancy Guthrie’s Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter

If you’re reading this post and you are uncomfortable with Lent, no worries. You absolutely don’t have to observe Lent. The Lenten season is a “can,” not an “ought,” so follow your conscience in this matter. Furthermore, choosing to observe Lent doesn’t make you more spiritual or mean that you love Jesus more than those who don’t dig Lent. But if you’re interested in embracing an intentional season of self-denial, repentance, and biblical intake in the hope of personal spiritual renewal, then I’d encourage you to at least consider observing Lent this year.

For a helpful discussion on why three Christians in different traditions choose to celebrate Lent, check out the roundtable discussion titled “Lent—Why Bother?” which was originally published in Christianity Today in February 2010. The contributors include Steve Harmon (a fellow Baptist), Frederica Mathewes-Green (Eastern Orthodox) and Michael Horton (Presbyterian/Reformed). For another Baptist recommendation of Lent, see this thoughtful blog post by Alan Rudnick.

(Note: An earlier version of this post was published at Between the Times in February 2013 under the title “Why I Observe Lent.” It has been updated for re-publication.)

Why I Observe Lent

I’m a Southern Baptist, which, among other things, means I’m a low church, free church evangelical. Furthermore, I’m a convictionally reformational Baptist, meaning I resonate with what I believe to be the best of the magisterial reformers in terms of Scripture and salvation and the best of the radical reformers in terms of ecclesiology and mission. Folks like me are supposed to be suspicious of Lent. Yet, beginning today, I will be observing the Lenten season for the next forty days, as I have done virtually every year for the past dozen years. Why?

Before discussing why I observe Lent, it might be helpful to discuss what Lent is. After all, many of this blog’s readers are low church, free church evangelicals like me, and I bet more than a few aren’t sure what Lent is and where it comes from. Lent is a key season of the Christian Calendar that is observed by many different Christian traditions. Specifically, for Christians in the West, Lent is a period of dedicated prayer, repentance, giving, and self-denial that lasts from Ash Wednesday until Maundy Thursday; the latter is the day before Good Friday, which commemorates the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. You can read more about the history of Lent in this article by Ted Olsen.

Different traditions practice Lent in different ways. Some groups combine prescribed fasts (especially from meat) and mediating on the Stations of the Cross. Others take a less stringent approach, instead focusing upon voluntarily giving up some luxury (or, perhaps in the short-term, a necessity) during the Lenten season as a way to focus upon spiritual matters. For some traditions, Lent is an “ought” that should be observed by all Christians. For others, Lent is a “can” that Christians are welcome, but not required, to observe.

As a Baptist, I do not believe we should bind people’s consciences by prescribing extra-biblical traditions. And like many good Christian practices, even among the most scripturally punctilious of evangelicals, Lent is most certainly an extra-biblical tradition. For that reason, I would never insist that someone observe Lent. But I do believe it is appropriate to recommend Lent, which is what I’m doing in this post. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, especially of the low church, free church type, then I would encourage you to consider celebrating Lent over the next forty days.

For my part, I choose to observe Lent is because it affords me an opportunity to disengage a bit from the culture of what Tim Suttle calls satiation—“the absolute satisfaction of every human need to the point of excess.” As a relatively affluent American evangelical, at least compared to most believers in the world, I’m particularly prone to satiation. And the more I’m satiated, the easier it is for my affections to become dulled to the most important priorities—the kingdom priorities—that ought to animate my life. So, if you want to think about this way, I’m making an Edwardsean argument for my own Lenten observance. (Recognizing, of course, that Edwards himself would not have been a fan of Lent.) I want to unplug for awhile (metaphorically speaking) in order to redirect my affections towards the One whose infinite beauty and worth surpasses all the good, but fleeting pleasures of this life.

If you’re interested in giving Lent a whirl, consider practicing some of the following spiritual disciplines during this season:

If your health will allow, set aside a day each week to fast through breakfast and lunch, spending some extra time in prayer and Scripture meditation

Voluntarily give up some good thing for the sake of some extra meditation on the best thing, the good news of the gospel (if you’re having trouble thinking of a good thing to give up, consider some sort of partial media fast like giving up television or internet)

Memorize one of the passion accounts from the four Gospels or a different passage related to the cross and resurrection

Spend some extra time reading through a devotional book such as John Piper’s Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die or Nancy Guthrie’s Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter

If you’re reading this post and you are uncomfortable with Lent, no worries. You absolutely don’t have to observe Lent. The Lenten season is a “can,” not an “ought,” so follow your conscience in this matter. Furthermore, choosing to observe Lent doesn’t make you more spiritual or mean that you love Jesus more than those who don’t dig Lent. But if you’re interested in embracing an intentional season of self-denial, repentance, and biblical intake in the hope of personal spiritual renewal, then I’d encourage you to at least consider observing Lent this year.

—————————————-

Addendum: Since I drafted this post a few days ago, I’ve noticed that Matt Smethurst at The Gospel Coalition has also commended Lent and has recommended a free devotional resource. I haven’t read the devotional, but if Matt is recommending it, I would suspect it is worth checking out.game online mobile