Text: Lk.6:45 "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."
Bible Intake - Part Two
It is God’s purpose to make every follower of his Son to be like Jesus and this goal will be attained when Jesus returns.
But what are we to do in the interim? Are we to simply sit back and do nothing or does God have something else in mind for us?
Having been saved by grace through faith in Jesus every believer also receives the gift of the Holy Spirit who comes and takes up residence in our lives. His presence can and must make a difference – the Christian is indeed a "new creation".
It is in the outworking of this new life that God wants us, and expects us, to become progressively more and more like our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.
And that is where the spiritual disciplines come in. The spiritual disciplines that are described for us in the Bible provide us with the divinely approved method of growing in Godliness.
Last Sunday evening we began to consider just how important the Bible is in this. The Bible contains just the instruction we need:
2Tim.3:16-17 "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."
And so we thought about:
Hearing God’s Word
Reading God’s Word
Studying God’s Word
Sometimes we grow frustrated with our Bible intake because when we read (or hear) a passage we can turn the page and instantly forget what we’ve just read. Bible truth seems to slip away from us quicker than water from a duck’s back. Well, this evening we are going to think about three disciplines that will help us turn this around. If we practise these disciplines with God’s help then they will make our hearing, reading and studying of God’s Word more effective, more enjoyable and profitable to us. We will spend the bulk of our time with the first two of these.
The three disciplines are:
Now before you throw up your hands in horror and start making excuses about having a poor memory etc. etc. let me begin by reminding you that you have all already memorised a great deal. You know your own telephone number for example and you probably know a number of other numbers that are important to you. Some of you will know the addresses (physical and electronic) of friends and family members. And what about dates: some of you have an extraordinary capacity for remembering significant dates be they birthdays, anniversaries or something else entirely.
The truth is that if something is important enough we are prepared to make the effort to learn it and learn it we will: how many of you I wonder know several different pin numbers for your credit cards? Some of you ladies will retain the ingredients a recipe in your head while we men need to look up how to make even the simplest pastry!
We all memorise many things and if we don’t memorise something it is more a question of motivation than anything else. Now I’m not denying that it may well become increasingly difficult to commit new things to memory as we get older – but it remains possible if only the motivation is strong enough.
When it comes to memorising parts of the Bible it will be helpful for us to shut out of our minds our failures in school when some boring poem wouldn’t stick or some maths equation kept slipping through our mental fingers. We’re not thinking about Bible memorisation as some mental activity divorced from reality as though the only reason we have for trying to memorise a text is to say we’ve memorised a text. No, we want to keep our focus and see the goal of memorisation as a means to increasing Godliness!
If you were to take a concordance and look up "memorise" or "memorisation" you wouldn’t find a single reference. But that doesn’t let us off the hook because the idea is to found again and again – it’s just expressed a little differently.
Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends who didn’t always give Job good advice, got it right when he urged Job to:
Job 22:22 "Receive instruction from his mouth, and lay up his words in your heart."
When Jeremiah did just that he found it a real blessing:
Jer.15:16 "Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts."
We all know what it means to learn something off by heart don’t we? And the Bible regularly uses this sort of language:
Ps.119:11 "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you."
But once we realise this we find it being repeated often:
Ps.37:31 "The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip."
Ps.40:8 "I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."
In each of these instances hiding God’s word in the heart has a practical effect: in Jeremiah’s case it was the joy of assurance, and in the psalms it was the avoidance of sin, the avoidance of backsliding, and it was guidance.
In the NT we are twice told that Mary the mother of Jesus treasured up all the things relating to his birth and early years. And because she did so she could ponder them in her heart.
Memorising Scripture has many practical benefits:
It is a source of spiritual power as the Spirit can bring it back to our attention when we stand in most need of it.
How it served Jesus well when the Spirit thrust him out into the Wilderness and where the devil came and tempted him! You’ll remember that Jesus countered each temptation that Satan could throw at him with "It is written..." and then he quoted Scripture from memory. During those years in which he grew in favour with God and man the Son of God heard and memorised the Word of God.
Let me read a few words from Don Whitney:
"The Word of God is the "sword of the Spirit," but the Holy Spirit cannot give you a weapon you have not stored in the armoury of your mind. Imagine yourself in the midst of a decision and needing guidance, or struggling with a difficult temptation and needing victory. The Holy Spirit rushes to your mental arsenal, flings open the door, but all He finds is Jn.3:16, a Gen.1:1 and a Great Commission. Those are great swords, but they are not made for every battle. How do we go about filling our personal spiritual arsenal with a supply of swords for the Holy Spirit to use?"
By memorising scripture. If we took more care to hide God’s word in our hearts then maybe we would know many more spiritual victories in our lives too.
It is a means of strengthening faith as it serves to underline and reinforce the truth:
Prov.22: 17-19 "Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips. That your trust may be in the LORD, I have made them known to you today, even to you."
It is an aid to witnessing and counselling
It is a means of guidance
It is a stimulus to meditation
Meditation and various meditation techniques became all the rage during the 1960s but this meditation found its roots not in the Christian tradition but in eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism.
The Bible does however encourage meditation though Christian meditation involves not the emptying of the mind but the filling of it with God and his truth. Christian meditation is not about us trying to create our own reality but of thinking deeply about the reality that God has spoken to us about in the Bible.
In Christian meditation we focus our thoughts upon God’s truth as he has revealed it to us in the Bible so that:
We might gain a deeper understanding of the truth
We might to see how the truth applies to our lives and apply it
We might know how to pray and then pray
After the death of Moses the LORD spoke to his successor Joshua. Joshua was understandably nervous of the responsibility that was now to fall on his shoulders and he needed encouragement. This is how he was told to proceed:
Jos.1:8 "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success."
We too can expect to prosper spiritually as we think deeply about God’s word and when we are not content to stop with mere mental activity but move on to putting his word into practice in our lives.
I mentioned earlier that we can sometimes read the Scripture and retain absolutely nothing of what we read. When we read like this it is actually a disappointing experience that has a dampening effect upon us spiritual vitality. None of us wants to read like this and to be left cold by it all. But how are we get out of that rut?
One of the ways is to put more effort into the discipline of meditation. The puritan writer Thomas Watson put it like this:
"The reason why we come away cold from reading The Word is, because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation."
The psalmist centuries earlier had got there before him. The truly blessed man is not following the crowds and doing what everyone else is getting up to but he takes time to meditate on God’s word, delighting himself in it.
Ps.1:1-3 "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 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 that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers."
Did you notice the emphasis once more upon prosperity here? Do you want to make a spiritual success of your Christian life? Then find space for meditating on God’s Word. It will prove very valuable indeed.
Ps.119:97-99 "Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation."
Simply hearing or reading the Word can be compared to heavy rains falling upon a sloping garden – the surface is dampened but most of the water runs off. Meditation breaks up the surface of the ground so that more of the rain can percolate deep down inside.
As meditation means taking time to mull over the truth of a particular portion of God’s word (be that a single verse or a paragraph or more) we may well need to slow down a little and not read as much. Then we could proceed by:
Thinking how we might write the verse in our own words
Repeating the verse in different ways: Whitney illustrates by referring to Jn.11:25 where Jesus declares:
"I am the resurrection and the life"
Try reading that verse over and over emphasising each time a different word and you’ll get the picture.
SInclair Ferguson does the same thing in one of his books only his example is Ps.119:9
"How can a young man keep his way pure?"
Then of course we should ask questions of the verse: does it teach me something about God, about myself, about what God wants me to do.
Personalising the text: if it speaks against sin let me realise it speaks against my sin; if it speaks of God’s love for sinners let me realise that it speaks of God’s love for me etc.etc.
Thomas Watson again wrote:
"A Christian without meditation is like a soldier without arms, or a workman without tools. Without meditation, the truths of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation all is lost."
Our time has gone but we must not finish without emphasising that the Bible will do us no lasting spiritual good if we do not proceed to becoming doers of the word.
We read and study and listen in order to know what the Bible teaches. But we daren’t stop there.
We meditate in order to deepen our understanding to the point where we come to love and appreciate that teaching in an individual and personal manner. But we daren’t stop there either.
We must press on to putting this book and its teachings into practice. We must not simply assume that we are all automatically doers of the word we must actually become such as we turn theory into practice and respond to divine love and grace with thankful acts of mercy of our own.
It is in this way with the Spirit’s help that we will truly be changed so that we become more and more like our Lord Jesus, the very attractive godliness that I trust we all long for.
May God be our helper.