by Dale Reeves
Pastor of creative content
This year at Christ’s Church in Mason, OH, we are challenging our whole church to commit to memory one Bible verse a week. We are studying through a book called “Core 52,” written by Mark Moore, teaching pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona. Each week we are studying the same verse together, along with its context and parallel Scriptures. In addition, there is also an “overachiever challenge” all 52 weeks. So, for those who are “all in” on the challenge for the whole year, they will memorize 104 Bible verses in 2019. That may sound like a drop in the bucket when you consider that in total there are 31,102 verses in the Bible. But the power is in not just memorizing these verses, but in meditating on these 104 nuggets of wisdom straight from God’s communication to us.
When you hear the word “meditation” these days, perhaps it conjures up all kinds of thoughts for you. Many people today from a variety of religions practice what is called “mantra meditation.” Author Lynn Lusby Pratt defines this practice: “A word or phrase is repeated for several minutes until an altered state of consciousness is reached; complete absence of thought, emptiness.” Former cult members have said that in mantra mediation they were taught “that our mind was of the devil.” 1
In Buddhist meditation, many words, phrases, and things are used as objects of concentration, as “mind protectors.” The sounds may be chanted aloud or heard internally. Sometimes the mantras are connected to historical figures such as the Buddha, so when the mantra is chanted, the thing associated with it may be visualized in the mind.
A major difference between this kind of ungodly meditation and biblical meditation is that through Scripture, God speaks to our minds, not “mindlessly.” God communicates his truths to us so that we may “know” (see 1 John 5:13), not “un-know.” In Romans 12:2, the apostle Paul challenges us to not empty our minds, but to renew our minds. God is the one who places the sentinel to guard what we allow to go into our hearts and minds (see Philippians 4:7).
After the death of Moses in the Old Testament, God spoke to Moses’s aide, Joshua, who would assume the mantle of leadership for the nation and take the children of Israel into the Promised Land. And, after telling Joshua to be “strong and courageous,” God told him, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; 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. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:8, 9, NIV).
The Hebrew word for “meditate” used here is the word transliterated “hagah,” which is used 24 times in the Old Testament. It can be translated, “roar, growl, groan, utter, speak, meditate, devise, muse, imagine.” The basic meaning of “hagah” conveys a low sound as in a sigh or muttering. Have you ever been so intense in your time of reading and studying God’s Word, that you actually started groaning aloud? Have you ever been so hungry to hear God speak to you that you growled like a lion licking his lips over his prey? When we think of God’s Word as a Thanksgiving feast, a virtual smorgasbord of good things to nourish the soul, we cannot wait to pull our chair up to the dining room table.
Another word that comes to mind when we think of mediating is to “ruminate,” which literally means to chew on repeatedly for an extended period of time. Once again, the animal world can help us grasp this concept a bit more clearly. What metabolism is to the physical body of the cow, meditation is to a Christ follower’s mental and spiritual life. A cow has four distinct compartments in its stomach, which it needs to break down the tough and coarse food it eats. When a cow first eats, it chews the food just enough to swallow it. The unchewed food travels to the rumen and the reticulum, where it is stored until later. The rumen is like a large fermentation vat that contains bacteria that digests the cow’s food and converts it into energy and protein. This softened food is called the “cud,” and it is sent back up to the cow’s mouth, where it is re-chewed before going back down into the stomach to be fully digested.
As a young boy I remember watching my grandfather’s dairy cattle in Maysville, Kentucky, while they “chewed the cud.” They looked content and relaxed, often lying down in green pastures for quite a long time as they did so. Ultimately, this is what their body required of them to be healthy, to be able to provide the much-needed milk that was a part of my grandparents’ livelihood.
Reading the Bible without meditating on it is like eating without chewing. I’ve actually tried that a few times with physical food, and it didn’t work out so well! My esophagus and digestive system pretty much rebelled! When it comes to digesting God’s Word, we are to go over and over God’s truth in our minds to deepen its impression on us and to set it in our hearts. This is what God commanded Joshua to do day and night, and it is still a great directive for all Christ followers today. To meditate on God’s Word is to allow it to permeate our thinking process. At its foundation, this is what Core 52 will do for anyone in our church who is up to the challenge. In Joshua’s day, God made memory and meditation part of what it took to lead his people. The same is still true today.