When I was in seminary, my professors would assign us students a sizable amount of reading for each course—usually multiple textbooks and hundreds of pages overall. One of the challenges I faced was figuring out how I was going to remember everything I had read. I soon discovered that trying to remember everything was an impossible task. I was able to determine what each professor wanted me to know for the final exam, but I desired to retain at least some information long-term for use in ministry when I became a pastor. I finally decided to work at remembering just one idea from each book. This may not seem like a lot of information to retain from a single source, but if you follow this approach with each book you read, and if you read a lot of books, it won’t take long before you have a storehouse of information in your long-term memory.
Many Christians struggle with a problem similar to the one I had in seminary. They don’t remember much of what they read in the Bible. This problem is true for even some of the most devoted daily Bible readers. They will take the Bible and read a chapter or two, but then they close their Bibles and if pressed would have to admit, “I don’t remember a thing I read.” These good-hearted Christians may think they are unable to retain the information they’ve read because they don’t have a good memory, or they never received a good education, or they were not born with a high IQ. While these things may be true, they are not the reason why they fail to remember what they read in the Bible because the problem is not with their lack of ability or experience, it is with their method.
The answer to this problem is found in Psalm 1:1-3. The Psalmist writes, “Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he mediates 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.” Notice from this passage that it is not the man who simply reads the Bible who is blessed, but the man who reads and meditates on the Word of God. Dr. Don Whitney, author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, says, “Reading alone was never intended to be the primary means of absorbing the Scripture. Reading is the exposure to Scripture; that is a starting place. Meditation is the absorption of Scripture that leads to the experience with God and the transformation of life that we long for when we come to the Bible.” Christian meditation is not like what the Buddhists and some other religions practice—where there is an emptying of the mind. No, when a Christian meditates on the Scripture, his mind is fully engaged. He is thinking intently about what the Bible says about God and His ways.
“Pastor Rex”, you may say, “I just don’t have the time to do what you’re suggesting. I am working two jobs to make ends meet. I have a family at home that needs my constant attention. It’s hard enough for me to chisel out 10 minutes of my day to read the Bible. That is the best I can do. Now what I hear you saying is that’s not good enough; you can’t just read the Bible for ten minutes. You have to meditate on top of that. I don’t have ten more minutes.”
Well, here is the good news. If you only have ten minutes, don’t read for ten minutes. Read for five minutes and meditate for five minutes. Far better to read less if necessary and remember something than to read more and remember nothing. Here is a general rule: read big, meditate small. Read a big section, a whole chapter or two and then go back and mediate on a simple phrase or one or two verses. If you do that, you will remember what you’ve read. It will begin to stick in your mind.
Let me give you a personal example of how this works. For 2016, I am following a Bible-reading plan that takes me straight through the Bible—from Genesis to Revelation—in one calendar year. I’m usually assigned between 2-3 chapters per day to read. A couple weeks ago, I was assigned Leviticus 19-21. These chapters describe various laws that Israel was to follow under the Mosaic covenant and the punishment they would receive should they disobey God’s commands. As I read these three chapters, I noticed a certain phrase associated with many of the commands. The phrase was this, “I am the Lord your God.” I chose to mediate for a few minutes on this phrase. The repetition of this phrase in these chapters revealed to me that God’s commands are given in the context of relationship. The reason why God could command Israel to keep His decrees was because He had entered into a covenant relationship with them. He was their God, and they were His people. Thinking about my own relationship with God, I recalled what Jesus said in John 14:21, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” Jesus calls me to obey Him not out of obligation or some effort to win His favor, but to obey Him because I love Him and I’m grateful for His saving work in my life. Having meditated on these marvelous truths, I was now motivated to follow Jesus wholeheartedly that day because I had been reminded of Christ’s love for me, and I wanted to demonstrate my love and devotion for Him through my active obedience.
If there was one piece of advice I could give Christians to encourage them to grow in their faith, it would be this: Meditate on Scripture. Will you, Christian, choose not only to be exposed to the Word of God through reading it, but also to absorb the Word of God into your heart and life through meditating on it?