Are you in the habit of asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you each time you open the Bible? Do you wonder if you manipulate the message the Spirit offers? In this piece, Jan Johnson shares about her journey toward a more vibrant relationship with God through meditating on the Scriptures. After spending a few moments reading the familiar chapter about love in Corinthians, Jan noticed that she was “intrigued by God’s personality of love that is not pushy or rude. Transformation into Christlikeness occurs as we leave ourselves open to the words or phrases God highlights today. As we regularly meditate on God’s genuine goodness, something changes inside of us.”
The secret to transformation is approaching the Scripture in a posture that is open and non-controlling. To “welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” (James 1:21, NRSVScripture quotations marked (NRSV) are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.) Johnson says, “The word can more fully implant itself—get itself wrapped around our hearts and wills—as we read the scripture with a submissive attitude.” All of the writers in this issue of Conversations echo this same theme. It seems as if the journey toward Jesus is one that becomes more relaxed and filled with peace as the “letting go of self” occurs. A.W. Tozer advised, “[The Bible] is not only a book which was once spoken, but a book which is now speaking.”
Jan normalizes how modern people are drawn to efficiency and analysis. While this progress is good, it’s not necessarily “better” especially when it comes to studying God’s word. “Many features of modernity have helped us; they have also invaded the biblical view of faith. We pray in order to get results, forgetting that prayer is about getting more of God within ourselves.” The process of receiving from the Holy Spirit and the text is not quick—“It involves waiting, an honored activity in Scripture, but shunned by us productive moderns.” (p. 34)
01. The Great Pause
After experiencing the global pandemic of 2020–21, the phrase “the great pause” might cause you to reminisce about the entire world shutting down to slow the spread of a horrible illness. Pausing life as we knew it had many benefits for a lot of people (also downsides, but you can read about that on a different outlet.) The great pause we’ll discuss here also has many benefits; any person who hopes to know God and receive the power of a transformed soul must learn to practice slowing down before reading and receiving from God’s word. It helps us to pause before approaching the Word and pray that the Spirit will speak through the text. “Perhaps we’re sloppy about inviting God to speak because we have such trouble quieting ourselves,” Johnson says. She shares a helpful way that she combats the noise in her mind by jotting down a few things on a list and then setting them aside, out of view. I love the tone of patience she offers others who get frustrated when their brains get distracted during biblical meditation. Quoting Madame Guyon, “Do not become distressed because your mind has wandered away. Always guard yourself from being anxious because of your faults.” Johnson goes on to say, “As we learn inner quiet, we‘re free in all of life to truly focus on the persons in front of us speaking to us, instead of hurrying and being distracted by urgent tasks. We love others better because we focus on them instead of worrying about saying the right thing or winning someone to our side.” How true this is of all formative conversations and relationships, even more as we open ourselves to what God might be saying to us!
Of course, our minds can deter us in other ways, too. Johnson refers to different voices in the mind as being “committee members” who have distracting messages that play into our own unhealthy dynamics, causing us to feel guilty, overextend ourselves, and confuse the voice of God with our own. It is important to recognize these voices, name them, and then lay them aside refocusing on what God is actually saying. Doing this is paramount, so we can set aside negative associations with scriptural meditation and find freedom and relationship as we stay open to interacting fully with the very life of God. On hearing God’s voice as we meditate on his word, Johnson had this to say, “If you are utterly surprised by it, that’s a good sign it’s from God. It will be an adventure.”
- Do you practice “the great pause” as you begin your time of prayer or Bible reading? Why/Why not?
- What distractions do you most often experience as you meditate on Scripture and pray? How do you handle them?
- In what ways do you relate to Johnson, and the modern-day dilemma of attempting to have a “productive” time with God or trying to “get results” for your prayers?
- What’s something surprising God has shared with you recently?
02. Spiritual Exercise:
Prepare yourself to meditate on Scripture by choosing a comfortable and quiet place. Do not rush. Stretch, arrange your chair, take off your shoes. Sit in a position that you can maintain without effort or attention. Place yourself in the presence of God. Release your anxieties and to-do list to the Lord. Ask him to open your heart to his Word.
Read Psalm 139, Psalm 86, Psalm 42, or another short passage from Scripture.
Take your time and when a word “lights up” for you, stop and attend. Let the word or phrase roam around in your mind and heart. What do you hear? What feelings do you notice in yourself? Write down any questions that surface. You can attend to these at another time.
When your mind wanders, gently bring it back and continue your meditation. Do not feel you have to finish anything. Take your word with you. Begin again tomorrow with the same passage.
The above exercise is from Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun (Intervarsity Press)