This month, at City on a Hill Melbourne we have been talking about how to 'Study and Savour Scripture'.
I grew up being taught how to study God’s word, but until about 10 years ago, I had never been taught how to savour it.
Have you stopped to think about how there is a difference?
Think about it like this. It's Christmas day. We begin at the table, gathered around the food - pulling it apart and enjoying the different flavours, taking it all in.
But what follows lunch? Presents, of course! And then...? A nap! As the food hits the digestive system, our body begins to slow, breaking down each food particle - deciding what it needs, filtering out the nutrients and eliminating the waste.
Did you know it takes around 24 to 72 hours for food to move through your digestive tract? The exact time depends on the amount and types of foods you’ve eaten.
The Puritan preacher Richard Baxter, likened the the 24 hours needed for physical digestion with the time needed for the process of spiritual digestion of a 45-minute sermon.
City on a Hill is a church known for great bible teaching. You can be fairly confident you will be served a good "meal" - every week - not just on special occasions!
But the question I have for us today is - what do we do with this good food? What is the process for savouring and digesting it?
While a sermon may engage our minds and refresh our souls, unless it is properly digested, the benefits may be short-lived.
"The goal is not to get through the Scriptures but to get the Scriptures through us" - John Ortberg
A Cat's Breakfast
Call me a crazy cat lady, but my furry friend has actually taught me a lot about savouring!
Boston loves food. He lives for it. His day starts and ends with a bowl of fresh meat. From the moment I open the fridge, he is by my side, happily waiting and watching as I measure out the 90g and place the bowl in front of him.
Sometimes he pauses half way through the meal and walks away, gazing out the window with a reflective stare. Other times, it's like the energy hits his blood supply straight away, and he begins racing around the house like a crazy person, I mean cat.
But what happens next is fascinating. When he finishes his meal, he will often come and sit on my lap, stare deep into my eyes and just want to be held.
Feasting on God’s word involves taking time to both think and process information rationally, but also time to sit and allow God to do what he wants to do in us. The temptation with our hurried life-style and information saturated world and is that we run from one "meal" to the next, neglecting the process by which God often does his best work in us.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer described the Scriptures as ‘the fat pastures of the soul,’ a place to graze and nourish ourselves, and that the process of ruminating on Scripture could be likened to an animal ‘chewing the cud’, or feeding on ‘heavenly meat.’
The Puritans called this digestion process ‘meditation’. The Puritans were English and American believers who lived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, who desired to bring the whole of life under Christ’s Lordship.
Probably the most well-known Puritan, Richard Baxter, so valued meditation that he wrote a 600 page book on it! His insights are so helpful:
"The stomach must prepare the food for the liver and spleen, which prepare for the heart and brain, and so the understanding must take in truths, and prepare them for the will, and it must receive them, and commend them to the affections. While truth is but a speculation swimming in the brain, the soul has not received it, nor taken hold of it. This is the great task in hand, to get these truths from your head to your heart."
While other faiths and secular movements have taken the term ‘meditation’, it is a word used in Scripture to describe a spiritual practice. In Psalm 1:2 the psalmist ‘meditates’ day and night on the instruction of the Lord. The Psalmists also encourage reflection on Scripture in (119.15) and on God’s mighty acts of creation and redemption (Psalm 77:12; 104:34; 145:5). Paul exhorts us to think about (consider, reflect on) whatever is true, honourable, just, worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).
We could think about prayer as talking to God, whereas meditation is allowing God to talk to us. Or said even more simply:
Meditation is thinking in the presence of God.
As we sit and digest what we have read - we allow our hearts and minds to be flooded with truth from the Word that the Holy Spirit massages deep into our souls. Meditation is never to be a replacement for studying scripture, however without it, our study may become dull and shallow.
So, how do we savour and digest God's living words to us? What does that look like in practice?
There really are endless possibilities when it comes to how we can savour Scripture and allows God Word to come alive in us.
Painting, drawing or journalling, focusing on a word or phrase from the bible as we take a walk; enjoying a beautiful part of God's creation; or even simply sitting quietly, focusing on our breath and bringing our awareness to God being with us and in us...
Here are a couple of resources for you to explore further:
1. 'Practicing Puritan Meditation'
If you're keen to learn more about the Puritan’s method for meditating on Scripture, check out this article by Jill Firth (Ridley College, Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament).
2. John Mark Comer’s ‘How to Unhurry’ Workbook
In this workbook you will find a section called ‘Silence and Solitude’ which outlines four exercises you might like to try.
After completing a nursing degree in 2007, Alice joined a small team with a big vision to plant City on a Hill Melbourne. 12 years, 6 churches and many role descriptions later, Alice now serves as Executive Assistant to the Senior Pastor at City on a Hill with a key role in developing, driving and delivering peak goals and strategies for the City on a Hill Movement. Alice is compelled by Paul’s vision of the church as a body in Ephesians 4, and gets excited at the thought that God uses ordinary people to reveal the beauty, truth, and relevance of Jesus. A perfect day in Alice’s life looks like: coffee and quiet time in the morning, brunch with friends, a run in the afternoon, followed by cheese, gin, and knitting in the evening!