Reading the Bible with Meditation and Prayer
I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly.
A New Year is about to dawn, and many Bible reading plans will be started. You might get through your allotted reading plan in the upcoming year. But the question is whether you will read the Bible with profit? Will your Bible reading deepen your communion with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit?
Far too often, we find little profitability in our Bible reading and it becomes a rote and frustrating affair. Part of the reason for this is we do not exercise ourselves spiritually in our devotional reading time. Nor do we recognize that when we approach the Bible in faith, it becomes God’s very speech towards us.
And so, our Bible reading becomes something akin to the reading students perform to get through their classes: rote and obligatory. Instead of being meditative, prayerful, convicting, and delightful. Bible reading of the latter kind are hallmarks of evangelical religion.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s counsel
Some of the best pastoral counsel when it comes to reading the Scripture comes from Robert Murray M’Cheyne who wrote to a young man who was away from his parents’ home:
“You read your Bible regularly, of course; but do try and understand it, and still more, to feel it. Read more parts than one at a time. For example, if you are reading Genesis, read a psalm also; or, if you are reading Matthew, read a small bit of an epistle also. Turn the Bible into prayer. Thus, if you were reading the 1st Psalm, spread the Bible on the chair before you, and kneel, and pray, ‘O Lord, give me the blessedness of the man,’ etc. ‘Let me not stand in the counsel of the ungodly,’ etc. ‘This is the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible, and of learning to pray. In prayer confess your sins by name—going over those of the past day, one by one. Pray for your friends by name—father, mother, etc. etc. If you love them, surely you will pray for their souls. I know well that there are prayers constantly ascending for you from your own house; and will you not pray for them back again? Do this regularly. If you pray sincerely for others, it will make you pray for yourself.Robert Murray McCheyne and Andrew A. Bonar, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne (Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894), 58–59.
“But I must be done. Good-bye, dear G. Remember me to your brother kindly, and believe me your sincere friend,
“R. M. M.”
Read M’Cheyne’s counsel slowly and think upon it. It is filled with gold. Let us consider some aspects of his counsel.
Read with the Understanding
M’Cheyne urged his young friend to understand the Scripture he read. If reading the Bible is akin to digesting your daily food (Job 23:12) and more necessary than it, then it is no surprise that many of us have spiritual indigestion after Bible reading – because we did not go slow enough to digest it properly. Meditate on the Word (Psalm 1:2) and think deeply upon it. The word translated ‘meditate’ has at its root the concept of muttering.
So, as an aid to meditation, you might consider reading the Word aloud softly. After all, the blessing in The Revelation is, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy” (Revelation 1:3). Note both the reading and the hearing. The part of hearing is often neglected in our private devotions but is connected to profitable meditation.
Another simple exercise to get started in the practice of reflecting on the Scripture and meditating on it is to remember what the Shorter Catechism Q. 3 teaches about “What do the Scriptures principally teach?”. Answer: “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man”. This is a good way to interact with every Scripture that you read – if you do this you will read with the understanding. Reflect on what the text teaches concerning your God and what duties the text may constrain you to.
Reading prayerfully is the other part of M’Cheyne’s counsel we ought to heed and is perhaps even more neglected by God’s people. We often struggle in prayer because we do not know how to pray as we ought. This is why the Lord gave us The Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1). The 3rd petition of the Lord’s Prayer is “thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). In that petition we are to pray that the will of God be done in our life (and in others).
Given that the preceptive will of God is found in the Scripture, we must pray for God’s grace to be forgiven of our coming short of it (5th petition of the Lord’s prayer), as well as God’s grace to walk in obedience to it.
This is what M’Cheyne counseled his dear friend to do with Bible reading. To turn it into a prayerful exercise seeking the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ for all the matters found in it. This will humble you and cause you to ever look with joy and patient dependence unto Jesus – the author and finisher of your faith (Hebrews 12:2).
More could be said on these matters, but in the end – make your reading devotional. It is part of your communion with Jesus Christ. You draw close to the throne of heaven when you sit at Christ’s feet in your Bible reading in this way. You will know your God better than if you just flew through your reading as a bare obligation.
This will likely mean you need to allocate more time to your daily devotions (they are called that for a reason!) in order to get through your Bible reading plan. But are there not amusements you can probably be rid of to spend more time with Christ in this manner?
If you read and pray devotionally, you will find the time in devotions melt away and when your allotted time comes to an end, and you must depart from Christ’s feet to perform your other obligations, you will sigh, “Rabboni!” wishing you could cling to Christ just a bit longer (John 20:16-17). May that heart be yours in the New Year and may He accomplish it through your Bible reading:
But I found him whom my soul loveth:Song of Songs 3:4
I held him, and would not let him go