We have lost the great art of Bible meditation today, and we are the poorer for it.
In 1987, newsman Ted Koppel gave a classic commencement speech at Duke, in which he famously said that Moses didn’t come down from Mt. Sinai carrying the “Ten Suggestions.”
Note what Koppel then said about television and our ability to concentrate: “Look at MTV or Good Morning America and watch the images and ideas flash past in a blur of impressionistic appetizers. No, there is not much room on TV for complexity.”
We have been losing concentration power through the constant stimulation of media. And it seems to be getting worse. Now, little children are accessing media at their fingertips, perhaps earlier than their little brains can handle it.
We are becoming so distracted that we have lost the ability to focus. “Oh, look—a squirrel.”
In earlier times, some people spent time contemplating God and the Bible. George Washington spent so much time directly with the Bible or with biblical passages found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which he avidly read, that his writings and speeches (public and private) are replete with biblical phrases and allusions.
Is biblical meditation the same as Eastern meditation? No, because in the latter, you empty your mind. In the former, you fill your mind with the things of God. Biblical meditation means to quietly ruminate—turning in your mind over and over, phrase by phrase—the truths of God.
The ability to meditate on Scripture may be a lost art, but it is one that is worth recovering. My long time pastor, the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, noted that Joshua 1:8 is the only place in the Bible where it directly promises success. What is that success contingent upon? Meditating on God’s Word.
I was thinking recently about an elderly man I once knew, who was a great model of a life shaped by Bible meditation. I am in debt to his example of living a life focused on Scripture.
Charlie Hainline always had an irrepressible smile on his face. His love for Jesus Christ radiated from him and defined him and made him a great man to be around.
Charlie used to have an old broken-down, dilapidated cassette player, on which he played one song over and over. The gist of the gospel song was that you can’t stand on the promises of God unless you know what they are. Charlie constantly talked about the promises of God and our need to access them—like blank checks from heaven.
In 1964, Charlie retired from full time work, but that made him available for full time ministry, until his death in 1994.
He once told me that he had been going to prison for ministry sake since the 1940s to share the gospel with inmates, but that was only on the weekends. After he retired, he was able to go six days a week.
The amazing thing about that feat—of going to prison for ministry, six days a week for thirty years straight—is that in the last year or so of his life, he continued to do so even when he developed Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS).
He could barely walk. The prison officials told him that he could no longer come there unless he was with someone who could wheel him around. So he rounded up volunteers.
I was that volunteer on January 1, 1994. I remember the day because it was my first time in prison.
Charlie would share shared the good news of Christ—how Jesus on the cross paid a price He didn’t owe, but it was a price we couldn’t pay, and he would have prisoners memorize Bible verses.
One of the key verses Charlie had them inscribe in their hearts was 1 John 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Charlie called this “the Christian’s bar of soap”—useful for daily spiritual cleansing.
Charlie would give inmates who successfully memorized this verse an unofficial certificate—an 8 ½ by 11 sheet proclaiming their accomplishment. Some of them hung their certificates on their bare walls.
Life wasn’t always easy for Charlie, but he found inner strength to overcome. He had a daughter who was kidnapped and killed and her head was found floating in a canal. Yet Charlie forgave the convicted murderer and even shared the gospel with him in prison.
Charlie Hainline exemplified the lost art of meditation and what it has to offer to us. One of his oft-repeated statements brings that home: “Look to others and be distressed. Look to self and be depressed. Look to Jesus and be blessed.”