The attitude: delight.
The action: meditate.
The Hebrew word for delight (chèphets, if you need to know, with the ch hard and the ph soft: khay-fets) means “to desire that which brings pleasure.” But it also cannotes “choosing to desire something because you ascribe to it great value.”
The law of the Lord — which, for us, encompasses the entire counsel of God’s Word — is mostly an acquired appetite. Few people leap from the womb with an instinctual hunger for the Word — or they do, but the hunger gets damped by long years of gorging ourselves on everything and anything but the Word: trashy books and inane television shows and gory movies and rounds of gossip and the endless swapping of our opinions. Gorging ourselves, we finally make “our god our stomach” (Philippians 3:19) — our appetite for tasty things that don’t nourish assumes divinelike authority in our lives.
We’re prone to delight — to desire that which gives pleasure — in many things, some good and others not so, but typically low on the list is, say, the book of Leviticus. It’s that deeper connotation of the Hebrew word for delight that helps here: choosing to desire something because you ascribe to it great value. Everyone I know who delights in the law of the Lord started here — with ascribing value to that Word. They were persuaded, whether a mentor or a sermon or a book or their own desperate situation, or a combination of such things, to “take and read.” They rarely at first had the penetrating insight into what they read (though many do); they rarely at first derived enormous benefit from it (though many do). Instead, they persevere on the conviction that what they are reading matters, is true, gives life, solves riddles, offers guidance. It tells us who we are and where we are, who we’re becoming and where we’re going. It tell us who God is. It tells us God loves us.
And so they “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of [them]” (Philippians 3:12).
And after a time, the choice to desire the Word, based on a decision to ascribe great value to the Word, transforms into pure delight. We start reading the Bible because we know that it is good for us. We keep reading the Bible because we know that it is good for us — we taste its goodness. We find pleasure in it.
Blessed is the one who delights in the law of the Lord. In season and out, we make a decision to ascribe value to the Word so that we desire it even when it gives no pleasure. “No discipline seems pleasurable at the time, but painful,” Hebrews says. “Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11) It becomes pleasurable, fruitful, beneficial. It delights us, and we don’t have to work at that.
And so, delight ourselves in the Word, we meditate on it day and night. The Hebrew word for meditate (hàgàh, if you need to know, with both vowels elongated: haw-gaw) means, literally, “to murmur.” It cannotes total preoccupation, being fixated on something so that we have to repeat it over and over, the thought of it laced with every other thought, mingling with our breath. People hàgáh when they’re delighted or angered or worried. A man smitten by love does it, murmuring his beloved’s name, her many virtues; a man smitten with rage does it, muttering his enemy’s name, his many vices; a woman fretting does it, mumbling her anxieties, the many things that might go wrong.
We naturally hagah whenwe’re in the grip of an obsession.
So obviously, when it comes to meditating on the law of the Lord day and night (there’s that obsessiveness again — day and night, hovering over the hours, stalking our steps, haunting our sleep), the delight needs to come first. How can we murmur day and night about that which has failed to ignite our imaginations, capture our hearts?
But that’s where Psalm 1 gets things slightly askew, a little backward. ForPsalm 1, I think, meditation creates delight, not the other way around.
Some things we meditate on — we hágáh — because we delight in them. Our obsession is simply a spillover of our desire. I see a fly rod that seems in every way superior to the one I own, and I desire it. I imagine feisty trout, the indomitable steelhead, the stubborn char that will take it and shake it like a divining rod. I see myself by my favorite fishing hole, early morning, clear and cool, mist rising off the river. I see that place where the whitewater slows, darkens, whorls with deep backward arcing currents. Fish are always there, playing the edges of those currents, looking for food. I will oblige them.
Well, desire take hold, and wells up as obsession. The pleasure of the thing, just the thought of it, gets me muttering.
But other things we learn to desire by obsessing over them. We know we should care about the HIV/AIDS pandemic, especially the desolation it’s causing across sub-Saharan Africa, but there’s little pleasure in thinking about it. There is no delight. It’s the World Bank’s and the UN and Bono’s problem. I’m going fly-fishing instead.
But if I train myself to care — if I meditate on the problem, hagah it — after a time, the desire to do something about it, to make it my own problem,grows. If I hagah enough, I soon find myself in the full grip of an unconquerable obsession.
The law of the Lord is like that. We first ascribe to it great value and discipline ourselves to study it. But it’s when, as a sheer act of obedience often, we meditate on it day and night that delight becomes the real thing.
I have certainly seen this in my own life, and get to witness it up close often in my line of work. I was told “in the early days of my acquaintance with the gospel,” as Paul calls it, to make a daily habit of reading the Bible. Nothing was more foreign to me. I enjoyed reading back then, but not daily, and not of ancient holy books. I read mostly fantasy fiction— brawny heroes swashbuckling their way to rescue damsels and slay villains, and save the world along the way.
I believed people that told me that the Bible is fascinating and life-changing. I became, by an accident of circumstances, a Baptist, and haven’t yet repented of that, and so I got steeped in the Baptist creed about the Bible — it’s my guide for life and faith. So I did what I was told. I read it daily.
It was dreadful at first. I liked very much the Gospels — I’d actually came to Faith reading them — but by my instructions, distinctly, were to read “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27 NKJV). Genesis proved strange but, mostly, compelling. The opening bits of Exodus equally so. But it slowed down considerably after that, and I wondered if I’d been misinformed. More than once I had the uncharitable thought that perhaps those who prescribed medicine weren’t taking it themselves. Large swaths of Exodus and Numbers and Leviticus and Deuteronomy nearly made me lapse into paganism if the Bible wasn’t narrating genocidal policy carried out with ruthless efficiency, or enforcing what I saw as bigoted or misogynistic rules, it was boring me to tears with the rigmarole of priestly vestments and dietary laws, or the bewildering array of offerings to atone for an equally bewildering array of sins.
It was stunning to me that these books, largely, that Psalm 1, and Psalm 19, and Psalm 119, referred to as “delightful.” It was even more stunning to me that these books, largely, that compromised Jesus’ “Bible.” Neither the psalm writers those great extollers of the Word, not Jesus, who told us to live not by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, had the Gospels or the epistles in their scope. They had Leviticus and Numbers and the like. The psalmist in 119 actually says he desires God’s law — His statutes, ordinances, decrees, precepts, and so on — more than he desired silver and gold. Really? I thought. I pictured, at His invitation, “much pure gold,” which I take to mean a great amount of wealth. I imagined what all that gold could buy. (The fly rod!) I imagined how nice it was to look at all on its own. I set all that alongside, say, Leviticus 15:8 (“If the man with the discharge spits on someone who is clean, that person must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening”). And I wondered, given a straight and honest choice, with no terrible eternal things hanging in the balance, would I really pick this section from Leviticus over almost anything else?
But I was told the Bible, all of it, was good for me, and though my confidence wavered, I still believed, and pressed on.
I meditated on it. And then I began to notice something. It didn’t happen all at once, but something was growing. I was delighting in the Word. I found myself, on my yearly pass through the entire Bible (another thing I was told to do), excited about all those parts I used to dread. Every year, I find some new treasures . The fact that more and more I see the Bible whole — the history and theology and cultural development underneath it all fitting together, top to bottom, start to finish — means that even those parts that remain, well, a bit tedious I see in a new light. I see them as integral to everything else in it, necessary for its full functioning, even though they’re not the parts we care to look at often.
I have many favorite things about being a pastor (and a few loathsome things), but ranking in my top three is watching a Christ-follower, young or old, wake fresh to the Word of God.
It happened only recently with Bill.
Bill had been reading, and not reading, the Bible for decades. He read it mostly out of duty, and with almost no benefit. When he didn’t read it, he felt a vague pervasive guilt. He complained a lot, about his kids, his wife, his job, the church. He was tedious.
We sometimes practice in our church an ancient exercise called lectio divina — Latin for “sacred reading.” Lectio, as my wife describes it, is “listening to the Word with your heart.” We usually do a lectio in small gatherings, though I’ve done it on my own, and attempted it in larger groups. A reader chooses a short passage of Scripture and read it three times, slowly, without much inflection. The others listen. They listen for a word or a phrase that, we like to say, “sings, rings, or stings.” Often on the third reading, we ask a question: “In this story of a man who fell on the roadside, where do you see yourself? Whose company are you traveling in?” Or, “Imagine Jesus is washing your feet in the upper room. What are you seeing, thinking, feeling?”
Bill happened to be sitting in on one of these. It changed something in him. The Scriptures began to convict and console him. He started to hear God. He started to obey God. And, hearing and obeying, he wanted more.
Delight gave way to meditation, meditation to further delight.
I like me being around Bill now. He’s interesting. He’s humble. He’s inspiring.
~ Darren’s Comments ~
What I have learned throughout my 50 years of living, initial delight leads to you meditating which leads to true delight. But the process of meditation can be long, hard, at times can be boring, etc. Then one day, the Scripture comes alive to you. And, it is funny that that same Scripture can speak to you, not just one way, but through different circumstances in life for every person.
That’s what is so amazing! No matter what time in life, the Holy Scripture has the answer to every life situation you are going through. You have to, as Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Matthew 6:33 KJV
“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
Luke 11:9 KJV
But, you have to be like an archeologist and not expect a quick answer for your current life situation. Archeologists take years to uncover, say, dinosaurs. Merriam-Webster defines meditate as “to engage in contemplation or reflection.” Archeologists meditate on, say, dinosaurs. To spiritually meditate, Christians in order to be effective, you have to seek and find a.k.a. meditate. We have to meditate on something or more specifically someOne, in order to get into the Kingdom of God.
See, this is a holy cycle — initial delight, meditating, true delight, and on and on it goes. However, in the process of this holy cycle you have to remember to give it time (meditating). So go and do likewise, and I promise you will not regret it.
~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger of TrueLifeChristianity.com ~