I love the picture Psalm 1:1–3 presents: A man who meditates on God’s Word day and night is pictured as a fruitful tree that has put down deep roots near life-giving water. In much the same way, author Henri Nouwen has challenged me to meditate and “chew on” short phrases of Scripture throughout each day. I remember recently taking the well-known phrase “The Lord is my shepherd” and meditating on it one day during every possible moment. My spiritual roots grew deep as I drew into my soul the deep truths of that Scripture. Each of the words of that short phrase is pregnant with life. In fact, I once heard a preacher preach a five-point sermon emphasizing the meaning of each word in turn:
The Lord is my shepherd. (He is the only Lord; there is no other)
The Lord is my shepherd. (He is the sovereign one over my life)
The Lord is my shepherd. (Right now, He is present in my life circumstances)
The Lord is my shepherd. (He knows my name, and he cares about me personally)
The Lord is my shepherd. (He tenderly leads me to pasture and to water, protecting me just as a shepherd protects his sheep)
Feeding on the Word of God is necessary, but true spiritual nourishment doesn’t come from merely reading the Bible or even from memorizing it—we must apply its meaning to our lives, obeying its commands, producing life-giving fruit.
When the Bible uses the word know or knowledge, it usually is not talking about head knowledge or knowing a collection of facts. Rather, it is talking about “experiential knowledge” or “relational knowledge.” In other words, there is a difference in knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. The relational intimacy the Bible talks about using the word know can include the idea of sexual intimacy in marriage, as in Genesis where it says that Adam knew Eve (as translated in the King James Version). The concept of knowing someone deeply and intimately can help us get a handle on what it means to be spiritually nourished. Jesus is not looking for friends, acquaintances, or fans. Rather, he is looking for passionate, intimate, obedient followers. Being nourished by the written Word of God must also include having an intimate relationship with Jesus, the living Word of God.
James 4:17 says, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” This is one of the most sobering Scriptures in the entire Bible. Think of how many sermons you have heard, how many Bible lessons you have heard, that you didn’t apply to your life. Indeed, lack of application is one of my greatest fears about teaching and preaching. Someone can easily thank me for a good sermon or lesson, then walk to the car, drive home, eat lunch, take a nap, and do nothing about what he or she learned through it. So, a few years ago, when I led a small group from our church in our home, I decided not to pick a curriculum or a book to go through. Rather, we talked about Sunday’s sermon and discussed how we could apply its teaching to our lives.
During my first ministry as a small town youth minister, I reflected one time about all the different messages that the kids in my youth group received, and I counted the possibility for up to four different messages in the space of twelve hours. On a typical Sunday, they might hear a lesson about prayer in the high school Sunday school class, then a sermon on grace during the regular church service. That night, they would hear another sermon, this time about repentance—and then, during our youth group meeting, they might take part in a discussion about witnessing. In the space of twelve hours, they could hear as many as four different messages. But in actuality they would have heard only one message: You don’t have to stop and take the time to apply this to your life, because if you wait a few minutes, you’ll hear another different message. After realizing this, I tried to focus on a single topic for an entire month in my youth programming, approaching it from different angles but always focusing on how to apply it in life. It has been said about Christians that “we already know a lot more than we are doing.” Deep roots in the Word of God can and should produce live-giving fruit.
REFLECTIONS: Pick a phrase of Scripture on which to meditate, then chew on it all day long. Put it where you will constantly see it—on your fridge, dashboard, mirror, cell phone, or so forth. Make it a regular habit every time you read the Bible or listen to a sermon or Bible lesson to pause and ask the Lord how He wants you to make immediate life application of what you have just heard.
Blessed is the man . . . his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.