As a follow-up to “What to do when my heart grows cold,” I want to give a more specific “how to” template. That post exhorted us to reach for our Bible and meditate on a section of scripture when we feel hard and cold toward the Lord and other people. But how exactly do we study and meditate through a section of scripture? Which of the many how-to-study-scripture templates — developed by godly men and women through the ages — should we use?
When our heart is cold (or angry, or weary, or sad) we want to study not only for the pure joy of discovering God’s amazing truth tucked away in obscure passages. We want to, as J.I Packer says:
“turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.”
At a women’s retreat this past weekend, I was reminded of a template that takes me to just such a place before the Lord. These four simple questions lead us through a passage of God’s word like this:
- Read this section of scripture verse by verse. What are you being taught?
- From these verses, write/pray a prayer of thanksgiving.
- From these verses, write/pray a prayer of confession.
- In light of these verses, what does God say that I really need? Ask this of the Lord.
Here’s a shortened example, from a familiar verse, of how I’d use these four questions to meditate on Psalm 23:1:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
- What am I being taught? I am being taught that the LORD is my shepherd: the only Lord of heaven and earth, who controls all and carries all (including me). I am being taught that the LORD is my shepherd: the One who reigns with steadfast love, complete power, and complete compassion. I’m taught that the LORD is my shepherd: there is no shadow of turning with Him. He hasn’t changed his mind about me, even though my heart is cold. I learn that the LORD is my shepherd: He calls me by name; He means that I would find comfort in His protective arms. He means that I would find joy as I realize my need of His all-seeing, all-caring love. He is my Shepherd, the one who lays down his very life for sheep like me. I’m taught that the LORD is my shepherd: I need his staff to draw me back, and his rod to correct, when I stray. I need him to comfort me when I’m afraid of life’s rushing streams. There has never been a kinder or more perfect Shepherd. I need him with every fiber of my being.
- A prayer of thanksgiving: O Father, how can it be that you, the perfect shepherd, the perfect Lord, care for little, often-straying me? How can it be that you, knowing the end of my life from the beginning, and planning only good for me, see to it that I shall not want? You make sure that I lack nothing. I am supplied with all I really need. You are great and magnificent, yet you care intimately and minutely.
- A prayer of confession: Father, forgive me for thwarting your care. I so easily believe the lie that you don’t mean good for me, that you don’t really supply all that I need, that I’m somehow on my own on the edge of my awful cliff. I confess that I’ve acted as if I am Lord. I confess that I’ve callously rejected your care.
- What does God say I really need? In light of these verses, Lord, I remember that you are who I need. My relationship with my Shepherd is tantamount. You are the only true shepherd, and you supply all my needs according to your riches in Christ Jesus. Whether I understand your mysterious plan for my life or not, you are kind, and you are caring carefully for my every need, guarding me, calling me back to you when I grow cold (and weary, and angry, and sad). When I’m filled with unbelief, I need to cry out to you, my good and rescuing shepherd.
Your 1-4 might sound completely different. Your 1-4 will be your personal heart speaking to God, who listens and loves each prayer of each of his children. Do not, no matter what, believe otherwise.