February 9, 2019
Brothers and sisters
Some years ago, when Sugi and I were in London, we were meeting some friends at Trafalgar Square, who were going to show us around London. When we arrived at Trafalgar Square, we found we had an hour to spare. “So,what are we going to do for the next hour? Look, over there on the edge of the Square is the British National Art Gallery”. As you might know, our oldest daughter Anna is a Professor of Art History in America, and so we thought we would do the right thing, and have a tour of the Art Gallery.
So, in the space of about three quarters of an hour, we toured the whole art gallery, I think it was three levels high, with lots of rooms on every floor, and in three quarters of an hour, we saw the whole lot, walking quickly through every room, stopping to have a look at a picture, moving on. Sometimes you would see a person sitting there on one of the benches, just gazing into a picture. I would smile, and think to myself, “nerd”, and he would smile, and think to himself, “tourist”. At the end of that three quarters of an hour, we had seen every picture in the gallery. Later on, when we were in New York I told Anna quite proudly we had seen the whole lot in three quarters of an hour, and she sort of just rolled her eyes, thinking to herself, dad, you didn’t see anything. And that was so true. I had seen the whole lot. But I hadn’t really seen anything at all.
How often is our Bible reading like that? I want you to use your imagination for a moment. Imagine that every single chapter of the Bible is like a picture in a frame. There are 1189 chapters in the Bible, so imagine with me, 1189 pictures strung next to each other in a long round circular gallery, so that if you start at Genesis 1 and keep on walking all around the room, you get to Revelation 22, and then you are back at the beginning, the next frame is again, Genesis 1. One big long circular wall, with every chapter of the Bible in a frame. And how often, do we do like I did in the Art Gallery,we run past each of the frames, without seeing any of them for what they really are.
Now, I am not really that good at sitting looking into a single piece of art for an hour or two. But what I want to share with you today, is that the greatest gains I have had from Scripture, are when I have been like an art lover, sitting on a bench, and looking intently into one chapter of the Bible at a time. And I linger in that chapter. First, I pull apart the language,until I understand the grammar and the words. And then I dig further down into the meaning. And sometimes, I can spend a week, or weeks, or even sometimes,months, just on one chapter of Scripture. I linger over it. I dwell on it.
And some people may think that after a month in one chapter, it is time to move on. And eventually I do move into chapter 2. But not because I am bored with chapter 1. Because the longer I linger over it, the more I love it, and so many times, I start from the beginning again, and as you peer into it, it is like peering into the shadows, and as your eyes adjust, the thing spoken of in the text materialise, and the glory begins to shine.
And some might say, you get bored and move on. But the reality is different. You have seen so much glory in that one frame, that you are actually reluctant to move on. The glory is just so deep. And often, I find myself lingering, on even one short phrase for a week. Actually, the day I wrote this sermon, I had spent more than two weeks, thinking about half of one verse, 8 single simple words, and I just so much enjoyed turning these words and words over in my heart, chewing the fat, chewing the cud, dwelling on it, drinking it in, feeding my soul on it.
And I think that that is what 1 is talking about. It is talking there about the righteous man, or, in New Testament language, the Christian.Psalm 1 talks about meditating on the Law,but that is another word for Scripture,the Word of God. And this is the description of the Christian, he or she meditates on the Word of God, day and night. And because they meditate on the Word of God day and night, they are like trees, planted by streams of water,who yield their fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither.
Meditating on God’s Word day and night. How good are we at that?
Feeding our souls on God’s Word. How good are we at that?
I think, on the whole, not very good, and that is why this year, I want to say, hey, lets slow down. Lets together, learn to feed our souls on God’s Word. Let’s learn what it is, to meditate on His Word day and night.
Now let’s go back to that picture of the circular art gallery. There are several thoughts which flow from this.
First of all, it is a very powerful image, because each of these 1189 chapters of the Bible, they are not just pictures on a wall. Rather, they are living windows. Have you ever been to the zoo, and seen these living windows? You come to this window, and you are looking into an animal’s kingdom. In the same way, the 1189 chapters of the Bible, are not just pictures, but they are 1189 different windows into another Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. So, I said before, I look into one of those windows, and it is all shadows, just words … but I keep looking intently, until the shapes begin to materialise, and the glory begins to shine. Now each of those 1189 frames are separate living windows, into that same kingdom. So, the glory that you eventually see in each chapter, is the same glory, though of course, some windows as you peer in, show that glory more clearly than others. Like, you will see the glory more clearly in John 1, than you might see in Leviticus 3, but it is the same glory.
And that is the way we need to see Scripture. It is not a dead portraiton a wall, it is not just a bunch of words strung together, but it is a living window, into which we look, into another Kingdom – the Kingdom of God. And our first look at the picture, is like looking into the shadow. Just like when you run past, like in the art gallery, you have a quick look and keep going, and you have seen the outline, but you haven’t seen its glory. And like that art lover at the art gallery, you need to look into it intently, for the glory to materialise.
It is all about, the words hitting home. About the truth of the words penetrating our soul. It is all about a confrontation with the Living Truth of God’s Word. This Kingdom into which we are peering, is the Eternal Kingdom. It is the real world. And we need to keep on looking, with prayerful dependence on God, until the truth of His Word begins to materialise. And then, the Glory of it just keeps coming. Some chapters are just so intense in glory. And you can look into that one chapter forever, just as we will be able to look into God,forever, and never get bored. Because the truths of Scripture are eternal truths, and they are living bread, on which we can feed our souls on for eternity. It is not just about a learned doctrine. But it is the glory of the eternal kingdom, that just blows us away. And not only do we become overcome by the glory shining through this window, it is a window which draws us into itself.The window if you like, becomes a door, which draws us through itself, it draws us in, to make us participants in that life, so that we begin to live in the reality that we now see revealed in the glass of God’s Word.
So that is the first thing. The 1189 chapters of the Bible, are living windows, and if we linger at those windows long enough, the glory coming through them, overpowers us, and draws us into itself.
There is a second point I want to make here. When we hear a text like Psalm 1, about the Christian who mediates on the Word day and night, we sink our heads in shame. And that has to do with the lack of daily devotions that many of us have. We do live in a busy time. We often are time poor. And we often have little inclination towards long periods of the study of God’s Word. We know we should do better, but I think we all know, it is hard.
But, if you think of Scripture like a big circular art gallery with 1189 separate frames, all of a sudden, the whole thing can become a lot simpler. You see, what we often get wrong, is we think about quantity, where we should bethinking more about, quality. Let me explain. At the moment, I start work very early in the morning, and it is hard to fit morning devotions in. But who says I need to? What I do, is meditate on a portion of God’s Word in the evening.And I am thinking over just one or two verses, looking intently into them,trying to grasp them, feeding on them, mulling over them, drinking them in,chewing the cud. And then, when I get up in the morning, I go to work. I have half an hour or so on my way to work, and I use that time, in silence, to keep the meditation going. To mull over God’s Word. To drink it in. To grapple with it. To grasp for it. To wonder over it. To worship with it.
When I do this, what am I actually doing? I am doing exactly what Psalm 1 talks about—the righteous man who meditates on the Word of God day and night.That portion grips me. And I come back to it over and again in the day. And I return to again in the evening. As I said, when I wrote this sermon, there was half a verse of the Bible, eight single words, that I have spent the last two weeks thinking about. If you want to know which words, some words in Colossians 1, that I will be preaching on later in the year. He is the Image of God the Invisible God. So, in my heart, there is this ongoing meditation on God’s Word. The Word of God is dwelling in merichly. I am feeding on the living bread. I am drinking in the water of life. I am living in the living window. And all of this, without feeling guilty, of not having read enough, spent enough time ‘doing devotions’, because, the day has become devotional.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not speaking against reading large parts of the Bible, reading through the Bible in a consistent way. That is a wonderful thing to be doing, and I wish everyone would be doing that. I am not speaking against that in any way. But I am talking here about the benefits, also, of focusing intently on one small passage, and carrying that with you for the whole day. And this model of feeding on God’s Word can be very liberating for those who struggle with morning devotions or a very busy household with small children and so on. And more than that,when you carry Scripture with you for the whole day, it gives you’re a far deeper feeding on God’s Word that can ever be achieved, than by simply running through the art gallery on the trot. A quick five-minute devotional in the morning is not enough to sustain us. We are called to linger with God’s Word and to let it dwell in us richly.
In Psalm 1, you see one of the marks of the Christian, is meditating on the Word day and night. Not sitting down reading the Bible day and night. But meditating on it. Carrying it with you, in your heart, so that when you have a moment to think apart from the pressures of daily life, your mind gravitates to feed on the truth with which you are busy.
So that is the second thing. The whole idea of lingering in front of a passage of Scripture, even for weeks, is of great benefit, because it gets you thinking spiritually. It fills your life with thinking about God. And that continued and sustained meditation, eventually, draws you into itself, into its glory.
And then there is on more thought I wanted to bring out from this verse.Have you ever thought of the benefit that we in the twenty first century have - having printed Bibles in our own language? But until about 600 years ago,Christians did not have that privilege. Before the 1400’s they didn’t have Bibles in their own language. Besides that, many Christians have often had only small portions of Scripture, or been forced to live without Scripture for long period of time.
How did they manage?
If we see Scripture, as a series of picture frames in a circular gallery, and each window being a living window into the kingdom of God, you realise that if you needed to, you could spend a whole lifetime in one chapter of the Bible, because you are looking into the same Kingdom, as in every other window. I am of course not saying that we should limit ourselves to one chapter of the Bible for life. But I am saying, so what, it you take six months of the year to chew your way through one small book. You will have fed on that book,and the marrow of that book will be in your heart. And by feeding on the Living Bread, the Holy Spirit fills our heart. The Living Water is running from the Head into the Body. And as long as we remain in the Vine, as long as we remain nourished by the Vine, with the life of the Vine flowing into us, we shall continue to abound in fruit. That is how many of the ancients managed, people who didn’t have Bibles, people who often could not even read. But they heard the Word of God, and what they heard, the Holy Spirit could use, even those small portions, to feed their souls with God’s truth. It is not about the volume of Scripture we get through. It is about how much of that volume we actually drink in.
And you can feed on one chapter for a very long time, and still be fed.One chapter will feed you for eternity. You can keep on feeding, and instead of getting bored, you just keep on getting more excited, as the shadows dispel,and the glory unfolds itself before your eyes, drawing you in. And like the Niagara Falls, it’s not something you ever want to walk away from, but you just want to keep drinking it in.
So, what I am saying, in our sermon today, is that when it comes to Scripture, we need to slow right down. Its not about volume, it’s about quality.
God’s Word is like a gold mine. And there are so many rich nuggets there, which so often, we just jump over, without digesting them into our soul.We need to slow right down, and learn to feed our soul on God’s Word.
Psalm 1 talks about the importance of this. The Christian is a person who meditates on the Word day and night.
And that person, who has learned to feed on God’s Word
Is like a tree, planted by stream of water,
which yields its fruit in season,
and whose leaf does not wither.
That is what we want for our own lives, to be strong trees in God’s garden.
That is what we want for our church, to be a forest of strong trees in God’s garden.
And the whole secret to being fruitful trees
Is learning to feed on God’s Word.
That is such an important topic I will talk about it again this afternoon. And that is what I want to look at this year, trying to slow usdown, and teaching us to feed our soul, feed our soul, on Him