Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Red Letter Quiet Time

I mentioned not long ago that I was focusing on the red letters in my personal Bible time lately. That is, the words of Jesus, as recorded in the four Gospels.

This does not mean to the exclusion of everything else. But it means that, when I crack open the Bible in my quiet time, I start with Jesus' own words. They are the focal point of my meditation, journaling, and prayer.

This is an experiment. I've noticed that in church we hear an awful lot from Paul. It's as if we only see Jesus through the eyes of Paul, or perhaps we only see Paul, and Jesus is hardly in view at all.

I suspect that a consistent focus on the teaching of Jesus will lead to a different set of concerns, a different emphasis, than a similarly consistent focus on the teaching of Paul would. I am not suggesting that they are at odds, Paul and Jesus, but that they have different concerns, different emphases. In my experience, those who keep the focus on Paul's letter will tend to emphasize the doctrine of atonement and salvation by faith alone through Christ alone. But those who dwell on Jesus are more likely to focus on things like love, mercy, forgiveness, and justice.

As I say, this has been a kind of experiment for me, but I've enjoyed the process and I do sense that it's already been beneficial. This is the way it works. You start with a "red-letter" passage, a quotation of Jesus (I started with the beatitudes). Copy it out in a notebook which you have dedicated to this purpose. This is to slow you down, to get you thinking about the words and concepts. Copy the words out slowly in your neatest hand.

That might be all you have time for. But maybe tomorrow you'll have a little more time, so you copy it out again. but now the passage has now been simmering in your head for about 24 hours. The thinking of Jesus will have provoked some questions, some responsive thoughts of your own. So you write this all down, and you also seek other passages in the Scriptures that might help you. These secondary passages are not limited to the red letters. They might come from anywhere in the Word.

You might stick with this same passage for days, or it might remind you of something else that Jesus said, and you might on the next day copy that out. Every day you're copying out the words of Jesus. His focus is becoming your focus. His concerns, your concerns.

Here's a guarantee. The words of Jesus will challenge you. It is not in your nature to think like Jesus. This is something you acquire from sustained exposure.

Application--that's the difficult part, always--may require some painful dismantling of your self-image. You will be inclined to cry out for help. Prayer is an integral part of this process, since we are not simply meditating on the words of a long-dead historical figure, but on the word of the living Christ, the risen King.

What will be the upshot of this sustained conversation with Jesus over the course of weeks and months? I believe only good can come of it. The Christian walk is a walk of gradual transformation into the likeness of Jesus. I'm hoping this routine of reading and meditation will be a significant help in that direction.

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