The Haunting of Scripture

Like all good ghost stories, the origin tale is now vague, told in a whisper, and with frequent furtive glances around the room. And like many good ghost stories it starts with a ritual gone wrong.

I learned  a very specific formula for having devotions.

There were specific and distinct ingredients. Order and proportion were paramount to success:

  • Set aside time – preferably first thing in the morning. Get up early if you can, earlier than normal, pushing the rest of your day back wasn’t good enough. This had to be deliberate and should be a sacrifice. “Fitting them in” when you had time was evidence of a lack of commitment and proper discipline. Set aside a specific amount of time to complete this ritual.
  • Pray first – Blessing for the time spent and to be open and teachable.
  • Read a set amount of Scripture – This could either be in number of chapters or in amount of time. This had to be uniform—the same amount every day.
  • Spend time prayer – This had its own ingredients. You couldn’t simply talk to God. You must spend time in praise and worship, then confess your sins so there wouldn’t be anything to keep God from hearing your prayers (never quite understood why that was second, did God ever hear my praises? Ah, well). Next was being thankful for the many things that have been a blessing in your life, not the least of which was something, or a great many things, from your reading that morning. Finally, you could present your requests to God, the things that have been weighing on your heart and mind having been put into proper perspective by what has preceded them in your praying.
  • Memorize – Having spent appropriate time in reading and in prayer, memorizing passages of Scripture was key to keeping your mind fixed on Jesus throughout the day. Choose passages that are particularly encouraging or, better still, passages that will aid you in sharing the gospel. Five passages from Romans should do the job nicely.
  • Meditate – the Ritual formally complete with step five, meditation infused you with the power of the ritual throughout the day, until it was again time to perform it. Clearing your mind of all other things, deliberately focus your thoughts on the passages read that morning for long periods of time several times throughout the day. Let the words of the verses be your focus and all else the distraction.

 

For years I performed this ritual with varying degrees of exactness. However, this always remained the ritual (in case you are wondering, yes, this is the formula for a successful quiet time). And I was pretty good at it, with the exception of number 6. I never did get the hang of meditation.

To be fair, there’s a reason this ritual developed. The individual ingredients are precious. Bible reading, prayer, memorization, meditation, concerted deliberate effort, each of these has their place in a growing relationship with God, and even the collection and order above has nothing inherently wrong with it. I’ve even taught this to others and helped authors write on it. But, for me, what was intended to be wind in the sails of my relationship with God became an anchor.

I’ve left that behind. No, not Christianity. My faith is stronger than it’s ever been. I left that formula, that ritual, and those who insist on its rigid use. My views have grown since those days. I still feel the allure of the ritual. It offers a sense of completion, of satisfaction that nothing has been missed. The ritual calls me; it wants me back. I resist. Mostly with a clear conscience.

Now my quiet times vary. They’re more of an expression of my relationship with God, are my relationship with God. They aren’t always at the same time or for the same amount of time. Rather, I find myself, at different times of the day, wanting to spend time praying or reading the Bible. Memorization now comes from familiarity, like knowledge of an old friend. There is joy in my acts of devotion, nothing rote.

Meditation still eludes me. I can’t seem to focus on Scripture throughout the day. So I’ve given up on it. But I’m seeing its ghost. The ritual did have one enduring effect. All that formula, all that practice, all those rules did put Scripture in my head, a pretty fair amount of it, and now the Spirit is using it to transform my heart.

While I can’t deliberately focus on Scripture, it has a way of casting its shadow over my thoughts. Instead of me concentrating on the Bible, Scripture seems to force itself on my thoughts. In the middle of the day verses will materialize in my mind’s eye. My actions, words, or thoughts seem to summon them. Once there, they torment me.

Scripture haunts me. Sometimes to address my sin, sometimes to wrestle with an image of God that needs to be corrected, transformed, enlarged. But it does not give me leave to think about other things until I have faced and wrestled with the ghost of whatever verse has come to mind—submission to the Holy Spirit the only way to exorcize my thoughts.

Meditation may be important. Maybe someday I’ll master it. Until then, I deal with the ghosts of Scripture that haunt me.

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