I have previously suggested that the confinement of the COVID-19 crisis might provide Christians with an opportunity to recover the art of meditating on Scripture to prepare ourselves for our greatest act of faith – coming to terms with our finitude and ultimately handing our bodies over to Christ in death. Doing this requires the cultivation of habits and disciplines on our part. At the very least it involves setting aside time, removing distractions, turning off the technology, together with prayer and patience. A while back friend and I tried to set aside a couple of hours individually each month for this, and then got together to compare notes together afterwards. We both found that sometimes it was like taking a magnifying glass out and trying to light a fire on a cloudy day. Other times the sun would shine in a way that made all the effort worth it.
Over the years, I’ve been greatly helped by a treatise the English Puritan, John Owen, wrote shortly before his own death, to prepare himself and his congregation for precisely that: Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ. It is essentially an extended reflection on John 17:24 of some 250 pages! In the weeks ahead, I thought I’d try to distil some of that wisdom in a set of short reflections that I hope you might find useful in your own devotional life.
John 17 contains the most famous prayer of Christ in the New Testament, offered up to his Father the night before he died on the cross of Calvary. Coming right at the end of that prayer, verse 24 is especially remarkable: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24).
Our temptation here is to rush too quickly to the wonderful promise implicit in the request: “I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory”. But to appreciate the sheer magnitude of this promise, first we need to slow down and meditate upon the glory of Christ. And doing that will only make the promise shine all the more brilliantly!
Speaking of Scripture’s place in the Christian life, Thomas Cranmer famously penned the prayer, “grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them…”. Savouring and digesting a good meal is a patient and deliberate art. Some of it happens subconsciously, of course. But alongside hidden bodily processes is a vivid awakening of our senses. I don’t remember every meal, but some of the finest create appetites and cravings for years to come – an experience I long to relive, and for which I wish time (and an expanding waistline!) would stop.
The inward digestion of Scripture also involves a secret power of God’s Spirit who alone is able to open what Augustine called “the mouth of our heart.” But alongside these hidden motions is an invitation to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps 34:8). It is an invitation to engage our senses in a feast that will ultimately never end. And therefore, Scripture’s testimony to the glory of Christ is a call for us to slow down and to savour, to luxuriate in words that are no less than “Spirit and life” (John 6:63).