Hearing God well makes life better.
This is the promise of Psalm 1. Those who meditate on what God has said will be blessed. They will be like a flourishing tree that remains strong even in drought, because it is planted near a stream.
But how does someone hear God well? How should we go about reading the Bible?
Christians often approach the Scriptures much like we would approach a subject in school, or a time of training in a specific field. We want to know what we need to know so that we can do what we're supposed to do. Implicitly, the goal is mastery of the subject matter.
But when it comes to God’s Word, the goal must not be not mastery, but becoming mastered. Hearing God well is not about gaining facts, but about communing with God as he leads us into the way of wholeness. And that means that we are meant to read the Bible in a different way than we read any other book.
The simple command we are repeatedly given in Scripture is for us to hear the Word of God, to listen to it. Perhaps you’ve found yourself in an argument with someone else and in frustration you’ve said, “Would you just please listen to me?’ By that, you’re not just asking for the person to take his fingers out of his ears. You want him to really consider what you’re saying—to actively try to understand it and even feel it, to weigh it carefully, and even to allow its import to change the way he thinks. True hearing is a kind of submission. It’s the act of consciously allowing oneself to be affected by the words being spoken. And this is what God calls us to do with his Word.
It is to this deeper form of hearing and obedience that Psalm 1 points when it speaks of meditating. The Hebrew word for meditate literally speaks of a person pondering something by muttering to herself. It speaks of active, deep listening. The hearer of Psalm 1 is one who delights in what is said—there is a savoring, which involves the emotions. Like a tree with deep roots into a stream, the listener continuously depends on God’s Word for nourishment. All of this is what it means to hear God well.
This has many implications for how we read the Bible. Let me here mention just one. Often, when people become (rightly) convinced that they would benefit from reading the Bible more, they make ambitious plans for reading the whole Bible in a year. This can be a wonderful way of being exposed to many parts of the Scriptures that we otherwise would avoid.
But I would suggest that at least some of the time, there is greater potential for growth when we seek to do more with less. The goal ultimately is not breadth of understanding God’s Word but the depth of its effect on us. As we give lengthier attention to smaller portions of Scripture, as we seek to imagine them, as we ponder over them and pray through them, we allow God’s word to descend to the very depths of who we are. And in this process, we experience His blessing.