By Liam Glover
[5 min read]
A few years ago I remember learning through PT training that there is a concept called muscle memory, that manifests in a couple of ways:
- In response to stimuli (from whatever source), your body physiologically responds in a particular way because you have repetitively undertaken a movement so many times previously that it becomes an “instant” or automatic response.
- Your body becomes increasingly efficient at undertaking certain actions that the physiological benefits of undertaking that task progressively decline.
This reality causes me to think about Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:8, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”
I’ve been reading the Bible almost daily since I started following after Jesus. There are some verses – even passages of scripture – that I know almost verbatim (particularly in the gospels and some letters of the New Testament). Therefore my sense of inevitability when reading can result in an automatic response which, sadly, can decrease spiritual vitality and impact.
And then there are other passages of scripture that feel like I am reading for the first time (those “minor” prophets towards the backend of the Old Testament). There’s a sense of revelation, challenge and encouragement that flows in these moments.
This experience caused me to wonder how “muscle memory” might be affecting (or disaffecting) my ability to be “transformed into his image with ever increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18) as I read the book that points people toward Jesus living.
Here are some spiritual practices / rhythms / disciplines that I share when teaching on Spiritual Disciplines at Arrow. I actively choose to integrate these practices into my world in order to bring a fresh approach to hearing from the trinitarian God when reading the Bible.
Not having a Quiet Time
For many of us, Quiet Time has been a staple in our own spiritual development. It might be something where you rise early (or stay up late) to enjoy some uninterrupted time with Jesus through his word. As I think about parts of Scripture, I am left to wonder whether this was actually the way we were to appropriate and engage with aspects of the holy text.
I suggest a helpful, alternate approach when reading specific sections of Scripture. The Psalms lend themselves to an ecstatic reading – aloud and not quiet – where we declare our lament, our praise or our thanksgiving to God. Similarly, so too are the prayers of followers of Yahweh and Jesus alike that are captured through the Old and New Testament.
Perhaps next time you are reading a Psalm or a prayer, don’t have a “quiet time” – make it an “aloud time.”
Not Going at it Alone
Early in my formative years of faith, I was encouraged to have my “quiet time” by myself, read, hear from and wrestle with God to discover his revelation for me to empower me for Jesus living that day.
As I continued to study the Bible, I came to realise that the scriptures were likely read and wrestled with in community. It wasn’t seen as a solo event, but seen as something where Jesus followers would read and reflect on scripture together, bringing a community understanding to what God might be saying – personally and corporately.
Perhaps there’s opportunity for you to seek to discern God’s voice from the Scriptures in community. You might not be physically together, but you and your friends might commit to reading the same passages and then share via electronic means what you sense God might be saying. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).
Not Using a Study Bible
Whilst I am first to recognise that there can be great learning from accessing resources beyond the Bible itself, we can create a dependency upon needing the commentary from others for us to “hear” from Jesus. Consistently approaching the Scriptures this way can enable our disablement in not hearing a direct revelation from God.
The Holy Spirit reveals all truth and will lead us into all truth (John 16:13). Rather than relying on what others might think the Scripture is saying, perhaps God will reveal to you what he is wanting you to know. (And then, of course, interact with others about your sense of God’s revelation.)
A framework in interacting with the Bible and God’s revelation through the Bible with which you might be familiar is the Lectio Divina. Many Christians over the globe and across the centuries have practised the Lectio with great impact.
Perhaps it’s time to adopt a different, but consistent approach to the Bible of silencing, reading, meditating, praying, contemplating and incarnating.
When it’s all said and done, the most important outcome of our renewed Bible engagement is that we develop our love muscle, in that we are better able to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbour as ourselves.
And that’s the sort of muscle memory I want in my life.