by Beth Nyhart
God is artistic. He is creative and passionate about completing the work of art that he has started in us. I like the passages of scripture that describe him this way because art speaks to my heart in a way that few other things do. I enjoy study and discussion, I like the solidity of factual evidence, I don't mind theoretical debates. But there is something about using my brain and hands together to make beauty out of chaos that lights up the part of me that was made in the image of God's creativity.
Having dabbled in many forms of art, I love to supplement my Bible study with something creative because I know that helps me internalize what I am reading. Scripture talks about meditating on God's word often (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:1-3, 119:15-16, Philippians 4:8), and so learning how to meditate has been a goal of mine. To meditate on something means to think about it, to reflect on it, contemplate it, to ponder it. It means spending significant time looking at a concept from different angles and asking questions about it.
I want to share three ideas about how to meditate on scripture creatively. These are no substitute for actually reading the Bible, but they may help you slow your brain down and really wrap your mind around the concepts that you are reading. For someone who is drawn to visual and audial beauty, these may be just up your alley.
1. Bible Journaling
I have heard many differing opinions about painting and drawing in your Bible, and it may not be for you. But I have found this to be a great visual for my study. I love flipping through the special Bible I bought specifically for art journaling and seeing all of the different colorful entries.
Bible Journaling forces you to slow down as you work on the entry. First as you choose what part of the passage stands out to you, then as you visualize what you want the piece to look like, and then as you create the art. In this piece, I was reading the crucifixion story in Matthew and I wanted to show darkness and the ground being red like blood. (It turned out more pink, but red was the idea initially.) As the painting came together, I was reflecting on what Christ's death meant for us and how essential it was. He took all of our sins upon himself; our overall sin nature, but also each and every gross thing that we do in the dark hoping that no one will see. How significant was it that the sky went black in the middle of the day? The symbolic darkness of God, the source of light, turning his back on his son. Wow, it still gives me chills.
I knew that I wanted to add a verse to the painting, but I wanted something more over-arching than any that I had been reading in the story. I settled on Romans 5:18, "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men." This picture is of the one act of righteousness that opened our way to heaven, and eternal life with our creator.
Other entries in my journaling Bible are more simple, most of them stick to the Bible margins and don't completely cover the text the way that this one does. Some are as basic as re-writing the words or just taking notes over a colorful paint color. The concept is the same. Use art to prolong your time ruminating over a particular word from God.
Paraphrasing is a simple but great way to get creative with meditation. Take a passage of scripture and read it over and over. Then, using your own words, flesh out each verse. Say everything in a different way, while sticking to the heart of what the author is saying. Ruminate over it, look at different angles, consider the context, study what was going on and who these people were.
I recently paraphrased Romans 8:1-4, which in the NIV reads like this:
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."
My paraphrase helped me word this concept in a way that makes sense to me and that I can more easily apply to change my life. Here is what I ended up with:
Because of Jesus' death and subsequent defeat of the power sin had over me, I will not be eternally punished for my sin anymore. He paid for my sin, giving me an alternative to hell and separation from God. Instead, I have the option to base my life decisions and choices on what the Spirit prompts me to do. My future is full of possibilities and light instead of certain darkness. The law that was given to Israel in the OT was not enough to defeat the power of sin, because they/we are unable to live sinless lives. Our flesh, our sin nature, our minds and bodies, are weak and susceptible to temptation and sin. BUT GOD saw this, and he had a plan. He sent Jesus, knowing that his pure heart and sinless life offered up in exchange for ours would be a sufficient payment in our place. God does not break or bend the law, he upholds it. He finds a way to honor the law and still give us grace. Jesus' sacrifice gave the law what it needed and pardoned us, letting us choose to live our lives in thanks and focused on honoring the One who paved this way for us.
It probably isn't absolutely theologically correct, but writing that out in a different way caused me to read and re-read those verses multiple times and really wrap my head around what Paul was saying in them. Where before these were just words that I had been hearing for my entire life, now they hold more significance. I really see and understand them in a new way. If your creative outlet is words, this is a great option for you.
3. Songwriting / Poetry
I have always been a lover of music, specifically Christian music. Not because it is beautiful, which it is. Not because it calls to some deep part of my soul, which it does. But because music is one of the most effective ways to teach doctrine and memorize scripture. Music takes a concept and embeds it in your brain. It is a whole different and amazing way of teaching that often gets overlooked because nowadays we are all into the emotional benefits of worship instead of the intellectual benefits.
Songwriting is a unique challenge, because instead of just word vomiting your thoughts onto a page (like you can do when you paraphrase), now you must make those words fit into a cadence, fit into a rhyme, fit into the confines of a melody that you have to come up with. There is more structure and you need more control of the words that you use in order to make them fit. You can paint a word picture, you can draw parallels, you can cite deep theology. You can be as obvious or as mysterious as you want.
When you meditate on a passage or concept with songwriting or poetry, you are creating something that has the potential to be shared with others. There is a greater responsibility to make sure that your song has correct doctrine, because if it would ever be sung by an artist or a congregation you have no way of explaining that you threw that line in because nothing else rhymed well. Not every song or poem needs to be shared, but there is a greater potential than with Bible Journaling or paraphrasing.
One of my favorite scripture songs that I have written is based on Isaiah 61:3, which says, "..that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified." I wanted to write a song about how God plants and cultivates seeds of righteousness in our lives, paralleling the spiritual growth of righteousness in our hearts to the physical growth of an acorn becoming a mighty oak of righteousness. After ages of prayer and work and study, this is how the song ended up:
Like a field of dried up soil is my soul.
Full of rocks and brambles, left untended and alone.
Yet where I see a barren place where nothing good can grow,
you promise me you’ll plant a mighty oak.
In this heart so full of guilt and pain,
will you plant a seed of righteousness for the glory of your name?
Send that living water flowing down in drops of rain,
the tiny seedling sprouts a fragile stem.
Till my heart.
Cultivate the soil of my soul.
Where nothing used to be
now a tiny sapling tree grows.
In autumn slender branches lose their leaves,
and winter wraps a blanket ’round the work you’ve done in me.
Every year, I fear that I will never see the spring,
till the light of the world comes to warm all things.
Tend my heart.
Irrigate the corners of my mind.
You use the hardship and the joy
to make my heart a little more refined.
It’s hard to see the change with just your eyes,
and I fear that you’ve forgotten me and your promise was a lie.
But what I can’t see is that you keep adding rings inside, until I find…
That you have pruned my heart,
you have nurtured every aspect of my life.
This is the planting of the Lord,
that in me, you may be glorified.
You made a tiny acorn grow into a righteous tree.
I hope that even one of these ideas appeals to you and can enhance your study and understanding of God's word with meditation. Let me know what you think!