Learn to Chew

As a parent, I remember looking forward to the day when my infant children could eat something other than just liquids.  While they grow and develop on just milk (or formula) for quite a while, it doesn’t seem to stick in their little tummies for very long.  As a result, all too soon after mealtime, they are hungry for more.  In our family, the first foray into solid food was usually some rice cereal, where finely ground flakes were mixed with plenty of liquid, and delivered in small, mushy bites via a plastic spoon.  The grain took a bit longer to digest (or, at least that’s how it seemed to me as a tired parent), allowing my children (and me!) to sleep a little more without needing to eat again so quickly.

Another milestone was when my infants grew up, and could start to eat the same food as the rest of the family.  No longer did special preparations need to be made (other than cutting up large pieces), since my children had grown teeth and could chew their meal, rather than needing something that could be “gummed”.1

The author of Hebrews shares the following message:

For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.
Hebrews 5:13‭-‬14 NLT

Those who don’t yet know a lot about God (whether young in age, or young in their faith) can still trust in Him and be a part of His family.  However, these spiritual young ones typically don’t yet have the context to dig into deep theological discussions.  In fact, they might not yet have the tools to even gauge whether something happening in their lives is good or bad.  For these believers, easy-to-understand portions of the Bible (like the gospels, or stories of imperfect people who God used for His plan) are a great place to start, along with explanations and guidance from those who have read and studied more of God’s word.

Over time, though, this “milk” must not be a substitute for moving forward.  No one wins a race if they just hop across the starting line and then just stop to wander around, talking with friends without getting any closer to the finish.

Some messages from the Bible, or supplemental lessons that the Holy Spirit teaches us, aren’t simple children’s stories, with a one-sentence moral at the end.  When we read the Bible, we will sometimes need to really ponder it.  We need to “chew” a little.  The meaning inside a book like Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Hosea, Job, or even Romans doesn’t necessarily jump out with a casual reading.  Some research, prayer, and review is often appropriate to learn more about what God is telling us through these passages.  This careful – and slower – study of the Bible allows God to show us more than what we previously discovered on the surface, even for passages that seemed easy to understand at first.

One way to chew on the Bible is to spend time thinking about a passage, asking God to help you see what it means (both in general, and with regards to your current situation).  Thinking about something that the Bible says is called meditation (see Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 119:9-32).  As I’ve heard it said, “meditation” is sometimes used to describe the practice of emptying one’s mind, but in a Christian context, it means focusing on something good (rather than focusing on nothing).

Much can be learned by dwelling on individual verses, but I suggest that you consider several related verses at a time.  Read through them more than once, and maybe even write them down or commit them to memory.  Ask God to show you what He wishes to tell you about them.  Look up other related Bible passages.  Check trusted teachers or writers to see what connections they have made, or what the history of the containing book’s context tells us.  Keep your eyes open for how your Bible reading relates to the world around you.

If you get this far, you’re well on your way to filling up on the messages of God.

With a foundation of regular Bible study and meditation, though, consider also how to properly evaluate the other messages that you see around you.  Chew over viewpoints that you hear – whether within the church, or on the news – and evaluate them in light of God’s word.  Do these claims and statements align with what you have found in the Bible, and what God has shown you?  If so, that’s great!  Promote the truth and support those who speak it.

If you find contradictions, though, go back to the Bible and understand what it says.  Has God answered a question in a different way?  What solution does the Bible prescribe for a certain situation?  How did Jesus respond to similar challenges that others are facing today?  How did He counsel those who are acting or reacting inappropriately?  And, how does God call His people to help those who are practicing or teaching unhealthy approaches to life?

Looking at situations around us in the perspective of Scripture (that is, “discernment”) takes some work.  Letting any untrusted source “spoon-feed” us their point of view is dangerous, but getting to the truth and gaining something useful from a complex situation in a broken world is going to take some work.  We’re going to have to chew on it for a while.

The first step is to absorb as much of God’s Word as we can; then, as we continue to do so, we become able to measure the messages around us against the truth.  The answers aren’t always easy, though: God didn’t write out a commentary on each day’s news for all of time, nor does He send out an e-mail digest of what we are to think about current events each day.  Still, for those who are sufficiently mature, right and wrong can be identified, and a better solution can be shared among all of us.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

  1. On the other hand, teenagers sometimes seem to swallow food whole, as they devour the contents of their plate, along with the leftovers from their younger siblings’ meal.  That’s a different topic, though. 

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