Today I was reminded a bit more about the importance of pondering over the things we learn and do. A lot of the time we try to be productive and efficient and feel that the best way to understand something is to spend as much time actually “doing” something. Be it studying (for academic marks), reading the Bible (to increase our theological understanding), or talking to someone (to build relationships), we feel that the more we do these things, the faster we strive towards our goal. But in thinking back about the concept of a “Sabbath”, we know God has deemed “rest” to be good, and is in fact useful for us to grow as Christians. If we use our resting time to ponder/reflect/think deeply about what we’ve done/heard/read, it’ll ultimately help us to make sense of our past experiences and plan well for the future.
Taking education as a simple secular illustration, the culture we live in tends to think that studying for as long as possible will yield the highest academic marks. But commonly, you can have your study notes and books open in front of you but your brain may not absorb any information. There will come a point where people “cannot study any more”, and from my personal experience, this is the best time to stop the “upfront” and “tangible” act of studying, to take a break and ponder over what you studied. This may just mean taking time to sort through what you studied through your brain so that the information will be organised when you sit for your exam the next day. It would be unwise to instead “cram” as much as you can because you’ll ultimately become more confused from an overload of information – your mind would be like a full and messy room, it would be hard to find something specific that you needed. The same would apply for sleeping early before an exam; again you would not do an exam well while tired, no matter how much you crammed the night before.
Reading the Bible
In a similar way, studying the Bible shouldn’t be done in a “cram” fashion. In regards to our university Christian conference, which promoted an intensive five days of studying the Bible (an amount which could possibly be described as “cramming” compared to how much we read the Bible in our everyday lives), we were encouraged to sleep early and utilise breaks and quiet times to reflect on what we had heard and read. Understanding Scripture well takes much more “pondering” than academic studies, because Scripture is more than just head knowledge; it is also “heart” knowledge. To be changed by the Word of God, we not only need to get our heads around what we read, but we need to also give it time to let it “sink into our hearts” – this latter action is achieved through pondering.
Mary was pondering over the events and prophecies concerning the birth of Jesus:
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:17)
Similarly throughout Psalms, there is the notion of pondering to let the Words of God settle into one’s heart:
All people will fear; they will proclaim the works of God and ponder what he has done. (Psalm 64:9)
Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord. (Psalm 107:43)
Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them. (Psalm 111:2)
The wicked are waiting to destroy me, but I will ponder your statutes. (Psalm 119:95)
It’s not easy to describe what happens when we let something sink into our hearts; but when it comes to the Word of God, Christians know and feel the tremendous transformation that takes place when we root the Scriptures in our hearts. Pondering over Scripture involves asking the question “How does my understanding of God relate to me and compel me to live differently?” We only truly “get” the passage when we accept the truth in our hearts and allow it to change our lives. Now of course, I’m not saying we’re always going to exhibit some drastic change in our behaviour from every passage we read. If you’ve read and pondered over a passage several times before, you’ve hopefully changed your life more drastically in the past and at present you would not change as much. Nevertheless there is always something new to ponder over from the Scriptures, and even things we need to occasionally remind ourselves of. We are to continue pondering over the things of God, and allowing it to sink into our hearts day after day.
Some helpful tips for pondering over the Bible would be to not read too much (don’t be lazy either) and to pray continually. Though often times we think that there’s such a thing as reading the Bible too much, we need to make sure we are actually absorbing it – much like studying that I mentioned before. Christians with different maturities will be able to absorb different lengths of Scripture in a given time frame, and we should be reading an amount routinely that’s suitable for us. The main key isn’t to read a lot, but rather to read often; and with repetition it makes it easier for us to remember what we read which then makes it easier to take it to heart.
Developing Meaningful Relationships
In regards to my posts about meaningful relationships, I suppose I would qualify my approach to effective relationships in saying that “spending more time with people doesn’t always mean stronger relationships”. While it makes much sense to spend time with people and to grow relationships via deep and meaningful conversations, relationships can also strengthen through an absence of communication – that is, when we “ponder” over our relationships.
One point that we should have clearly observed in our respective relationships is that sometimes we’ll run out of things to talk about with people; and the time it takes to “run out of things to say” will vary from person to person, depending on how close you are to them. This is a sign that there is no more input or stimulus for a meaningful conversation – you’ve simply run out of “good” topics to talk about. This is of course to be expected and the helpful response in situations like these is to go away, have some “time apart” from the other person, and actually ponder over the things that you talked about. Maybe you will better understand what the other person was saying after having thought about it, or you will come up with a new idea that flows on from the last thing you chatted about. Phrases such as “Remember the other day when we talked about…” or “I thought a bit more on what you said about…” are great ways to continue conversations that were left off from previous occasions.
Giving yourself and the other person time to ponder over the things you talk about helps with building the relationship – you are spending time on that person (by thinking about the things you’ve discussed) even though you are not spending time with that person. Going away to ponder over your relationship creates healthy “space” between you and that person, and removes the feeling that you’re being “suffocated” by spending too much time with that person. Time to ponder by yourself gives you (and the other person) a chance to recharge emotional energy, which is especially good from introverts, as well as to have a clear mind as you consider how to progress and grow in your relationship.
Wisdom (whether in our studies, or in growing our relationships with God and the people around us) is obtained in being slow to speak and quick to listen. Abiding in God’s Word and giving it time to change our hearts will stop us from trying to charge headlong into excessively doing activities we think may be helpful the more we do. All of us need a chance to rest from the work we do, from the interacting we do, and even from the studying of the Bible that we do, to carefully ponder on what we’ve done and what we still need to do. Ultimately, let us take the way we grow and learn about God from His Word and apply it directly in the way we handle our ongoing commitments and relationships. Let us ponder in our hearts the precepts of God and allow them to shape the way we live.