Bible Intake Is Not a Hot Dog Eating Contest

Every July 4, an enthusiastic crowd gathers to watch some of the world’s fastest eaters consume as many hot dogs as they can in ten minutes. And it is quite the spectacle. Last year’s champion ate 62 hot dogs. Can you imagine that many hot dogs packed into your stomach?

Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest began in 1972 and is held on Independence Day each summer in the Coney Island neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Contestants have adopted different methods. Some tear the hot dogs in two, eat the meat first, then the bun. Others dowse dog and bun in water to help them slide down their throat as they essentially swallow it whole. Some bounce up and down to move the dogs down into their gut.

Whatever the method, the objective is simple: Eat as many whole hot dogs, with the bun, as quickly as you can.

What Not to Do with the Bible

Nathan’s famous contest may be entertaining (and make for good ratings for ESPN on an otherwise slow holiday morning), but it also serves as an extreme, but helpful, example of what not to do when we reach for the Bible. This memorable foil provocatively cautions us against bad methods and bad goals when trying to feed our souls with God’s words.

World-class eaters would never stuff themselves at top speed at every meal, but many of us are prone to come to Bible intake like we’re scarfing cheap hot dogs. When morning devotions are simply our first to-do of the day, and we set out simply to read a chapter, check a box, and complete the task, we end up putting ourselves through something more like a hot dog eating contest than an enjoyable, nourishing, life-giving meal.

In an increasingly fast-paced society, most of us already feel like life is too busy. We may recognize our need to feed on God through welcoming his word into our hearts, but it’s all too easy to come to our Bibles like we’re navigating rush-hour traffic, trying to get home as quickly as possible. But our frantic souls desperately need to slow down, linger, and have unhurried time enjoying the rich fare of God’s self-revelation to us. We need a more reflective — even leisurely — reception of God’s word.

New York vs. Chicago

Contrast Nathan’s annual competition in New York with how the patrons of Chris and Rob’s Chicago Style Dogs enjoy their meals in our South Minneapolis neighborhood. These dogs are worth slowing down to enjoy. You kick yourself later if your mind wanders elsewhere and you don’t enjoy the burst of savory and spicy satisfaction. It’s not worth the caloric collateral if you’re not relishing every bite of this gourmet Chicago dog, topped with mustard, relish, onions, sliced tomatoes, sport peppers, and a kosher pickle, seasoned with celery salt on a poppy seed bun.

Instead of rushing through, seeing how quickly you can down one dog and get on to the next, you take your time at Chris and Rob’s. You would never dowse a Chicago dog in water and attempt to swallow it whole. You taste it, and chew it — slowly and deliberately. You try to enjoy every bite.

Some might call this “eating mindfully.” Whatever you call it, we’re in great need in our hectic society of recovering the Bible-intake equivalent called “meditation.”

Bringing Meditation Back

Meditation is distinct from mere reading — especially so-called “speed reading.” It means not just running the words quickly through your mind, aiming only to grasp a minimum of meaning, but pausing enough to ponder their significance, and trying to feel their emotional weight by pressing them into the heart. Meditation seeks to experience the truth of the text — not just pass information through the mind, but truly grasp it with our affections.

Jack Davis is right in waving the flag for “a more reflective and leisurely engagement with Scripture” in our day (Meditation and Communion with God: Contemplating Scripture in an Age of Distraction, 20). Far too often, we are far too rushed when we come to our Bibles. According to Davis, the nature of modern life, and the “information overload” we have through television, smartphones, and endless new media “makes a slow, unhurried, and reflective reading of Scripture more vital than ever” (22).

Join the Slow Movement

Much could be said about meditation — ways to go about it, techniques to develop, training wheels to get you going — but perhaps the most important thing to encourage in our Bible intake is that we take a deep breath, seek to block out distractions, and carve out enough time for a slow, reflective, unhurried reading of God’s word. The best lessons come in simply slowing down and reflecting enough to actually enjoy God’s word for yourself.

Pray that God would quiet your spirit, free you from the relentless pace of modern life, and let you linger in his presence — and that he would help you taste and see that he is good, rather than trying to swallow the Bible whole.