NASHVILLE – Words from Galatians 5:22-23 adorn Art Toalston’s office at Baptist Press. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” are carved from oak, hanging as a bold exhortation on the wall.
They are the first fruit of the writer’s continuing journey of early morning Christian meditation and of scripture memorization that has birthed the ebook, When I Meditate, a scripture-centric call to enjoy the vibrant Christian faith.
“The words of scripture in our souls are, in essence, the language of God,” said Toalston, longtime editor of the Baptist Press news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. “That is hugely powerful in a personal sense. The Christian faith is wondrously vibrant.”
When I Meditate attempts “to enter the secular marketplace with a view of meditation that’s Christian and biblical,” Toalston said, something “not very easy to find in contemporary Christian literature.”
Toalston attempts a view of meditation and scripture memorization that also can be attractive to those who haven’t accepted Jesus, yet they believe there is a supernatural being and may practice another form of meditation.
“What I’ve tried to do is share an experience alongside biblical truth,” he said.
Toalston’s journey began in 2000 when a speaker at church exhorted the congregation to begin memorizing scripture. Galatians 5:22-23 was the first of some 75 scriptures Toalston has since memorized – each over the course of several weeks or months – and often rememorized whenever parts of a passage slipped from memory.
“The forgetfulness factor of the human being is kind of a good thing because you go back to it six months later and it’s totally fresh each time you rememorize it,” Toalston said. “One scripture that’s in your heart and later rememorized is a so much more valuable resource than no scripture. It’s especially true whenever opportunities arise to engage a nonbeliever in conversation about faith in Christ.”
As Toalston began memorizing scripture, he said he gained insights into his life and how he was living out his faith. The carved words from the Galatians passage, a gift from his wife Karen, provide a regular nudge to stay on course.
“The fruit of the Spirit … is an amazing checklist of God’s revelation and His call to repentance,” Toalston said. “God sometimes stops me, it seems, on one of the fruits of the Spirit, like patience or kindness or goodness, and gives me moments to assess whether I’m in sync, as much as possible, with His heart and His intent for my life.”
Meditation and scripture memorization continue to “challenge me on my moments of wrong thinking, uncharitable thinking. It’s regularly there to call me into account, so that my moments of sinning hopefully are less than they were before I started memorizing scripture,” he said. “It’s not wise to say that I’ve arrived through meditation or am now perfect. Ongoing transformation is always needed for us who are human beings. My moments of rejoicing in the Lord, meanwhile, have increased significantly because I have more scripture in my heart.”
It’s “not something you can boast about in some kind of sweeping fashion,” Toalston said, “but it’s a day-to-day change that can give you a new reason to smile, a new reason to enjoy the Christian life in its fuller measures.”