"I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways."
— Psalm 119:15 —
Reading through the Bible in a year is a good practice, but one can easily fall into the trap of reading merely for distance. While there is value in covering the vast mountain range of Scripture, one must not neglect the important work of Christian meditation. Some may balk at this term, since it often refers to pagan or new age disciplines (like yoga), but the Word of God clearly teaches that meditation has a vital place in the Christian life. In this article I will define, explain, and offer some helps for Christian meditation.
I propose the following definition: Christian meditation is the focused contemplation of the renewed mind upon the treasury of divine truth. The Old Testament uses two primary words that our English Bibles translate as meditation. The blessed man of Psalm 1 delights in the Lord's Law and upon it “meditates (הָגָה, hâgâh) day and night” (Ps. 1:2). Most basically, this term means to murmur or ponder, that is, to mull over carefully. The word translated meditate in Psalm 119:15 (שִׂיחַ, śı̂yach) seems to refer a bit more to a preoccupation of the mind, often spilling over into speech. The NKJV translates the word as pray (Ps 55:17), complain (Ps 77:3), and even talk (Ps 119:27). Psalm 143:5 includes both words in parallel, showing their close thematic relation, “I remember the days of old; I meditate (hâgâh) on all Your works; I muse (śı̂yach) on the work of Your hands.”
Practically speaking, meditation is to the soul as marination is to a fine cut of meat or as soil assimilation is for healthy crops. For the process to have its full and ideal effect, it simply cannot be rushed, skipped, or replaced. So how should we think about this discipline of Christian meditation?
The Work of Christian Meditation: focused contemplation
Psalm 119:15 says, “I will meditate,” which is a commitment in response to the Word of God and the God of the Word. To maintain focused contemplation on anything takes effort, but for the Christian, this effort is necessary. It is not reserved for monks, pastors, or published theologians, but for believers in every walk of life. And while one can be a Christian without a consistent discipline of meditation, one cannot be a maturing and vibrant Christian without it. Focused contemplation, nevertheless, is difficult. Robert Dabney once wrote, “To hold the thought fixed upon the same idea is the highest function of will; it is one to which none but the noblest souls are competent” (Discussions, Vol 1, 646). Have you ever considered why this is so difficult? Circumstantially, we are excessively busy, endlessly distracted, and constantly interrupted. Obstacles also lie in the heart. Often laziness, carelessness, and especially to worldliness keeps us from this work. May the Lord grant us more Spirit-enabled discipline to plan our circumstances and repentance to purify our hearts! Finally, Christian meditation is extremely useful. God graciously blesses devoted meditation with vibrancy and fruitfulness (Ps. 1:3), prosperity and success in His service (Josh. 1:8), wisdom and safety (Prov. 6:20-24), and especially Christlikeness. Those who gaze at Him by faith now will be made like Him then (1 John 3:2, cf 2 Cor 3:18).
The Organ of Christian Meditation: of the renewed mind
Christian meditation is only possible for those who are born again. The unrenewed mind loves the darkness and hates the light (Jn. 3:19-20). Further, Psalm 10:4 informs us that the wicked simply do not think of God, for “God is in none of his thoughts.” I encourage you to pause for a moment and take a careful inventory of your thought life. If your mind rarely or never turns to God, His ways, His glory, and His grace, then you are either an unbeliever or are living as one. Repent, and stop being conformed to this world; instead, be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Learn to gaze lovingly and longingly at the altogether lovely one (Song. 5:16). While the primary organ of meditation is the mind, this focused contemplation involves the activity of the whole man. There is the engagement of the soul, the exercise of the will, the ordering of the affections, and the exercise of self-control. This means that to be successful and fruitful in meditation, you will need to be intentional and thoughtful in planning (more on that below).
The Object of Christian Meditation: upon the treasury of divine truth
Pagan versions of meditation “focus” either on emptying the mind or filling the mind with self; biblical meditation emphasizes filling the mind with truth. Just as a beautiful diamond is the object of the jeweler's gaze, the truth of God is the grand object of the Christian’s thought. The Christian should humbly consider the unfathomable wisdom of God or the inscrutable righteousness of God. Take any attribute of God, turn it this way and that, all the while praying, “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law!” (Ps. 119:18). While setting our minds upon the boundless treasury of divine truth, remember that Jesus Christ is the Arkenstone of those riches. He is the brightness of the glory of God (Heb 1:3), the one transfigured on the mount (Lk. 9:29), whose glory surpasses human description (Rev. 1:13-18). He is fairer than ten thousand (Song 5:10), riding forth in majesty for the cause of truth, meekness, and righteousness (Ps 45:4). He is the Crucified One, the love gift of the Father to this wretched and sinful world (Jn. 3:16-17). Those who see Him have seen the Father (Jn. 14:9), for He has exegeted the Father to us (Jn. 1:18). Dabney helps us here again, “Our adoration is assisted by having its object both softened and defined for us, so that its severer glories are veiled without observing them, and adapted to our feeble eyes” (Discussions, Vol 1., 652). Thinking of Jesus Christ is both the highest work of the Christian mind and the greatest delight of the Christian soul.
The Goal of Christian Meditation
As you think upon the truth of God in general, and the Son of God in particular, here are three goals for you prayerfully to pursue. First, from a heart of devotion, seek the acquisition of the knowledge of God in truth. Spend time focusing upon Jesus with the eyes of faith, learning from Him and storing up His riches in your heart. The spiritual knowledge you acquire will be of great value and of lasting impact upon your life. Second, with a view to joyful duty, seek the application of the Word of God in power. This is the intended fruit of all true Christian meditation. We are not after vain speculation, philosophical nuance, cold logic, or fanatical mysticism. Rather, God would have the observable and life changing effect of a will directed by His Word. Finally, with great delight of soul, seek the apprehension of the glory of God in Christ. The great minister and meditator Samuel Rutherford once wrote, "Go where you will, your soul shall not sleep sound but in Christ’s bosom. Come in to Him and lie down, and rest you on the slain Son of God, and inquire for Him. I sought Him, and now, a fig for all the worm-eaten pleasures, and moth-eaten glory out of heaven, since I have found Him, and in Him all I can want or wish" (Letter 127). May the Lord direct you to such delight in the One whom heaven adores (Rev. 5:12-13).
A Way to Christian Meditation
I will close with a few practical suggestions. First, make time. Busy schedules, “smart” phones, entertainment, and a host of other invaders constantly pillage your time. Be intentional about carving out sufficient minutes here and there for uninterrupted thought. Second, find quiet. This can be difficult, for moms especially. Wisely consider changes. Can going to bed earlier enable to wake up a little earlier? In the evening, instead of gazing at a screen, try meditating on the Son. Third, prayer. Pray meditatively, meaning, talk to God about His glory and grace. Also, if you struggle, pray for help. The Spirit loves to illumine the Son! Fourth, use a pen, a literal pen. With paper. Charles Spurgeon once said that the pen is the scalpel of the mind. Write down your thoughts, mull over the words on the page. Writing things by hand slows down your thought process and enables you to think more carefully. Finally, you need resolve. With God’s help, commit yourself to this discipline. You will be richly rewarded.
David Wells once insightfully observed, “The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common” (God in the Wasteland, 30). I believe that one of the underlying conditions causing this problem is the lack of Christian meditation. Let us, therefore, pursue the focused contemplation of the renewed mind upon the treasury of divine truth.
Mike Myers is the pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Royston, GA. He and his wife Katy have six children, four sons and two daughters.
"Learning How to Meditate" by Joel Beeke
Solitude Improved by Divine Meditation, available in paperback through Soli Deo Gloria Publications