This is part two of a five part series. If you haven't read the intro into why we need to prioritize Jesus, go do so now:
Prioritize Jesus: Part 1 Small Decisions
Consistent Biblical Meditation
Biblical Meditation is a intensive thing. It's about focusing on the words of our Lord and determining why He said them and how they should effect the way we live our lives. It's not a matter of just reading Scripture, too many of us too often do that just to check a box. Then at the end we hear our child crying “I need to potty” or our spouse saying, “We’re going to be late, we should have left fifteen minutes ago!” In a few seconds time, we’ve already forgotten everything we read on patience, compassion, and a having a loving servant’s heart. All the truth we read evaporates in a puff of smoke from the busyness of a very full life. The Bible calls us to something deeper, something harder, something more impactful than just reading the Bible, it calls us to Biblical meditation.
Because we often ask each other how our Bible reading has been going we tend to feel like the goal is Bible reading. But that’s not the primary focus of the Biblical command. The Psalmist said blessed is the man who “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalms 1:2). This is the same sentiment commanded to Joshua when he took up leadership of Israel. God told him: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Search the Scriptures and you’ll find over and over we’re called to meditate on God’s very words.
So, what does it mean to meditate? We’re not talking about eastern or new age meditation here. There’s no emptying of your mind. Biblical meditation is not an emptying, but a filling up. Joshua wasn’t called to not think as he led God’s people, he was called to fill his mind with God’s words. He was called to think about them constantly and build every aspect of his leadership upon the firm foundation of God’s word. The Biblical word for meditation means “to chew the cud.” That terminology is a bit archaic today, but it refers to a cow’s digestive system. Cows chew their food slowly, swallow it, and in due time regurgitate it in a partially digested state, and then begin chewing it again. The idea is that the word of God is powerful, complex, and takes time to put into practice.
Reading the Bible for five minutes may be enough to grasp what God is communicating to you, especially with the help of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), but it's not enough for us make it a daily habit. Think about it. Why did Joshua need to meditate on the Bible day and night? That he might put it into practice. Similarly in Psalm 1 we see that the man who meditates on the Word walks not in the counsel of the wicked. Psalm 119:9-16 shows that meditation is how young men keep themselves pure. Meditation is the first step to keeping ourselves unstained by the world. It's the first step to becoming the Spiritual hero you want to be.
Meditation has another benefit. It helps us better understand the Word. Sometimes we read that we have a Helper who will teach us all things (John 14:26) and we are tempted think that we don't need to read the Bible because the Holy Spirit will teach us all we need to know. There's some truth in that, but the Holy Spirit is most able to teach us when we are in the Word. Deeply. Daily. Constantly. When our minds are focused on discerning what God wants us to know and how he wants us to act then we are utilizing Scripture to teach, rebuke, correct, and train ourselves (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And that's exactly what God desires us to do.
When I think of meditation in the Bible there is one character that immediately comes to mind: David. He spent his time writing songs about God and singing them to sooth the soul of a savage king. He reflected on how his job, shepherding, was a manifestation of God’s good qualities (Psalm 23). His meditation on God helped him face Goliath, dodge spears in Saul’s court, and win the hearts of hardened criminals to God. For all of this, the Bible refers to him as a man after God’s own heart. When you meditate on the Bible, and begin to act with the love and wisdom God offers in his eternal word, you become a man or woman after God’s own heart. You begin the first step in your efforts to become a hero, like David. You begin to focus daily on making right decisions to honor our glorious God.
How to Begin
Here are a few ways to begin meditation:
- Hear the Word (Neh. 8:1-3). There are many ways to do this, here are a few examples: listen to a sermon, listen to the Bible, or listen to the Psalms sung. Whatever you choose, the important part is what you do when the audio experience is over: take the words and mull on them. Remember the cow: chew, swallow, regurgitate, and repeat. It’s important to spend time with God’s words. If you just listen to a sermon and never think about it again, you will quickly forget what was taught. Instead, try going out to lunch afterward with some friends, family, or Life Group members and discuss what you heard. Test yourself. Can you remember the point of the sermon three days later? Can you remember it after you’ve heard next week’s sermon?
- Read the Word (Deut. 17:18-20). Earlier I suggested reading the Word alone was insufficient for changing our behavior, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. For most of us, reading the Bible is the primary initial step to good meditation. So take advantage of your ability to read and set to work on wrestling with the Scripture. If you read the Bible in the morning, focus on it throughout the day. Ask yourself: What did I read? Why did God say that? Why did He use those words specifically? If you read your Bible at night, fall asleep with His words on your mind and heart. Mentally wrestle with the text until you pass out. In the morning, start your day off recalling the words to mind again. Question the text… think about what God wants you to learn from it, and how He wants you to change today.
- Memorize the Word (Psalm 22:1 & Matt 27:46). Jesus had meditated on the words of God so deeply that in his greatest distress he called them out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He memorized God’s word. It’s amazing how memorized Scripture comes back in times of need. When they do come back, we’re able to meditate on them anew. Why did God say that? Where is that in context in the Scripture? We can picture Jesus on the cross, putting every effort into raising his weary, torn body up, uttering those words, and slumping back down on the cross to meditate on the rest of the passage. When we work to memorize Scripture, we can be sure that in our heartache, the Holy Spirit will bring to mind words of Scripture (John 14:26).
- Read Christian books. Our backgrounds do not match the backgrounds of the Jews that most of the Bible is addressed to. For the most part, the Bible is addressed to farmers, country men, and nomads. Since most of us are city folk, the analogies of farming, shepherding, and the like are often lost on us. We don’t get the full picture. This is one area where we can benefit from others who have meditated on Scripture and have a background more attuned to the people God originally addressed. One recommendation to get you started: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller. Here we see the most popular Psalm in a whole different light. Many of the meanings we tend to think come from that passage are wrong and we should learn what was meant from a real life shepherd. (Example: "table" doesn’t mean dinning table, it refers to the hard labor of preparing the mountain plains for the sheep.)
The call to meditation is best summed up in the words of Paul: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:8-9). Meditation on God’s word is a requirement for our lives. More than that though, we’re called to act on what we learn. Meditation without action is less than useless, it’s sin (James 4:17). By heeding the call to meditation and putting the truths you learn into practice in your life, you will begin to change into the person God has called you to be.
I hope and pray this encourages you to spend more time in your devotion to loving God. Begin today.
In part three of this series we will talk about one of the natural side effects of a life devoted to meditating on God’s word: devotion to prayer.