Summary: What is Biblical meditation and how is it beneficial for Christians?
Psa 119:97 m Mem. O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Most Christians have listened again and again to admonitions that they read the Bible for themselves. Yet according to statistics, less than 1/5 of American believers read scripture daily. If spending time in God’s Word is really so important for spiritual growth, why aren’t more people doing it? Why does Bible reading sometimes feel like pure drudgery? How is it that when we do read, we often come away feeling just as spiritually cold as when we started? I am convinced that the major reason for this is that we have forgotten how to meditate. The Puritan pastor, Thomas Watson, spoke of this when he stated, “The reason we come away so cold from reading the Word is because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.”
Meditation, as a Christian discipline, has been largely forgotten by the modern evangelical church so that when they hear the term, most Christians think of the practices of Eastern religions, wherein the mind is “emptied.” But Biblical meditation is much different. In Biblical meditation, instead of emptying the mind, the practitioner fills his/her mind with thoughts of God and/or scripture and ponders upon them. This type of meditation is spoken of and practiced in many places in the Bible and it is a wonderful and necessary vehicle for spiritual growth.
There are two Hebrew words translated as meditation in the Old Testaament. The most common, hagah, means to murmur or mutter. The other, shiyach, means to talk to oneself. Thus, Biblical meditation involves focusing one’s mind on scrip-ture or the attributes of God, speaking those ideas to oneself and ruminating on them. It differs from prayer in that we are not precisely talking to God but rather, reflecting on Him. And although it often involves scripture, it is not the same thing as study. One could say that meditation is to the Word of God what digestion is to food. Food is of little use if we fail to digest it well. Doctors tell us that the digestion process that takes place after swallowing is not enough to pro- cess our food completely. If we want to maximize the nutritional benefit, we must first chew it well. Likewise, we must ponder the scripture, attempting to expand our understanding of it and consider how it applies to our own experience in order for it to provide us with the highest benefit. Spurgeon called this process, “the machine in which the raw material of knowledge is converted to its best use.” He points to people who read the Bible and can even recite it, but who really know nothing of its power. This, he says, is because they fail to convert it to a useful state. “Instead of putting facts into the [wine] press of meditation, and fermenting them until they can draw out inferences, they leave them to rot and perish. They extract none of the sweet juice of wisdom from the precious fruits of the vine-tree. A man who reads only a tenth part as much, but who takes the grapes of Eschol that he gathers, and squeezes them by meditation, will learn more in a week than your pendant will in a year, because he muses on what he reads."
The believer who practices Biblical meditation, not only learns more, but joy returns to his/her Bible reading. So often, Christians read their Bibles in a legalistic sort of way – thinking that the reading of scripture is an indicator of holiness. No wonder it becomes drudgery – all works of the flesh do! No, Bible reading is not synonymous with holiness; it is a means to holiness. Let me explain. If I want to go to a church, I do not just stay inside my house and hope that the pastor will show up. I have to go to wherever the meeting is being held. It is no different with God. If I want to grow spiritually, I must go where God is. He can be found in His Word, in meditation and in prayer. The act of going there isn’t what makes me holy, though; it’s the changes that God makes in me once I have put myself in a position to receive. Meditation can be seen as a sort of conduit for receiving from God and being changed into His likeness. Some people discover this truth on their own while others need to be instructed. Early churchmen broke the process into formal steps. Their system, called the Lectio Divina, included four steps: reading a scripture, meditating upon it, praying it and contemplating on it.
What I suggest is this: Choose a small portion of scripture and read it over and over until it is very familiar. Then meditate on it by pondering its meaning. Apply it to yourself in various ways. Look at each word or phrase individually. Write a little personal commentary on each portion. Finally, when you have “chewed” on it enough, pray it. It is all too easy to read the scripture “religiously” and then forget what it says. But when you meditate and pray a portion of what you read, you will not become what James called, “a hearer of the word and not a doer.” Meditation works like a mirror so that you can be as the one “who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer, but an effectual doer.” As this occurs and you are changed into His likeness by the transforming power of the Word, Bible reading is no longer drudgery because you eyes are fixed upon the glorious goal of godliness. You will look forward to reading scripture; for it is there that you will meet Jesus and become changed.