For our third practical exercise we invite you to meditate on the first four verses of Psalm 1. But first we explain what Biblical Meditation is, how it differs from non-Christian meditation, and what the process involves.
Although biblical meditation requires both time and effort, many believers testify to it being one of the most profitable ways of using the Scriptures for their personal benefit, and that, because of this, it is also one of the most effective methods available for restoring and enhancing Confidence in the Word.
Biblical meditation is not at all like transcendental meditation, in which the objective is to empty the mind of all rational thought and so allow it to dwell on whatever ideas just happen to enter it. On the contrary, biblical meditation is the process of allowing God's Word so to fill our minds that, in time it not only occupies our thoughts, but it also governs our every word and action.
Joshua's success in leading God's people into the land he had promised them was conditional upon his constant meditation on the Book of the Law - God's Word (Joshua 1:6-8). If an accomplished military leader like Joshua needed to meditate on the Scriptures to ensure his success, can we do anything less if we are to live as our Lord requires?
When it is undertaken systematically, Biblical meditation has the effect of engrafting the Scriptures into our very being. This is a spiritual process, somewhat akin to the method by which a fruit bearing branch is grafted into a stock in order to produce a fruitful tree. In the same way, God's Word needs to be grafted into our heart and mind so that the Holy Spirit may produce a rich yield of spiritual fruit in our life (Galatians 5:22-23).
Biblical meditation can also be a source of immense comfort in times of confusion and anxiety, as the writer of Psalm 119 was able to testify (Psalm 119:52).
Biblical meditation involves taking a short passage of Scripture - usually no more than a few verses - and allowing God to show us the different shades of meaning it has for us. Like a cow chewing the cud, we need to ruminate over the verses we have chosen to meditate upon: like a jeweller appraising a precious stone we need to examine the passage of Scripture before us from every angle of the imagination so that God can speak through it to every part of us - our mind, our will, and our emotions.
Selwyn Hughes has described biblical meditation as the digestive system of the soul. As with physical digestion, this is a process which cannot be hurried. We need to be able to set aside at least 30 minutes for meditation, though some may find it requires considerably longer to derive the most benefit from the practice.
And we do need to be quiet and undistracted! Don't try to meditate while watching television, although some find gentle background music helpful. Parents with young children may well find that Biblical meditation is an activity which has to be restricted to the early morning or late evening!
We turn now to the actual process of meditation itself. At first sight, the nine steps we describe may appear rather daunting, but we assure you they are not difficult, and with a little practice they will become almost second-nature. We therefore commend them to you.
- The first step is to select the passage of Scripture on which you intend to meditate. The Psalms, in particular, provide a rich source of material for meditation. This is why we have chosen a Psalm for this exercise. Again, the parables and miracles of our Lord in the Gospels are another favourite source for meditations.
One indirect benefit of reading the Scriptures regularly is that you will frequently come across unfamiliar verses which say to you, "Please meditate on me." It is a good idea to keep a note of these, which you can refer to later when choosing a portion of Scripture on which to meditate.
2. Settle Down
- Be quiet, and allow yourself to be still in the Lord's presence. This is most important if you are to hear what God has to say to you through his Word. Try to reduce external distractions to a minimum, and relax your body by taking some deep breaths. Above all, try to be quiet within as well as without, by putting any pressing concerns aside, committing any anxieties which may be troubling you to the Lord (1 Peter 5:7), and confessing any sins which he brings to your mind (1 John 1:8-9) before continuing.
- Thank God for his Word, and ask him to open it to you in a new way, by showing you the things he wants to teach you. Remember, meditation is not Bible study; there is no syllabus to follow, there are no "right" or "wrong" answers. Your sole object is to hear what God has to say to you, which will not necessarily be what he has said to anyone else before (but see step 5 below and also our marginal article, Testing the Words).
(You may at this point like to use the prayer and hymn we have included in Challenge, Promise & Prayer.)
4. Read & Write
- Firstly, read the passage you have chosen a number of times. Read it slowly, so you can appreciate its particular "flavour". Then, write it down, as we have already recommended in Healing Words. If at all possible, learn the passage off by heart, memorising every word so that you can easily and quickly bring it back to mind at a later time.
- Seek to understand the meaning of your chosen passage in its context. Nothing is worse than misunderstanding a single verse (or even part of a verse) simply because it has been taken out of context. For example, Jesus' famous statement that, "People need more than bread for their life ..." has nothing to do with our physical diet but, as our Lord's next phrase explains, it has everything to do with what we consume spiritually (see Matthew 4:4). Indeed, quoting Scripture out of context in order to distort its meaning was the method the devil used to tempt Jesus in two of his three temptations (Matthew 4:1-11), but Jesus countered him by quoting the Word of God accurately by affirming the underlying principles involved. This is something we need to learn to do too!
We may sometimes need to refer to a commentary or dictionary to get to the true meaning of the passage we have selected to meditate upon before we begin, especially if we have chosen a passage from a book we have not read before. This does not contradict what we said earlier about meditation not being study. All we need is the general sense of what the passage means within its immediate context, in order to prevent us from misunderstanding what the Holy Spirit intended to convey when the text was first written down.
Bringing to Remembrance...
While you are meditating on one passage of Scripture, God will sometimes bring other related verses to your mind, sometimes even verses you thought you never knew! Don't be surprised or frightened by this. God is merely bringing these scriptures back into your consciousness from deep within your memory banks. It is a perfectly normal spiritual process. Just note down the verse, or verses God gives you for later reference and possible meditation. You may find they are to help you in a particular situation, or to enable you to give just the right word to a fellow believer, or even an unbeliever (see Proverbs 25:11 and 2 Corinthians 1:4).
Although this is primarily an activity of the Holy Spirit, his work in this respect can be greatly assisted by our regular reading of the Word. This is one reason why it is so important for us to read the whole Bible, which is not nearly so impossible as it sounds, as we explain in Help with Daily Bible Reading.
- This is the very heart of the process. Turn each verse - even individual phrases - over and over in your mind, allowing God to show you the different shades of meaning in each one. You may wish to underline some key words in your transcript and note down any thoughts which seem especially significant. Is God perhaps showing you something you need to do, or even something you ought to stop doing?
One way of meditating on a passage of Scripture is by asking questions. We illustrate this by recording part of the author's own meditation on Psalm 1:1-4.
(You will pleased to learn that the author did receive answers to his questions, but as they were personal to him they are not recorded here.)
Verse 1. The psalm begins with the statement, Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with scoffers.
A question that comes to mind is: What does this mean in present day terms, for me? In particular:
- What 'advice of the wicked' have I listened to recently? Did I accept it and act upon it?
- Who are today's 'scoffers'? Do I echo their views in my conversation or writing?
Verse 2 invites me to consider the joy of those who delight in doing everything the Lord wants, and day and night they think about his law.
This verse prompts me to ask:
- Do I experience the same joy as the Psalmist did when I think about God and his Word?
- Since I am one who has been redeemed from the curse pronounced by the law (Galatians 3:13), then surely I should be even more thankful for what God has given to me than the Psalmist was about the law?
Verse 3 leads me to think of a similar reference in Jeremiah 17:8. I picture in my mind's eye a well-established, fully mature tree, laden with beautiful and nutritious fruit, one that is completely unaffected by changes in the weather; a wonderful picture of stability and unchangeableness, with that peculiar winsomeness that comes only with age and experience. Even in the most severe drought it has a ready supply of water and continues producing delicious fruit, because it stands close by a river with its roots going deep down into the earth to tap the hidden supplies of moisture. It has an invisible supply to sustain it when the rain fails and the surface water dries up.
I ask myself:
- Am I like this? Do my 'spiritual roots' go down into Christ (Colossians 2:7), down deep into the soil of God's marvellous love (Ephesians 3:17), so that I am able to remain fresh and vibrant at those times when others around me are spiritually 'dry'?
- Even more, am I able to refresh others? Do I have the capacity to be a spiritual 'watering can'? Am I a source of the living water for others (see John 7:37-39), so the gift Jesus promises to all who persist in asking him (Luke 11:11-13), and which he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well about (John 4:4-15), is evident to all from its outflow in my speech and conduct?
- I may be mature in years, but do I show signs of genuine spiritual maturity? How, for example, do I measure up against what Paul tells Titus to teach the older men in Titus 2:2?
Verse 4 shows me how insubstantial and insecure are those who are not rooted in the Lord. They are no more stable than loose husks of grain caught up and blown about by every chance breeze - mere spiritual 'balls of fluff'.
As I rejoice in my security in Christ, some nagging questions arise:
Testing the Words
Though Scripture tells us not to stifle the Holy Spirit, we are nevertheless bidden to test everything that is said, accepting only what is in line with the Scriptures, and rejecting anything we hear that is inconsistent with God's revelation in his Word (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22). This applies not only to words spoken (or written) by others, but also to our own thoughts and intimations. Satan, though a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44) rarely if ever tells a barefaced lie! More often he mingles truth with falsehood, like a sugar-coated pill filled with poison, in order to deceive us into swallowing it. This is why we need to test the spirits to determine the source of what we have heard. Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10:11 and 10:14), assures us that all whom he has called to be among his own flock follow him because they recognise his voice. They won't follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don't recognise his voice (John 10:4-5). Comparing what we hear with the authentic cadences of our Lord's voice as we hear it in his Word, is our ultimate safeguard against deception.
- Am I in a similar danger too? Do I allow myself to become like a storm-battered ship,tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching (Ephesians 4:14 (NIV-UK)), childishly forever changing my mind about what I believe because someone has cleverly lied to me and made the lie sound like the truth (Ephesians 4:14 (personalised))?
- Do I follow every new spiritual fashion, allowing what I believe to be based uncritically on what others are saying at the moment - the theological 'flavour of the month' - or is my faith firmly grounded in God's Word?
- Do I always test those who claim to speak by the Spirit to see if the spirit they have comes from God, not least those from whom I hear what purports to be the word of God (1 John 4:1-3)?
(See the marginal article Testing the Words for some further thoughts and scriptures on this vital point.)
- And, especially if I am a teacher (or writer or editor), do I keep a close watch on myself and my teaching? For example, while I am compiling this website, am I always careful to stay close to what is right? (1 Timothy 4:16 (personalised)) and not go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6 (NIV-UK)), bearing in mind that, we who teach will be judged by God with greater strictness (James 3:1)?
The reflections in this section, apart from the article Testing the Words and some additional references he has added while writing the page, came to the author spontaneously as he pondered the first four verses of Psalm 1. It took him only a little over 40 minutes. Just think what the Lord might be able to say to you if you were able to give a whole hour or more to meditating on his Word!
(The illustration accompanying this meditation is used by kind permission of the artist, Marybeth Stafford. To visit her website, please proceed via our Links to Other Websites).
Turn the thoughts and intimations you have received during your meditation into prayer. Use them as talking points with God - to thank him, praise him, confess to him - as you are moved. This will greatly strengthen your prayer life, by making you more aware of the extent of God's grace, as well enhance your appreciation of the richness of God's Word. As a result of the prayer which springs from your meditation, may your testimony echo that of the Psalmist in Psalm 66:16-19.
(As a result of his meditation on Psalm 1, the author was moved to pray that he would no longer allow himself be intimidated by any statements or opinions which are clearly contrary to the Scriptures.)
If God has shown you anything you need to do - or stop doing - as a result of your meditation, then do not put off taking action. After all, as the apostle James says, it is no use just listening to God's Word if all we do is then go away and forget all about it. We not only need to listen to God, but also do what he says if we are to receive the full benefit of looking into his Word (see James 1:22-25).
Hiding God's Word
To be able to hide God's Word in our hearts in the form of a store of scriptures we can readily bring to mind, is a precious privilege. It is also a vital necessity if we are to do the Lord's will in our lives by avoiding all kinds of wrong. The Psalmist certainly knew this when he was inspired to write (see Psalm 119:9-16). Biblical meditation offers one very positive way of achieving this.
In one sense a Bible meditation is never finished! In a quiet moment later the same day, or the next, bring the passage you have meditated upon back into your mind and allow it to remain there. A good time to do this is last thing at night, just before you go to sleep.
Scientists tell us that our unconscious mind carries on working while we sleep. So why not take God's Word as a nightcap?
This not only applies to a passage you may have meditated upon earlier, but also to reflecting on a verse, or even a phrase, from the Scriptures last thing at night. God is well able to speak into our spirits even while we sleep. All we need to do is to give him the opportunity to do so! (see Proverbs 6:20-23).
(Visitors from Approaching the Bible return to Main Text)
AcknowledgementsMuch of the material on this page is derived from a lecture by Selwyn Hughes entitled Getting the Best out of the Bible, given as part of an Institute in Biblical Studies in 1988 at Waverley Abbey, which the author attended. He gratefully acknowledges Selwyn Hughes' instruction and inspiration on the subject. To find out more about Selwyn Hughes' ministry and training available at Waverley Abbey, please proceed to the CWR website via our Links to Other Websites.
The author is also indebted to Florence Bulle for some of the thoughts included in the marginal article Testing the Words. These are based on the section Keys to Knowing God's Voice in chapter 8 of her book The Many Faces of Deception (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers).
Means & Ends
As with any new technique we may seek to acquire, getting into Biblical meditation takes time and effort, but many who have developed the skill testify that it is quite possibly the best way they have yet found to get the most out of the Bible. We hope that, having worked through this page, you will agree, or at the very least, you will be moved to persevere with the practice.
However, as with any method of interacting with the Scriptures (and this is something which applies to all spiritual disciplines) Biblical meditation must never be allowed to become an end in itself. Whatever degree of Confidence in the Word we may acquire as a result of this or any other technique, it will be of lasting value only to the extent that it enables us to grow closer to the Lord and be more keenly attuned to his will.
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