Biblical Meditation  
By Paul Robison

We recall in Matthew chapter 4 how Jesus was driven into the wilderness and was tempted by Satan.  Satan told him to turn bread into stones, to jump from the temple, and to bow down to him.  Although Jesus was weak physically, he relied on God's Word to respond to Satan's challenges by saying, “It is written ... [and then He quoted what the law had stated].”  Surely, Jesus must have meditated on those passages and memorized them in order to apply them at such a difficult moment.  Here's another story which is similar.  It happened to a college professor about 5 years ago.  He recalls how some students had upset him on two occasions, and he was about to respond rashly at one time and to reprimand them the next time.  Then he remembered two passages on which he had been meditating for some time: “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1) and “A fool's wrath is known at once, but the prudent man covers shame” (Prov. 12:16).  As a result of remembering these verses, the professor said that he was able to back away from a response that would not be honoring to God in both settings (Curtis).  Someone has observed: “A garment that is double dyed, dipped again and again, will retain its color a great while; so it is with a truth that has been dipped again and again through meditation” (Henry in Rowell). 

What do you think of when hear the word “meditation”?  Some probably think of those who sit in a lotus position with eyes closed who chant a word or make a sustained sound.  Some might think of those who relax, maintain a sustained silence and try to get in touch with what's been called “your inner voice”.  Some might think of meditation as an avenue whereby one tries to receive some new revelation from God.  David prayed in Psalm 19:14: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.”  Paul told Timothy in 1 Tm. 4:15: “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.”  These passages show us that there is such a concept as biblical meditation.  Let's look more closely this morning at this topic.  We want to examine five aspects of biblical meditation: some definitions, some features, some examples, some benefits, and some practices.

Let's look now at some definitions of biblical meditation.  The word comes from a word which means “to growl, mutter, or moan”; it refers to vocal sounds we often make when we think aloud during reflection on a matter or while mulling something in our minds (ISBE).  This is interesting because meditation is so often associated with silence.  The word "meditation" has a Latin root which means "to ponder" and "to weigh" (Martin).  Someone explained this concept with this way: “... just as you do not analyze the words of someone you love, but accept them as they are said to you, accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart, as Mary did. That is all. That is meditation” (Bonhoeffer quoted in Foster).  “Jesus’ mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51)!  So, we see that biblical meditation involves reflection, contemplation, and careful thought.  This also means that it does not involve any hidden mysteries, any secret mantras (or words to repeat), or any mental gymnastics (Foster).  Biblical meditation has also been described as internalizing, visualizing, and personalizing a passage of Scripture (Gabbert).  This is very interesting in light of some recent research done at Stanford University which shows that repeated viewing and repeated verbalizing can effect our imaginations, our learning patterns, and our behaviors.  The researchers discovered this repetition almost unconsciously helps to shape a new value in our brain, so that we become what we repeatedly watch, hear, and think.  These researchers have just confirmed what Solomon knew centuries ago: “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23).  We are what we repeatedly meditate upon.  Someone has perceptively asked: “If a sixty second commercial, by repeated viewing and listening can sell us a product, then isn't it possible for a sixty minute soap opera or 'smut-com', by repeated viewing and listening able to sell us a lifestyle” (Copeland)?   So, we see that biblical mediation is not about passive silence, but it is about active reflection, contemplation, careful thought, internalizing, visualizing, and personalizing the Scriptures.

Now let's look at some features of biblical meditation.  Let's first contrast it with what might be called Eastern meditation, which has become very popular here in the U.S.  Eastern meditation teaches that we must escape this world, but biblical meditation helps us to redirect our lives so that we can deal successfully with the world around us (Gabbert).  Eastern meditation emphasizes losing our personal identity, but biblical meditation challenges us to assess our personal identity in light of God's Word (Foster).  Eastern meditation attempts to empty the mind, but biblical meditation attempts to fill the mind with God's precepts (Foster).  Eastern meditation seeks some new truth or experience to be revealed, but biblical mediation dwells on what has already been revealed in God's creation and in His Word (Copeland).  Eastern meditation stresses relaxation and techniques for tapping into the subconscious, but biblical meditation leads us to contemplate our obedience and faithfulness in our relationship to God and to others (Gabbert).  Someone has observed: “Meditation is continuous reflection on the goodness of God, and on how His love for us should produce obedience in daily life” (Martin).  Now let's look at some further features.  First of all, meditation is not to be an end in itself.  Notice this passage in Joshua 1:8: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”  Joshua was to meditate on God's Word so he could put into practice what was written there. 

So, secondly, meditation serves as a bridge from information to application.  We participate in a variety of teaching experiences: personal Bible reading, Bible classes, sermons, small groups, gospel meetings, etc., but so often after such studies, we just rush off to something else.  So often, we fail to take any time to meditate--to ponder, to question, to reflect, and to apply (Martin). 


Thirdly, meditation should send us into life with greater perspective and balance because we are approaching it with God's perspective (Foster).  Notice what is said in the heading at the beginning of Psalm 7: “A meditation of David, which he sang to the LORD concerning the words of Cush, a Benjamite.”  We are not sure who this Cush is, but he must have treated David in an unjust manner.  David could have sought revenge, but he decided to meditate upon his situation first.  Now notice what he writes in verses 8-9: “Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to my integrity within me.  Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, but establish the just.”  You see instead of David getting revenge on Cush , he is turning the matter over to God.  His meditation causes him to see his situation from God's perspective, and he is able to act with righteousness.  Something similar happened with Peter in the New Testament.  Recall how God sent a vision repeatedly to help Peter begin to see that now all races could have a part in God's family.  Peter must have been meditating on that vision as he traveled to Cornelius' house.  Peter finally understood from God's view for he says in Acts 10:34: “In truth, I perceive that God shows no partiality.  But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.”  Biblical meditation is not an end in itself, it serves as a bridge towards application, and it helps us to approach life with God's perspective.

Now let's look at some examples of biblical meditation.  Or we could ask, “What do we see characters in the Bible meditating upon?”  First of all, we should naturally meditate upon God.  David said in Psalm 63:6-7: “When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches.  Because You have been my help, therefore, in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice!”  David also wrote in Psalm 145:5: “I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works.”  Even in the midst of great tragedy as Jerusalem lay in ashes, Jeremiah was able to draw strength by meditating upon God: “Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul; there fore, I hope in Him” (Lam. 3:22-24). 

Secondly, we can meditate upon God's creation.  “We have probably all felt what David expresses when he said: 'The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament shows His handiwork' (Psalm 19:1).  Such periods of meditation are times not only to appreciate the beauty of creation, but to learn from it.  Nature teaches us a great deal about perseverance, growth, change, life, death, and so much more. ... For Jesus, the creation around Him demonstrated one example after another, as He spoke about the kingdom of heaven (Gabbert).  Someone has observed: “We become so accustomed to the world around us that we take it for granted and do not even notice the wonderful things within our view: mountains and butterflies, the ocean and little children, beautiful flowers and magnificent trees, a spectacular sunset or a harvest moon, the fragrance of jasmine or orange blossoms, or the workings of a cell or the strange properties of a water molecule that make possible life as we know it.  All these things are examples of God's handiwork and should teach us about God's greatness, power, wisdom, and understanding” (Curtis). 

Thirdly, we can meditate upon God's acts throughout history or His works.  Asaph wrote in Psalm 77:11-12: “I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old.  I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds.”  In the psalms that follow 77, Aspah spells out the great deeds that God has done for Israel : her exodus, her sins, her punishment, her restoration, and her repentance.  He shows how God has been faithful throughout all of these events.  Moses has warned the Israelites that they would be prone to forget God's power in their heritage.  Jesus challenges us to recall the events of His suffering and victory each week as we partake of the communion (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).  What great deeds of the Holy Spirit are seen in Acts, and what great deeds of the early church are found in the letters of the New Testament! 

Fourthly, we can meditate on Christ.  Paul threw out all his exalted Jewish pedigrees in order to gain Christ.  He states it this way in Philippians 3:7: “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”  In a similar way, someone else has observed: “Meditation on who Jesus is and what He has accomplished for the eternal salvation of human beings, is a remarkable way to discover the answer to life's deepest questions, such as 'Who am I?  Why am I here?  Where do we go when we die?'" (Martin)

Fifthly, we can meditate on God's Word.   The psalms begin: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, or sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).  Someone has made this good observation: “Reading the Bible is not like reading other books.  We are not simply trying to learn information or master material.  Instead we want to stand under the authority of Scripture and let God master us.  While we read the Bible, it reads us, opening the depths of our being to the overpowering love of God and piercing us in our innermost being (Heb. 4:12-13). … Meditation is taking the words of Scripture to heart and letting them ask questions of us” (Holloway and Lavender).  Those questions might be like these: “Is there some truth I should know from this verse?  How does this passage affect a previously held conviction?  Is there something I should stop doing in light of this verse?  Is there a practice I should change?  Is there a habit I ought to begin?” (Copeland)  The writer of Psalm 119:148 affirms: “My hands also I will lift up to Your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on Your statutes” (Psalm 119:48).  

Sixthly, we can meditate on noble things.  Paul writes to the Philippian brethren: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:7-9).  As we said earlier, whatever shapes a person's thinking will also shape his life.  “Meditation helps focus the attention on [noble and virtuous] things that are consistent with God's order, and thus helps to produce behavior and character that are consistent with God's truth. ,,, Such images, when regularly reflected upon, can do much to erase the destructive images that permeate our culture” (Curtis). 

Seventhly, we can focus on the things above and our future heavenly home.  Paul exhorts in Colossians 3:1-2: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on thing above, not on things on the earth.”  Someone has observed: “It is difficult [for us] to fully comprehend the reality of a spiritual realm that we know about largely by faith because our lives are so dominated by the physical, so we often find it difficult to trust God for deliverance or to respond to circumstances in a way that accords with God's Word. ... Meditation is a practice that has the power to bring balance to our perception of reality by regularly keeping before us the truth [that this world is not all that there is to existence and that this world will one day be replaced by a better heavenly kingdom wherein all dwell in righteousness.  Mediation helps us to recall that the armies of the Lord are ever active in battles with the unseen forces of evil]” (Curtis).  So there are seven examples; we can meditate upon God, upon His creation, upon His works, upon His Son, upon His Word, upon noble things, and upon unseen heavenly things.

Now let's consider some benefits of meditation.  First of all, “meditation also helps [us] trust God in times of difficulty and distress. ... It becomes very difficult to trust God in situations where all we see is the problem.  But if we have been meditating regularly on the important realities, those about God, we will more easily include them in our view of the situation.  Psalm 77 suggests that meditation on God's mighty works confers upon us the endurance to sustain our faith in the face of personal crisis of such magnitude that it might otherwise persuade us to questions God's power and concern” (Curtis). 


Secondly, meditation helps us to be self-controlled and to overcome evil.  Meditation can help make a difference in how we manage anger, stress, anxiety, fear, failure, and disappointment.  Notice what David says in Psalm 4:4-5: “Be angry, and do not sin.  Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still (Selah).  Offer the sacrifices of righteousness and put your trust in the Lord” (Psalm 4:4-5).  Someone puts it this way: “Everything that is foreign to God's way we will have to let go.  No, not 'have to' but 'want to,' for our desires and aspirations will be more and more conformed to His way.  Increasingly, everything within us will swing like a needle to the polestar of the [Holy] Spirit [and His teachings in God's Word] (Foster)! 


A third benefit is that mediation helps us to become more obedient.  Someone has noted: “... the goal of [meditation] is to internalize [God's] values and principles; it is to write them on the tables of the heart so that the heart will control the person with wisdom, producing a life that is consistent with [God's] order.  This goal is entirely different from indoctrination and legalism, which leaves in tact the contrary heart and are content to impose their rule externally. ... The deliberate, reflective concentration on wisdom and instruction changes the heart and brings about closer conformity with [God's] orders [from within]. ... Constant reflection and focused repetition get the principles into a person's system such that, when he is faced with a situation requiring a choice, the person will respond instinctively in a way that reflects God's order” (Curtis).  So we see that meditation helps us to be more trusting, more self-controlled, and more obedient.


Let's now consider some practices to help us improve our meditation.  First of all, as we read a biblical story, we can try to live the experience that it describes.  We can try to place ourselves within a story and think about how we might respond. 


Secondly, you might try reflecting on great deeds and blessings God has given to you, and then write down those things in a psalm of praise. 


Thirdly, you might reflect on what lies Satan is telling you.  Find Scriptures to combat them.  Write them down, and memorize them.  Like Jesus, you'll be ready to respond to Satan's attacks with God's Word. 


Fourthly, write down daily five kindnesses that God shows you. 

 
Fifthly, as you read the Bible, try to rewrite passages in your own words.  This might help you to remember them better, not to change the meaning. 


Sixthly, pray the Scriptures.  “Commands from God can become prayers.  'You shall have no other gods before me' (Exo. 20:3) can be prayed, 'Lord, keep me from anything that takes your place in my heart.'  Stories can be prayed.  Jesus heals a man born blind (John 9), and so we pray, 'Lord Jesus, open my eyes to who you truly are.'  Even promises in the Bible can become prayers.  'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you' (Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5) becomes 'God, help me know your promise that you are always with me and so [I can] live my life without fear'” (Holloway and Lavender). 


Seventhly, learn phrases of passages.  Someone gave this advice: Take a passage from 7-12 verses long.  Don’t select this passage to cover material or prepare for a lesson.  Read aloud, read slowly, reflect on each word, see if there is a particular phrase or verse that sticks with you.  As you think about it, try to memorize it.  You might try writing it down if that helps.  “Let those words sink deeply into your heart” (Ibid). 

Eighthly, think about the talents God has given you and reflect on if you are making the most of them.  


Ninthly, write out some passage on 10-12 sticky notes or on note cards and put them in places where you will see them throughout the day.  When you see them, focus briefly and verse and think about it for a moment.  Remember how reviewing and reverbalizing help to impress something on our hearts (Curtis).

Lastly, you might do like David did with Cush in Psalm 7.  Someone put it this way: “Think seriously about the events of our times.  This should be a time to seek understanding and to try and perceive the biblical significance of the events around us and around the world.  This form of meditation is best accomplished with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  We must, however, remember that the news is full of political propaganda.  Keeping that in perspective, we should look for God's insight into these events and deeply consider our role as salt and light in this world” (Gabbert).


Someone has said that believers who practice biblical meditation will find their brightest days of spiritual experience lie not in the past but in anticipation of what God will do in their future.  Their lives of faith will be more active than ever before.  They will enjoy spiritual heights.  Want anticipation, motivation, and elevation, then try meditation (Smith)!  Someone else exhorts us: “Seek God, not happiness—that is the fundamental rule of all meditation.  If you seek God alone, you will gain happiness—that is the promise of all meditation” (Bonhoeffer in Larson/Elshof).  The writer of Psalm 104:33-34 puts it this way: “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.  May my meditation be sweet to Him; I will be glad in the Lord.”


Is meditation something that you need to practice?  Do you need the prayers of the church to help you get started?  Or have you been meditating already on your relationship to God and realize that some changes are in order, some sins that may need to be confessed or new habits that need to be formed?  Or have you been meditating upon Christ and realize now that He is the only Savior and Mediator for your soul?  He still says today, “Come unto me, all you who labor and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).