From the Archives: What is Biblical Meditation?
Note: In our Wednesday night Core Classes this spring, we’re covering the “Habits of Grace,” those spiritual disciplines that should mark the Christian life. (You should join us each Wednesday at 6:30!) This past week we looked at the topic of Bible Memorization and Meditation and I thought it would be a great time to bring back this post on the Biblical Meditation. This post first appeared in April 2021.
When is the last time you spent time meditating?
If you’re like me, two thoughts probably are coming to mind: (1) Who has time for that ?, and (2) What does that even mean, anyway?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
What is Biblical Meditation?
Answering this question is one of the (many) occasions where Google doesn’t really help. Most current understandings of meditation are built on eastern religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, and Daoism. They often focus on silence, focused breathing, and repetition of sounds (think: “Omm”) to help the individual clear her mind. Biblical meditation stands in contrast to that. Contrary to popular contemporary forms of meditation built on eastern religions, Biblical Meditation isn’t about clearing your mind but about filling your mind, specifically, filling your mind with God’s Word.
The concept is found repeatedly in the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalms. Consider Psalm 1:
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
Who is the blessed man? He’s the one who doesn’t follow sinners, but instead does what? He delights in God’s law and he meditates constantly on God’s law. God’s “law” here, I believe, does not refer only to the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy), but more broadly to all instruction given by God, meaning the entire written Scriptures (and that’s a topic for a separate blog post!). So the blessed man is the man who not only does not follow sinners, but instead both delights in God’s Word and meditates on God’s Word.
Since the blessed man is the man who meditates on God’s Word, it shouldn’t be surprising that the terms “meditate” or “meditation” show up some eight times in Psalm 119 alone, a chapter focused on God’s Word. Psalm 119 tells us that the godly person:
- Meditates on God’s precepts and fixes his eyes on God’s ways (15)
- Meditates on God’s statutes (23)
- Meditates on God’s wondrous works (27)
- Lifts her hands towards God’s commandments and meditates on God’s statutes (48)
- Meditates on God’s precepts, even though he is wrongly accused by his enemies (78)
- Loves God’s law and meditates on it all the day (97)
- Has more understanding than her teachers because God’s testimonies are her meditation (99)
- Awakes before the watches of the night that he may meditate on God’s promise (148)
What does all this tell us about Biblical Meditation?
Again––and I stress this because it’s so contrary to popular eastern understandings of meditation––Biblical Meditation is not a clearing of your mind, but a filling of your mind with God’s Word (or God’s works). It is calling to mind a verse or passage of Scripture, pondering it, turning it over and over in your mind, praying it back to God, and considering how it comes to bear on your life.
One commentator described it as “the repetitious going over of a matter in one’s mind because it is the chief concern of life.” Richard Foster wrote that this type of meditation is internalizing and personalizing the passage. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that biblical meditation is simply pondering Scripture in your heart, and he recommended spending a whole week on just one passage of Scripture to do this.
A helpful illustration for me is that Biblical Meditation is like using a crock pot. You can heat up food a lot faster in a microwave, but letting that food simmer for a long time in a crock pot has a way of making it tender and bringing out all the flavors. You can and should have times where you simply read God’s Word and move on to the next thing on your to-do list. But there are other times when we need to take God’s Word and let it simmer in our minds and in our hearts over the course of an hour, a day, a week even, and let its flavors sink down deep in our souls.
In all of this, Biblical Meditation is a form of worship. It is believing that God’s Word is living and active, that by the Scriptures God still speaks to us today, and that we are to be shaped by what he has said and what he has done.
How (and when) to practice Biblical Meditation
How can you get started with all of this?
We can keep with the crock pot analogy and put it like this: make time to prepare the meat and put it in the pot, and then let it simmer all day.
First, make time to prepare for meditating on Scripture. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the day and focus on one key verse from your morning reading, or a key verse or short passage that you want to understand and obey more deeply. Read that verse over and over a few times. Work on memorizing it if you can. Write it down on a note card or in the notes app on your phone so that you’ll have it with you throughout the day. And begin to ask God to use that verse to change you to be more like Christ, maybe just by knowing certain truths about God, or by practicing certain things that God would have you practice.
Then, let it simmer all day. Return to that verse or short passage while you are in between tasks at work. If you have it memorized, say it out loud and pray through it while you drive. Think about it phrase-by-phrase, taking it apart in your mind, and then putting it back together again to see how all the pieces fit. All the while, keep asking God what he would have you know, or stop, or change, or do because of this verse. And then put into practice what God’s Word has put into your heart.
In all of this, what we’re doing is having an ongoing conversation with God by means of his Word. We’re hearing from him through the Scriptures, and we’re talking back to him in prayer as we consider what he’s said. And over time, what you’ll find is not only that you have a greater understanding of God’s Word, but that you delight in it more, and you’re being shaped by it more as well.
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.