I want to begin with a bold statement. I believe that one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented, and yet most important skills for our spiritual growth is meditation. Now, I don’t know what comes into your head when you hear the word ‘meditate’ so let me be clear. I don’t have in mind anything like what many Eastern religions mean when they use that word. Because, meditation, in eastern religions is done by intentionally emptying your mind. But Christian meditation is the exact opposite! Christian meditation is focused on filling it! Specifically, filling it with God’s Word.
But what is meditation and why is it so important? JI Packer in his book “Knowing God” defines meditation like this, “Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God.”
In other words, Meditation is the process by which we intentionally seek to fill our minds with God’s word, with the intent and hope that it will saturate our hearts and lives in such a way that we are changed and transformed by His truth. Meditation allows the truth of God’s word to ‘steep’ in our minds so that our hearts begins to take on the characteristics of God’s truth. Meditation is chewing (turning over and over in our mind) the truth of God’s Word so that our soul is nourished by it. Meditation is slowly pouring over God’s truth so that it soaks into our souls like a slow rain – saturating our hearts and lives with it’s life-giving sustenance. Another way to say this is that meditation is intentionally prioritizing DEPTH over BREADTH.
But, as these images make clear, meditation is NOT something we can do quickly. It can even feel a little unproductive. Which is why I think – in our fast-paced, productivity-crazed, information-overloaded culture – we struggle with the slow and subtle grace of Christian meditation. And yet, it features prominently in key places in scripture. For example…
In Psalm 1, the Psalmist describes the ‘blessed’ man as the one who “…delights in the Law of the Lord…” and “…on his law he meditates day and night…”. What is the result of this? “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.” This is particularly important as Psalm 1 seems to be providing the intended approach to the Psalms in particular, but by extension all of God’s Word.
Similarly, at the beginning Joshua, God commands Joshua that, “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.” God is commanding this busy leader about to take on the task of conquering the promise land to 'meditate' so that 'you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.' And here we see that if we are to grow in our obedience to God's word, then meditation is the pathway.
If you prefer a New Testament example, Jesus says in John 15:7, “7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Here Jesus seems to indicate that the way we ‘abide’ in Him – meaning the way we live in active dependence on His person and work is by His ‘words’ abiding (ie. remaining) in you. But how are his words to 'abide' in us? By meditation!
So, hopefully, I have convinced at least a few of you of the importance of this lost aspect of Christian Spirituality and so now I want to give some advice on where to start.
READ scripture regularly. A regular, structured diet of Bible reading is the starting place for meditation.
CHEW on 1 or 2 verses. Summarize these verses. Writing them in your own words can be helpful. Seek to store them in your mind so you regularly replay them throughout the day.
PRAY God's Word. From there, turn these verses into a prayer. Ask God to help you understand them, obey them, and respond to them as he desires.
APPLY them. Seek to take these words into the reality of your everyday life. The goal is for these truths to move from you ‘head’ to your ‘heart’ and ‘hands’ (ie. all of your life).
The big thing to remember is that meditation is intended to help you ENJOY God and GROW in godliness. So, if these particular steps feel restrictive, talk to a pastor or trusted friend who you see is farther along in Christ and ask them for help.