Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Examples of Biblical Meditation

“The hearing of the Word may affect us, but the meditating upon it transforms us.” 
-Thomas Watson

About two months ago, I taught a Sunday school lesson on Christian meditation (you can listen to it at this link). I began by addressing problems related to meditation (e.g. not meditating, meditating on sinful or unhelpful things, meditation driven by false religion). I also noted the various uses of the term: there is a place for counting sheep to help you sleep, but this is not a form of spirituality nor is it what the Bible has in mind when it speaks of meditation. 

God exhorts his people to meditate on his word (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2, 119:23, 78), on what he has done (Psalm 143:5, 145:5), and on the glorious splendor of his majesty (Psalm 145:5). In Psalm 143:5, this practice is described with three parallel terms: remember, meditate, ponder. Bringing these passages together, Thomas Watson described biblical meditation in this way: “It is a holy exercise of the mind whereby we bring the truths of God to remembrance, and do seriously ponder upon them and apply them to ourselves” (Heaven Taken by Storm, p. 23).

Not only does Scripture tell us to meditate and on what to meditate, but it also gives us examples of what meditation looks like. Consider these three Psalms:

Psalm 19This psalm is described as a meditation in the final verse (19:14). There are three things on which the psalm meditates. The first is God's revelation of himself through his creation. For the first six verses, the Psalm looks up to the sky and considers how it displays the wisdom and majesty of God to all the earth. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (19:1). The second thing on which the psalm reflects is the word of God. For five verses, it reflects on the attributes of God's word, attributes which reflect its divine author. It observes that Scripture is perfect, life-giving, trustworthy, morally upright, pure, enlightening, true, giving joy and wisdom even to the simple. Therefore it is of great benefit to those who read it and observe it. It turns them from danger unto salvation. The word is more precious than fine gold; it is sweeter than honey. The third thing on which the psalm meditates is the self. It turns from examining the creation and God's word to self-examination. "Who can discern his errors?" (19:12) Our sins and need for mercy are particularly noticeable after reflecting on God's works and word. And so the meditation ends with a prayer for forgiveness and sanctification. "Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!" (19:12-13) 

Psalm 77. This psalm recounts a meditation which moves from discouragement to hope. The psalmist begins his meditation during a restless night in a troubled state of mind: "when I meditate, my spirit faints" (77:3). Then in verse 6, he revolves to meditate in his heart and make diligent search with his spirit, considering questions like "Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased?" (77:7–8a). Then in verse 10 he appeals to the character of God revealed by his past deeds and resolves to bring these deeds to remembrance. "I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds" (77:12). In the rest of the psalm, he recounts God's works of deliverance, how he led his people like a flock through the sea by the hand of Moses and Aaron. This meditation is both an encouragement to the psalmist and an appeal to God to act in accordance with his past deeds. 

Psalm 104. This psalm, like Psalm 19, is described as a meditation at the end of the psalm, "May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD" (104:34). The psalm is an extended meditation on God’s works in nature. It meditates on his work of creation and his ongoing work of providence. After observing and describing these works, it notes how they display his wisdom (104:24), generosity (104:27-28), sovereignty (104:29-30, 32), and glory (104:31). The result is that these observations move the psalmist to joy (104:34), worship (104:33), and a zeal for God and his reign (104:35). 

In all of these examples, God's word, works, and character are brought to mind and pondered. Implications are drawn out and observations are made. And all three of these examples are practical. The meditations leads to conviction, comfort, joy, and reverence. 

This kind of thoughtful meditation might not be natural to you. The mind likes to wander and there are many things that call out for our attention. It takes self-discipline to focus our mind. It takes some resolve to set aside time to think. But the effort is worth it. Meditation is good for us. It allows the word of God to settle more deeply into our minds and hearts. To benefit from food, not only do you need to chew it and swallow it. You also need to digest it. And as cows digest their food by chewing the cud, so we have need to recall what we have heard and read and to chew on it more to receive its nourishment. 

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