Get In Your Bible: What is Biblical Meditation?

This is the third and final post in a series on interacting with God’s Word. You can read the first post here, and you can read the second post (on Bible study) by clicking here.

 

Biblical meditation is the active use of the mind, heart, and imagination to understand and know God by means of his Word, his world, his works, and his ways. Let’s use the parts of this definition to briefly consider the spiritual discipline of meditation.

First, biblical meditation is active. Unlike many of the meditation practices of eastern religions, biblical meditation is a discipline which requires our engagement. You have to actually use your mind to contemplate and reflect upon God’s truth.

Second, biblical meditation uses the mind, heart, and imagination. You have to study, think, process, reflect, feel, trust, conceive, and conceptualize God’s truth. Meditating should engage our entire being in the process of beholding God.

Third, biblical meditation is for the purpose of understanding and knowing God. Many people think meditation is for their mental and emotional health—to help them deal with stress or manage anxiety. Others praise it for having other health benefits. While it is entirely possible and even probable that consistent meditation is good for one’s health, that is not the main reason for meditation. The main reason to meditate is to behold our God, to know him and understand him and love him more.

And fourth, biblical meditation makes use of specific means for knowing and understanding God. Means of grace are specific ways God has told us that he channels his blessings to his people. The Bible commands us to meditate on God’s Word (the Bible), God’s world (creation), God’s works (his providential care), and God’s ways (his character). The Bible is the key to all of these. The Bible teaches us how to unlock the book of creation to see the majesty of the Creator, how to recognize God’s providence in our lives, and discern the ways of God that reflect his character as being loving, just, holy, righteous, omniscient, mighty, compassionate, merciful, etc.

Basic Biblical Meditation

Many of us have no idea where to start meditating. Here are some very simple suggestions for starting the process in our own devotional time with the Lord:

1. Chose a small section (one or two verses) from the passage you have most recently studied. Often one or two verses, or sometimes something as small as one phrase from a verse, will grab our attention as we read through a passage. Pay attention to those words. They typically serve as fertile ground for meditation.

If nothing jumps off the page at you, try to find a verse that sums up the whole passage and use it for your meditation.

2. Write out by hand the section on which you will be meditating in your journal, considering how every word adds to its meaning.The purpose here is to slow down your mind so that you think very deliberately and intentionally about the verses. One of the most effective ways of doing this is by repeating the verse over and over, emphasizing a different word or phrase each time. For example:

  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8)
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Placing the emphasis on different words and phrases helps us to discover greater meaning in the verse. Like looking through a diamond from its many facets, approaching God’s Word from various angles helps us better see the brilliance of his glory.

As you go through this process, write down what comes to your mind. Using the example above, I might record after emphasizing “in heart” something like, “God is not impressed with mere outward purity, but sees into my heart.”

3. Use your own words to rewrite the verse or phrase.Make a real effort not to use the same words from the verse but come up with your own paraphrase. If you’ve chosen a long verse or set of verses, try to write it as succinctly as possible. If, on the other hand, you’ve chosen a very short verse or phrase, amplify it into something with more length. The point is to engage the truth of the verse with your mind and heart.

So, continuing the example of Matthew 5:8 used above, I may rewrite it like this: “Those whose innermost being is singularly focused on the righteousness of God will receive the great reward of actually beholding him face to face.”

Prayer-Based Meditation

One of the best ways to meditate on a passage of Scripture is to pray through it. I recommend that you use this journal to write out your prayers to God. Just write your prayer in the form of a letter.

The best way to begin learning how to do this is in the Book of Psalms. Many of the psalms are prayers, so praying them isn’t too difficult. You can work your way through a psalm, verse by verse, using each section or phrase to prompt your own prayer life.

One practice that has been helpful to me is referred to as the “Psalm of the Day” system. This method allows you to make your way through the whole Book of Psalms over time. Basically, you use the date to come up with a set of psalms from which you will chose one to pray through that day.

For example, I’m writing this on the 8th. So Psalm 8 is one of five psalms of the day. I add 30 to 8 to get the other four. So today’s psalms are: 8, 38, 68, 98,  and 128. On the 31st of the month, there’s only one psalm: Psalm 119 (the longest chapter in the Bible).

Once you have the psalms of the day, quickly (very quickly!) scan through them all and choose one. It could be one that seems to speak to your place in life, or it could be one that is particularly meaningful to you. Then begin praying through that psalm while writing out your prayer. Be specific, don’t be afraid to wander a bit, but then come back to the passage and continue your prayer.

Some people stumble when they get to those passages in the psalms that talk about God smiting enemies and trampling the wicked. While there may be people who you ask God to protect you from, there are certainly spiritual “enemies” from whom we all need God’s deliverance.

Any Scripture can become a prayer, but Psalms are easiest. Next, try Paul’s letters. Narratives are more difficult, but possible with some imagination.

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