Scripture meditation is the master key unlocking doors within our hearts, giving access and making space for the Holy Spirit to transform our lives in many on-going ways.
Psalm 119 draws us along the way of meditation, attracting us into the process, beckoning our attention and inviting our participation. Here’s a little taste from the NRSV:
“I treasure (have hidden) your word in my heart (v.11), I delight in the way of your decrees (v.14), I will meditate on your precepts (v.15), open my eyes [to] wondrous things (v.18), my soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances (v.20), your servant will meditate on your statutes (v.23), your decrees are my delight (v.24), I will meditate on your wondrous works (v.27), turn my heart to your decrees (v. 36).”
Meditation Is. Meditation is the practice of sustained attention for the benefit of our soul. To treasure and hide God’s word in the heart is to meditate. To meditate is to relate to God in a personal, intimate, meaningful way, longing for and delighting in His word so that His life increasingly becomes your life. Meditation is a relational tool, a way to create emotional and spiritual ‘space’ which allows the Holy Spirit to nurture, heal and mature us. Meditation brings character transformation and enables our obedience – a deep obedience surpassing simple external conformity – to our loving Father God.
Meditation is inward fellowship, communing with God, listening to Him speak through the words we read and reflect on. To meditate is to ponder and absorb the life He has for us: it is to ask Him questions, receive His answers, to be cleansed, to accept His forgiveness and to be loved, yes, always to be loved. God’s tender, gently-strong love finds its way through meditation to nurture us, direct us, correct us and awe us. To meditate is to slow down and allow the Holy Spirit to personalize the scripture to us. In this process we become radically attached to Abba Father and restoration of our relationship with Him occurs.
God is highly motivated to meet with us through meditation – it’s one of His preferred ways of transforming us to be more Christ-like. To meditate is to communicate with Him, to grow our ability to surrender to His wisdom, to deepen our appreciation for who He is and why He does what He does. In meditation we learn more intimately how he wants us to ‘be’ and ‘do’ our life-in-Christ.
Through meditation the written word of God becomes the living word personally addressing us. Life flows through meditation as Creator God shapes and molds us for His purposes. Meditation is Mary of Bethany sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening and conversing and absorbing Jesus’ words. Meditation is a means of grace by which our minds are washed (Eph. 5:25) and our roots absorb the living water needed by our parched souls (Psalm 1:3).
Meditation Is Not. Scripture study, a vitally important spiritual discipline, is not meditation. Bible study includes the reading of longer passages, learning the truth about God and life with technical accuracy concerning words, concepts, principles and doctrine. Scripture study need not be a completely academic affair but it is primarily a left brain activity (logic, sequence, literalness, analysis). Study is wonderfully engaging as we discover, collect, examine and dissect the details. Ah, the glorious details! But ‘study’ is primarily ‘informational’ bible reading and this kind of reading does not readily bring character change.
Reading For Relationship. Meditation is principally a right brain activity (relationship, emotion, metaphor, synthesis, intuition, aesthetics). Meditation is conversational and primarily ‘formational’ – it is reading for relationship, relationship with the Author. Meditation involves us less with exactly what words are ‘written’ and more with exactly how the words are ‘spoken’ – spoken to us by the Holy Spirit. Indeed during meditation our eyes wondrously function more like ears as we listen to God’s tone, His emphasis and discern the mood and atmosphere of His presence. Wondrously we sense internally His care filled probing, His invitations, the firmness and tenderness of His love. This is personal in nature as God graciously makes the descent through the clutter of our head into the issues of our heart, tying good things together and untying the knots and snarls of our soul. Ah, it is here where we come to deeply know His acceptance, His assurance, His affirmations. Nothing compares to this kind of personal encounter with our life-giving Lord.
The ‘How’ of Meditation. If you meditate on just the first 24 verses of Psalm 119 you’ll learn much about how to meditate! Begin with an attitude of delight and trusting surrender to the Holy Spirit. As the words direct, praise Him, rejoice in Him and allow yourself to be overwhelmed with desire to be with Him. Then immerse yourself in a short passage or phrase: read and re-read it again and again. Ponder and reflect on these few words, softly recite them out-loud, whispering them to your soul. Listen, wait, listen. Pray that small portion of scripture to God and ask Him to speak. Then listen, wait and listen.
Sustain your attention on the word or phrase or sentence which God whispers back to you. Do not try to master that particular passage or phrase – rather, allow it to master you. Allow it to probe you, wash you, strengthen you, encourage you, correct and affirm you. Allow it to become deeply meaningful. Even if you don’t know what to do with it, hold it, embrace it, chew on it, gnaw it. Whisper it out again with a low, throaty rumble much like a lion ‘growls’ as it savors a meaty bone from its prey (Isaiah 31:4). Treasure it, absorb it and take delight in the fact that God is encountering you, communicating with you, imparting life to you. Use your sanctified imagination and engage your senses in not only seeing and hearing God’s word, but tasting (Psalm 34) and feeling it, perhaps even smelling the fragrance of the Spirit’s presence. These experiences will both develop your soul and disrupt your soul. God is delighted to meet you and love you in meditation. He has designed you for this kind of encounter. Eugene Peterson tells us,
“Trust in the power of [scripture] words to penetrate our lives and create truth and beauty and goodness. [His word] …enters our souls as food enters our stomachs, spreads through our blood and becomes holiness and love and wisdom” (Eat This Book, Eerdmans, 2006).
Practice Meditation. Yes, it takes practice, dedication and discipline. Yes, we may fumble and stumble as we awkwardly develop this spiritual practice. Yes, we must filter out the distractions and prioritize time for these encounters. But with delighted persistence in meditation we will discover and develop our ability to relate to God, steadily becoming and revealing our true selves in His presence. Each limited taste of the fruit of meditation will bring deeper satisfaction and stimulate greater desire to return, again and again, to these sacred meetings. This is devotional intimacy with God on His terms, through His words, under His loving influence. This is spiritual formation and soul restoration.