“A Christian without meditation is like a soldier without arms, or a workman without tools. Without meditation, the truths of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation all is lost.” Thomas Watson
Starting on September 9th, I’ll teach a four-week class on Bible meditation. I’ve taught classes on Bible study–which are important–but I believe a missing link between reading the Bible and it landing on us with staying power is meditation.
When you hear the word “meditation”, what springs to mind? Someone parked on the floor, eyes closed, legs crossed, with incense burning in the background? Maybe you imagine a hip new yoga studio full of people emptying their minds to the sounds of waves crashing in the distance (all while paying to do stretches).
When I think of meditation, one image that comes to mind is chocolate. And not just any piece of chocolate, but a delicious square of dark chocolate. Among the list of “thou shalt not” for food, never eat good chocolate in a hurry. Please don’t give it a quick chomp only to slide it down your gullet. Instead, let it melt on the tongue, rolling it around your entire mouth so that your taste buds pick up all its subtle flavors. Relish it. Take your time. Think about what you’re tasting and what flavors pop in the mouth. Is that a hint of vanilla, a distinct brownie flavor, or is there a sprinkling of salt on top? Is it more bitter or sweet? It’s an experience taken in slow enough to enjoy it.
Biblical meditation looks more like savoring scrumptious chocolate than sitting in silence on your yoga mat. Meditation involves lingering over God’s Word so you absorb it. Meditation is filling your mind with specific truths and steeping your heart in them. It’s allowing the beautiful truth about God—revealed primarily in the Word but also in things like creation—to burrow itself into our minds and affections. It’s how we set our hearts on Christ through reflecting on and considering God’s truth, promises, and person.
While Bible reading and study receive attention in some churches today, Bible meditation has become a neglected practice. “It is perhaps the most underserved, underappreciated, and potentially most life-changing habit for us to cultivate in our day.”David Mathis calls it potentially the “most life-changing habit for us to cultivate in our day.” That grabs my attention so I listen up. Is that true? If it’s that potent, why have I not heard it emphasized more and what am I missing out on?
Often our time in the Word is as rushed, hurried, and empty as all the other things in our crowded schedules. When we get around to God’s Word, it might be a quick read where we breeze through a section or chapter without considering the words, much like we scan a newspaper or blog article someone else sent our way. Within a few minutes, we’ve picked up the Bible, put it down, and shifted our attention to what’s next.
This isn’t meant to guilt-trip you, but it’s an admission of how many of us (speaking from personal experience) approach the Bible. But, if reading is an abrupt act where we open a book for a quick read and then move on, we shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t land on us with any force. Like the person who chows down the chocolate rather than cherishes it, our Bible reading is a duty rather than a delight because we’ve not slowed down to enjoy it. We’ve missed out on letting our mind’s eye consider how God shows himself to us in a passage, what promises are there for us to anchor ourselves in, doctrines that might correct our wrong thinking, examples of loving those around us displayed, rays of hope shining into our pain or despair, and what gospel-provision for our sins and struggles Jesus purchased.
In Bible meditation, we slow down to consider, reflect on, chew on, and absorb the words of Scripture. When we read the Bible without meditating on it, the truths of God’s Word bounce off us as we move on to the next thing. We haven’t taken the time to massage or rub Scripture into our hearts. Neglecting meditation can lead to Bible reading becoming one of many things in our day we do and move past rather than it being something we do to carry with us for the day. This failure to meditate on Scripture is like watering your plants by pouring water on its leaves, only to run off or dry out, as opposed to letting the water sink into the ground so it’s absorbed into the roots. It is this act of unhurried reflection upon God’s Word that allows it to seep into the nooks and crannies of our heart, feeding and fueling our thoughts, feelings, desires, and actions.
Bible meditation isn’t something only super-spiritual believers do or a way to bog down and complicate our time in the Word. Instead, it’s meant to be part of how the Bible speaks to us because our reading includes more careful observation, thoughtful reflection, responsive prayer, raising and answering questions, and seeking to digest what we’ve just fed ourselves on. It doesn’t take a seminary degree or a brilliant mind; it takes a willingness to slow down our hurried selves and be present. Whether it’s five minutes or fifty minutes, whether it’s alone or with others, and whether you’re a new believer or “seasoned saint”, meditation is for all believers wanting to delight in God through his Word.
As much as biblical mediation might be a new concept, scare you, or seem like hard work, commit to enriching your time in God’s Word through practicing meditation. Listen to how Jonathan Edwards described the way he treasured the Scriptures through meditation:
“Oftentimes in reading it, every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt a harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet and powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading; often dwelling long on one sentence to see the wonders contained in it, and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders.”
(This post is largely taken from a group-oriented Spiritual Disciplines Guide I wrote for College Park Church.)
David Mathis. “Ten Questions for David Mathis: Part 2”, July 26, 2016. http://biblicalspirituality.org/ten-questions-for-david-mathis-about-habits-of-grace-part-2/Accessed June 20, 2017.
Ed. George S. Claghorn, “Personal Narrative” in Letters and Personal Writings: The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 16(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 797.