“I consider the days of old, the years long ago. I said, ‘Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart. Then my spirit made a diligent search. . . . I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder [meditate] all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (Ps. 77:5-6, 11-12; see also Psalm 111:2; 119:27; 143:5; 145:5).
(6) Christian meditation must be distinguished from the sort that we find in eastern religions or more recent new age fads. For example, unlike eastern meditation, which advocates emptying the mind, Christian meditation calls on us to fill our mind with God and his truth. Nowhere in the Bible is the “mind”, per se, described as evil or unworthy of being the means by which God communicates with us. What the Bible does denounce is intellectual pride, but not the intellect itself. It is humility that we need, not ignorance. I stand opposed to arrogant and cynical intellectualism. But that is not the same thing as using the mind God has given us, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the instruction of Scripture, to evaluate and discern and critically assess what is happening in both the church and the world.
Thus, unlike eastern meditation, which advocates mental passivity, Christian meditation calls on us to actively exert our mental energy. This is nowhere better stated than by Paul in Philippians 4:8. Here he encourages us to “let our minds dwell on” whatever is “true,” “honorable,” “right,” “pure,” “lovely,” and of “good repute.” Those things that are “excellent” and “worthy of praise” are to be the targets of our mental aim. It isn’t enough merely to acknowledge that things and ideas of moral and mental excellence are important. Merely affirming such truths and virtues will avail little in a time of testing. We must energetically reckon, take into account, and give deliberative weight to these things. Our minds must be captivated by them in such a way that the tawdry, sleazy, fictitious, and fanciful fluff of the world loses its appeal.
Unlike eastern meditation, which advocates detachment from the world, Christian meditation calls for attachment to God. If the believer disengages from the distractions and allurements of the world, it is in order that he/she might engage with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unlike eastern meditation, which advocates visualization in order to create one's own reality, Christian meditation calls for visualization of the reality already created by God. Unlike eastern meditation, which advocates metaphysical union with 'god', Christian meditation calls for spiritual communion with God. Unlike eastern meditation, which advocates an inner journey to find the center of one's being, Christian meditation calls for an outward focus on the objective revelation of God in Scripture and creation. Unlike eastern meditation, which advocates mystical transport as the goal of one's efforts, Christian meditation calls for moral transformation as the goal of one's efforts.
(7) So how should the Christian go about developing the discipline of meditation? The first step is to rehearse in one's mind the presence of God. Perhaps reading and reflecting on Psalm 139:1-10will help. Focus your attention on the inescapable presence, the intimate nearness of God. Issues of posture, time, and place are secondary, but not unimportant. The only rule would be: do whatever is most conducive to concentration. If a posture is uncomfortable, change it. If a particular time of day or night is inconvenient, change it. If the place you have chosen exposes you to repeated interruptions and distractions, move it. I enjoy watching football on TV as much as the next guy, but trying to engage with God’s Word during the huddle is hardly an effective way to experience its power!
(8) The second step is to peruse. By this I mean read, repeat the reading, write it out, then re-write it. We must keep in mind the difference between informative reading of the Scriptures and formative reading. The former focuses on the gathering of information, the increase of knowledge, the collection and memorization of data. The purpose of the latter is to be formed or shaped by the text, through the work of the Holy Spirit. With informative reading, I am in control of the text. With formative reading, the text controls me.
(9) It also helps to apply your imagination and senses to the truth of the text. Envision yourself personally engaged in the relationship or encounter or experience of which the text speaks. Hear the words as they are spoken. Feel the touch of Jesus on a diseased body. Taste and smell the fish and bread as they are served to the multitudes. See the truths that God has revealed by mentally recreating the scene with yourself present. There is nothing magical or mysterious in this. The purpose of the imagination is not, as some have argued, to create our own reality. Our imagination is a function of our minds whereby we experience more intimately and powerfully the reality God has created. As you are doing so, reflect on the truth of the Word; brood over the truth of the text; absorb it, soak in it, as you turn it over and over in your mind.
(10) The final steps can be summarized in four words: pray, personalize, praise, and practice.
It is difficult to know when meditation moves into prayer. It isn't really that important. But at some point, take the truth as the Holy Spirit has illumined it and pray it back to God, whether in petition, thanksgiving, or intercession. In other words, take Scripture and turn it into dialogue with God.
Where possible, and according to sound principles of biblical interpretation, replace proper names and personal pronouns with your own name. God never intended for his Word to float aimlessly in impersonal abstractions. He designed it for you and for me.
Then worship the Lord for who he is and what he has done and how it has been revealed in Scripture. Meditation ought always to lead us into adoration and celebration of God.
Finally, practice. Commit yourself to doing what the Word commands. The aim of meditation is moral transformation. The aim of contemplation is obedience. And in obedience is joy inexpressible and full of glory.
This article was written by Sam Storms and originally appeared at his blog. Find it here.
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