How to Meditate on God's Word
 

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My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.  (Ps 119:148)

 

Perhaps one of the most neglected disciplines in the Christian life these days is that of Meditation. I believe that very few Christians have been taught how important it is to pay close attention to what they think about.

Consider the following:

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

Author Unknown
 

We have all heard the expression, "you are what you eat", but is also true to say "you are (and are becoming) what you think." Here is a challenge for you. Over the next few weeks take special note about what things you spend your time thinking about. Consider the following questions.

Did you know that you are what you are right now - not what you would like to be, nor what you ought to be, nor are you what you used to be. You are what you are today. Today, the 'real you' is shown by what you do and by what you think about in your heart - what you meditate on. Further, the things that you allow your heart to dwell on today is building what you will be for tomorrow and the tomorrow after that.

Let's look at some verses which illustrate that you act out of and can be judged by the state of your heart.

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Lu 6:45)
But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man `unclean'. (Mt 15:18)
"What comes out of a man is what makes him `unclean'. For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man `unclean'." (MA 7:20-23)
As water reflects a face, so a man's heart reflects the man. (Pr 27:19)
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (Pr 4:23)

Your 'inner life' is an accurate representation of the real you. No matter what service you perform for God, or what you appear to be to others, the important thing is the purity of your inner self. Consider the words of Christ as he speaks to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:25-28)

The Pharisees were an obvious case of hypocrisy. But not so obvious that they noticed. They spent all of their time making sure that they obeyed the letter of the law perfectly. From the outside, it appeared that they were keeping God's law perfectly and were therefore righteous men. In spite of all their work, they are all dismissed as being filled with greed, self-indulgence, hypocrisy and wickedness. What a shock this accusation must have been to them.

You see, our God is not impressed with what we appear to be. We are all very good at 'playing Church'. No, God is most interested in what we are like on the inside. He wishes to change us from the inside out. His goal is to make us clean on the inside so that we would naturally be clean on the outside. If you are clean in your heart, then you will automatically be clean on the outside. Paul talks about the importance of having a loving heart.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Paul says that I can have great gifts, give everything I have away to the needy, and even give up my life for Christ, but if I do not have love, it counts for nothing at all.

But what does all this have to do with meditation?

Let's start by asking the question 'what is meditation?'. This is what Webster's says concerning a few related words:

Meditate: to engage in contemplation or reflection, to focus one's thoughts on: reflect or ponder over. to plan or project in the mind
Think: to form or have in the mind, to have as an opinion, to regard as or consider, to reflect on or ponder, to determine by reflecting, to call to mind or remember, to center ones thoughts on or form a mental picture of, to have in the mind engaged in reflection, to consider.
reflect: to think quietly and calmly
ponder: to weigh in the mind, to think about, reflect on, to think about - esp quietly, soberly and deeply.
Also, according to Webster's:
The words Ponder, Meditate, Muse, and Ruminate are synonyms and mean to consider or examine attentively or deliberately. PONDER implies a careful weighing of a problem or, often, prolonged inconclusive thinking about a matter; MEDITATE implies a definite focusing of one's thoughts on something as to understand it deeply; muse suggests a more or less focused daydreaming as in remembrance; RUMINATE implies going over the same matter in one's thoughts again and again but suggests little of either purposive thinking or rapt absorption.

Meditation is a function of the mind and the heart. It is what we think about in our hearts and it is something we each do every day. Whether we realize it or not, we all spend a large portion of our time in some form of meditation. The thing is, what we meditate on may or may not be worth while. In fact, what we habitually think about is frequently unhealthy for our growth as Christians. Often it is simply sinful. This is why I asked you earlier to spend some time making notes about what you thing about. This is the first step in the process of training ourselves to think correctly.

Firstly, let us look at what the Bible says about meditation:

Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. (2TIM 2:7)
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Ps 19:14)
Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Jos 1:8)
Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. (Ps 48:9)
I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. (Ps 77:12)
I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. (Ps 119:15)
Though rulers sit together and slander me, your servant will meditate on your decrees. (Ps 119:23)
Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders. (Ps 119:27)
I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decrees. (Ps 119:48)
May the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause; but I will meditate on your precepts. (Ps 119:78)
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. (Ps 119:97)
I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. (Ps 119:99)
My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. (Ps 119:148)
I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. (Ps 143:5)
They will speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. (Ps 145:5)
May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD. (Ps 104:34)
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. (Php 4:8)
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (Romans 12:1-3)
The verses quoted above describe to us what we should be doing. But this type of meditation does not come naturally. By nature, we stir up and act out that which is in our hearts. If your heart is filled with good things, you will have a tendency to meditate on good things. If your heart is filled with bad things, you will naturally think about and meditate on these things.

Here are some comments on the thoughts of heart of the 'natural' man:

The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time (Ge 6:5)
The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have (Ge 8:21)
Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isa 55:7)
Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways. (Isa 59:7)
O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved. How long will you harbour wicked thoughts? (Jer 4:14)

Like it or not, this is what the heart of the natural man *is* like. Some more and some less noticeably depraved, but depraved just the same. But we are children of God and have been called to something better. We are told to live lives of true purity, and this purity must start from the inside out.

I firmly believe that through God's grace and the power of his spirit, and through the prayers and ministry of our brothers in the Lord, we can (and must) train ourselves to have a pure thought life. If we do this, we will start to see changes in our attitude and behavior. Our hearts will start to become pure and we will enjoy the pleasure of the Lord.

But how do we accomplish this?

First, we must become consciously aware of what we spend our time meditating on now. We must take a detailed account of what we think about and based on biblical principles decide whether it is good or bad. When you catch yourself meditating on something undesirable, renounce it and cast it away. Imagine yourself throwing it to the ground and stepping on it to kill it. Then immediately choose to replace the thought with a good one, such as a prayer, a memorized scripture or song. Do not be discouraged if you find yourself thinking about that same thing only a minute or two later. Simply recognize sin as sin, renounce it again and choose to replace the thought with something worthwhile. You will find that many of your personal idols are firmly attached to your hearts as if with elastic bands so when you through them away they just snap back at you. But eventually the elastic will break and you will be free.

Similarly, do not think it strange if you find it difficult to cast off the undesirable thought pattern. Remember that your heart has a basic tendency to enjoy such things; you will be fighting with yourself. But you do not have to give in. Consider Paul's attitude about discipline in the Christian life:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Cor 9:24-27)
Please note that the Greek word translated 'beat my body' has a literal meaning of 'to bruise under the eye'. So, if you desire to overcome a certain sin, and are fighting it, why not choose to bash your head against the wall (figuratively speaking) and say "I will not do this". For we are told if we resist the Devil, he will flee from us.

Jesus took an extreme view of the fight against sin. This is why he said:

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)
Some days you will win and some days you will lose, but do not give up!

Feed your mind, feed your heart ...

Your mind and your heart are both like clay - being shaped and formed with each passing day. There are some questions to be asked:

Whether your realize it or not, your character is being formed and solidified with each passing day. This is true whether you plan through what you want to be or if you just let life happen. Some of the most powerful influences on the development of your character come from the following sources:

  1. What you read
  2. What you look at
  3. What you listen to
  4. The people you associate with
  5. What you think about

All these things feed your brain and together are a significant influence in the way your mind is programmed. Piece by piece, like bricks in a wall, this programming trains you how to respond, how to think, what to think, what to value and pursue, how to treat others and what you should/should not do. Do not be deceived, even small amounts of negative input has a noticeable effect over the long run. You have heard the expression that applies to computers - "garbage in, garbage out". This applies to your mind as well. You can be holy in an unholy world, but it's hard to avoid being effected by the ungodly influence that society has on you. It's all around us every day. Society does not teach godly behavior. Each day we are exposed to a great deal of negative re-enforcement. But, we can limit this negative input by carefully selecting the things we do when where there is a choice. For example:

Much of the above should be repulsive to a Christian anyway because they are opposed to God. But now to the point of it all. Instead of filling your mind with even more rubbish than you get from the world everyday anyway, see to it that you fill your mind with good things instead. And do not nurture the bad which is already there, rather get rid of it as garbage. There is plenty for us to do. Do not feel obligated to watch much television. In Canada and the US there is literally an unlimited number of good Christian books to read. There are many Christian tapes and videos as well. There is no shortage of good Christian music as well. There is a lot of programs, books, music, activities and other things which are not known as 'Christian things', but are still good. Participate in fellowship with Christians and associate yourself with godly people. The point is, you need to deliberately avoid certain types of input and replace it with others. In doing so you will begin to find that you are free to live a life pleasing to God.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Col 3:1-3)
The following are only some of the additional things we can do to support a healthy heart.
  1. Productive work/Christian service.
  2. Bible Study
  3. Prayer
  4. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
  5. Fellowship with other believers
  6. Meditation on the things of God
The value of Christian meditation

What then is Christian meditation? It is the deliberate practice of turning our hearts and our minds to the full time task of bringing the word of God to life in the daily activities of our lives. As I said earlier, God wants to change us from the inside out. He wants to renew our minds and hearts so they will become more like his own. However, it is *only* by God's grace and power that this could ever happen. We *cannot* change ourselves. God uses a number of things to accomplish this. But the primary tool he uses is his own word recorded in the Bible. If we ignore it, he cannot work in us. If we use it and put it to use, he will be able to enter into our lives and form us into what he wants us to be. Meditation on the word of God allows its transforming power to renew our minds and change our hearts.

Meditation as a lifestyle (How do I meditate on God's word?)

Meditation on the things of God yields wisdom and purity. It yields spiritual maturity and communion with God. Here are a few of the things we can meditate on.

 

You see, much of this is reflection on the relationship we have with God, it is thinking about His love and influence in your life, it is wondering about His awesome power and mighty deeds. It is joyfully giving thanks to Him for all he has done. It is sitting in awe and appreciation of his works. It is using all your energy to understand and obey his word. Just as your digestive system processes the food you eat so it can be of use to your body, so also meditation digests all things concerning God and makes them a power which can renew your heart. (1)

Meditation centers on the relationship we have with God that comes through Jesus Christ. It seeks to improve this relationship by allowing God to use his word to renew our minds and our hearts through knowledge of his will. The word of God plays a central role in meditation because it is the place where our knowledge of God originates. We must therefore determine to know the word of God so that we have the material we need for meditation available to us. This involves diligent study and memorization of the scriptures. This will make sure that everything in the scriptures will be at your fingertips when you want it. Memorized scripture plays an important role in the art of meditation. I have written two articles on the subject of memorizing scripture:

Why Memorize Scripture

How to Memorize Scripture

Meditation can be done at all times of the day. It requires a bit of planning and extra effort to keep focused becuase it is work. It is also foreign to the natural state of your heart. It is something you choose to do. Meditation can be done both on planned, pre-arranged times and informally, whenever your mind is free.

Not all types of meditation are Christian

Some types of 'meditation' are not helpful to the Christian. Do not confuse these thinks with true Christian meditation. The religions of the East fall into this category. Even some forms of meditation taught by some Christian groups are not really helpful. One teaching on meditation tells you to clear your mind, sit comfortably and repeat a phrase 'Ma-ra-na-th' over and over again until you feel at peace. I don't get the point of it. There is no benefit to it because it neither promotes the repentance and fellowship with the Spirit that God enjoys.

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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Ps 19:14)
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Footnotes:

1) The Saints' Everlasting Rest REV. Richard Baxter, Chapter 13 , circa 1650

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Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION,
Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by
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