“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)
by Steve Clark
Our society is fascinated by what’s new – the now, the happening, the popular, and the different. For this reason scripture study, in which our main goal is to see something new about a verse or passage, is often more appealing to us than scripture meditation, in which we seek to better grasp a scripture text we already understand.
When we study God’s word, we think it through in order to understand it. When we meditate, we go over a passage we already understand in order to grasp it more fully, to imprint it more deeply on our minds and spirits. We may see something new as we meditate, but that is a by-product. The goal is to appreciate what we already know or to remember it more firmly. Because of this, it is often better to meditate on something we have already studied than it is to meditate on a scripture passage we are unfamiliar with or do not understand.
Imagine yourself building a piece of furniture or setting a table for guests. Then imagine yourself standing back to take it all in and see how it strikes you. The act of building a table or setting a table is like scripture study. The second step is more like meditation, especially if you have done the first part well and are pleased with what you see. Or imagine yourself eating some especially well-prepared food and deciding to chew it more slowly in order to savor it. This too is like meditation. Meditating on scripture is pondering God’s word prayerfully, delighting in it, appreciating it.
God’s word itself gives us a good description of meditation. In Ephesians, chapter 1, St. Paul prays, that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power” (1:17-19).
The relationship of this passage to meditation becomes clearer if we examine the meaning of certain words. The word “spirit” refers to our spirit, with which we make direct contact with God. The word “knowledge” means experiential knowledge, which involves being connected or related to another. Thus, St. Paul is praying that our spirits might be given wisdom and revelation as we enter into relationship with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
By that relationship we are changed and enabled to know spiritual realities. Paul calls this “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened.” The word “heart” here does not mean the seat of our emotions, but the mind, the decision-making center of our being out of which we know and respond to God. So Paul is actually praying that we might be given light to see and know the truth with our minds. He is concerned that our spirits come into contact with the fundamental truths of God revealed to us in Christ. Paul is not praying that we learn certain facts, but that we have an experiential knowledge of the “hope to which he has called you,” “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,” and “the immeasurable greatness of his power.” This happens as we meditate on God’s word.
John 6:63 is another verse that gives us a scriptural understanding of meditation: “it is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Looking at this scripture in the context of John chapter 6, we discover that we receive spiritual life when we abide with Christ, personally believe and commit ourselves to obedience to his words, and allow them to impart greater spirit and life to us. Meditation allows us to take in the words of Christ and all of scripture and to receive from them the spirit and life that they have to give.
Many of the psalms, and Psalm 119 in particular, give us further insights into meditation. “I have laid up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your words” (verses 11-16). In this section there are a number of words and phrases connected with meditation: delighting, fixing my eyes upon, not forgetting, declaring.
Further on in the same psalm we read: “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.... Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me” (verses 33-35, 97-98). These verses make it obvious that it is the Lord who leads us and gives us understanding. They also make it evident that meditation is supposed to be continual. We should center our minds on the teachings of the Lord and thereby become truly spiritual, living in the knowledge of him in true wisdom and true revelation.
As these scripture passages indicate, there are many methods of meditating on scripture. You might want to try all of the ways listed below, to find those that are most helpful to you. Here are some different ways to meditate on scripture:
1. Do not set a goal for how much scripture you plan to cover. It is fine to meditate on only a few words.
2. Memorization of a scripture passage is one of the best ways to meditate. Just by memorizing it you will meditate on it, and you can return to the passage later on "hands free" if you have it memorized.
3. Meditation is succeeding if you simply imprint the scripture or what is being said in scripture on your mind. Meditation can also, however, give you greater light on spiritual truths, revelation of spiritual understanding, or desire to do what God says. Sometimes it can lead to a decision or resolution to act. If you experience these things happening, you should cooperate with them.
4. Be active when you meditate, especially if the meditation is not going easily. Speak your meditation out loud, write it down, or memorize a section of scripture and repeat it.
5. Meditation can lead to a desire to pray or worship. When that happens, stop and pray or worship. Often, meditation can be spoken to God as a prayer or even as a conversation.
6. If God seems to be leading you in your meditation, follow his lead. Do not feel bound to follow a prearranged plan, although plans can be useful too.
7. Meditations will vary according to the material. With an event, we want to imagine what happened and appreciate its significance. With truths or doctrine, we want to realize what they mean and respond to them. With instructions in Christian living, we want to follow them and make resolutions.
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm119:103).
(c) copyright 2009 The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom