James (Steve) Clay, MABC, LPC
All of us have experienced the frustration and discouragement of knowing something as true in our minds and yet either forgetting that truth in times of needed application or in failing to experience that truth in our hearts. God provides us with means of moving truth from our minds to our hearts. Meditation is taught and practiced in scripture as a primary spiritual discipline to accomplish just that. Meditation helps us connect the truth we take into our minds and land it in our hearts, thus affecting how we see life and relationships, suffering and sin, and leading us toward God in trust and obedience to Him. Below is a brief overview along with simple instructions on meditation. It is adapted from Steve Midgley’s article “Meditating for a Change: Embracing a Lost Art,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, volume 34 (1), pp. 20-38.
What is Meditation?
Thomas Watson, the puritan writer, defined meditation as “a holy exercise of the mind whereby we bring the truths of God to remembrance, and do seriously ponder upon them and apply them to ourselves.”
Meditation is strongly encouraged in the scriptures as a primary means of grounding us in the Lord and protecting us from the fascinations and dangers of sin. Consider Psalm 1.
1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
In meditation, truths are “entering the mind and making their way into the heart, so that they might have their proper impact on our affections.” (Midgley, p 24) It is a way in whichthe truth captivates our hearts, moving us toward deeper love for and trust in the Lord. The result is glad obedience from the heart. Meditation, therefore, is one of the primary means by which God intends to transform us.
Goal of Meditation
There are two types or forms of meditation: occasional and deliberate. Occasional meditation corresponds to some situation in which our attention is captured through our physical senses. This could be in observing a beautiful sunset, or the enjoyment of delicious food, or a pleasant scent or touch. These experiences move our hearts, stirring feelings of wonder and awe. In meditation, our intentional use of these feelings are used to move our thoughts to the Lord as the author of these gracious gifts and toward the awareness that He is the greater delight than the gifts He gives. These ponderings and feelings lead to praise and adoration, thanks and gratitude, as well as confession and petition.
The second type is deliberate meditation. In it our minds are ordered and fixed upon the Lord through scripture with the intention of affecting our hearts. While this is not Bible study, per se, it does involve a careful consideration of the scriptural text. Where Bible study targets the mind, meditation targets the heart through use of deeper understanding of the text of scripture leading to applying our thinking to our heart. Meditation, of this sort, connects Bible reading and prayer. It involves using the imagination, seeking to attain to things that we cannot see with our physical eyes and yet believe. It activates faith. Meditation moves knowledge from the head into the heart.
Practice of Meditation
Now that we know what meditation is and for what it is intended to accomplish, how doyou actually do meditation? Midgley lists five principles of mediation:
- Be alone. Let this be a time with just you and the Lord.
- Be silent. By this is meant that meditation should occur where quietness is available and distractions are manageable.
- Be unhurried. Set aside the needed time, which could be thirty minutes to an hour. Meditation can be considered your “quiet time” or “devotional time.”
- Be regular. Let meditation become a spiritual habit or discipline. Develop a routine.
- Be persistent. Don’t give up. Keep at it. The blessing of meditation will come if you are persistent.
Stages of Meditation
- In consideration, we are wanting to draw out from the text all the meaning we can. We want to mull over the text, reading over it several times,looking at it from different angles, emphasizing particular words, considering other texts that speak similarly about the same subject. We want to wring out as much truth and meaning as we can, letting the truth shape our thinking, adjust our perspective, and influence our interpretations of life.
Soliloquy (or self-talk)
- Not only to we want to consider the meaning and implications of the text, we want to speak those truths back to ourselves. We are prone to speak distortions to ourselves, therefore, speaking truth directly from the text to ourselves is very important. In this manner we are beginning a new habit of self-talk—biblical seft-talk. As we are to speak the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:15), doing the same to ourself is very important. It is a means toward the Bible speaking truth to our hearts that simply reading it will not do.
- Lastly, we want the text to lead us in prayer, both in content and in manner. In order for the text to move into our hearts from our heads, we need additional help—primary help. We need the Lord to move it there, empower it there. This sort of prayer that is part of meditation may be structured as follows:
- Praise and thanksgiving—focusing on the character, actions, and promises of God. Draw from the text those specific things about God and praise Him for them.
- Confession—focusing on the ways that we fall short of believing and responding to these truths about God. We confess disobedience, unbelief, wrong beliefs, and misplaced affections. Draw from the text where there are specific needs for confession. Lay these before the Father.
- Petition—asking God for specific help in regard to a faithful response to the truth revealed in the text. We are asking God to change our hearts toward faith anddelight in Him, and for help in obeying the truth revealed and stirring in our hearts. In other words, we ask God to change our lives in respect to the truth upon which we’ve been meditating.
Applying Meditation to Your Situation
Now it is time for you to try meditation for yourself. What is your situation? Is it primarily about a time of suffering? A time of struggle with a specific sin? A relationship? Do you need comfort? Reassurance? Encouragement? Are you in a time of doubt? Now identify a short passage of scripture that addresses your situation. If you are unsure of Bible texts that address your particular struggle, below is are samples. If you need more help, seek it from your pastor, or a godly friend or counselor.
Below is a sample of verses for specific life struggles:
Comfort—Psalm 23; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Doubt—Proverbs 3:5-8; Isaiah 41:10
Anxiety—Psalms 27; 55; 56; Philippians 4:4-9; 1 Peter 5:6-7
Peace—Isaiah 26:3-4; Philippians 4:4-9
Depression—Psalm 88; Psalm 34:17-18
Suffering—Romans 8:15-18; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18