Meditating on Scripture
A post by Kevin McKay.
Meditate on scripture. It’s the command in Joshua 1:8. The practice of the wise in Psalm 1:2. It’s the source of praise in Psalm 119:97. So, not surprisingly, it’s a common point of application in sermons on spiritual growth. But still someone recently asked me, “How exactly do you meditate on scripture?”
It’s a good question. It’s one we often don’t know how to answer, because our society doesn’t emphasize this practice. We also don’t live in a society that leaves much room for meditation. I admit that for many years I received the encouragement to meditate on scripture as a good idea with only a vague idea of what that meant.
Meditation, however, isn’t complicated. It’s simply to think deeply on a subject for a period of time. The Christian meditates on the truth of God’s Word. There’s a lot we can say about how to do this well, but it’s helpful to follow three basic steps: read, think, apply.
First, you must read and re-read the text. It’s like staring at a painting long after you feel like you’ve seen everything there is to see. The more you examine it, the more the details will stick out and amaze you. The more you read and re-read a passage of scripture, the more you see. You find small details that were easy to pass over that suddenly feel important. You feel where the emphasis lies in a sentence or passage. This is what makes memorization so helpful to meditation. It forces you to turn God’s word over and over again in your mind as you hold onto each word. Knowing what the Bible says helps you think more deeply about it.
The more you read and understand what the text says, the easier it is to focus on its truth. In fact, this next step is the natural outflow of the time spent reading and re-reading the text. Questions will start to arise. Thoughts are generated. Answers and application are sought. Like a runner’s high, or the worker’s satisfaction in progress, this is the soul-stirring work of meditation where one experiences the Spirit’s fellowship. We can aid this process by asking questions of the text. For example, “How does this fit with what comes before and after?” Or more simply, “What does this mean?” We dig for answers and reflect on what we find. Bible studies and commentaries can be helpful companions to meditation. Meditation, however, has a goal beyond understanding truth. We want to be changed by it.
Jesus prayed for us in John 17:17, “Father, sanctify them by your truth; Your word is truth.” As we read and think on God’s word, the Spirit is moving in our hearts and minds according to God’s will. He’s confirming us into the image of Christ. Meditation is one way we join the Spirit in this work. That means we don’t want to just ask questions of the text, but of our lives also. “Are there commands I need to obey?” “Are there ways I need to think or act differently?” Of course, because this is the work of the Spirit with His word, prayer is also an important companion to meditation. Pray what you’re reading in God’s word back to God as it relates to your life. Pray for help to be conformed to it. Pray for understanding. And finally, go put it Go practice it. The end of our meditation is action. We want to respond to God’s word in obedience.
Some practical help
Finding a good Christian brother or sister in the church can also be a huge encouragement to meditating on God’s word. There’s accountability in making it a regular part of your day. There’s also the added benefit of having someone to share what God is showing you in His word and doing in your life. It’s another way of continuing to reflect on God’s Word again, but this time with the encouragement and insight of another brother. So come up with a plan for touching base with someone on a weekly basis, or even daily, to help you grow in this way.
Meditating on God’s word is truly a powerful source of strength for obedience and joy in the midst of trials. So during this time where we’re being forced to grow apart from the Sunday morning gathering, which is usually so important to our spiritual health, my prayer is that we will grow in this important discipline for our good and God’s glory.