Note: This post is part three of a three-part series looking at the meditation of the heart and mind.
In The Heavenly Trade, Bartholomew Ashwood wrote that “Meditation chews the cud, and gets the sweetness and nutritive virtue of the Word into the heart and life: this is the way the godly bring forth much fruit.” Thus we must be mindful of our meditations if we are to walk in a manner worthy of our calling in Christ Jesus (Eph 4:1). With that in mind, here are some thoughts on the meaning, mandate, motive, and manner of mediation.
The Meaning of Meditation
From the Scripture passages mentioned above, we could simply define meditation as “thinking in which we set our minds on what’s biblical” (Ps 1:2; Prov 23:7; Rom 8:5-6). Meditation is speaking the truth in our hearts (Ps 15:2) through thoughtful deliberation.
Biblical meditation has no association with the mysticism of yoga or relaxation therapy. Those forms of meditation seek to empty the mind, whereas Christian meditation seeks to fill the mind by thinking about God and all that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Phil 4:8).
The puritan George Swinnock defined meditation as “a serious applying of the mind to some sacred subject, till the affections be warmed and quickened, and the resolution heightened and strengthened thereby, against what is evil, and for that which is good.”¹
The Mandate for Meditation
Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” The verb to “set your minds” is a command to be done continuously. What then are we to set our minds upon? “Things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” What are we naturally mindful of? Things above or things on earth? For our good and his glory, God commands us to set our thoughts and thus our affections upon that which has infinite and eternal value — namely Christ (Col 3:1).
The Motive for Meditation
Our meditation upon Christ and his Word is rightly motivated not just by obedience, but by love. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Why should we love Christ and obey him? Paul summarized it well in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15:
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
When our thoughts are consumed with Christ and what he did for us at the cross, such an indescribable love for us compels us to no longer live for ourselves but for him who died for us.
So how can we know if we are loving Christ above all else? The puritan Richard Sibbes wrote: “What the heart loves best — the mind studies most.” A great observation, though not original. Someone far wiser than Sibbes (namely Jesus) said in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So how can we discern what we treasure or love best?
Here are a few questions to meditate upon:
1) What do you naturally think about in your free time?
2) What does your day planner say about your use of time?
3) What does your checkbook indicate that you value or love the most?
We do what we do because we want what we want. Yet, if what we want is not in obedience to Christ or out of the love of Christ, then is not the conclusion of the matter this: “all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Eccl 1:14). How many times have you had someone come for counsel because they were loving Christ too much? No, they come for counsel because they have concluded that all is not well. They have not been mindful to keep their meditation upon the person, provisions, promises, and purposes of Christ in their lives.
In The Thought of God, Maurice Roberts rightly concluded: “The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence. When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers.”
So how does Christ fill our hearts with satisfaction? How does the love of Christ control us to such a degree that we no longer live for ourselves but for Christ? It is through the daily meditation upon his Word that our thoughts are fixed upon him, our affections warmed toward him, and our lives are thus conformed to him.
Living for Christ means we no longer live for ourselves (Gal 2:20). To live for Christ is to live by his Word rather than the wisdom of the world (Ps 119:105). Yet to truly live by his Word, we must first take his Word to heart (Ps 119:9-11). As William Bridge wrote: “Meditation will keep your hearts and souls from sinful thoughts … If the heart be full of sinful thoughts, there is no room for holy and heavenly thoughts: if the heart be full of holy and heavenly thoughts by meditation, there is no room for evil and sinful thoughts.”
The most holy and heavenly thoughts of course, are of Christ himself. Therefore John Owen stated that “a man may take the measure of his growth and decay in grace according to his thoughts and meditations upon the person of Christ, and the glory of Christ’s Kingdom, and of His love.” So if the motive of our meditation is the love of Christ and obedience to him, then how do we go about setting our minds on things above?
The Manner of Meditation
Meditation is easier thought of than actually done. As David Dockery wrote in New Dimensions in Evangelical Thought, “The practice of contemplation is simple but not necessarily easy, for exchanging busyness and noise for quiet waiting on the Lord cuts against the grain of our hyperactive lifestyle.”2
We live in a culture of information overload and bombardment. In his book Reset, David Murray wrote the following: “Research indicates that Americans are consuming an average of fifteen and a half hours of traditional and digital media each day.” If this is even remotely accurate, should we be surprised by the lack of biblical illiteracy and the rapid spread of a “cultural christianity” that has little to do with Christ?
In general, many would profit by turning off the tube and tuning up their souls through meditation upon God’s Word. So what are some practical steps to meditating upon God’s Word? Here are but a few suggestions:3
1) Plan adequate times without distractions. Good intentions are worthless without intentionality. Make a plan that includes a regular time and place in which you can saturate your heart with God’s Word. Invite accountability as you get started.
2) Predetermine the content of your meditation. Decide ahead of time what you will study so that you have a plan to implement. A good starting point is to study in-depth a book of the Bible4 or seek to thoroughly understand and apply each Sunday’s sermon.5 Either way, it’s better to read a small amount of Scripture and prayerfully meditate upon it than to read a large amount without meditation. As Thomas Watson concluded, “If you intend to profit by the Word, bring it home to yourselves: a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied.
3) Memorize verses for further meditation. It’s been said that Scripture memory is not a matter of intellect, but of interest. Systematically store up God’s Word in your heart that you can meditate upon it throughout the day.6
Mindful meditation upon the Word paves the way for rich dividends in your personal relationship with God and in helping others who need to know the instruction, encouragement, and hope found in Scripture (Rom 15:4). In your meditations, “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thess 3:5).
- Stephen Yuille, A Labor of Love, p. 35.
- David Dockery, New Dimensions in Evangelical Thought, p.380. Distinction between meditation and contemplation at the top of the page.
- For an extensive approach to meditating on the Bible, meditate upon “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Ch. 3” by Donald Whitney.
- For a simple guide to studying the Bible, consider “How Can I Remember and Practice the Bible” by Ryan McGraw. For a more thorough approach, consider “Knowing Scripture” by R. C. Sproul.
- For meaningful meditation on sermons, consider “Listen up!” by Christopher Ash or “The Family at Church” by Joel Beeke.
- Consider the following aids for scripture memory and retention: http://simplycharlottemason.com/timesavers/memorysys/ and https://scripturememory.com/downloadables/andrewdavis.pdf
Bryan Gaines is Pastor of Family Discipleship at Grace Community Church in Glen Rose, Texas. He regularly teaches classes to encourage and equip parents, works in the Student Ministry, leads an adult Care Group, and oversees Grace Preschool. Bryan also leads Grace Biblical Counseling, LLC. He is certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC).
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