The practice of meditation is encouraged in the Old Testament. In the book of Psalms, the writers frequently refer to their meditation on God and His Word (see Psalms 1:2; 4:4; 27:4; 63:6, 77:6,12; 119:15, 23, 27, 48, 78, 148; 143:5). God uses this word in His exhortation to Israel just before they enter to the promised land. The Israelites are to remember that “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Joshua 1:8).
The Biblical practice of meditation differs significantly from other forms of meditation. In most other types of meditation, the goal is to empty one’s mind of all thoughts. In Biblical meditation, the goal is to think deeply about God: His character, deeds and teachings. This always begins with Scripture. Psalm 1 expresses this idea clearly:
“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” (Psalm 1:1-3)
The word translated “law” in verse 2 is “Torah”, used to name the first five books of the Bible. The content of meditation is not just commandments, but all the gracious promises, saving acts, and self-revelation of God recorded in those early books.
Meditation is encouraged for everyone
Meditation is encouraged for everyone. In Deuteronomy 17:18-20, Israel is given the model for godly kingship. An important part the godly king’s activity would be contemplation of Scripture. Although not specifically called mediation, the lifelong habit of reading and carefully observing God’s words in a heart-changing way is the same concept.
Meditation in the New Testament
In the New Testament, we don’t find the word “meditation”, but we do find the concept in many places. Jesus, the ultimate fulfillment of the godly King, constantly meditated on Scripture. The young Jesus stayed behind when his parents journeyed toward home so that He could interact with the teachers in the temple (Luke 2:41-51). When Satan tried to tempt Jesus in the desert, Jesus answered him that “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God”, a quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3. Whether refuting the scribes or opening the eyes of his disciples on the Emmaus Road, Jesus constantly demonstrated the fruit of his knowledge of and meditation on Scripture.
The apostle Paul encourages us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2); to dwell on whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent or worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8); to set our minds “on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2), to “take pains with these things; be absorbed in them” (1 Timothy 4:15).
An interaction with God
We are not given a formula for how to meditate. The Hebrew word that is translated as “meditate”, comes from a root that carries the idea to moan, growl, utter, speak, or muse. The concept points to a deep engagement with Scripture in which one may even express thoughts or feelings with words or sounds. Meditation is an interaction with God over his words to us, and could involve reading, prayer, confession, worshiping, crying out in joy or anguish, or in repentance. It is intended to result in our character – and ultimately our actions – being transformed in a way that’s pleasing to God.
Some suggestions of ways to meditate
- Read through a portion of the Bible prayerfully, thanking God aloud for the truth of his words, confessing when falling short of his standards, worshiping aloud at the wonder of his revealed goodness and majesty.
- Think deeply about a portion of scripture, asking God for his help in understanding what you need to learn from it, and how it could speak into your life.
- After a period of personal failure or distress, one might do as the Psalmists did and think deeply about the character and promises of God, and whether these help put present problems into perspective.
Meditation is to engage our whole person – mind, emotions, and will. How one meditates will vary between individuals. Like most of life, we get better as we practice. We have God’s promise that He is always ready to meet us as we turn to Him (Jeremiah 29:13).