Type the word meditation in google search and you get about 55,50,00,000 results within 0.55 seconds. Today when we look up meditation it mostly brings up some form of system or practices related to yoga, transcendental meditation or New age. The reality is that many Christians associate meditation with these non-Christian practices rather than identifying it with biblical Christianity. The cults and counterfeit religious groups have distorted meditation and its true meaning. But, when we look into scripture we understand and know that it is both commanded by God and modelled by God’s people in the Bible (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:1-3, 119:98-99).
The meditation encouraged in the Bible is different and differs in many ways from the way the world understands or practises it. In the way the world practises it, normally, people do chant some religious words or maintain silence and are encouraged to empty their minds and to create their own reality. We can imagine a sadhu under a tree. But this is not the way Christians in the past practised meditation. For them, the word meditation is synonymous with contemplation – a deep reflection! They reflected mainly on the Scripture portions for a long time to grasp it and to be gripped by it.
Biblical mediation has almost become a forgotten practice in this fast-paced world where the answers to our questions are at our fingertips. However, with the rise of interest in the Puritans and their writings, I think, this art of meditating or contemplating on the Scriptures is once again regaining its significance among Christians. In this article, I would like to present three ways biblical meditation can help Christians and especially pastors in their life and ministry. As a pastor, I do see a great need for it in my own life and am looking forward to all the benefits it brings.
Meditation Improves Our Understanding of the Text
In his book Living by the Book, Howard Hendricks lists ten strategies to first-rate reading among which the seventh one is to read meditatively. He says that it is the hard one to practice in this distracted world. Nevertheless, he calls us to learn to reflect on the Bible.
This means taking a portion of the Scripture, be it from our devotional reading or sermon text, and reflecting on it throughout the day helps us to understand it. As we ponder upon it and think it through over and over again from many different angles, the text opens up to us in a fresh way, as the Holy Spirit illumines our minds. There is a great joy in discovering the meaning of the text by ourselves as we read and study it meditatively. Every faithful pastor’s desire, struggle and goal is this—to understand the Bible. Isn’t it? So, if you do not have the habit of meditating on the text, why not start practising it and discover the benefits of it. Meditating on Scripture indeed helps us to understand clearly the meaning of the text!
Meditation Improves the Quality of Our Christian Life
George Swinnock said, “Our design in meditation must be rather to cleanse our hearts than to clear our heads.” Similarly, John Bunyan says that meditation is “an excellent remedy” to get “rid of a hard heart”. Puritans were better known for their Christian character and godly living. The secret behind it is their constant reflection upon Scripture and the application of it to their lives. What an example they had left behind for us to follow.
Meditation is not an end in itself, but a means to achieve a goal and that is changed hearts and changed lives. There are many “pastors” in this world who regularly preach but do not practise, but very few who preach what they practice. Remember how Ezra did it? “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). There is an order in this verse. The word of God should first change us before we preach or teach it. In order for that to happen, we should linger over the text or rather the text should linger within us for a long time until it affects our hearts and changes the way we live. Meditating the Scripture shapes us into Christ-likeness!
Meditation Improves Our Preaching
Thomas Manton said, “The end of study is information, and the end of meditation is practice, or a work upon the affections.” The area where most of the pastors struggle in preparing a sermon is in bringing out the application from the text. That’s how the sermon should end and we all know it. But how do we go about bringing that application from the portion we are to preach? This is where meditating on the text helps us.
The Holy Spirit uses our meditation to bring to our minds areas where we can apply the Word of God and use it in our sermons. Although it sounds easy, it is hard work to keep our minds constantly engaged with the text and to wait for the illumination from the Spirit. Meditation is indeed hard work for this generation who seek smart-work, but it pays off and I believe that is the only way to faithfully prepare our sermons. So, why not give ourselves to this practice of contemplation? Meditating on Scripture helps us to improve the quality of our preaching.
Brothers, let us not write off meditation just as an Eastern mystical practice. It is truly a Biblical practice. We can see in Joshua 1:8 how it was commanded to him, “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 good success.” We also can see how the Psalmist delights in meditating the word of God and gains understanding. “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. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation” (Psalm 119:97–99).
So, let us not neglect this command to meditate. But let us regularly delight in practising it to the benefit of our own souls. Let it inform and impact our preaching for the good of others. As we do it may God alone be glorified in and through us!
Ritzema, Elliot, and Elizabeth Vince, eds. 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Puritans. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013. Print. Pastorum Series.
Hendricks, H., & Hendricks, W. Living by the book. Chicago: Moody Press. 1991. Print.
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