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From the Elder's

Meditate Day and Night

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Dear Church, the following is an excerpt from Donald Whitney's book "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life" It's a section from chapter three and lays out the why and how of Meditating on Scripture. I pray it's useful for your growth in the knowledge of Christ. 

MEDITATING ON GOD’S WORD—BENEFITS AND METHODS

One sad feature of our modern culture is that meditation has become identified more with nonChristian systems of thought than with biblical Christianity. Even among believers, the practice of meditation is often more closely associated with yoga, transcendental meditation, relaxation therapy, or the New Age Movement. Because meditation is so prominent in many spiritually counterfeit groups and movements, some Christians are uncomfortable with the whole subject and suspicious of those who engage in it. But we must remember that meditation is both commanded by God and modeled by the Godly in Scripture. Just because a cult uses the cross as a symbol doesn’t mean the Church should cease to use it. In the same way, we shouldn’t discard or be afraid of scriptural meditation simply because the world has adapted it for its own purposes.

The kind of meditation encouraged in the Bible differs from other kinds of meditation in several ways. While some advocate a kind of meditation in which you do your best to empty your mind, Christian meditation involves filling your mind with God and truth. For some, meditation is an attempt to achieve complete mental passivity, but biblical meditation requires constructive mental activity. Worldly meditation employs visualization techniques intended to “create your own reality.” And while Christian history has always had a place for the sanctified use of our God-given imagination in meditation, imagination is our servant to help us meditate on things that are true (Philippians 4:8). Furthermore, instead of “creating our own reality” through visualization, we link meditation with prayer to God and responsible, Spirit-filled human action to effect changes.

In addition to these distinctives, let’s define meditation as deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer. Meditation goes beyond hearing, reading, studying, and even memorizing as a means of taking in God’s Word. A simple analogy would be a cup of tea. You are the cup of hot water and the intake of Scripture is represented by the tea bag. Hearing God’s Word is like one dip of the tea bag into the cup. Some of the tea’s flavor is absorbed by the water, but not as much as would occur with a more thorough soaking of the bag. In this analogy, reading, studying, and memorizing God’s Word are represented by additional plunges of the tea bag into the cup. The more frequently the tea enters the water, the more effect it has. Meditation, however, is like immersing the bag completely and letting it steep until all the rich tea flavor has been extracted and the hot water is thoroughly tinctured reddish brown.

Joshua 1:8 and the Promise of Success

There is a specific scriptural connection between success and the practice of meditation on God’s Word found in Joshua 1:8. As the Lord was commissioning Joshua to succeed Moses as the leader of His people, He told him, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

We must remember that the prosperity and success the Lord speaks of here is prosperity and success in His eyes and not necessarily in the world’s. From a New Testament perspective we know that the main application of this promise would be to the prosperity of the soul and spiritual success (though some measure of success in our human endeavors would ordinarily occur as well when we live according to God’s wisdom). Having made that qualification, however, let’s not lose sight of the relationship between meditation on God’s Word and success.

True success is promised to those who meditate on God’s Word, who think deeply on Scripture, not just at one time each day, but at moments throughout the day and night. They meditate so much that Scripture saturates their conversation. The fruit of their meditation is action. They do what they find written in God’s Word and as a result God prospers their way and grants success to them.

How does the Discipline of meditation change us and place us in the path of God’s blessing? David said in Psalm 39:3, “As I meditated, the fire burned.” The Hebrew word translated “meditated” here is closely related to the one rendered “meditate” in Joshua 1:8. When we hear, read, study, or memorize the fire (Jeremiah 23:29) of God’s Word, the addition of meditation becomes like a bellows upon what we’ve taken in. As the fire blazes more brightly, it gives off both more light (insight and understanding) and heat (passion for obedient action). “Then,” says the Lord, “you will be prosperous and successful.”

Why does the intake of God’s Word often leave us so cold, and why don’t we have more success in our spiritual life? Puritan pastor Thomas Watson has the answer: “The reason we come away so cold from reading the word is, because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.”

Psalm 1:1–3—The Promises

God’s promises in Psalm 1:1–3 regarding meditation are every bit as generous as those in Joshua 1:8:

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.

We think about what we delight in. A couple who have found romantic delight in each other think about each other all day. And when we delight in God’s Word we think about it, that is, we meditate on it, at times all throughout the day and night. The result of such meditation is stability, fruitfulness, perseverance, and prosperity. One writer said it crisply: “They usually thrive best who meditate most.”

The tree of your spiritual life thrives best with meditation because it helps you absorb the water of God’s Word (Ephesians 5:26). Merely hearing or reading the Bible, for example, can be like a short rainfall on hard ground. Regardless of the amount or intensity of the rain, most runs off and little sinks in. Meditation opens the soil of the soul and lets the water of God’s Word percolate in deeply. The result is an extraordinary fruitfulness and spiritual prosperity.

The author of Psalm 119 was confident that he was wiser than all his enemies (verse 98). Moreover, he said, “I have more insight than all my teachers” (verse 99). Is it because he heard or read or studied or memorized God’s Word more than every one of his enemies and his teachers? Probably not. The psalmist was wiser, not necessarily because of more input, but because of more insight. But how did he acquire more wisdom and insight than anyone else? His explanation was,

Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,

for they are ever within me.

I have more insight than all my teachers,

for I meditate on your statutes. (Psalm 119:98–99)

It is possible to encounter a torrential amount of God’s truth, but without absorption you will be little better for the experience. Meditation is absorption.

I believe meditation is even more important for spiritual fruitfulness and prosperity in our day than it was in ancient Israel. Even if the total input of God’s Word were the same, we experience a flash flood of information that the psalmist could never have imagined. Combine this with some of our additional modern responsibilities and the result is a mental distraction and dissipation that choke our absorption of Scripture. I’m told that due to the information explosion, which doubles the total sum of human knowledge every few years, we’ve now reached a point where the average weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information than Jonathan Edwards would have encountered in his entire eighteenth-century lifetime. Granted, he had many time-consuming responsibilities (such as care for his horse) that we don’t have to worry about. On the other hand, he never had to answer a telephone once in his entire life! Despite his inconveniences, his mind, like the psalmist’s, was not as distracted by instant world news, television and radio, portable and car telephones, personal stereos, rapid transportation, junk mail, and so on. Because of these things, it’s harder for us today to concentrate our thoughts, especially on God and Scripture, than it ever has been.

This is part of a long-standing mystery that has begun to clarify for me. I have often wondered how men who lived hundreds of years ago were often able to produce more by pen than most modern men can with typewriters and computers. I recently received a copy of Richard Baxter’s Christian Directory, a practical guide relating to just about every imaginable aspect of the Christian life. This astonishing book consists of almost one thousand pages of tiny print and contains one-and-a-quarter-million words. If that isn’t enough to impress you, realize that Baxter researched and wrote by hand most of this in less than two years (1664–1665). And he wouldn’t have had the help of electric lights, either, much less an electric typewriter or word processor. I realize that he had no other responsibilities except his family during this two-year period, but it’s still an amazing achievement. I’ve imagined having no other responsibilities except research and writing for two years, but I still don’t think I could come close to Baxter’s output. Furthermore, I’m not sure I know of anyone else who could, either. How did he do it? Did the people born then have more natural brainpower than all succeeding generations? I don’t think so.

I do think men like Baxter were exceptions even in their own day. And I think the Lord’s anointing was on him for this enduring task even as it was on Handel when he wrote the Messiah in less than a month. But I also think there is a practical difference between people like Baxter and people like us. His mind wasn’t as distracted as ours, having less general information and fewer facts to clutter his thinking.

So what do we do? We can’t return to the days of Richard Baxter unless we move to the jungles of Papua New Guinea. And even then we have already lived too long in the information age to escape its influence. But we can restore an order to our thinking and recapture some of the ability to concentrate—especially on spiritual truth—through biblical meditation.

In fact, this is exactly the way men like Baxter and Edwards disciplined themselves. In her winsome biography of Sarah Edwards, Elisabeth Dodds said this about Jonathan:

When he was younger, Edwards had pondered how to make use of the time he had to spend on journeys. After the move to Northampton he worked out a plan for pinning a small piece of paper to a given spot on his coat, assigning the paper a number and charging his mind to associate a subject with that piece of paper. After a ride as long as the three-day return from Boston he would be bristling with papers. Back in his study, he would take off the papers methodically, and write down the train of thought each slip recalled to him.

We don’t have to walk around bristling like a paper porcupine, but we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) through disciplined meditation upon Scripture. We may not be as fruitfully productive as a Richard Baxter or as spiritually successful as a Jonathan Edwards. But we can be wiser than our enemies, have more insight than our teachers, experience all the promises of Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1, and be more Godly if we will meditate biblically.

How then do we meditate Christianly?

Select an Appropriate Passage

The easiest way to decide what to meditate on is to choose the verse(s), phrase, or word that impresses you most during your encounter with Scripture. Obviously, this is a subjective approach, but any approach is going to be somewhat subjective. Besides, meditation is essentially a subjective activity, a fact that underscores the importance of basing it on Scripture, the perfectly objective resource.

Our understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit also leads us to believe that many times He, as Author of the Book, will impress us with a certain part of Scripture because that is the very part He wants us to meditate on for that day. No doubt this approach can be misused or taken to an extreme. We must use wisdom and make sure we don’t fail to meditate often on the Person and work of Jesus Christ and the great themes of the Bible.

Verses that conspicuously relate to your concerns and personal needs are clearly targets for meditation. Although we don’t want to approach the Bible simply as a digest of wise advice, a collection of promises, or an “answer book,” it is God’s will that we give our attention to those things He has written that directly pertain to our circumstances. If you have been struggling with your thought life and you read Philippians, then you probably need to meditate on 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Is the salvation of a friend or family member on your mind? Should you encounter John 4, the thing to do would be to meditate on Jesus’ manner of communication there and draw parallels to your own situation. Sensing distance from God or a dryness in your spiritual condition? Looking for clues to the character of God and drawing on them is a good choice.

One of the most consistent ways to select a passage for meditation is to discern the main message of (one of) the section(s) of your encounter with the Scripture and meditate on its meaning and application. For instance, recently I read Luke 11. There are ten paragraphs to that chapter in the version I was using. I chose one section, verses 5–13. The main theme of that paragraph is persistence in prayer. I reflected on that idea, especially as it is set forth in verses 9–10, which talk about asking, seeking, and knocking. This is harder to do in books like Proverbs where an individual verse is often a self-contained concept and not part of a paragraph. When in such sections, you must rely on one of the methods mentioned above to select your text for meditation.

Repeat It in Different Ways

This method takes the verse or phrase of Scripture and turns it like a diamond to examine every facet.

A meditation on Jesus’ words at the beginning of John 11:25 would look like this:

I am the resurrection and the life.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

Of course, the point is not simply to repeat vainly each word of the verse until they’ve all been emphasized. The purpose is to think deeply upon the light (truth) that flashes into your mind each time the verse is turned. It’s simple, but effective. I’ve found it especially helpful when I have trouble concentrating on a passage or when insights come slowly from it.

Rewrite It in Your Own Words

From his earliest home-school days, Jonathan Edwards’ father taught him to do his thinking with pen in hand, a habit he retained throughout his life. This practice helps you to focus your attention to the matter at hand, while stimulating your flow of thinking. Paraphrasing the verse(s) you are considering is also a good way to make sure you understand the meaning. I have a friend who says that paraphrasing verses after the fashion of the Amplified Bible is the most productive method of opening a text for him. The very act of thinking of synonyms and other ways of restating the inspired meaning of a part of God’s Word is in itself a way of meditation.

Look for Applications of the Text

Ask yourself, “How am I to respond to this text? What would God have me do as a result of my encounter with this part of His Word?”

The outcome of meditation should be application. Like chewing without swallowing, so meditation is incomplete without some type of application. This is so important that the entire next section is devoted to applying God’s Word.

Pray Through the Text

This is the spirit of Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” The Holy Spirit is the Great Guide into the truth (John 14:26). Meditation is more than just riveted human concentration or creative mental energy. Praying your way through a verse of Scripture submits the mind to the Holy Spirit’s illumination of the text and intensifies your spiritual perception. The Bible was written under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration; pray for His illumination in your meditation.

I recently meditated on Psalm 119:50: “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Thy word has revived me” (NASB). I prayed through the text along these lines:

Lord, You know the affliction I’m going through right now. Your Word promises to comfort me in my affliction. Your Word can revive me in my affliction. I really believe that is true. Your Word has revived me in affliction during the past, and I confess my faith to You that it will revive me in this experience. I pray that You will revive me now through the comfort of Your Word.

As I prayed through this text, the Holy Spirit began to bring to my mind truths from Scripture about the sovereignty of God over His Church, His providence over the circumstances in my life, His power, His constant presence and love, and so on. In this extended time of meditation and prayer, my soul was revived and I felt comforted by the Comforter.

Meditation must always involve two people—the Christian and the Holy Spirit. Praying over a text is the invitation for the Holy Spirit to hold His divine light over the words of Scripture to show you what you cannot see without Him.

Don’t Rush—Take Time!

What value is there to reading one, three, or more chapters of Scripture only to find that after you’ve finished you can’t recall a thing you’ve read? It’s better to read a small amount of Scripture and meditate on it than to read an extensive section without meditation.

Maurice Roberts wrote these words from Scotland in 1990:

Our age has been sadly deficient in what may be termed spiritual greatness. At the root of this is the modern disease of shallowness. We are all too impatient to meditate on the faith we profess.… It is not the busy skimming over religious books or the careless hastening through religious duties which makes for a strong Christian faith. Rather, it is unhurried meditation on gospel truths and the exposing of our minds to these truths that yields the fruit of sanctified character.

Read less (if necessary) in order to meditate more. Although many Christians need to find the time to increase their Bible reading, there may be some who are spending all the time they can or should reading the Bible. If you could not possibly add more time to your devotional schedule for meditating on your Scripture reading, read less in order to have some unhurried time for meditation. Even though you may find moments throughout the day when you meditate on God’s Word (see Psalm 119:97), the best meditation generally occurs when it’s part of your main daily encounter with the Bible.

May our experience in scriptural meditation be as joyful and fruitful as that of Jonathan Edwards, who penned these lines in his journal soon after his conversion: “I seemed often to see so much light exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading; often dwelling long on one sentence to see the wonders contained in it, and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders.”

 

 Whitney, D. S. (1991). Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (pp. 47–56). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.