CHRISTINA FOX | EDITOR
“I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways” (Psalm 119:15).
A few years post-college, I worked as a family counselor for a local non-for profit. During a staff meeting one week, my boss announced that one of the team members would lead us in a time of guided meditation. Though I had heard about the practice, I didn’t know what to expect. My co-worker began by instructing us to empty our minds. She continued on through various exercises to bring us to a place of relaxation so that we would encounter a place of peace in our minds. I soon found myself feeling uncomfortable with the exercise and instead spent the time in silent prayer. After the exercise was over, a few people shared their experiences—one even shared how she had relived her birth into this world!
I share this story because sometimes when we come across a reference in Scripture about meditating on God’s Word, as in the passage above, we might be confused, especially if we use the word “meditate” as other religions or philosophies might use it. The key difference is that biblical meditation isn’t about emptying the mind, but about focusing it on God and his Word. It isn’t about seeking a higher form of consciousness in order to reach our inner divinity; rather, it is about communion with God through prayer and Scripture. It isn’t about seeking access to divine resources found within oneself, but about accessing and feasting on the divine Word of God—which is our very life (Deut. 32:47).
J.I. Packer once wrote in Knowing God, “Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communication with God. Its purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let His truth make its full and proper impact on one’s mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace.” (p.23).
It isn’t about emptying, but about filling.
Psalm 119 is known as a psalm entirely devoted to God’s Word. In just about every verse, the psalmist refers to God’s Word in some way. In several passages, he talks about meditating on God’s Word, as listed below. The psalmist uses the Hebrew word siach which is translated as our English word, meditate. It means to muse, complain, talk (of).
- “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways” (Psalm 119:15).
- “Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:23).
- “Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works” (Psalm 119:27).
- “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:48).
- “Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will meditate on your precepts” (Psalm 119:78).
- “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (Psalm 119:148).
One could say that Psalm 119 is one long meditation on the Word of God. In these verses above, we see the psalmist dwelling on God’s Word. We see that it involves communication with God, for the psalmist asks God to teach him about his precepts. He is worshipful as he does so, lifting up his hands toward the heavens. Such meditation is not a passive event, for the psalmist fixes his eyes on God and his ways. Even when he faces obstacles or challenges from his enemies, the psalmist turns to what he knows is true about God. If you were to do a word study on this Hebrew word for meditate, you’d find other passages where the writer even complains and moans to himself about God.
There’s another word used for meditate in the Bible, hagah. It means to moan, growl, utter, speak, muse. We find it in passages like, “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2) and “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands” (Ps. 143:5). This form of meditation is more verbal, like thinking out loud—perhaps even like talking back to yourself. When we speak aloud to ourselves what is true, such as rehearsing God’s promises to us, we are meditating on the Word.
For the Christian, meditation is an important spiritual practice. It is Word centered and God exalting. It brings clarity to the confusion of life. It reorients our wandering hearts to the truth. It anchors us in chaos. Like the psalmist, may we ruminate, dwell, contemplate, ponder, muse, and talk to ourselves about God’s Word “day and night.”
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash