The Lost Art of Biblical Meditation

 

Meditation in modern society has come to mean many things to many people, most common of which is a mystical practice rooted in a belief that emptying one’s mind of all thoughts will lead you into a higher, albeit relaxed, state of being.  Typically referred to as transcendental meditation[1], this unbiblical practice has been somewhat revitalized recently through various movements, not the least of which has been a resurgence of yoga practices and similar Buddhist-like activities, as well as by means of professing Christian movements such as the emerging/emergent church[2].

In contrast to this popular, pagan form of meditation, the biblical practice of meditation remains a lacking discipline in the lives of many followers of Christ.  Likewise, instructive teaching on it from either the pulpit or the pen remains deficient.  Ignorant to its proper meaning and spiritual benefits, we’ve shuffled meditation to the side treating it as a mystical stepchild to Christianity when the very practice is and has always been rooted in a desire to commune with God, better understand His Word, and reflect deeply upon it, ultimately leading to praise of God for His majesty and glory.

A brief survey of the biblical landscape finds a robust theme of meditation, explicitly among the Psalms but also as first observed in the patriarch Jacob, then in a command given to Joshua, and among Paul’s epistles, particularly in the instructions to young Timothy.  Additionally, other words and phrases are used to express the concept such as “think on these things” and “set you mind on” among others.  Basically, when we encounter passages of Scripture that call us to contemplate the things of God, it is generally a call to meditation.

With those biblical examples before us, let us then turn our attention toward further defining this much neglected practice.  What exactly is it? How is it performed?  Why should we meditate?  Upon what should we draw our meditative attention?  When and how often?

While it certainly would be possible to glean the answers to these questions by consolidating those verses and instances of meditation mentioned above, some of these questions and others are addressed and answered through the pen of Puritan Thomas Watson in an incredibly challenging work on the art of meditation, The Christian on the Mount.  In that treatise, Watson instructs us on the discipline of meditation by first defining it as a Christian duty.  All too often, duty has become a 4-letter word in modern Christian vernacular, perhaps one of the reasons for the neglect of this important practice.

Watson sees meditation as the “chewing upon the truths we have heard”[3] or read and that “meditation is like the watering of the seed, it makes the fruits of grace to flourish.”[4]  Going further in his definition we read that, “meditation is the soul’s retiring of itself, that by a serious and solemn thinking upon God, the heart may be raised up to heavenly affections”[5] and should be performed by way of locking up oneself from the world, which “spoils meditation” and rightly Watson rightly concludes that the “world’s music will either play us asleep or distract us in our meditations.”[6]

Using Scripture as our map and Watson as our tour guide we find that meditation is different than simply reading or studying, “study is a work of the brain; meditation is a work of the heart.”[7]  The argument could be made that a progression among these terms exists for the benefit a true gain or fruit from time spent in the Word.  First, the practice of reading followed by study then giving one’s thoughts over to the passage via meditation before settling on a practical application, which could be a new truth gleaned or wisdom for the day.

Watson then draws our attention to 15 objects for our meditations beginning with the attributes of God and concluding with meditation upon our experiences wherein we may have observed the hand of God working which may benefit us by 1) raising us to thankfulness 2) engaging our hearts to God in obedience 3) convincing us that God is no hard master 4) making us communicative to others.[8]

Summarizing our description of meditation we may conclude that it is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God.  It is the difference between knowing the truths of God’s Word and loving the truths of God’s Word.  It is the difference between a sick man noticing medicine on the shelf and that same man ingesting said medicine for a cure.  Like the transcendence of the sun apart from the immanency of its rays, so too is God’s Word when read or heard apart from the practice of divine meditation.  Quite simply, failure in this duty is akin to experiencing light from a fire without heat.  The path from the mind to the heart is paved with the gold of meditation.  Why then are so few Christians engaging in this practice?

To answer this question bluntly, Watson sees a connection between the failure to practice meditation and the reason why there are “so few good Christians.”[9]  Notice how relevant his nearly four hundred year old words are to today, “It [the practice of meditation] gives us a true account why there are so few good Christians in the world; namely, because there are so few meditating Christians: we have many that have Bible ears, they are swift to hear, but slow to meditate.  This duty is grown almost out of fashion, people are so much in the shop, that they are seldom on the Mount with God….so many who go under the name of professors, have banished good discourse from their tables, and meditation from their closets.”[10]

We conclude our holding of Watson’s hand with his offer of several pieces of practical advice from his own experiences in order to introduce us to the practice of meditation, including the best time of day, he prefers morning, the duration, he suggests at least 30 minutes, and the types (occasional: on any sudden occasion; deliberate: which he sees as chief, some set time each day) among additional helpful guidance through this practice.

So then is meditation necessary in the life of a believer?  Let us allow Watson the final word on the matter, “The necessity of meditation appears in this, because without it we can never be good Christians; a Christian without meditation is like a soldier without arms, or a workman without tools.  1. Without meditation the truths of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation all is lost; meditation imprints and fastens a truth in the mind, it is like the selvedge[11] which keeps the cloth from raveling.  2. Without meditation the truths which we know will never affect our hearts.”[12]

 

 

[1] From Google: “a technique for detaching oneself from anxiety and promoting harmony and self-realization by meditation, repetition of a mantra, and other yogic practices, promulgated by an international organization founded by the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ( circa 1911–2008)

Sometimes referred to as contemplative monastic meditation or centering prayer.

[2] Emerging Church

[3] Thomas Watson A Christian on the Mount. Google Digitized version, p. 198.

[4] Watson, 198.

[5] Ibid, 199.

[6] Ibid, 199.

[7] Ibid, 203.

[8] Ibid, 237.

[9] Ibid, 240.

[10] Ibid, 240-241.

[11] An edge produced on woven fabric during manufacture that prevents it from unraveling – wiki

[12] Watson, 239.

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