Monday, July 14, 2014

Meditation on God's Word for the purpose of godliness

What is meditation? It is 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.
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 (yoga), 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.” We 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.
2.1. 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 every- thing written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
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.” 

2.2. 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 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.
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. We must be careful not to ever be 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.
So what do we do? 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 fruit- fully 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.
2.3. How then do we meditate Christianly?
2.3.1.        Select an Appropriate Passage
Meditation is essentially a subjective activity, a fact that underscores the importance of basing it on Scripture, the perfectly objective resource.
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.
E.g. 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.”
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. Proverbs has an individual verse often as a self-contained concept and not part of a paragraph. This is means that one verse is enough material for meditation.
2.3.2.        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.
2.3.3.        Rewrite It in Your Own Words
Study and think with paper and pen in hand, a habit Jonathan Edwards learnt from his father and something 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. Paraphrasing verses after the fashion of the Amplified Bible could also be the most productive method. 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.
2.3.4.        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.
2.3.5.        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 2 Peter 1:3-7 and prayed like this:
Heavenly Father, God who is great in power. Thank you Lord for giving me all things that pertain to life and godliness. Thank you that by your grace, through the knowledge of Christ, you called us, CHRISTIANS, to your own glory and excellence. I will ever praise you Lord for your precious and very great promises through which you have made me a partaker of the divine nature. I may not necessarily and fully comprehend the extent of this divine nature, but I am sure that it is something greater than my understanding because by your great mercy, you have helped me to escape the corruption that is in this world because of sinful desires. Therefore, please Lord help me to ever be making effort to supplement my faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control. For you know how I am lacking in these qualities. Help me also Lord to supplement self-control with steadfastness – that I will be grounded and motivated by godliness and brotherly affection and love in my thoughts, desires, feelings and actions. In Christ, for your sake. Amen
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.
2.4. Don’t Rush—Take Time!
Maurice Roberts (was at Trinity Baptist Church in December, 2012) wrote 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. 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.”

Adopted from Donald Whitney's book Spiritual Disciplines of Christian Life, Navpress

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