Preaching and Worship Resources about Meditation
The spiritual discipline of meditation consists in reflecting on God's word and works, seriously thinking about them in context and at length, conversing with oneself about them, poring over them, absorbing them, and pondering how one's life needs to change in order to mesh with them.
"This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful" (Josh. 1:8).
"Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night" (Ps. 1:1 - 2).
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer" (Ps. 19:14).
"My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night" (Ps. 63:5 - 6).
"I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit. . . . I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old. I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds" (Ps. 77:6, 11 - 12).
"I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you. . . . I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. . . . My eyes are awake before each watch of the night, that I may meditate on your promise" (Ps. 119:11, 15 - 16, 148).
"Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me" (Ps. 119:97, 101 - 102).
"Thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength" (Isa. 30:15).
"As a lion or a young lion growls over its prey, and — when a band of shepherds is called out against it — is not terrified by their shouting or daunted at their noise, so the Lord of hosts will come down to fight upon Mount Zion and upon its hill" (Isa. 31:4).
"[The shepherds] went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them" (Luke 2:16 - 20).
"Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Rom. 8:5 - 6).
"Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil. 4:8).
"Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me" (Rev. 3:20).
"So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, `Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth'" (Rev. 10:9).
Points to Ponder
Eugene Peterson used to have a dog that would work his bone while also growling with pleasure. Peterson found this remarkable. The dog would worry the bone, make throaty sounds over it, and then bury it. Later, he'd dig it up and work it again. Peterson tells us all about it in Eat this Book, his reflections on meditating over Scripture.
Peterson points out that in Isaiah 31:4 a lion "growls over its prey." It's that same word (hagah) used in Psalm 1 and in Psalm 63 for "meditating" on the law of God. It turns out the Bible is worth growling over. It needs to be chewed on, savored, digested. It needs to be treated as food for the soul. It's God's Word, and God's Word gives life. We have meat to eat that the world does not know.
Meditating in the ancient world was likely done out loud, or half aloud. Muttering was involved. You would read the text and converse with yourself about it. What is the author saying? What does he mean? Why does he say it this way? What is he leaving out? Is this deliberate?
The subject of meditation as presented in Scripture is God, God's Word — especially God's law — and God's remarkable deeds. These are rich subjects. Think of God as presented in Scripture. God is remarkable there, so surprisingly fierce, so surprisingly tender. Some of what the Bible says about God, and what we meditate upon, is deeply familiar. God is the powerful creator of the heavens and the earth, calling galaxies into existence just by speaking a word. God is a faithful provider, a lover of the wayward, a redeemer, always out to save. In fact, when the Scriptures speak of God's greatness, they speak less often of God's sheer power and more often of God's amazing grace. God saves the undeserving, and people marvel over it.
But the Scriptures also give us a portrait of God we would never have guessed. Sometimes the portrait makes us squirm. Think of some of the biblical images for God. In the Bible God is lion and lamb, church and home, fire and water. God is not only a leopard, an eagle, and a bear, but also a moth; not only a parent, but also a child; not only a king and a warrior, but also a barber and a whistler (Isa. 7).
Or think of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The creeds give us a symmetrical doctrine of the Trinity — one God in three coequal persons. You would never guess from this tactful portrait that in Scripture the triune God is, so to speak, a bachelor father, his single son, and their agent. That's God.
Meditation on God is soul food. So is meditation on God's Word. God's Word in Scripture, read or preached, is meant to be pondered and absorbed. Pondering is a deliberative activity. It can't be rushed. You read or hear a Bible story or psalm, and then you mull it over. In Psalm 139, the writer says God is inescapable. God knows not only what I say, but also what I think. God knows not only what I said, but also what I almost said. Yet the psalmist does not regard his transparency to God as frightful or offensive. He says it's "wonderful" (v. 6). Why is this? It's very much worth pondering.
Or you read a story about Jesus, and it gets you to thinking. In Mark 5 Jesus heals a demon-possessed man in the country of the Gerasenes. The man has been thrashing around in a graveyard, shrieking and bruising himself. He's been shackled and chained, but he tears his constraints to pieces. Jesus sends the demons out of this poor man and into a herd of two thousand pigs (a lot of pigs), who then stampede over a cliff into the ocean and drown. The Gerasenes hear about all this and come out to see their wild man, finding him "sitting there, clothed and in his right mind; . . . and they were afraid" (v. 15). You meditate on this story. Why were the Gerasenes afraid? And why did a couple of thousand pigs have to be collateral damage of an exorcism?
Often when Scripture speaks of meditating on God's word, the subject is specifically the law of God. C. S. Lewis devotes a chapter to this in his Reflections on the Psalms. He says he found himself initially surprised that the psalmists find God's law to be sweeter than honey (Ps. 19:10). Isn't this a little strange? One can understand that you would respect and obey God's law, but smack your lips over it? Find it "finger-lickin' good"? Lewis ponders this and concludes that what the psalmists have in mind is the order, intricacy, and moral beauty of the law. It reveals the order, intricacy, and moral beauty of God's own mind. Moreover, the law is utterly reliable as a guide to human flourishing. The law says, "Don't do this. It'll wreck you." Or, "Do this. It'll make you thrive." Here God's law is totally trustworthy. It's rooted in the very creation itself.
In Psalm 77, the author muses over God's "mighty deeds." No doubt he has in mind especially the Exodus, God's mighty deed of deliverance from slavery in Egypt. But the psalmist or later writers could add God's leading of Israel to the promised land, rescuing people from exile, raising up judges and prophets, and much else. Christians meditate on the mighty acts of God in the incarnation, teaching, miracles, atoning death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, plus the miracles of Pentecost, and the acts of the apostles, which are really the acts of God. And Christians ponder that perhaps God's mightiest deed still lies ahead, when God will "gather up all things" in Jesus Christ, ushering in the majestic state of shalom for which the ages have longed (Eph. 1:10).
Meditation on God's mighty deeds is a feast for the soul. It nourishes us to think of how God has saved before, how this predicts that God will save again, and how God's mighty deeds reveal God's saving love. God is a Savior through and through. Salvation is God's specialty, what God is good at, what God is known for. Salvation is the centerpiece of God's reputation. Jesus' own name means Savior.
Finally, we should see that meditating on God's word and works is an intimate form of communion with God. We place ourselves in God's world, under the authority and majesty of God's Word, and let God nourish us there. We are children of God with our mouths open. We need to be fed. Meditation is therefore not just advantageous, but necessary. We'll go hungry without it. We need it to amend our lives, as required by God's word, and to fuel us for loving God above all and our neighbor as ourselves.
|Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.|