Last Monday after a long, emotionally draining day at work (ft. an abusive interaction and the involvement of security); I headed to the second night of our Women’s Ministry September Series at Church. The subject for the evening was Devotions. We wanted to explore the practice of regular, personal time spent in the Word of God. Reading the Word is something we often speak about Christian circles but don’t necessarily spell out or teach. How each person approaches Bible study is so unique and varied. On the night we had four TED-talk style sessions, given by members of our Women’s Ministry team. We each reflected on different approaches to this spiritual discipline. Below I have decided to share some of my talk on “meditating in the word”.
The Lord spoke to Joshua and said this:
This Book of the Law must not depart from your mouth. Meditate on it day and night, that you may act carefully according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way successful, and you will be wise. Have not I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:8-9)
When you have a conversation with someone – there is a difference between listening to respond, and listening to understand. I’m not saying one is better than another. When we read the Word – God speaks. This is one of the most beautiful, intimate and mind-blowing conversations you will ever have and continue to have as you read afresh His truths. How we prepare our hearts to listen has been on my heart a lot lately. I often dont feel like my heart is as devoted as it should or could. But praise be to God that it is not my devotion, but Christ’s obedience to the point of death, that allows us to come before His word and His throne with confidence.
God’s word is powerful. So how do we as Christians meditate in the word?
Meditation is a practice of concentrated focus upon something in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth (?). Sounds appealing, right? When there is so much distraction and negativity in this world, why not channel energy into achieving a higher state of consciousness. Many Eastern religions teach that the source of salvation is found within. The implication is that humanity’s problem is not sin against a holy God, but ignorance and disregard for our truest self. If only we could find said “self”, then our problems would be solved. If only we could be more self-aware, then we could save ourselves from sinning and secure a sustained inner piece (!!!)
Note the sarcasm, because, in all seriousness, while Eastern meditation is a means of finding and seeking, meditating in the World is a humble approach to a God who seeks out the lost, who gives us a sure anchor for our soul in which we are found. Biblical meditation goes beyond the practice of this age and Eastern philosophies. This type of meditation is that of the Psamlist when turning his heart to God.
Meditating in the word doesn’t depend on our cognitive ability to concentrate.
We don’t have something to focus on (an impersonal force),
we have someONE to fix our eyes on,
we have a personal, intimate Lord and Saviour, our King Jesus,
who remained awake to pray,
even when his disciples fell into a slumber.
He is our advocate and His Spirit helps us pray:
“with groans that words cannot express”
In John 14 we learn that the Spirit that has been given to us as a Helper whom the Father sent in Jesus name – to teach us in all things and bring to our remembrance all that he has said to us. Here Jesus is speaking to his disciplines in the context of his coming departure. Today, as we wait eagerly for Jesus’ return, we groan with the anguish of childbirth (12). All this “groaning” paints quite a different picture to the “om” . Jesus words are relevant to us as we are fallen, our memories fail, and what’s more – our hearts fail. Maybe we have head knowledge but it’s our heart that needs to know that Christ is enough, it’s our heart that needs to trust in his love and not the love of others, it’s our hearts that need to turn to him in repentance, to turn to him in devotion and adoration and thanksgiving.
The psalms are David’s heart songs to the Lord, a heart that is raw and repeatedly referring to God’s word and His law as perfect. Holding in reverence what God speaks. Allowing His words to guide and lead. Setting the heart on His statutes, setting the mind on His promises.
The words in John 14, the promise of his Spirit, come with another promise – that he will leave us with peace.
“MY PEACE I GIVE TO YOU” he says.
What type of peace does Jesus have?
Not a peace we have to derive from our own meditative excellence
– no –
This peace is a gift to us by our good and loving Father.
In Eastern meditation, liberation does not come from receiving a gift of peace, but through relieving stress. The process is one of removal and elimination of that which does not encompass the “truest self”. One tool of this meditation is the adoption of “om” as a sacred mantra. This symbol reveals a core intention in Eastern practice to reflect on the good inclinations within each person.
However, the Word is clear that the inclinations of our hearts are not good. No one can claim to be good, pure, perfect (Psalm 53:1-3). From the heart of man flows evil thoughts, words and deeds (Mark 7:20-23). Despite the purest of intentions, there is still a problem.
The problem with our culture isn’t stress; stress is only a symptom of a deeper problem with our hearts. If we focus our attention on relieving stress, we rely on the very thing that causes soul stress. Pride. When we seek to elevate the status of self, a ‘truer’ sense of self, pride creeps in. Worry, fear, perfectionism, arrogance, vanity … these all have root in the sin of pride. Our hearts are deceitful. If we depend on our own ability to cleanse ourselves we go backwards not forwards, developing hearts of stone not hearts of flesh.
Eastern meditation has mystical connotations, manipulating circumstances to bring peace. However, as daughters of our Loving Heavenly Father, we can meditate on God’s Word whenever and wherever, no matter the situation or circumstance because we have direct access to the throne of God. We never need to manipulate any situation to experience peace; we simply recall the precious promises of the Word of God and place our faith and trust in Him!
It is only in Christ that we are our “truest” selves, as he alone is good, perfect and pleasing before the Father. When we turn to him, our hearts are transformed day by day by his grace and pride is destroyed in Jesus name as we come in humility knowing we have nothing of ourselves to bring, nothing of our own doing that warrants the relief, restoration and reconciled relationship we offers us in Christ.
When we ponder God’s revealed truths and reflect on how they pertain to us, the Word goes to a much deeper level – shaking up the strongholds of sin that can cause us soul stress. Rather than emptying our mind, when we meditate in the word it fills our mind with His promises and builds our spirit. We come to God to be filled knowing we can’t fill ourselves, we can’t rid ourselves of our sin, of negative thought patterns and attitudes – we can’t change by our own strength or focus. Instead we allow His word to fill our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Setting our minds on what is true, lovely, pleasing, holy etc.
So what are some practical ways you can meditate on the word?
A good place to start is asking – Lord, what are you decrees? What are your promises?
Help me to remember your word, your teaching, to live for you and to declare your truth and love and works.
So what can we meditate on?
Gods character. The Cross. Christ.
How can we dwell on these?
Writing them down. Praying through these. Living and loving these.
One way that helps the Word to move from my head to heart is when I emphasise individual words in a verse. An example is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”. With this practice, it is important to always keep in mind the context of a passage. For this verse, I repeat aloud the sentence over and over, each time changing the word emphasised. The focus shifts throughout the verse, so repetition can help you meditate more on the meaning. Meditation is more than exercising memory or memorising the Word in our minds – we are preaching to our hearts.
There are fifteen mentions of meditation in the Psalms, each speaking of a specific meditation that delights in the law of the Lord, that dwells on it day and night, that focuses on the unfailing love of God and that considers the works, mighty deeds and wonderful decrees, statutes, precepts and promises of the Lord.
When you look at a passage of Scripture, one strategy is writing down all of the commands, God’s promises, as well as distinguishing the warnings. Looking over these, we can reflect on what they say about God, what they say about us, and what they reveal about the deep needs that Jesus came to meet. Meditating on the Word, learning by understanding, then gives us direction for our prayers – both for ourselves, for our world, and in our devotion to God.
So – I’ve spoken a lot about recall and remembrance, and meditation places a a lot of assumption on our memory. But What about dementia? What about forgetfulness? Faith is not head knowledge – our hearts are quicker to forget then our heads sometimes. But His word transforms our hearts and minds and keeps us in Christ, reminding us of what He has done. Our salvation is not based on our bible knowledge or scripture memory but it rests in Christ’s finished work, his resurrection power, his perfect love, his righteousness.
Whether or not we remember him and his promises, he remembers us and his covenant.
We see this in Genesis after the flood:
“I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind.”
( Genesis 9:15)
We come to him empty.
We cannot bring anything to him to make him love us any more or less.
Our devotion is our response – our reflection of gratitude.
We devote ourselves because he has first devoted himself to us.
As we meditate on the gospel, this in turn transforms our identity and our relationship. Through growing in intimacy and understanding of Christ we become more like Christ. Spending time in the word compels us to live for Christ. We want to learn what living for Christ looks like, seeing how the apostles followed him and responded to his call, seeing how men like Abraham and David turned their hearts to the Lord. By meditating in the word – we have a focus, we set our hearts on God, and flowing from this, we discover what it means to live for him, and how we can draw attention to him and bring glory to him!
I love how David revels in the richness of God’s law throughout Psalm 119.
He encourages us to meditate on it:
“I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word”
Let us now go in the name of Jesus, to receive the Word of God.
Let us draw near to God and he will draw near to us (James 4:8)
A final prayer, inspired by Colossians 3:16.:
Gracious Father –
Let the message of Christ dwell among us richly as we teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Let us sing to you with gratitude in our hearts. May you be our sole devotion, the one our hearts and minds long to know and love first. Help us to love one another, to look at your Son and what he has done. May your Spirit continue to teach us in ALL things, to counsel us and bring to our remembrance all that you have said to us. We thank you so much that we have not been left as orphans, but that in your mercy you have called us into your family through Jesus. We pray for the strength to persevere and that you would soften our hearts more and more to receive your word . Thank you for disciplining those you love. We pray all these things in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.