Today’s message is the second in the new series on the Book of Psalms (and also the second message on Psalm 1). Biblical meditation is has been largely lost to evangelical and reformed churches but, to our puritan forebears, it was essential for Christian maturity.
For much of the inspiration for this message, I am heavily indebted to David Saxton who wrote “God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation” and to Joel Beeke, who wrote the forward to the book (from whom I “borrowed” the opening illustration to the message).
As usual, the sermon video is below (this is still being recorded to an empty church because we haven’t yet mastered “live” recording) followed by the notes that are sent to those without internet.
“Imagine going to a private dinner hosted by a friend who works as a chef in a five-star restaurant. There are tantalizing aromas, and the colours and arrangement of the food on various dishes are a feast for the eyes. However, just as you sink your fork into the first bite and raise it to your lips, your phone rings loudly. Something has happened with work or family and you have to go right now… You saw the food and smelled it, but never chewed it, digested it, or benefited from it. That is the Christian life without meditation.”
(Adapted from, Joel R. Beeke, “Foreword,” in God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), vii).
We can hear or read great truth, but it doesn’t change us and is soon forgotten, because we don’t meditate upon the word. Verse 2, at the start of the Book of Psalms, calls us to delight in, and meditate on, the law of the Lord (God’s word). Since this is what leads to verse 3 (the tree planted by streams of water), we need to get hold of what biblical delight and meditation is.
I) The discipline of delight
We delight in good things. Delight is a good emotion given by God. He is telling us that the word is something to be desired, because of:
- Who wrote it.
- Who it is about.
- The message of salvation.
- The supreme wisdom it brings.
- Its power to change us.
Delight in the word is natural for a Christian, but it is something that we need to keep awake, and to stir up when it has fallen asleep. We need to choose (discipline ourselves) to spend time in His word and the delight will grow.
That delight is seen both in treasuring the word of God itself and in doing what it says. If we really treasure God’s word, it is not something that merely increases understanding, it is something that is lived out.
The delight is also seen in how much we think and spend time in it. Our delight in His word is an expression of our love for Him.
Something has gone wrong in the church of Christ in the west especially – we have lost our love for the word of God. We need to cry out to Him to restore it. Lord, please revive us again.
II) The marvels of meditation
Meditation sounds like something from eastern mysticism. Yet it is Biblical. Isaac in Gen 24:63, throughout the psalms. Also Phil 4:8-9.
Christian meditation focuses on God and His word, whereas often eastern meditation involves the emptying of the mind – a deliberate focusing on nothing or a focusing on something imaginary like a tree.
In fact, we all meditate on something. Our minds naturally move to something that interests us or is worrying us. So the challenge isn’t to find time to meditate, but what we meditate on.
Meditation involves the mind. One of the devil’s greatest successes is to get Christian people to switch off their minds. We use our minds for everything else but the Christian life. Everyone uses their minds. We use our minds to pass exams, do our jobs, bring up children, work out our finances. We think about the problems we face and how we might solve them. We think about all these things, but often don’t think about God’s word and God Himself. It is vital – Romans 12:2 says, “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”
There is a distinction between meditating and memorisation or study. Memorising puts the word in the mind and study gives us understanding of what it means, but meditating brings us to application, to worship, to admire, to the “how” of what I need to do. Meditation warms the heart and mind with a passion for God and to please Him.
So, while meditation starts with directing our thinking to scripture, it leads to speaking to our hearts, stirring up godly desires, and speaking to our wills, stirring up godly living. As we fix our minds on the word, so our hearts and wills follow.
Joshua 1:8 says, “Do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night.” The word “meditate” suggests talking to oneself, muttering under the breath as we speak the word of God to ourselves. It is reflecting on things and turning things over and over in our mind and hearts.
“Meditation is the chewing upon the truths we have heard.” (Thomas Manton). It is not snacking but feasting.
III) The way of meditation
We start with prayer – God I want to meet with You, hear Your voice through Your word.
We read and listen to the word of God. This is how we ground our meditation in what is true and not in what is false. Meditation on the words of God leads us to Him.
Meditate upon the scripture you are reading each day. Take a part of your reading. A verse, or a paragraph, sometimes even a word. Seek to understand the verse or passage in its context and then begin to meditate.
Focus on one thing, or one thought from the passage. As we think on that one thing, or one verse, or word- it leads to prayer, worship or action (or all three).
For example, in this psalm itself- “blessed” (v1). A meditation might go something like this:
He has shown me favour and kindness. He has taken me out of the way of destruction. So, I praise Him, I love Him.
Therefore, I shall not perish but have everlasting life.
How amazing that He is showing me favour when I used to be in this way! I sought the wisdom from the world, I chose to delight in sin, I mocked God and His people. But He has rescued me.
The blessed person is happy in God, satisfied in Him. Am I satisfied in Him? What other things satisfy my soul? Are they grabbing my desires more than the Lord? So, I confess them to Him now. And I pray: deliver me, Lord, change my heart, give me that hunger and thirst for your presence.
The blessed way will lead to permanent blessing – I will stand in the congregation of the righteous. How great – no more trouble, no more pain, no sorrow or tears. And so I speak that back into my troubled heart and mind.
He knows me on the blessed way (v5). He knows what I am feeling and going through. He is with me on the way. I am not alone. I am not abandoned. Because He knows my way, I can be sure that even this hard path is not outside of His will. And so I pray – teach me Lord, show me the lessons of this hard path. Increase my faith in You.
What does this bring? Joy, worship, peace, faith, humility, repentance, perseverance… all these flow as we meditate upon Him and His word.
It allows the truth to be embedded deep within our hearts. It grounds us into the scriptures, allowing our roots to go deep – like that tree.
Sometimes a passage will tell us something directly about God, so it is good to meditate upon Him (Psalm 63v5-6). We can reflect on who He is and His amazing attributes: His knowledge, presence and power; His holiness and wisdom; His goodness and love; His justice and His mercy; His faithfulness and His promises.
We can reflect on the cross, and the One who died there, and the fact it was for me. Such amazing grace.
We can also reflect on His mercies to us in our lives, our own salvation, His gracious provision and answered prayer.
IV) The timing and how of meditation
Day and night. Same idea as 1Thess 5:17… throughout the day and night as opportunity arises. Persistently and not occasionally, a habit.
So, just a few suggestions:
- Start. Decide that you will start setting aside time to meditate on God’s word as part of your normal with time Him. Find a time of day that works best.
- Start small. Maybe take one verse, or one phrase, read it in its proper context.
- Take each word and phrase, reflect on its meaning. Reflect on what it tells you. Reflect on what it tells you about God, the Saviour, what He has done for you.
- Keep speaking the words to yourself. Keep asking yourself how does this comfort or challenge me? How should I worship or change the way I behave? What can I pray back to the Lord from this?
- Then pray about what you have meditated on. It might be a prayer of thanks for what Jesus has done. It might be a prayer of confession because you find your heart is cold. It might be a prayer for greater faith to believe what you have read. It might be a prayer for obedience to obey what you have seen in His word.
- Take it with you into the day. In the quiet moments, reflect back on the scripture. Pray more about it. Ask Him to write it on your heart. God will often give you more light as you go back to the same verse regularly. This can transform an ordinary task like washing up into an encounter with the Lord.
- Then go back the next day. Maybe 5 minutes each day in the beginning. Maybe you will only take one thing away each day. But your desire will grow.
- Persevere, because the devil does not want you to think about God’s word. He would rather you didn’t read at all but, if you must read, then he would have you read and forget. So, it is a battle to meditate on God’s word, but if you meditate, you will grow.
The aim is to inflame the mind, heart and soul, and to grow in fruitfulness that we have true spiritual prosperity, which is what we will look at next week.
Let me close with a quote from a Puritan called John Ball: He wrote of meditation: “It is as the watering to plants, as blowing to fire, as oil to aching joints, as medicine to the sick; it urges to repentance, it quickens to prayer, confirms faith, kindles love, digests the word, encourages in doing good, and refreshes with heavenly comforts.”