Blessed is the man who meditates … day and night. Ps. 1:1,2.
“Do you meditate?” I was asked. No, the question did not come from an eastern guru, sitting cross legged on the floor, teaching me yoga (“Aum, aum, aum …”) so I could get in touch with the so called All, the divine presence that is the universe, of which everything is a part. Nor did the question come from a monk: “Come, separate yourself from outside distractions, spend some time in a monastery away from your mobile phone. Join us monks in meditation by repeating Scriptural verses over and over again.” The question came from an elder at a home visit many years ago. He wanted to know if I not only read the Word and knew what it said, but also spent time meditating on it.
Do you meditate? This remains an important question for God’s people. Christians should meditate. Someone once wrote: “A Christian without meditation is like a soldier without weapons, or a workman without tools. Without meditation, the truths of God’s word will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation, all is lost.”[i] God made us thinking beings. We can take information in, we can turn it over in our minds, thinking about its implications, with the result that it is pressed more deeply into our mind, heart and soul.
The Bible teaches meditation by command and example. God commanded Israel to set their hearts on all the words of the law Moses gave to them (Deut. 32:45). God commanded Joshua to spend time meditating in the law (Josh. 1:8). The Spirit in Psalm 1 declared blessed and fruitful the man who spent time meditating on God’s word. The apostle Paul wrote a list of things that God’s people must meditate on (Phil. 4:8). The Bible gives examples of meditation too. Isaac, shortly before he met his bride, was out in the fields meditating. Mary, the mother of our Lord, did a lot of pondering in her heart about things that God had said.
So what is meditation? By way of contrast, when you study God’s word, you dig to get more understanding. You study the context of the passage. You look at cross references, maps, and timelines. You identify the key words, and look up how they are used elsewhere. But meditation is a bit different. It is that activity of thinking about God’s word, reflecting on it in a constructive way, so that what you’ve read is impressed more firmly into your mind and heart. Meditation makes what you have read or learned from studying the Word go in deeper.
Meditation requires that you think about the Word of God. Think about the law of God (Ps. 1:3), which includes commands and judgments, and promises too. Think about the mighty deeds of God (Ps. 145:5). Sermons provide bountiful material for meditation. The text has been studied, explained, and applications brought to the fore. This is well prepared food for meditation. Put the details of last Sunday’s sermon (text, theme, points), in a place where you will repeatedly see it (on the main screen of your phone; on the fridge; stick the liturgy sheet over your TV screen). Meditation also includes heart application. That means that you reflect on yourself and what is happening in your life, putting that in light of God’s Word. Without heart application, meditation is no more than study.
Memorizing God’s word greatly assists meditation. An obstacle to meditation is to have little to think about. Memorization of Scripture overcomes that. In that context, be thankful for the rhymed versions of the Psalms, and the fact that many of us had to learn them at school. As one author put it: “The metrical versions of the Psalms are a great help in meditation. Their metrical form facilitates memorisation. As God’s Word, they are a proper subject for meditation. As a “complete anatomy of the soul”, as Calvin called them, they afford abundant material and guidance for meditation. As prayers (Ps. 72:20) and as thanksgivings (Ps. 118:1), they are both a proper vehicle for meditation and a fitting way to conclude it.”[ii]
Meditation has many benefits. In Psalm 77, we read the struggles of a person who is going through difficulties. His deep distress kept him awake at night. It felt like God had forgotten to be merciful to him. It is striking that we do not read about those difficulties ending. However, the psalmist still found comfort and peace. How did he do that? By meditating on the great works of the LORD in the past. The greatness of his God gave him comfort as he endured dark days. Psalm 1 makes clear that the person who meditates on God’s law will be able to bring forth fruit in due season. He will know how to respond to the dips and curve-balls of life in a broken world. Meditation is also a prerequisite for attendance at the Lord’s Supper: “Let everyone consider his sins and accursedness …. For the wrath of God was so great that He could not leave it unpunished, but has punished it in His beloved Son Jesus Christ by the bitter and shameful death on the cross.” Meditation is also used by God to preserve you to the end so that you do not abandon the faith (Canons of Dort, V, art. 14).
So do you meditate? Make the time for it. Striving to meditate will be like rowing upstream. We live in a society that does not want people to think deeply. After all, for consumerism to be successful, people need to spend, not think. Life is busy. There are plenty of distractions. But the benefits of meditation make the effort worth it.
Sometimes spending a number of days at a monastery holds appeal even for those who claim to be reformed. There they will engage in “meditation” activities, like reciting a verse over and over again. The monastery will have rules to make sure it is a quiet place, separate from the outside world. For example, you will not be able to take your phone along. People who have a sneaking suspicion that their phone has too much control of their life and is filling it with distractions, will find that attractive. Thus they attend and open themselves up to the influences of Roman Catholicism and mysticism to deal with their enslavement to the phone.
But this is a wrong and dangerous way to deal with the problem. We should rather return to our reformed roots, which emphasize the cultural mandate and our need to have dominion over creation, not become enslaved to it or any part of it. The phone is to be our servant, not our master, and with royal dominion we are to have times separate from the phone, also for times to meditate. Put your phone away for a time, switch your computer off, and meditate.
Learn to identify opportunities to meditate. Do you sometimes struggle with getting to sleep? Use the time to meditate on God’s Word. As the psalmist says: “My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word” (Ps. 119:148). When sitting on the train, or going for a walk or ride, are you always distracted by those plugs in your ears, or do you take the time to be quiet, to reflect? Maybe gardening, or some repetitive job like ironing or folding washing, will give you time to think.
So, do you meditate?
Rev. Carl Vermeulen
FRC Darling Downs