Excerpt from Spiritual Classics

Med­i­ta­tion

Med­i­ta­tion” is anoth­er word… peo­ple often use about prayer. But Chris­t­ian med­i­ta­tion must not be con­fused with yoga, East­ern med­i­ta­tion or tran­scen­den­tal med­i­ta­tion. For, unlike these dis­ci­plines, Chris­t­ian med­i­ta­tion has noth­ing to do with emp­ty­ing our minds. Chris­t­ian med­i­ta­tion engages every part of us — our mind, our emo­tions, our imag­i­na­tion, our cre­ativ­i­ty and, supreme­ly, our will.

As Arch­bish­op Antho­ny Bloom puts it, Med­i­ta­tion is a piece of straight think­ing under God’s guid­ance.” Yet it is not the same as an aca­d­e­m­ic study of the Scrip­tures. This becomes clear when we lis­ten to the Psalmist describ­ing his prac­tice of meditation. 

On my bed I think of you,
I med­i­tate on you all night long… (Ps. 63:6; JB [Jerusalem Bible])

The word for med­i­tate” which is used here means to mut­ter” or to mur­mur per­sis­tent­ly,” repeat­ing the same words over and over again. In Psalm 119, the Psalmist uses a dif­fer­ent word when he refers to meditation.

I mean to med­i­tate on your pre­cepts
And to con­cen­trate on your paths. (Ps. 119:15; JB)

Though princes put me on tri­al,
your ser­vant will med­i­tate on your statutes. (Ps. 119:23; JB)

I stretch out my hands to your beloved com­mand­ments,
I med­i­tate on your statutes. (Ps. 119:48JB)

The word he uses in these vers­es means to muse,” to pon­der,” to reflect,” to con­sid­er.” In oth­er words, Chris­t­ian med­i­ta­tion involves, not empti­ness, but full­ness. It means being atten­tive to God. The pur­pose of this atten­tive­ness, this reflect­ing and this pon­der­ing is, among oth­er things, to see our­selves in the light of God’s revealed word — just as Jesus weighed each of Satan’s sub­tle temp­ta­tions against the teach­ing of the Old Testament.

We med­i­tate to give God’s words the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pen­e­trate, not just our minds, but our emo­tions — the places where we hurt — and our will — the place where we make choic­es and deci­sions. We med­i­tate to encounter the Liv­ing Word, Jesus him­self. We med­i­tate so that every part of our being, our thoughts and our affec­tions and our ambi­tions, are turned to face and hon­or and glo­ri­fy him. Yet anoth­er rea­son for learn­ing to med­i­tate is so that we may become con­ver­sant with the will of God…

How to Meditate

We have seen the the Eng­lish word med­i­ta­tion” may be var­i­ous­ly trans­lat­ed by words like mut­ter­ing and mur­mur­ing, reflect­ing and rec­ol­lect­ing, mus­ing and pon­der­ing. With these hid­den mean­ings in mind, it becomes appar­ent that Jesus med­i­tat­ed on the Scrip­tures. He knew the Old Tes­ta­ment so well that he eas­i­ly made the con­nec­tion between bib­li­cal truth and what was hap­pen­ing to him at var­i­ous stages of his life. In Luke 4, three times Satan tries to deflect him from doing God’s work in God’s way; three times he com­bats Satan’s sug­ges­tions by quot­ing Scripture:

The dev­il led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the king­doms of the world. And he said to him, I will give you all their author­i­ty and splen­dor; it has been giv­en to me, and I can give it to any­one I want to. If you wor­ship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, It is writ­ten: Wor­ship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ ” (Luke 3:5 – 8NIV)

Here Jesus is reveal­ing that Deuteron­o­my 6:13 has become so much a part of his think­ing and behav­ing that it auto­mat­i­cal­ly springs to mind and affects his atti­tude when faced with Satan’s sub­tle ploys.

Scrip­ture can sim­i­lar­ly become a part of our make-up if we med­i­tate on it. And the best way to pre­pare to med­i­tate is to respond to the invi­ta­tion God gives us through the Psalmist: Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).

In the still­ness we can shed some of the pres­sures which would pre­vent us receiv­ing God’s Word into the inner­most core of our being. We can focus away from the mun­dane and the every­day and onto God. Such still­ness is to Bible read­ing what prepar­ing the soil is to good farm­ing. Essen­tial for fruitfulness.

When we have become still, if we read a pas­sage of Scrip­ture which we have pre­vi­ous­ly stud­ied or some vers­es which refer to some­thing which is trou­bling us, we may well find that a verse or a phrase or a sen­tence or a pen pic­ture will draw us to itself. If it does, there is no need to read on. Instead, we should stop to reflect and to trea­sure the words, to turn them over and over in our minds, repeat­ing them until the truth which they con­tain trick­les from our head into our hearts.

All our fac­ul­ties can be enlist­ed to help us med­i­tate. The mind enables us to under­stand what the words mean as we read them in con­text. The mem­o­ry helps us recall what we have learned and expe­ri­enced of God’s char­ac­ter and faith­ful­ness in the past. The imag­i­na­tion is a God-giv­en gift which the prophets used to pic­ture the insights God entrust­ed them with and which Jesus used to describe his king­dom. (So he likens his Father to a faith­ful shep­herd, a Mid­dle East­ern house-wife and a lov­ing, Mid­dle East­ern father, Luke 15.) And the emo­tions enable us to iden­ti­fy with the char­ac­ters in the pas­sage we are reading.

Excerpt­ed from Spir­i­tu­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings on the Twelve Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines Richard Fos­ter and Emi­lie Grif­fin, Edi­tors. New York: Harper­Collins, 2000.

Originally published December 1999

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