What do you think of when you hear the word meditate? I know what I think of: someone sitting cross-legged on the floor with their hands in the air going, “humm.” The Saturday before last our church began our ladies’ study on Psalm 119—and in this famous passage of scripture the word meditate is everywhere! Don’t believe me? Let me give you a sample (or better yet, read it for yourself!):
I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. (v. 15)
Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes. (v. 23)
Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. (v. 27)
I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes. (v. 48)
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. (v. 97)
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise. (v. 148)
From the first verse to the last, we are given a front-row seat to the Psalmist’s overflowing zeal for God’s Word and his desire to meditate on it. But what does it actually mean to meditate?In this post, I’d like to share with you a few thoughts from our session on Saturday and my own personal study that helped me better understand the answer to this question. Hopefully, it will do the same for you. Then, we’ll take a look at what our new definition of meditation means for our day-to-day lives.
The Biblical Definition of Meditation
Even before we get into the nitty-gritty of the Psalmist’s meaning there’s one thing that we can take away from this passage right off the bat: The goal of Biblical meditation is not to empty our mind, but to fill it. Notice that in all the verses I shared with you earlier, there is always an object to the Psalmist’s meditation. In verse 15, the Psalmist will meditate on God’s precepts. In verse 23 the Psalmist will meditate on God’s statutes. Once again in verse 97, the Psalmist will meditate on God’s law. Clearly, the Biblical goal of meditation is not to reach some peaceful state of nothing. On the contrary, our thoughts should be occupied with something—the Scriptures.
Now, this may seem to be a pretty obvious point, but don’t let the simplicity of this explanation blind you to its implications. If we are truly meditating on God’s Word, then our thoughts will be occupied with the things of God. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down to devotions in the morning and then five minutes later snapped out of a completely unrelated thought train (usually about school) only to realize that I haven’t even read the page my Bible is open too. My mind wanders, and sometimes it can be really hard to shove all the distractions of everyday life aside.
After all, in this modern age, there are so many things screaming for our attention. Our phones, our school, our work. You fill in the blank. For a lot of us, it’s hard enough to set aside the physical time, let alone the mental space, to be able to focus on something other than our busy lives.
But if you are like me, the worst distractions aren’t external—they’re internal. They’re those screaming doubts, those nagging fears, that crushing stress, those worried thoughts, that anxious brain. Somehow, even in my admittedly cushy American life, I still find so many things, often silly things, to be afraid of. And those very same things can steal my mental energy away from the one place that will actually help me deal with them: God’s Word. If you are stumbling under the weight of stress or are being barraged with volley after volley of anxious thoughts, the last place you should be is up in your own head.
Let me share with you a more formal definition of meditation that I learned in our Bible study on Saturday.
“To dwell on any thing in thought; to contemplate; to study; to turn or revolve any subject in the mind; appropriately but not exclusively used of pious contemplation, or a consideration of the great truths of religion.” – Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language (1828)
Biblical meditation is thinking, really thinking, about God’s Word. It’s turning it over in our minds, considering and savoring every detail, every nuance, every word. It’s contemplating. It’s straining to understand. It’s deep thinking to say the least—and it’s certainly more than a quick flyby at seven in the morning before we rush off into the rest of our day.
What About You?
So maybe you knew all that. Maybe you’ve been drumming your fingers on your desk this entire time, waiting for when things will actually apply. Well, you’ve finally come to the fun part. I have a question for you. Do you remember what you read in devotions this morning? Do you remember what you read yesterday? Did you even read the Bible yesterday? Did you think about what you read?
If you are like me, then your flybys at 7:00 in the morning are way more common than you’d like to admit. In truth, a lot of us do it all the time. We read a passage, scanning over it in a fluster of urgency, then send up a few quick words of prayer before moving on. But what about Psalm 119? What about thinking? What happened to that?
More than that, at the end of the day, we read the Bible because we want to grow closer to God! But how can we grow closer to God when we don’t spend more than five minutes in His Word every day?
God’s Word should be like a meal. A meal that we can’t wait to get to and are sorry to leave. Like a meal, we should feel hungry for it. Like a meal, we should feel full and satisfied when we are done. Here’s one quote (our leader couldn’t remember where she got it from) that was shared at our meeting that I just couldn’t keep to myself:
“Are we casting a glance at truth, or are we making a meal of musing?”
Are You Hungry?
One of the things I love about Psalm 119 is the author’s uncontainable delight and love for His Father’s Law. His desire to be fed by God’s Word oozes from between every letter and puddles at the end of every stanza. It’s convicting. He really and truly is hungry. Reading over Psalm 119, I was left wondering:
- Am I hungry?
- Is God’s Word my delight (v.35, 70, 77, 143)?
- Do I love His Law (v.48, 113, 167)?
- Is it my meditation all the day (v.97)?
- Is it sweeter than honey to me (v.103)?
- Is it my greatest treasure (v.72, 127)?
- Is my soul consumed with longing for the Scriptures (v.20)?
- Do I plead with God, begging Him to teach me His statutes (v.26)?
- Is my hope in His rules (v.43)?
- Do I see the ability to spend time in God’s Word as a blessing and privilege (v.56)?
- Are God’s testimonies the joy of my heart (v.111)?
Oh my friends, I always knew that my love for God, His way, His Word, was severely lacking, but studying this beautiful Psalm these past weeks really drove it home—and it hurts. It hurts because I see how dark and twisted my heart really is, and it hurts because I know that far more than it saddens me, it saddens my God.
I want to make a meal of musing.
I want to be hungry.
And reading this Psalm gave me new motivation to pursue His Word with greater vigor—and I can only pray that God will give me the strength and discipline to follow through.
So what about you?
Are you hungry?