A while back, I wrote a post defining biblical meditation in light of what I was learning in my study on Psalm 119. In that blog post, I spent the majority of my time discussing the “what” of biblical meditation as well as challenging us to include that same biblical practice in our day to day lives. What I didn’t spend as much time on, however, was the “why.”
Why should we meditate on God’s Word?
It’s this question that I’d like to dive into today. But as a full disclaimer, I first need to stop and say that there are lots of reasons that we should meditate on God’s Word. There are so many, in fact, that it would take far more than one blog post to seriously dive into them all! So today, I’ll only be zeroing in on ONE of the MANY reasons that biblical meditation is important– and I know that at least for me, I didn’t fully understand this particular reason until recently. This is exactly why I want to focus on it. It’s not as obvious as something like “growing closer to God” but yet it is still vitally important and applicable for Christains as it can save us much heart-ache in our walk with God. And in case you picked up any hints from the title: Yes, it does have something to do with the book of Joshua!
Why Should We Meditate on God’s Word?
Let’s take a look at Psalm 119 (Don’t worry, we’ll get to Joshua eventually, just hang tight ;)). This incredible Psalm is divided into stanzas according to the different letters of the Hebrew alphabet. One of these sections is the Mem stanza named after the Hebrew letter –you guessed it– Mem. Here’s what the Psalmist says in the opening verse:
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.Psalm 119:97
From this verse onward, the Psalmist continues to discuss his meditation of God’s Word by describing how it gives him superior wisdom to his enemies (Hey look! There you go! That’s a reason to meditate on God’s Word!). About half way through the stanza, however, the Psalmist makes an interesting shift in the focus of the text. Here’s what he says:
I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.Psalm 119:101
Did you catch that? For the first half of the stanza, the Psalmist is talking about meditating on God’s Word. In the second half of the stanza, the Psalmist is talking about keeping, or obeying God’s Word. As you can see, the focus completely changes. Yet, these two points are contained within the same stanza! What does this mean? Is the Psalmist scatterbrained and wandering randomly from one topic to the next? Of course not! Psalm 119, like the rest of Scripture, is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. Nothing is random. Nothing is out of place. If meditation and obedience were two unrelated topics then the Psalmist would not be able to switch from one to the other as easily as he does. Meditation and obedience, then, must have something to do with one another. There must be some kind of relationship. The question is what?
Meditate So That You Do
I think the best place that we can go to understand the relationship between biblical meditation and obedience is exactly where my Psalm 119 study took me to consider this very same thing: the book of Joshua (Ah, now we are here!). More specifically, Joshua 1:8a. Here’s what it says:
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.
Joshua 1 is essentially God’s final words of commission and encouragement to Joshua as the Israelites are preparing to take the promised land from its heathen inhabitants. In addition to the repeated and well-known encouragement to be strong and courageous, God also instructs Joshua to be careful to walk according to the law that he has set out for his people. Notice that this is another passage in Scripture where meditation on and obedience of God’s Word are mentioned in close proximity to one another. Let’s boil this verse down to it’s core and see what we find.
Though I’m sure there are many ways to strip down this verse, I am going to share with you the phrase that I came up with in my own personal study because I think it will be the most helpful for the purpose of our discussion. Here it is: “Meditate so that you do.” Notice the words “so that.” “So that” expresses a dependent relationship between obedience (doing) and meditation. Our obedience to God is dependent upon our meditation. Or in other words, our meditation is what fuels and equips us to obey. Meditating on God’s Word, then, gives us the practical tools that we need to obey God in our day to day lives. These two topics, then, are not unrelated at all! In fact, they are intrinsically linked to each other. Because meditation gives us the tools to obey, it follows that just like trying to cut down a tree without the proper tool (such as an axe) is impossible, trying to obey God without first meditating on his Word is a fool’s errand.
This is why God doesn’t just tell Joshua to be strong and courageous and then end the conversation. He tells Joshua to be strong and courageous and meditate, because without first meditating on God’s Word, Joshua would not have been able to obey God’s command to be courageous.
This brings up two interesting points. First, from this relationship we can see that obedience should be a natural outflow of meditation. Since meditation equips us to obey, any time that we spend in God’s Word should be immediately followed by action upon it.
Now, as much as all of this may sound good in writing, I know that, at least for me, it can be really hard to spend consistent time giving serious thought to God’s Word, let alone actually using that time as a tool to help me obey him. It’s so much easier to read God’s Word every morning and then spend the rest of the day doing whatever I want than it is to act upon what I read. As Christains, however, that is exactly what we are called to do and that is exactly what our biblical meditation prepares us for! As God commanded Joshua to “do according to all that is written in it,” God has commanded us to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.
The second interesting point that our discussion brings up is more of a question than anything else: If obedience is the natural outflow of meditation, then why don’t we automatically obey God after we’ve spent some time in his word? Well, going back to our example of the axe and the tree, while cutting down a tree without an axe is impossible, handing someone an axe doesn’t mean that they now have to cut down a tree. All it means is that if they wanted to, they would have the tools they needed to do it. So it is with meditating on God’s Word. While our meditation does not guarantee obedience or negate our free will as humans to determine and be responsible for our actions, it does give us the tools that we need to obey God if we so choose.
This is what I meant when I said at the beginning of this blog post that understanding the reason for why we meditate on God’s Word can save us heartache in our walk with God. It reminds us that we don’t have to try to obey on our own! God has given us a tool to help us in his Word! At the end of the day, if we tried to obey God without first putting his Word in our minds and hearts we would fail utterly. It would be like rushing into battle without a gun or trying to scuba dive without an oxygen tank– it’s not going to end well. But if we humble ourselves and accept the fact that we are only human and we cannot live this life on our own then God is quick and ready to give us strength and guide us even through the darkest of times and help us fight even the greatest of sins.
So what are you going to do, Christain? Are you going to ignore the help that God has given you and try to obey with your own strength and wisdom? Are you going to try to be strong and courageous without the One who gives you strength and courage? Or are you going to turn to God and his Word to give you the help you need to live for him?
I’d like to end this blog post with the same words that God left Joshua with in chapter one. Because like Joshua, God has commanded us to be strong and courageous and to obey him even when it’s hard. Yet, like Joshua, God has not left us to ourselves.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.Joshua 1:9