We have seen that there are five things we are to do with the Bible if we are to enjoy its full medicinal properties in restoring our soul. The last one is that we need to meditate on it.
We have talked of the need to approach the Bible with a clear mind. But it is to be food for our souls as well as food for thought. Campbell McAlpine defines meditation as
The devotional practice of pondering the words of a verse or verses of Scripture, with a receptive heart, allowing the Holy Spirit to take the written Word and apply it as the living Word to the inner being.
We must be careful to note what biblical meditation is not before we discuss what it is. It must be distinguished from types of meditation rooted in eastern mysticism. These have been popular for a while as practised in such things as Transcendental Meditation and yoga, but in recent years have crossed over from New Age circles to become increasingly common in some Christian circles in such guises as “Contemplative Prayer”. The focus of such counterfeits of true meditation is on emptying the mind, trying to achieve a mental state of being free from thought.
But to the Christian, an empty mind is a dangerous void! Rather than seeking to empty our minds we are trying to fill them – fill them with God’s Word. Rather than focussing on our inner self, we are setting our attention firmly on God – the God who makes himself known to us in His Word. Biblical meditation fixes our thoughts on and fills our minds with God’s Word, and so feeds us in the depths of our being.
Meditation has been described as “the digestive faculty of the soul”. It is the process of chewing over and over some morsel of truth, to squeeze all the goodness out and break down into a form which is easy to digest. Jeremiah puts it this way: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jer 15:16).
To pursue the eating analogy, meditation is like “chewing the cud”. This term refers to the fact that some animals bring back food from their first stomach into the mouth and chew it again at leisure. Interestingly the Hebrew word translated “meditate” (e.g. in Psalm 1) can also be translated “mutter”. This is a repetitive jaw motion that privately verbalizes something over and over again, speaking thoughts and ideas to the soul, as it were, until the truth sinks in.
In a fast food culture, we gobble rather than delight in our food. Our approach to the Bible is often the same. But if we won’t take time to savour the morsels of truth that God has given us, our speed reading will only have the spiritual nutritional value of a McDonald’s hamburger fed intravenously. And we are missing the delight of a delicious banquet.
For more on these ideas, including some tips on how to memorize scripture, a couple of audio resources are available on our web site: How to Read the Bible, and How to Study the Bible. See also a free pdf file of a booklet on how to approach the scriptures: The Bible – God’s Life Word
For those who want to know more about how to read the Bible, we recommend Dig Deeper: Tools for understanding God’s Word by Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach [Crossway, 2010]