The spiritual practice of meditation is not unique to Christianity. Many non-Christian religions and secular groups practice meditation. However, when the Bible speaks of meditation, as it often does, it is not the kind of meditation that seeks to disengage, silence, or empty the mind, as in Transcendental or Buddhist forms of meditation. The Scriptures teach meditation that actively engages the mind for the purpose of understanding God’s Word and putting it into practice. How can we meditate on God’s Word so that it produces in us fruitful and holy lives before God?
In the ancient Hebrew world, meditation always involved exercising and engaging the mind. Thomas Watson, a seventeenth-century Puritan minister, devoted much of his life to biblical meditation, both practicing it and teaching about it. He aptly defined the discipline in his book Heaven Taken by Storm as “an holy exercise of the mind, whereby we bring the truths of God to remembrance, and do seriously ponder upon them, and apply them to our selves.”
By Watson’s definition, we can meditate on God’s Word by bringing to memory His truths. Remembering requires active, cognitive recall of what we know about God from His Word: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6). According to Psalm 1:2, a blessed, fruitful, and righteous person delights in the Word of the Lord “and meditates on his law day and night.” This meditation is constant (“day and night”) and focused on God’s Word (“his law”). We meditate on God’s Word by filling our minds with it day and night.
God called Joshua to vigorous and continual meditation: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8). Here, biblical meditation expands from merely thinking to speaking (“on your lips”). The passage also states the purpose of meditation, that is, obedience to God’s Word, which produces prosperity and success before God.
Watson’s description of meditation includes serious contemplation or pondering of God’s truth. Psalm 119:15 says, “I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways” (NLT). So biblical meditation involves deep reflection and study of God’s Word. When we read the Bible, are we reading it slowly and intentionally? Are we thinking about the significance of the words and how they relate to our lives and the lives of others? If so, we are meditating on God’s Word.
Meditation requires time and effort. It can’t be rushed. It involves withdrawing from the distractions of this life so that we can fix our thoughts on God and His Word. By shutting out the noise of this world, we are better able to focus our attention on God and understand His ways: “I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:99).
Finally, as Watson touched on, biblical meditation seeks to apply God’s Word to our lives. Psalm 19:14 illustrates this truth: “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Meditating on God’s Word becomes pleasing in God’s sight because it results in the transformation of our lives. As we read and speak God’s truth and actively ponder it, the Holy Spirit enables us to put that truth into practice. In Philippians 4:8–9, the apostle Paul gives us this beautiful and complete picture of biblical meditation: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Meditation is a way of internalizing God’s Word—taking it deep into our hearts—so that the Holy Spirit can work through it to guide, teach, purify, and transform us from within. We can listen to the Bible, read it, and memorize Scripture to get it into our minds, but then we must also ponder it continually in our hearts so that we gain a deeper understanding of it and how it applies to our lives.
Here are four practical tips for meditating on God’s Word:
1. Carve out a specific time and place each day when you are least likely to be interrupted or distracted to get alone and meditate on God’s Word.
2. Start with prayer and ask God to help you with your meditation. You can ask the Lord to draw you closer to Him, open your eyes to His truth, help you apply that truth in your life, and transform you as you meditate on God’s Word.
3. Choose a small section of Scripture. Think about what the passage means. Study it in depth so that you can understand it in context. Take notes. Ask questions. Memorize the passage. Ask God what He wants to say to you through the text.
4. Consider how you can apply the passage to your life in practical ways, and ask God to help you follow through in obedience to what He shows you.