How to meditate on the word of God

Meditation is an often misunderstood practice. Many believe that to meditate means to empty your mind, but the scriptures teach that the opposite is true. Meditation is about filling your mind with the right thing to bring about increased holiness. But how do we meditate on the word of God?

The purpose of meditation
is the key to its practice. The purpose of God is for us to be conformed to the image of the Son of God (Rom 8:29). Meditation makes us careful to obey what is written in the word of God (Josh 1:8). So meditation is just thinking carefully about how the word of God applies to my soul. Indeed, since the Hebrew word “meditate” means to mutter under one’s breath, we could further explain it as “letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col 3:16). With this in mind, meditation depends upon two core elements. It requires the right heart, and it requires memorization. These two things are necessary because meditation happens both inside and outside of the quiet time. In this article, we’ll consider the right heart for meditation.

The heart required to meditate

Meditation is a discipline, but it is a simple discipline. Every human being has ruminated over words spoken by someone else. We meditate in numerous ways. Someone says something sharp or cutting, and we turn it over in our mind, often becoming angry or upset as a result (though often without justification). Perhaps you’ve had the words of a song stuck in your mind. Singing is a form of meditation, which points back to the importance of biblical music and hymns. Songs and hymns are also noted in Col 3:16 for this reason. The point is that it doesn’t take much effort to meditate on words. The issue is really what words we’re meditating on and what heart we have as we meditate. This second element is the one that requires the most consideration.
The issue is what words we’re meditating on and what heart we have as we meditate.

A listening heart

We need firstly to be willing to listen to what the Bible says and understand it in accordance with what the original authors (human and divine) intended. Often we think we know what the Bible says, but we so quickly gloss over words and phrases, especially if they are familiar. This familiarity leads us to miss the depth of meaning invested in the words. For this reason, meditation listens not merely to the paragraph of text, but to every word of the text (Matt 4:4, Deut 8:3). Since every word is intended by God to be part of His inspired Scriptures, each word has a purpose. We dare not overlook the purpose of a single word if we want to know what He said. When we scratch beneath the surface and ask why the Lord chose one word in a sentence rather than another, we often find there is a rich theological reason that has profound implications for that verse. We need a listening heart so that we hear the full richness of the word of God and don’t overlook any of it.
When we ask why the Lord chose one word in a sentence, we often find there is a rich theological reason

A submissive heart

To meditate on the word of God requires that we be willing to submit to what we read in it. Submission begins by recognizing the authority of the authors (both human and divine), then we submit to their authority. We submit to the divine author because He is our creator and has acquired our salvation at personal cost. We submit to the human author because he was appointed, shaped and superintended by the divine author. The human author was moved by the Holy Spirit and “spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:20-21). Therefore He has authority. When the scriptures speak, God speaks. We ought to submit to God’s superior wisdom, knowledge, purpose, and direction. But we ought also to yield to God simply because He is God. Meditation requires submission because if we do not submit to God, we will fail to reach the purpose for which we are meditating since meditation leads to the outcome God wants for us – holiness.
We ought to submit to God’s superior wisdom, knowledge, purpose, and direction, but we ought also to yield to Him simply because He is God.
Submission means holding our preconceived theological ideas loosely while we listen carefully to the truth of the word of God. It also means submitting what we think is important to what God thinks is important.

An honest heart

If we’re listening carefully and submissively to what the Lord says, we must be honest with ourselves and the Lord about what we find He says about us, the world and Himself. Honesty is the most difficult element of meditation, and it is the bridge between listening and changing. Not one of us thinks rightly about everything if we think rightly about anything as a whole. Not one person lives rightly in every aspect. Even when we’ve grown significantly, we still lack comprehensive knowledge of a subject, and we still fall or relapse into old sins. If we recognize our need to continue to learn, grow and change (or repent), we will learn, grow and change. If we think we don’t need to grow, we will begin to shrink. Honesty requires humility and a willingness to be wrong, even if we are an expert.
If we think we don’t need to grow, we will begin to shrink.

An obedient heart

Honesty opens the doorway to application and obedience. When we listen submissively and are honest with ourselves and the Lord, we can determine to grow in obedience. Obedience requires us to think, feel and act differently. To act differently requires that we consciously recognize that the way we think feel and act is wrong and to change our minds about it. Then we can work to conform ourselves to the image of Christ, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit to complete our efforts. An obedient heart means we need to resolve to replace faulty thinking with biblical thoughts, put aside evil and corrupt desires and to adopt godly desires as our own and to choose to do what is right rather than whatever we normally do. Obedience is not a passive activity. Nobody becomes obedient by accident. Certainly, salvation is something God does in us. But salvation drives us to put to death the flesh because salvation makes us love righteousness or the law of God. Many factors influence this drive, but one of the most important is what occupies our thoughts, or what we meditate on. The righteous delights in the law of the Lord and he meditates on what it says (Ps 1:2).
Salvation drives us to put to death the flesh because salvation makes us love righteousness.

In our quiet time

Meditation requires that we think carefully about the word of God. In our quiet time we need to let the words we read in scripture soak in. Meditation takes time and intentionality. We need to mull over the events we read about, the desires at work, the actions of people. We need to consider the response of God, and we must evaluate our own heart, honestly measuring ourselves against these things so that we see ourselves clearly and respond obediently. Meditation extends beyond the quiet time as we continue meditating on the word of God throughout the day. In my experience, the reason we don’t meditate is not that we don’t know how, it’s more often that we don’t take the time, or we have the wrong heart. Even if your quiet time is short, take some time to consider carefully how your thoughts, affections, and actions relate to your Bible reading. Be honest and respond in obedience, and you’ll grow in holiness and joy.
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