Biblical Meditation: What Is It?
Tools to Feast on the Word of God
Defining Biblical Meditation
Biblical meditation is not about emptying your mind of all thought. It is not about sitting on the floor in the lotus position and repeating a mantra.
Biblical meditation is about pondering, studying, analyzing, and using your sanctified imagination to immerse yourself in the story to gain a deeper understanding of a Bible passage, story, or verse.
God Himself told Joshua that meditating on the Book of the Law (which was all the Bible they had at that point) was a requirement for him to succeed spiritually and in life.
Joshua 1:8: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
And David said:
Psalms 1:2 “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law, he meditates day and night.”
The word meditate comes from the Hebrew word hagah, which means to ponder. According to Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, it can also be translated as imagine, meditate, mutter, speak, study, talk, utter.
Rather than emptying the mind, this sounds much more like engaging your brain to its fullest extent in order to understand what you are reading. This kind of meditation is what attaches you to the “true vine” and helps you produce the fruit of the Spirit. (John 15:5)
Chewing or Swallowing it Whole
In my last blog, Bible Reading: Removing the Yawn Factor, I used the analogy of chewing your food versus swallowing it whole. We all know that while swallowing your food whole may allow you to receive some nutrients, you definitely will not get the full benefit of your food. You might even end up with a stomach ache.
However, chewing your food allows you to enjoy all the flavors and digest your food better, allowing you to get all the nutrients available.
The same is true of reading your Bible. Reading through a chapter of the Bible, praying, and heading off into your day (the equivalent of swallowing your food whole) may provide a little spiritual nutrition. However, to receive the full benefit of the Bible passage you are reading, you need to meditate or chew on it for a while.
Biblical meditation allows you to dig for the treasures that are below the surface. It gives you time to understand the text better, make applications to your life, hear God speak to you through what you are reading.
“But,” you may ask, “just exactly how do I meditate on a Bible passage?”
I’m glad you asked.
Here are 8 tools I discovered that help me meditate on Bible passages and even dialogue with God about what I am reading. Use them as you feel appropriate for whatever section of the Bible you are studying.
1. Ask questions about the passage you are reading.
Are there words you don’t entirely understand? Look them up. Why are certain details included? What do they reveal about God?
Why questions often spark the most in-depth study of a passage.
For Example: I was studying the book of Joshua and came to Chapter 2 which is all about Rahab hiding the two spies that Joshua sent to spy out the land. When I finished reading the story, the question that immediately came to mind was:
Why did Joshua send two spies to spy out Canaan when he was one of the original 12 spies sent to spy out the land 40 years before?
He knew firsthand the devastating results of that venture. The Israelites spent the next 40 years wandering around in the wilderness.
If I had been Joshua, I would never have sent anyone to spy out the land. I would have just taken the Israelites across the river before they had time to think, and then said,
“Well, you’re here now. You better trust God and fight for the land because there is no going back.”
So, I wrote down the question:
Why did Joshua send two spies into Canaan when the first time resulted in 40 years of wandering?
Then I began reading the story again, a little more slowly. As I was reading, God kept bringing the story of Lot to my mind.
And I’ll be honest. At first, I resisted. I didn’t think there was any correlation. But God was so persistent, I finally started writing down the correlations.
- Both cities were condemned to complete annihilation.
- Two spies entered both cities.
- In both cases, the spies were taken to the home of someone from the city.
- In both cases, the spies were sought out by the citizens of the city to harm them.
- In both cases, the people who sheltered the spies were saved from the destruction of their city.
And that’s when it hit me. Just like God sent the angels to save Lot from the destruction of Sodom, God sent the spies to save Rahab from the destruction of Jericho.
Rahab was the only person in that entire city who believed in the Israelite God. Heathen prostitute or not, God rewarded her faith in Him. He was not about to let her suffer the same penalty as the rest of the people of Jericho.
What a God of love and faithfulness, even to a heathen prostitute!
I have read that story many times over my lifetime. But I never got such a clear picture of just how merciful and loving God is until I asked that question and followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit to compare it to the story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
2. Look up any Bible verses or Bible stories that come to mind when you are reading your selected Bible passage.
Just as in the example I used above, God brought the story of Lot to my mind to teach me something totally new about Himself that I never saw before.
Recognize that when this happens, God is speaking to you. Pay attention. He wants to expand and deepen your understanding of that passage. He may teach you something new about Himself. He may speak to a particular issue you are praying about.
So don’t miss this opportunity to dialogue with God about what you are reading like I almost did!
3. Read the passage in several versions of the Bible.
If you understand more than one language, read it in different languages. All of this expands your comprehension of the passage and helps engage your imagination. Often, the Holy Spirit will begin focusing your attention on certain details, or a particular verse.
4. Use your sanctified imagination.
Imagine you are one of the characters in the story. What are they feeling? What do they see? What are they learning? What are they missing that you can see from your perspective? What are they learning about God?
For Example: If you are reading the story of Jonah, imagine what it felt like to be thrown overboard in a storm in the middle of the open ocean with no land in sight. What was he thinking as he sank under the waves? What did it feel like to be inside the belly of a whale?
5. Paraphrase the section in your own words.
This tool is especially helpful when you are reading something that is not a story. Read it in several versions. But remember, you have to write it in your own words. Don’t just copy down what a modern version says.
For Example: I did this with the book of Romans because it has always been hard for me to understand. Paul uses such long, convoluted sentences that I sometimes lose the point he is trying to make before I get to the end of it.
I’ll be honest. It was hard.
I did it in small doses. I would read just one paragraph or subheading in a chapter. And I would read it over and over. Then I would read it in several other versions of the Bible. And sometimes I had to do this every day for a week, on the same paragraph.
Sometimes I needed to read the Bible Commentaries, like Matthew Henry and Adam Clark, to see if they could explain it (though I didn’t always agree with them). Finally, I would get to the point where I felt I understood it well enough that I could put it in my own words.
Paraphrasing definitely makes you chew for a long time before you swallow! Especially in Romans. But when I finished, I could honestly say that, for the first time, I understood what Paul was saying.
6. Personalize it.
This is especially powerful for promises. Put your name in it. Use personal pronouns like “I” and “me” instead of “you” and “us”.
“Yet hear me now, O Jacob My servant, and Israel whom I have chosen. Thus says the LORD who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you: ‘Fear not, O Jacob My servant; and you, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground. Isaiah 44:1-3
Yet hear me now, O Janet, My servant, My daughter whom I have chosen. Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you: Fear not, O Janet, My servant; My daughter whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on you who is thirsty and floods on your dry ground.
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. 1 John 5:14-15
Now this is the confidence that I have in Him, that if I ask anything according to His will, He hears me. And if I know that He hears me, whatever I ask, I know that I have the petitions that I have asked of Him.
If you practice this, it helps the Bible promises to become your own. They are no longer for other people or another time, but specifically for you, today.
7. Summarize it.
Read it until you understand the purpose of the section, the main theme, or central idea, and then summarize it in two or three sentences at the most.
This requires you to understand the passage well so that you can boil the message down to the most essential theme or idea.
8. To get the greatest benefit, write down your meditations.
Whatever tool you use of the previous seven, write it down. Writing helps the brain to engage with the subject matter and grapple with understanding it better than just thinking about it.
There are three major benefits to writing down your meditations.
- It will slow you down enough so you can pay attention to the “still small voice” of God. (For more on this, see 7 Benefits of Writing Your Prayers)
- You will have a record of the things you learn to refer back to. If I don’t write down what I am learning from my Bible reading, I will have forgotten most, if not all of it, within a few hours. But if it is written down, I can refer back to it whenever I want to refresh my memory.
- It makes it easier to share what you are learning with someone else.
Biblical meditation boils down to taking the time to dig into a passage, engage all of your brain in understanding it. It helps you recognize the Holy Spirit’s promptings and the applications He makes to your life or the revelations of God’s character that it opens up.
How much time does it take? I would suggest you plan on spending 30 minutes in prayer and Bible study to start. You won’t have time to both pray and meditate on a passage and expect to gain anything from it if all you allot for your devotional time is 5 to 15 minutes.
Remember, it is a new skill you are learning. Just like it takes time to see the benefits of a new exercise regimen, it will take time to start seeing the benefits of biblical meditation. However, the more you do it, the more you will enjoy it. And in time, you will reap the benefits of a more personal and deep relationship with God.
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