.What do you think of when you hear the word “meditation?” Do you picture a person sitting cross-legged, thumbs and index fingers forming little O’s, and uttering “Ohm” again and again? In Western society, meditation is a word which has been co-opted by Eastern mystical practices. So you might be surprised to find that the Bible actually talks a lot about meditation. But ironically biblical meditation is the exact opposite of mysticism.
Whereas Eastern meditation emphasizes turning the mind off or inward, biblical meditation is about turning the mind on and upward, toward God. In his book God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation (Reformation Heritage Books, 2015) David W. Saxton shows how the practice of meditation is not only biblical but was well understood and strongly encouraged by the Puritans of the 17th century. Building on the writings of these wise and godly men, Saxton makes a case for why personal meditation should be a discipline that every Christian practices.
Saxton defines what he means by meditation early in the book, “What does it mean to meditate? It means to think personally, practically, seriously, and earnestly on how the truth of God’s Word should look in life.” In other words biblical meditation is simply “the doctrine of Christian thinking.” And Saxton is not shy about his aim, “The goal of the book is to convince God’s people of the absolute necessity of personal meditation.”
Chewing Before Your Swallow
Faithful Christians in our day spend much time reading the Bible and listening to sermons. With easy access to the audio of sermons from some of the most gifted preachers on the planet, believers hungry for God’s truth can fill every spare moment with rich, thoughtful, biblical expositions. But we err in while receiving all of that biblical truth, we may fail to fully digest and apply it. We spend little time in thoughtful application of the Word to our own hearts. We read but do not ruminate. We listen but do not linger. We may get the Word in our heads, but spend little time chewing on it so that it gets down to our hearts and works its way out into our actions. Saxton quotes James Ussher who wrote of the value of meditation:
“One hour spent thus, is worth more than a thousand sermons, and this is no debasing of the word, but an honor to it.”
Put another way, meditation is practical. It is not an act of speculation, but of application. A preacher can explain what a text means, and an in-depth personal study can mine rich treasures from the Bible, but once discovered it takes thoughtful meditation to apply those truths to the particulars of our own unique situations. No pastor or commentator can do that for us. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit uses the means of the Word contemplated to do it.
Biblical Meditation, Difficult But Worth It
There are a number of reasons Christians do not meditate on the Word. It takes time. In the frantic pace of modern life, we have so many stimuli vying for our attention. It makes the idea of simply sitting still and thinking sound like a waste of time. We have things to do, (though many of them are not all that important, like most of what distracts us on our phones). But Saxton charges that perhaps the real cause of negligence in meditation goes deeper. We do not believe that the Word of God is really capable of dealing with the issues we face. If we believed, we would with our minds, like Jacob, grab hold of God’s Word and not let it go until we received a blessing.
The time commitment is worth it. If you are reading this blog you are likely someone like me with a penchant for productivity. We can sometimes look at a practice like this, and though we might acknowledge it’s value, we may still be tempted not to practice it because it takes too much time. “I can get 10 things done in an hour instead of spending it musing on the Bible. Plus, I can listen to podcasts while I do those things!” But doing more things is not always being more productive. Christian productivity is about stewarding time to the most God-honoring ends. “Making the most of the time” is not about quanitity of tasks accomplished, it is about quality. Time invested in becoming more godly is the furthest thing from wasting it.
Get this book
I highly recommend God’s Battle Plan for the Mind. Saxton ably makes his case. And he also gives practical guidance on how to actually make biblical meditation a consistent part of your life. It is not easy—it takes precious time and focus, but it is a discipline that is guaranteed to produce results. Battle Plan is a short book, and one I believe every Christian would be well-served by reading.