We should be consciously trying to change our lives all the time, unless we are already sinless! We should be constantly asking God to transform us by his grace and power, so that we are better prepared for godliness and good ministry.
We should be aiming to die to sin and live to righteousness every day, to escape the power of the lies of our past or the lies of Satan, to live in the truth, love, and freedom of God, to stop being controlled by our sinful flesh, and see the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
The means God has provided to enable this to happen is the Bible: for God’s words are powerful to change us, as they were written by God the Holy Spirit, and the same Spirit applies them and works through them to transform us into the likeness of Christ.
Similarly, we should be using the Bible, and asking God to use the Bible, to hone our godliness, effectiveness and usefulness in ministry, so that we are both ‘made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work’ and also ‘thoroughly equipped for every good work’ [2 Tim 2:21, 3:17].
But this is unlikely to be effective with a ‘read, run, and forget’ approach to reading the Bible; or ‘hear, chat, and forget’ approach to Sunday sermons. Our lives are so full of activity, news, responsibilities, worries, work issues, administration, family concerns information, input and people, that we quickly forget our morning Bible reading, and quickly forget our weekly sermon, even if we preach it!
That is why God has told us not just to read or hear his words, but meditate on them. To meditate is to reflect on, to ponder, to mull over, to talk about, to re-read, to re-hear, to say to others, and to hear from the lips of others.
We learn in Psalm 1 that God blesses those who: ‘do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers’ [1:1].
Our meditations or self-talk or self-reflection often express worry, unbelief, criticism of others or ourselves, busyness, activities, complaints, or tension. We should replace worldly meditation with godly meditation. Good meditation should replace bad meditation: healthy meditation should replace unhealthy meditation. As Psalm 1 tells us, God blesses those who both delight in and meditate on God’s teaching: ‘but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night’ [1:2].
It is only delighting in and meditating on God’s teaching, which will fill our minds, hearts and lives with God’s truth, rather than the rubbish found all around us. If garbage goes into our minds, garbage will come out. If God’s words go into our minds, then God’s words will come out in our life, speech, and actions. And we will become fertile and fruitful, as Psalm 1 tells us:
They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper [1:3].
Meditating on the Law, the covenant words of God, is a theme of the Old Testament. God said to Joshua,
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]
And the Psalmist says, ‘Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long’ [Ps 119:97].
In Biblical meditation, our aim is not to empty our minds and consciousness, but
to fill them with the words and works of God. For meditation on the words of God see Psalm 119:15,23,27,48,78,97,99,148; for meditation on the works of God see Psalms 77:12, 119:27, 143:5, and 145:5. And we can only meditate on the works of God as we read of them in the words of God.
And what did Biblical meditation mean in practice?
Deuteronomy tells us:
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates [6:5-9].
Notice this all-day, private and public meditation, in which God’s people are to keep his words in their hearts, in their minds on their lips, in their ears, and in their eyes, 24/7! This is a long way from ‘read, run, and forget’!
How might we do Biblical meditation today?
Here are some suggestions.
We need to focus firstly on our corporate meditation when we meet together as God’s people on Sunday, and then secondly on our meditation daily during the week.
Sunday corporate meditation
This meditation is of fundamental importance, because the Bible is actually addressed to God’s people, and only to individuals as part of God’s people.
And the most important influence on the lives of individuals is the corporate life, values, ideals, and implementation of the Bible in the life of the church as a whole. If a church as a whole is mature, each member will be encouraged to be mature. If a church is prayerless, each member will be discouraged in their prayers. Of course churches will not change if individuals do not change, but these changes need to transform and habitual patterns of life of the church.
So how do we engage in Biblical meditation when we meet as God’s people.
- Reading of the Bible.
- The preaching and teaching of the Bible.
- The praying of the Bible.
- And then, before and after the service: ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another …’ Colossians 3:16.
We can also continue this corporate meditation during the week, as we continue to ponder that Bible passage in our families, with our friends, in our prayer meetings and Bible studies, and in our own thoughts. It is good to make the most of the Bible readings and sermons we hear together on Sundays.
Daily personal meditation
- Proactive Bible meditation.
Putting God’s words:
In your mind and heart
- Remember that in Bible times, ‘to read’ meant ‘to read aloud’. This is a good practice for us today. When we read aloud, we increase our understanding, and increase the power of the words we read. The physical act of both reading aloud and hearing what we read increases our personal involvement in what we read.
- Try use the same passage of the Bible for your reading every day for a week. Soak yourself in it! I often advised couples to spend one night a week doing an in-depth study of the Bible passage, and then re-read it each day for the next week. This combines depth and constancy
- Memorise a key verse from this reading, and repeat it to yourself as often as you can each day.
- Turn the words of the Bible reading and the Bible verse into a prayer. When we pray them, we own them, and when we pray them we reinforce them in our hearts and wills.
- Reduce the amount of time each day you spend listening to or watching the news. For our daily news is sadly full of the words of the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers. It is good to know what is happening, but not good to be overwhelmed and infiltrated with gossip, scandal, triviality, and spectacularised bad news.
In your eyes
- Put the Bible passage or verse as your screen saver.
- Print out a copies of it, and put them on the doors of your bedroom, bathroom, study, office, kitchen, fridge, sink, dining table and in your car or on your bike.
- Put a copy at the front of your calendar.
- Send yourself a daily email or text message with the verse on it.
On your lips
- Say the Bible verse aloud to yourself as often as you think of it, so it is on your lips and in your ears as well as in your mind.
- Put the Bible verse to music, and sing it to yourself.
- Whenever you take exercise, or travel, meditate on the Bible verse. Say it out loud.
- Tell family and friends, and anyone you meet about the Bible words which you are meditating on, and encourage them with its message. There is a good chance that whatever you need to meditate on will help others, and it will be a ministry to them. [Colossians 3:16]. In this way you will have the words on your lips and in your ears. And as you say them to others and encourage them to receive them, you will reinforce them to yourself. I am always strengthened when I encourage others.
In your ears, from the lips of others
- Ask family and friends to remind you of the Bible truth you want to absorb [Colossians 3:16]. Have Bible words in your ears.
- Get a whiteboard in your kitchen, write the Bible verse on it, and talk about it with your family each meal for seven days. Do corporate family Biblical meditation, just like in Deuteronomy! This also increases our accountability to others, because it means they know what we are learning!
- Remember that we need to be exhorted and encouraged by others every day, according to Hebrews 3:13, because sin is deceitful and deceiving, and so blinds us to its presence. We also need to be exhorted and encouraged by others because our own hearts are also deceitful and devious [Jeremiah 17:9].
- We should expect others to speak God’s words to us: ‘whoever speaks, as one who speaks the oracles of God’ [1 Peter 4:11]. When others remind us of the Scriptures, apply the Scriptures to us, and encourage and urge us to respond, we should expect them to speak God’s words to us.
- Of course this ministry may go wrong on some occasions. People may select the wrong Bible passage for us; they may apply a Bible passage that is true, but does not apply to us in this particular situation [like Job’s comforters]; they may apply the right Bible passage, but use the wrong tone: they may rebuke us when we need encouragement, or gently correct us when we need stronger medicine! They may load us with too many exhortations, or choose the wrong moment, or not speak wisely, or speak without genuine love. However we must also learn to receive imperfect ministry from others graciously, and remember that according to Proverbs, ‘Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid’ [12:1].
- In cases where you are facing a major challenge in your life: a strong temptation, a besetting sin, a non-Biblical attitude, a need for deep change, then make yourself accountable to a trustworthy person. Tell them your need, ask them to constantly teach and exhort you privately from the Bible, ask them to pray for your daily, and keep them informed of the reality of your progress, and, if it is helpful tell them each time you have sinned or fallen backwards.
And ask others to pray for you, that God would change you by these words. If you do not regularly send prayer requests to a group of friends, then do so. Invite people to join the group, tell them they can opt out at any time, and then send out a regular monthly or quarterly prayer letter, and also urgent requests as needed.
There are three reasons why you may be reluctant to engage with others in this process, to engage in public meditation on the Holy Scriptures.
The first is that our society tells us that religion is a private matter, and so not to be discussed publicly. This is wrong: Christianity is public truth, and God wants it known publicly.
The second is that you may have picked up the idea that it is the private you that really matters, that you are most real when living your interior life. This is wrong. God’s view of our reality includes our public relationships and interactions. The command is ‘Love your neighbour’. Unexpressed deep inner reality soon feels like hypocrisy, and soon is hypocrisy.
The third reason is that you may be temperamentally an introvert, and you naturally and comfortably process things in private, not with others. God loves those of us who are natural introverts, but we have to learn when we need to function ‘extrovertly’, that is, in relationship and communication with others. Introversion is a good servant, but a bad master!
There are many advantages in engaging in public meditation on the Scriptures, talking with others about what we are processing:
- Others will know what do pray for us. This will help them and help us, and they will be encouraged when they see our progress.
- We will learn from their responses to the Bible passage or truth we are talking about, and this will enrich our experience of it.
- We will make ourselves publicly accountable for our progress. Public accountability is a great spur to progress!
- They will hopefully be encouraged to actively teach and exhort us, hopefully with all wisdom [Colossians 3:16]! This is a sadly neglected ministry, and is a sign of the fragility of our relationships and friendships. For the lack of it means that the ‘word of Christ’ is not dwelling richly among us [Col. 3:16]. Fools hate rebukes, and wise people love them [see Proverbs 9:8]. We are weakened and deprived when we are not taught and exhorted by our fellow-believers.
So surround yourself, immerse yourself, immerse yourself, and luxuriate in God’s words. Meditate on them every way you can, privately and publicly!
Daily personal meditation
2. Reactive Bible meditation.
Here our starting place is not the Bible, but our daily thoughts and reflections, our ruminations, our ponderings, our default patterns of thinking, our default responses to people and situations we meet. Many of these will have already been transformed by God’s grace and power, but some may not. And while many of our actions have been transformed, it is often our reactions which lag behind, and which are harder to change!
Here are some examples of unhealthy reactions to people and situations: anger; resentment; self-defence; unbelief; guilt; panic; anxiety; tension; worry; aggression; violence; feeling threatened; feeling powerless; feeling like a victim; revenge; unforgiveness; imagining the worst motivations in others; criticism; self-assertion; feeling threatened; putting others down; playing spiritual one-upmanship; avoidance; retreating; seeking consolation and sympathy from others; gossip; slander; pretending it doesn’t hurt when it does; reacting in the same way to the way to a similar significant person or situation in the past; betrayal; cold displeasure and rejection; etc.
Any of these might be our immediate reactions, and in some cases those reactions may be helpful, as long as we quickly repent and move one. The danger is being paralyzed or trapped long-term by these reactions, and continuing to indulge them and act on them.
Our person meditations or ponderings or self-talk are often unhealthy, and so we need Bible verses quickly on hand to correct them, counteract them, expel them, and heal and strengthen us to resist their ongoing power in our lives.
- I face the reality of my initial response, and if it is sinful, ask for God’s forgiveness through Christ’s atoning death, Then I remind myself of a Bible verse that assures me of God’s grace and love, Christ’s bearing my sins, and the power of Christ’s blood to cleanse me of my sin.
- I remind myself of a Bible verse which gives me a more positive and healthy way to respond, and then preach it to myself.
- I praise and thank God for who he is, and for how his character and actions are expressed in that Bible verse.
- I ask God to transform me by his Spirit so that I respond in his perfect and healthy way in the future.
- I ask God to remind me of the Bible verse in the future just when I need it!
And in the longer-term, I am making a list of Bible verses I often need, and I am memorising them, so they are more readily available! Here are some of them:
When I am feeling tired, lacking energy, and discouraged: ‘I offer my body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to you.’ [Rom 12:1]
When I am stressed, too busy, panicking, or worrying about the future: ‘I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand.’ [Ps 31:14,15].
When I am worrying about myself or others: ‘Casting all your cares on him, for he cares for you.’ [1 Pet 5:7].
When I lose confidence in myself and my value: ‘I am made in the image of God;’ ‘I am worth more than many sparrows.’ [Gen 1:26-28; Matt 10:31].
When I feel that my ministry is futile: ‘you labour in the Lord is not in vain.’ [1 Cor 15:58].
When I feel lazy about my ministry: ‘Present yourself to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.’ [2 Tim 2:15].
When growth in godliness seems agonisingly slow: ‘His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.’ [2 Pet 1:3,4].
When I feel defeated by my own trials or the trials of others: ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.’ [Jas 1:2,3].
When I feel discontented in life or in ministry: ‘I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.’ [Phil 4:12,13].
When I have suffered injustice: ‘When Christ suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.’ [1 Pet 2:23].
When I feel hurt and sad: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.’ [2 Cor 1:3,4].
When I suffer loss: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.’ [Job 1:21].
In the midst of the turmoil of conflict: ‘live at peace with everyone, if it is possible, and as far as it depends on you.’ [Rom 12:18].
When my own situation, or the situation of others looks out of God’s control: ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. [Rom 8:28].
When I feel old and lacking in energy: ‘Our outer nature is wasting away, but our inner nature is being renewed day by day … from one degree of glory to another.'[2 Cor 4:16, 3:18].
When suffering for following Christ: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’ [Luke 9:23].
When tempted to give up defending Biblical faith when it is being attacked: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.’ [2 Tim 4:7].
When aware of the sins of others: ‘Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.’ [1 Pet 4:8].
When others suffer unjustly: ‘If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.’ [1 Pet 4:16].
If someone has sinned: ‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.’ [Mat 18:15].
If I am dissatisfied with my life or ministry: ‘Satisfy me with your steadfast love.’ [Ps 90:14].
When I am intolerant or unforgiving: ‘Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.’ [Col 3:13].
When I lose my global gospel vision: ‘Make disciples of all nations.’ [Matt 28:19].
When I despair of the church: ‘I will build my church,’ [Matt 16:18].
When I think of an unbeliever: ‘May God draw you to Christ’ [From John 6:44].
When I think of a believer: ‘May God sanctify you through and through’ [1 Thess 5:23].
We will find and feel the power of God’s words as we meditate on them:
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. [Is. 55:10,11.]
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes [Ps 19:7,8].
To meditate on God’s words, you should make them a vital and constant part of your daily life. They should be in your mind, in your heart, in your eyes, in your ears, on our lips, and on the lips of others. And they must be met with understanding, faith, repentance, obedience, resolution, persistence, and joy!
Read these wonderful words from Thomas Cranmer’s Homily on the Holy Scriptures and see that he bring the same message for the same reason!
These books, therefore, ought to be much in our hands, in our eyes, in our ears, in our mouths, but most of all in our hearts. The words of Holy Scripture be called words of everlasting life (John 6): for they be God’s instrument, ordained for the same purpose … They have power to turn through God’s promise, and they are effectual through God’s assistance; and being received in a faithful heart, they have a heavenly spiritual working in them… And there is nothing that so much strengthens our faith and trust in God, that so much preserves pureness of the heart and also of outward godly life and conversation, as continual reading and recording of God’s word. For that thing which, by continual reading of Holy Scripture, and diligent searching of the same, is deeply printed and graven in the heart, at length turns almost into nature….
God’s words should be our daily food, for, ‘Humans do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ [Matthew 4:4].
Keeping eating, and stay alive! Let God’s words change and transform you into the likeness of Christ!
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer [Ps19:14].