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Exactly what is Scripture meditation?

Scripture Meditation
realizing, reflecting on, and responding to God’s truth

The Bible offers numerous insights into Scripture meditation. Learning what God’s Word has to say about it is essential to comprehending the topic. In addition, many men and women have faithfully meditated on God’s Word, and their understanding of meditation offers helpful insights. We have included passages of Scripture and quotes from heroes of the faith to provide a deeper look at meditation.

A good portion of each passage is quoted below so that you can discern the focus of the writer more adequately and observe the mention of meditation in context. As you read, pay careful attention to the impact of meditation in the lives of the writers. It is apparent that meditation is undertaken by those who love the Lord their God, those who know His character and have experienced His blessings, and those who yearn to know Him more.

Meditation Is Reading and Quoting God’s Word to Yourself

The Hebrew word translated as meditate in the verses below, hâgâh, means “to murmur (in pleasure or anger): by impl. to ponder.” The same word is also translated elsewhere in the Old Testament as imagine, mourn, mutter, roar, speak, study, talk, and utter.

  • “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate [hâgâh] on thee in the night watches. Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice. My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me” (Psalm 63:3–7).
  • “I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate [hâgâh] also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings. Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God? Thou art the God that doest wonders: thou hast declared thy strength among the people” (Psalm 77:11–14).
  • “Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate. I remember the days of old; I meditate [hâgâh] on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands. I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah. Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit. Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee” (Psalm 143:4–8).
  • “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate [hâgâh] therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
  • “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate [hâgâh] day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” (Psalm 1:1–3).

Meditation Is Reflection and Devotion

Another Hebrew word, sîychâh, means “reflection, devotion” and is also translated as prayer. Meditation is a prayerful reflection upon words of Scripture. Notice the benefits of meditation that are set forth in the following verse: “He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul: he that keepeth understanding shall find good” (Proverbs 19:8).

“O how love I thy law! it is my meditation [sîychâh] all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation [sîychâh] (Psalm 119:99).

Meditation Is Exalting God in Song

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation [higgâyôwn] of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). The Hebrew word translated as meditation means “a murmuring sound, i.e., a musical notation”; it is translated as solemn sound. Meditation can be a reverent, musical repetition of God’s Word.

As you sing to the Lord, using Scripture songs composed by others or songs that you compose yourself, meditate on the truths you are declaring and affirming. Be aware that you are in the presence of your holy God, and reverence Him. Adore Him; rejoice in Him; petition Him; delight in His promises.

Meditation Is Reviewing, Believing, and Declaring God’s Word to Your Soul and to God

The Hebrew word translated as meditate in the following passage, sîyach, means “to ponder, i.e. (by impl.) converse (with oneself, and hence aloud) or (trans.) utter.” Elsewhere in the Old Testament it is translated as commune, complain, declare, muse, pray, speak, and talk (with). Meditation is communing with God in the language of His own written Word—reviewing, believing, and declaring His Word to your own soul and to the Lord. Notice that the psalmist meditates during the day and during the night.

“With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes. With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate [sîyach] in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.

“I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved. My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate [sîyach] in thy statutes. I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord: I will keep thy statutes. I cried unto thee; save me, and I shall keep thy testimonies. I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word. Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate [sîyach] in thy word. Hear my voice according unto thy lovingkindness; O Lord, quicken me according to thy judgment” (Psalm 119:10–16, 47–48, 145–149).

Meditation Is Pondering God’s Truth to Gain Wisdom and Understanding

This Greek word, meletao, means “to take care of; i.e. (by impl.) revolve in the mind.” You and I would be wise to heed Paul’s exhortation to Timothy and to meditate on the Word of God, so that we can mature in our understanding and application of God’s Word. The fruit of meditation on God and His ways will affect not only our lives; it also will affect “them that hear thee” (I Timothy 4:16).

“Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate [meletao] upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to tall. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (I Timothy 4:13–16).

The Testimony of J. I. Packer

J. I. Packer is the author of Knowing God, which has become a classic of the Christian faith, and he served as general editor for the English Standard Version, an evangelical revision of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Here is J. I. Packer’s explanation of meditation:

Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communication with God. Its purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let His truth make its full and proper impact on one’s mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace. Its effect is ever to humble us, as we contemplate God’s greatness and glory, and our own littleness and sinfulness, and to encourage and reassure—‘comfort’ us, in the old, strong, Bible sense of the word—as we contemplate the unsearchable riches of divine mercy displayed in the Lord Jesus Christ. (J. I. Packer, Knowing God, Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1973, 18–19.)

The Testimony of John Bunyan

John Bunyan, a Christian writer and preacher of the seventeenth century, wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, arguably the most famous published Christian allegory. This is his exhortation about meditating on the Word of God:

Although you may have no commentaries at hand, continue to read the Word and pray; for a little from God is better than a great deal received from a man. Too many are content to listen to what comes from men’s mouths, without searching and kneeling before God to know the real truth. That which we receive directly from the Lord through the study of His Word is from the minting house itself. Even old truths are new if they come to us with the smell of heaven upon them.” (Cited by Doug McIntosh in God Up Close: How to Meditate on His Word, Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 84)

The Testimony of George Mueller

George Mueller was a Christian evangelist who lived in the nineteenth century. He founded orphanages in Bristol, England, caring for more than 100,000 orphans during his lifetime. He was a man of prayer and a man of faith in God. The following words are taken from his autobiography:

It has recently pleased the Lord to teach me a truth, irrespective of human instrumentality, as far as I know, the benefit of which I have not lost, though now, while preparing the fifth edition for the press, more than fourteen years have since passed away. The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord.

The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished.

For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as it becomes a child of God in this world; and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit.

Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, as an habitual thing to give myself to prayer, after having dressed myself in the morning. Now, I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord.

I began therefore to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning, early in the morning.

The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord's blessing upon his precious word, was, to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse, to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul.

The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession, or intercession, or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the word may lead to it, but still continually keeping before me that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation.

The result of this is, that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation, and that my inner man almost invariably is even sensibly nourished and strengthened, and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart. Thus also the Lord is pleased to communicate unto me that which, either very soon after or at a later time, I have found to become food for other believers, though it was not for the sake of the public ministry of the word that I gave myself to meditation, but for the profit of my own inner man. …

It often now astonishes me that I did not sooner see this point. In no book did I ever read about it. No public ministry ever brought the matter before me. No private intercourse with a brother stirred me up to this matter. And yet now, since God has taught me this point, it is as plain to me as anything, that the first thing the child of God has to do morning by morning is, to obtain food for his inner man.

As the outward man is not fit for work for any length of time except we take food, and as this is one of the first things we do in the morning, so it should be with the inner man. We should take food for that, as every one must allow. Now what is the food for the inner man? Not prayer, but the word of God; and here again, not the simple reading of the word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts. When we pray, we speak to God.

Now, prayer, in order to be continued for any length of time in any other than a formal manner, requires, generally speaking a measure of strength or godly desire, and the season, therefore, when this exercise of the soul can be most effectually performed is after the inner man has been nourished by meditation on the word of God, where we find our Father speaking to us, to encourage us, to comfort us, to instruct us, to humble us, to reprove us. We may therefore profitably meditate, with God’s blessing, though we are ever so weak spiritually; nay, the weaker we are, the more we need meditation for the strengthening of our inner man. There is thus far less to be feared from wandering of mind than if we give ourselves to prayer without having had previously time for meditation.

I dwell so particularly on this point because of the immense spiritual profit and refreshment I am conscious of having derived from it myself, and I affectionately and solemnly beseech all my follow believers to ponder this matter. By the blessing of God I ascribe to this mode the help and strength which I have had from God to pass in peace through deeper trials, in various ways, than I had ever had before; and after having now above fourteen years tried this way, I can most fully, in the fear of God, recommend it. In addition to this I generally read, after family prayer, larger portions of the word of God, when I still pursue my practice of reading regularly onward in the Holy Scriptures, sometimes in the New Testament and sometimes in the Old, and for more than twenty-six years I have proved the blessedness of it. I take, also either then or at other parts of the day, time more especially for prayer.

How different, when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what it is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials, and the temptations of the day come upon one! (Autobiography of George Müller)

The Testimony of Alexander Whyte

Alexander Whyte (1836-1921) was a leading Scottish Churchman. He is best known for his books on Bible characters, and he also wrote An Exposition on the Shorter Catechism, a summary of Christian doctrine that was taught in schools and homes across Scotland and throughout the world. Its solid Christian instruction has stood the test of time.

This is Alexander Whyte’s description of meditation:

Mind is the highest thing, and meditation is the highest use of mind; it is the true root, and sap, and fatness of all faith and prayer and spiritual obedience. Why are our minds so blighted and so barren in the things of God? Why have we so little faith? Why have we so little hold of the reality and nobility of Divine things? The reason is plain—we seldom or never meditate. We read our New Testament, on occasion, and we hear it read, but we do not take time to meditate. We pray sometimes, or we pretend to pray; but do we ever set ourselves to prepare our hearts for the mercy-seat by strenuous meditation on who and what we are; on who and what He is to whom we pretend to pray; and on what it is we are to say, and do, and ask, and receive?

The Testimony of Dr. Paul Meier

Dr. Paul Meier, a Christian psychiatrist and cofounder of the Minirth-Meier Clinic, says that meditation on the Word of God has been his most valuable tool in clinical practice. This is his testimony:

To prepare myself as a Christian psychiatrist, I undertook college studies, an M.S. degree in human physiology, an M.D. from medical school, psychiatric residency training in two different programs, and theological course work from two evangelical seminaries. During those years I was equipped with many techniques and shortcuts for bringing human beings relief from anxieties, depression, phobias, fears, insecurities, and other kinds of emotional and physical pain. Among the many tools I learned to use, by far the one that has been most valuable in helping people attain spiritual well-being is Scripture meditation. (Paul Meier, Meditating for Success [Richardson, Tex.: Today Publishers, 1985], 8, as quoted in God Up Close: How to Meditate on His Word, by Doug McIntosh, 66)

The Testimony of Doug McIntosh

Doug McIntosh, author of God Up Close: How to Meditate on His Word, summarizes meditation as “the Christian’s interaction with the God of the Bible by means of the Bible. Biblical meditation consists of a three-part process: (1) realizing the truth of God as it is contained in the Scriptures, (2) reflecting upon that truth, and (3) responding to God in thanksgiving worship, and obedience.” (Doug McIntosh, God Up Close: How to Meditate on His Word, Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1998, 23)

Meditation Is a Choice to Renew Your Mind With God’s Word

Meditation is part of a growing relationship with God, a means of renewing the mind through the transforming power of His Word. It is an investment of time and effort with the goal of learning God’s Word so that it might change the way you think and behave. As you reflect on God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will “lighten the eyes of your faith to behold God’s face.” (See Psalm 13:3, Amplified Bible.)

Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6–7).

For Further Study

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Rhonda Sullivan

Prayers to let go of the past and be freed from evil thoughts Isaiah 55

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