Why Meditate? (Reasons 2 & 3)17:12
So far, we’ve looked at what Biblical meditation is, and we’ve had a look at one reason why Christians meditate on the Word. And today we’re going to look at a few more reasons why.
Reason 2: Meditation is a Command of God
In both the Old and New Testaments, the Lord God tells His people to meditate on His Word. It’s not just a bit of good advice; it’s a command of the Living God. Back in the book of Deuteronomy there’s a particularly well-known Scripture in which the Lord gives this command to His people. And it’s particularly well-known, because the children of Israel would recite this particular Scripture morning and evening, every day (as many Jews still do today): the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9). Here, the people of God are told that His Word is to be in their heart (v.6), constantly on their lips (v.7), and put in places that will constantly bring it to mind (vv.8-9). This love for, and attention to, God’s Word is part of loving ‘the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength’ (v.5).
When the Children of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land, the LORD spoke to Joshua, and told him:
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. (Josh 1:8)
Joshua was to meditate in the Word of the LORD day and night. But not only Joshua: we are to meditate in it as well. How do I get to us from Joshua? Well, the writer to the Hebrews does that, for in Hebrews 13:5 he quotes from the LORD’s words to Joshua (specifically Joshua 1:5) and applies it to Christians. So, in other words, the Lord gave this command to Joshua as the leader of God’s people, as an example for all God’s people. The Word of the Lord should not depart from our mouths, but we should meditate in it day and night.
We see a similar thing in the New Testament, where the instruction is given to a leader among God’s people as an example for all God’s people. In 1 Timothy 4:12-16 Paul writes to Timothy telling him to ‘be an example to the believers in word’ and ‘give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.’ Timothy is to model for the believers the proper attitude to God’s Word. And part of that is the instruction he receives in verse 15: ‘Meditate on these things.’ Timothy is to be an example to all believers in meditation. And all believers should follow the example of Timothy in meditation.
Of course, the New Testament also gives us the explicit instruction to meditate (not only the instruction via example). Paul instructs the Philippians:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Phil. 4:8)
(We’ll come back to this verse soon in another post to think about what ‘these things’ which are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtue, and praiseworthy actually are.)
To the Colossians, Paul writes, ‘Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth’ (Col. 3:2 – again, this is a passage we’ll come back to soon), and to ‘let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’ (Col. 3:16). What’s he telling them to do, but to ponder Christ and His Word and hide them in their hearts, which is just what Mary did (Lk 2:19), and, as we’ve seen, is exactly what meditation is. Likewise, the writer to the Hebrews tells us to ‘consider’ Jesus (Heb. 12:3), and Peter tells us to ‘arm [our]selves with the same mind’ as Christ, which (as the Vulgate helpfully interpreted it) can only be done through meditating on Christ and His Word.
So, throughout the Scriptures, both by example and by explicit command, the Lord teaches His people to mediate on His Word. But it isn’t just an arbitrary instruction: there’s great benefit to us in obeying the Lord by meditating on His Word (which takes us onto the third reason why Christians meditate.)
Reason 3: Meditation is a Way God Works in Us By His Word
The Lord Jesus told us that ‘out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Mt 12:34; Lk 6:45). Whatever fills our heart will determine our speech, our values, and really our whole being. And so if we hide God’s Word in our hearts, it is the Word of the Lord that will determine our speech, our values, and our lives (cf. Ps 119:11). Hiding God’s Word in our hearts isn’t merely an intellectual exercise. It’s not about impressing people with how many Bible verses we can manage to learn. No – it’s about letting God’s Word do its powerful work in our lives.
For God’s Word does work, and it works powerfully. Famously, Psalm 1:1-3 connects meditating on the Word of the Lord with blessing. Jesus says the same thing in Luke 11:27-28:
And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it! Which, as Luke has already told us, is exactly what Mary did: she ‘kept all these things and pondered them in her heart’ (Lk 2:19). True blessing is found in hearing the Word of the Lord and keeping it in our hearts: in treasuring the Word of Christ, as Mary did.
But the blessing found in hiding God’s Word in our hearts isn’t merely some sort of vague thing. The Word of the Lord which we hide in our hearts is powerful, life-giving, and holy. Remember Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Sower in Lk 8:15: ‘But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.’ When we keep the Word in our hearts, it bears fruit. Just like the man who meditates in God’s Word day and night in Psalm 1:3 (to whom we’ll return in the next post).
Christ’s words are not mere sounds in the air or marks on a page. Jesus Himself tells us, ‘the words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life’ (Jn 6:63). And Jesus’ disciples recognise that life-giving reality in the Word of God, and so we can say with Simon Peter, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’ (Jn 6:68). The Lord gives life by His Word, and so we abide in His Word and treasure it in our hearts, for in it we find true life.
And not only do we find life in the Word, but by His holy Word, the God of all holiness makes us holy, conforming us to the image of the Son of His love. On the night of His arrest, Jesus prayed to His Father for us, ‘Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth’ (Jn 17:17). As the Psalmist reminds us, the holy Word of the Lord hidden in our hearts keeps us from sin (Ps 119:11).
The Lord works powerfully in us as we meditate upon His Word. As we treasure the Lord Jesus and His Word in our hearts and ponder these things, the Lord works by His Word to give us life in Jesus, to guard and preserve us through persevering in trust in Jesus, to make us more like Jesus, and to increase our love for, and joy in, Jesus.
Next time we’ll look at one more reason we mediate, and also the only thing that makes true meditation possible: Jesus!