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The Lost Art of Meditation

Man meditating

The reading and preaching of the Word of God is to be central in the life of a believer. We are to be like the blessed man of Psalm 1 whose “delight is in the Law of the LORD” (verse 2), but if we stop at simply reading and hearing the Word, we will not profit as much as we should. The psalmist also meditated in the law “day and night” and this was key to his fruitfulness (verse 3). The church will greatly benefit from recovering this lost art of meditation.

The Difficulty of Meditation

Meditation is serious, prolonged, contemplative thought, and no sooner do we say this but we realize it poses a problem to modern man. Our first difficulty is circumstantial. No doubt people have always struggled with meditation but the pace of life in the twenty first century, coupled with the predominance of entertainment. together with the affect of technology on our minds, has confined us to the shallows when it comes to any sustained reflection. Our education system has not helped with its emphasis on utility rather than the development of disciplined thought.

Our second difficulty is spiritual. We are concerned with Christian meditation. and here people do not simply struggle with cluttered lives but fallen minds. Sin has destroyed our intellectual capacity when compared with our created state and left us with no inclination by nature to “set our affections on things above” (Col. 3:2). The carnal mind is enmity against God, and Satan knows this and preys on our fallenness to distract us from giving our minds to what will do our souls good. This is a problem that is insurmountable without grace, and therefore to recover the lost art of meditation, we need to pray that God would graciously renew our minds and enable us to discipline and train our thoughts.

The Art of Meditation

Christian meditation is not mystical. Not in the sense that this word is employed today. The Buddhist meditates in search of Nirvana with a goal to empty himself and his consciousness in the pursuit of being reborn. Others who engage in transcendental meditation seek a feeling of restful alertness, void of all active thought. Christian mystics in the past have deprived their body and emptied their mind to find a passive state where they awaited the influx of divine reason. Each of these forms of mystical meditation disengage the mind in the expectation of discovery.

Christian meditation is not merely speculative. Sometimes in Reformed churches we can make a mistake here. There is an interest in critical thought and study which is a good thing; it would be a blessing to the church if there were more of it. Yet study and critical thought stand in relation to meditation, as gathering sticks does to enjoying the heat of a fire. A man can gather the sticks of knowledge all his life but benefit little from it, because he never lights the fire. While meditation without study is dangerous, so much of our study without meditation is fruitless.

Christian meditation is truly contemplative. It is not emptying the mind and waiting for some divine infusion, nor is it the mental bustle of investigation but rather deep reflection on known truth. Sustained contemplation until the soul is stirred by the truth – the sticks of truth gathered by study are ignited and kindled in the fire of meditation where we sit to warm our heart and energize our life. R. L. Dabney says of meditation, “It is not the pursuit but the possession of truth, not the search but the fruition of it in the soul.”

The Content of Meditation

So what are we to meditate on? The Bible answers this in two main ways. First we meditate on the Word of God. The Psalmist meditated in “the law of the LORD” (verse 2). God has revealed himself and his will to men here, so the Christian fills his thoughts and affects his soul with the Word. Meditation is specifically on what God has revealed. There are secret things that belong only to him (Deut. 29:29), and which it is pointless us prying into and speculating. The things that are revealed are sufficient for us. So we don’t meditate on the “what-ifs” of Scripture, but the “what is,” that is, on God, sin, the frailty of life, the stability of his covenant, on heaven, hell and eternity.

Then we are to meditate on the works of God: “I will meditate also of all thy work” (Ps. 77:12), that is, all God’s works recorded in his Word, together with his works of providence that we can interpret by his Word. We may observe man, the constellations of the heavens, the seasons of the year, the fruitfulness of the field, the weather, science, the laws of logic together with all the beauty of this world under God. We are surrounded with content for meditation.

The Object of Meditation

While we meditate on the Word and works of God, we succeed only insofar as these lead us to the Lord himself, the glorious object of contemplation.

We meditate on God. “My meditation of him shall be sweet” (Ps. 104:34). The Word takes us to God, and as we muse, our thoughts are filled with his perfections. There is nothing that can make the soul happier than the thought of God, therefore the man who meditates on the Word of God is the “blessed man” who begins something on earth that will be his blessedness forever. We have been created to find our satisfaction here, so take a truth concerning God, for example, his holiness, and turn it over in your mind, so you feel like Isaiah when he beheld God’s glory and felt undone, or like the angels who sang in perpetual praise, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.”

But our object may be defined more specifically. We are to meditate on God in Christ. Christ is the center of God’s Word and God’s greatest Work is the redemption of sinners in his Son. It is here more than anywhere we behold the beauty and the glory of God. In Song of Solomon 5, the daughters of Jerusalem asked the Shulamite what was so special about her beloved. Her answer is like a prolonged meditation, concluding in the words, “Yea, he is altogether lovely!” The thought of God without a mediator will terrorize the lost in hell eternally, but the sinner who has come to God by faith in Christ finds the contemplation of God in Christ his greatest delight. Take what you know of him, the majesty of his person, the glory and perfection of his work, turn it over in your mind and wonder at how God has saved sinners. Set these glories beside all the worthless things we are prone to prostitute our minds on and make steps to recover this lost art of Christian meditation.