Lesson 8: Meditation
Note: This is a Sunday School lesson by Scott Carr, Jr. based on ch. 10 in Dr. Tim Keller's book, "Prayer".
* We have already defined prayer as responding to what God has said about Himself in His Word. We have also mentioned that meditation is helpful in transitioning from our Scripture reading to prayer. Now we will define meditation and talk about how to do it.
1) What do you think of when you hear “meditation”?
2) Does “meditation” make you nervous at all?
* Psalm 1:1-6 “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither-whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.”
* The Psalter opens with a meditation. The Bible’s prayer book does not jump right into prayer, but spends time preparing for prayer. Spending this time in preparation for prayer deepens our prayers.
Promises of Meditation (according to Psalm 1):
2) Substance (character)
* The Mind:
* The Hebrew word most often used for “meditate” means “to mutter”, referring to the practice of reciting Scripture out loud from memory. Other words mean “to ponder and question thoroughly.” Meditation involves memorizing Scripture and asking questions of it, practices that deeply engage the mind.
* Meditation also assumes you have already studied the text and know something about what it means. You are reflecting on something you understand.
* Understanding the Text:
1) What did the original author intend to convey his readers in this passage?
2) What role does this text play in the whole Bible; how does it contribute to the Gospel message and move along the main narrative arc of the Bible, which climaxes in the salvation of Jesus Christ?
* These two questions have to be answered to ground our reflections in the truth of the text. Remember Luther said before he started meditating on a text, he first looked for the instruction of the text.
* In meditating, the goal is not to empty the mind of rational thought. In “mantra meditation” or Transcendental Meditation, participants are supposed to repeat a word or phrase that blocks all other thoughts and eventually loses its meaning. The goal is to become unaware of anything other than awareness itself so that you can access other forms of consciousness that lead to a sense of being one with God, who is in all things. Really, this is not about knowing God, but being God. Christian meditation is very rational. In fact, it can even be argumentative. David, in Psalm 42, argues with himself in meditation.
* The Heart:
* Meditation does not only engage the mind, but also engages the heart.
* Look up Hebrews 4:12; Romans 1:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; Colossians 3:16.
* The point is that we do not merely intellectually assent to information, but we have a deep knowledge of Scripture that transforms us.
* Tree metaphor of Psalm 1: We don’t just know the truth, but take it inside us and make it part of ourselves. Meditation helps us delight in the truth of God’s Word. It also helps us apply it to our lives. Meditation draws strength from Scripture.
* Psalm 103:1-2 “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”
* We here see David taking the truth into his heart so that he is changed by them. The heart has a natural tendency to forget the truths we confess in our responses and responds out of our old, sinful attitudes.
* John Owen and the stages of meditation:
1) Fix the thoughts on a truth from Scripture.-Read the text slowly and ask four questions; What does this teach about God? What does it teach about human nature and behavior? What does it teach about Christ and salvation? What does it teach about the Church? Ask questions of how the text can be applied. If it is a short passage, think through each word and emphasize it. Also, paraphrase the verse in your own words until you are satisfied you have captures the full meaning. Many of these things are brought together by memorizing the passage.
2) Incline the heart so that its hope and joy rests in the truths we found-this is preaching to yourself until your heart turns away from its idols and connects to the truth. Luther’s suggestions here are helpful. What about the truths lead you to praise God? What do they show you about yourself that you need to repent of? What does it tell you you need that you can ask God for? This removes the abstract of the text and plunges you into the truth to transform you. Another thing is to look at yourself and see where things go wrong when you forget the truth. Also, ask why God is showing that truth to you that particular day. This process can be hard and painful. Mere mental assent to Christ as doctrine does not honor Him. We must trust and delight in Him. This is brought about by meditation.
3) After all of this, the results may vary. At this point, the heart might sense God’s presence in a moving way. If so, we should stop and savor it. We could feel bored, hard, and distracted. If so, we should make brief appeals to God for help. Then end the time and come back the following day. Do not stop this practice. Trees don’t grow overnight. It takes time to grow deeper into the truth.
* Meditating on the Incarnate Word:
* Psalm 1 told us to meditate on the Law of the Lord, which refers to all of Scripture as our rule of faith and practice.
* How can we truly think through the Law and not despair?
* The answer is to look at Christ, the Word incarnate.
* Christ delighted in obeying God, prayed constantly, and delighted in God the Father. He meditated on Scripture so much that it comes out of Him effortlessly at the most extreme moments of His life. He sets us an example of how to delight in the Law, but He is also the one that the entire Scripture points to. He bore the curse of the Law for the times we break it. Without Christ, we can’t delight in the Law because it is only a curse on us. As all Scripture points to Him, the Word of God made real and tangible, we meditate on Him. Look at all He has done for you and delight.
1) Read ch. 11 of Prayer.
2) Begin practicing meditation in this way as a means to bridge Bible study and prayer.