Reading God’s Word is essential to developing a Christian mind. All Christians should be systematically reading through the Bible, once a year if possible, so that our minds are being perpetually programmed by the data of Scripture.
This understood, there is yet another step: meditation—which involves personalizing and internalizing a segment of the Word.
Meditation begins with the devotional exercise of listening to the Word. Eugene Peterson points out that Psalm 40:6 contains a brilliant metaphor in the original Hebrew text that graphically teaches the necessity of listening. It literally says, “Ears you have dug for me.”1 Much to our loss, no English translation preserves the metaphor, preferring to variously render it with phrases like the RSV’s “Thou hast given me an open ear.” Nevertheless, the Hebrew verb retains the metaphorical nugget “dug,” which suggests, apart from God’s work, a human head without any ears—“A blockhead. Eyes, nose and mouth, but no ears.”2
This remarkable metaphor, “Ears you have dug for me,” occurs in the context of a busy religious performance that is deaf to the voice of God: “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted. . . . Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.” The problem was that the psalmist’s religious colleagues had read about how to do the rituals of sacrifice, but they had missed the message. God had spoken, but they had not heard.
So what does God do? He takes a pick and shovel, and mines through the sides of the “cranial granite,” making openings through which his Word can pass to the mind and heart. The result is hearing, and the hearer responds, “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart’” (Ps. 46:7–8). The words of Scripture are not merely to be read but to be heard. They are meant to go to the heart!
The importance of having our ears dug open comes to us from the lips of Jesus: “He who has an ear, let him hear . . .” (Rev. 2:7). We need to read God’s Word, but we must also pray that he will blast through our granite-block heads so that we truly hear his Word.
Psalm 1 opens with a blessing on the man who “meditates day and night” on the law (Ps. 1:2). The word the psalmist uses for “meditates” literally means “to mutter”3; Augustine translated verse 2 with the catchy phrase “on his law he chatters day and night.”4From this we understand that biblical meditation requires the use of both mind and mouth.
Personally applied, this tells us that along with our systematic reading of the Bible, we ought to select especially meaningful passages to reverently mutter over. Sometimes it might be a single verse—Philippians 3:10, for example, the four emphases of which I like to murmur in the NASB:
. . that I may know him
and the power of His resurrection
and the fellowship of His sufferings,
being conformed to His death.
Slowly and prayerfully turning over Scripture in this manner engages the eyes, the ears, and the mouth, and drills through the granite to the heart—maximizing internalization and devotion. Larger segments, especially classic texts, are tailor-made for meditation. The Ten Commandments, with the first four Godward commands and the six manward injunctions following, should be regularly murmured in reverent self-examination (cf. Ex. 20:1–17; Deut. 5:1– 22). There are eight Beatitudes that consecutively consider poverty of spirit, mourning over sin, gentleness, spiritual hunger, mercy, purity, peacemaking, and persecution (Matt. 5:3–12). The Lord’s Prayer begins with the foundational awareness “Our Father in heaven,” then presents three upward petitions and three horizontal petitions—a perfect pattern for prayer and meditation (Matt. 6:9–13). There are endless possibilities, including the so-called kenosis passage, Philippians 2:5–11, which begins, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus . . .” Other food for meditation includes Jesus’s parables, the Psalms, and the epigrams of James. Both practical and esoteric passages can provide divine substance for reverent soul chatter.
We may be challenged, convicted, and exhilarated with the call to meditation.
The effects of meditation are supernal, bringing:
- Revival—“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Ps. 19:7).
- Wisdom—“The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Ps. 19:7); “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me” (Ps. 119:97–98).
- Increases in our faith—“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
We may be challenged, convicted, and exhilarated with the call to meditation. The question is, How is this to be done? The Scriptures say it should be continual, telling us we ought to meditate “day and night” (Ps. 1:2; cf. Ps. 119:97), and even while we lie awake at night (Ps. 63:6; Ps. 119:148). Ideally, we are to make meditation part of our regular devotion, giving hidden time to reverently muttering God’s Word. But even our busy schedules can be punctuated with scriptural meditation—in the car, during our lunch break, or while waiting for a bus. Select a choice text and write it on a card (or put it in your smartphone). Pull it out in those spare moments. Murmur it. Memorize it. Pray it. Say it. Share it.
The discipline of meditation is a must. Moses told Israel as he finished the Song of Moses: “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today. . . . For it is no empty word for you, but your very life” (Deut. 32:46–47).
- Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 70.
- Peterson, Working the Angles, 70.
- Edmund P. Clowney, CM* Christian Meditation(Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1978), 13.
- Quoted in C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1(London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1884), 6.
This article is adapted from Disciplies of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes.
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