by Ken Puls
I love God’s Word and delight in its truth. Yet too often I find that after reading my Bible or hearing a sermon, the truth, so necessary to the wellbeing of my soul, can too easily slip away. The truth that had for a moment captured my attention and my affections can quietly fade amid the clutter and noise of the day.
One of the best ways to remedy this is to practice the spiritual discipline of meditating on God’s Word. It is a discipline that takes time and intention, but one that brings great benefit to the soul. We need to carve out time to lay hold of the truth of God’s Word.
It is a bewildering paradox of our day that the Bible can be so accessible and yet so marginalized. On the one hand our technology has brought God’s Word close at hand. It’s on our phones and tablets and computers and iPods. We have almost immediate access to several versions of the Bible as well as a wealth of sermons and commentaries. But this same technology also threatens to distract us and drown out God’s Word. We have become a culture obsessed with noise and comfortable with clutter. So many sources are bringing input into our lives: TV, radio, online news feeds, Facebook, Twitter.... More than ever we need to make time to meditate, to dwell in God’s Word.
Meditation is pondering the Word in our hearts, preaching it to our own souls, and personally applying it to our own lives and circumstances. It is how we sanctify our thinking and bring it into submission to Christ—taking every thought captive. Paul tells us in Romans 12:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).
[All Scripture references are ESV unless otherwise indicated.]
In Psalms 77 Asaph uses three verbs that capture the essence of meditation. When he finds himself perplexed and troubled and cries out to God, he determines to steady his soul by looking to God and laying hold of truth. He says in verses 11 and 12:
I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
Yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
And meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalms 77:11-12).
Asaph uses 3 verbs in the Hebrew to describe what it means to lay hold of truth: He says: I will remember, I will ponder, and I will meditate.
He begins with remembering (zakar)—calling to mind “the deeds of the Lord” and His “wonders of old.” He intentionally takes note of truth and draws it back into his thinking. Asaph reflects on what God has accomplished for His people in the past—events and epics like the Exodus and Passover, the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, the conquest of the Promised Land. He makes an effort not to forget all the Lord has done.
David also speaks of remembering God:
When I remember you upon my bed,
And meditate on you in the watches of the night (Psalms 63:6).
In Psalms 143, when David is overwhelmed with trouble, he uses the same three verbs as Asaph, beginning with “remember.”
I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands (Psalms 143:5).
We are a forgetful people and God would have us to remember. Meditation begins with remembering, bringing back into our minds the truths and praises and promises of God.
But, second, Asaph also uses a word that is translated in Psalms 77:12 “I ponder.”
I will ponder all your work,
And meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalms 77:12).
This is the verb hagah in the Hebrew. It is found in numerous places in the Old Testament and is translated as “ponder” or “meditate”:
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful 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 (Joshua 1:8).
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And on his law he meditates day and night (Psalms 1:2).
When I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night (Psalms 63:6).
In Psalms 2 it is used of the nations “plotting” against God.
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain? (Psalms 2:1)
The word literally means “to let resound.” It is used in Psalms 92:3 of the sound or tones of a musical instrument as it resonates.
On an instrument of ten strings,
On the lute, And on the harp,
With harmonious [or resounding] sound (Psalms 92:3).
It is used also in Psalms 9:16.
The LORD is known by the judgment He executes;
The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.
Meditation. Selah (Psalms 9:16).
It is not entirely clear if the use of the word here is a musical instruction for the musicians to play an interlude—letting the instruments resound—or if it is an instruction to the congregation—let this truth resound within yourselves.
We find the term also at the end of Psalms 19:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer (Psalms 19:14).
In other words: Let the inward tones of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord...
This is how we want the truth of Scripture to fill us and impact us—as we hear it and sing it and pray it—as Paul tells us in Colossians 3:16, let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly! Let it dwell in us in a way that resounds and reverberates in and through our lives.
We see another use of the word in Isaiah 31:4 that helps us understand its intent. Isaiah uses the word in reference to a lion:
For thus the LORD said to me,
“As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey” (Isaiah 31:4)
The word for growl or roar is this word for meditation. Have you ever heard a lion when he roars? He does not just use his voice. His entire being reverberates. This is meditation. Letting God’s Word resound from within the very center of our being.
Meditation involves remembering, and resounding, but finally Asaph speaks of meditating.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalms 77:12).
This word siyach means to muse and wonder and dwell on—to think deeply about something. Used literally it means to murmur, mumble or talk to yourself.
In a negative sense it can mean “to complain.” It is the idea that something has so taken hold of your thinking that you can’t stop thinking about it. So on the negative side—it troubles you and disturbs you and draws out complaint; but on the positive side—it captivates you and enraptures your thinking so that you “dwell on” it. This is the way we want God’s truth to lay hold of us—so that we can’t but dwell on it, so that it captures our thinking and finds it way into our choices and decisions.
The Puritans thought of meditation this way as they described it as “preaching to yourself.” We take the Word of God that we hear and read, and we mull it over in our minds and then bring it to bear upon our lives in personal exhortations.
It is a word that is found often in the Old Testament, especially in the psalms.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD (Psalms 104:34).
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways (Psalms 119:15).
Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day (Psalms 119:97).
When we meditate we think about God’s Word. We dwell on it and then as opportunities arise, we preach it to ourselves. We inject it into our thoughts as we make decisions, as we admonish and instruct our souls to choose right things and walk down right paths.
This is the essence of meditation. It is evoking the truth, embracing it and embedding it in our lives. It is intentionally focusing on recalling God’s truth that it might resound in our hearts and become that grid through which we sift and measure our thoughts and actions.
Meditation is a crucial Christian discipline and a vital means of grace that we must treasure and practice. But it is a discipline that takes time and effort. Accessibility can never beat intentionality. Don't assume that having God's Word close at hand means you have it close at heart. Carve out time in your day to remember, time to ponder, time to preach to yourself. The world around us can too easily choke out what is needful and good for our souls. Don’t allow God’s truth to slip away from you. Be intentional and diligent and your meditation.
Dr. Kenneth Puls is the Director of Publications and the Study Center for Founders Ministries, Cape Coral, FL. Founders Ministries exists to work for the recovery of the gospel and the biblical re-formation of local churches. They have a myriad of ministries that are given to that two-pronged effort, including a church planting network, an online study center, a publishing house, a quarterly journal, regional conferences and events, minister search list, friends list, and church list. In addition to this their website is filled with resources for pastors, students, church leaders and serious Christians.
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Founders Ministries exists to work for the recovery of the gospel and the biblical re-formation of local churches. They have a myriad of ministries that are given to that two-pronged effort, including a church planting network, an online study center, a publishing house, a quarterly journal, regional conferences and events, minister search list, friends list, and church list. In addition to this their website is populated with loads of resources for pastors, students, church leaders and serious Christians.
Contributers to the blog:
Dr. Tom Ascol, Senior Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, FL
Dr. Tom Hicks, Pastor of Discipleship, Morningview Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL (Tom is the team leader of the blog).
Dr. Fred Malone, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Clinton, LA
Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY
Dr. Phil Newton, Pastor, South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN
Dr. Kenneth Puls, Director of Publications and the Study Center for Founders Ministries, Cape Coral, FL
Dr. Jeff Robinson, Pastor, Philadelphia Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL
Jon English Lee, Ph.D. Student, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY