We all meditate whether we realize it or not. But it’s far better to choose carefully which thoughts get massaged into our hearts rather than default to whatever is floating around the airwaves or lurking in our subconscious.
I’ve just finished reading a challenging book by Robert Saucy entitled Minding the Heart, which, in some ways, puts into writing the meditations of a lifetime of theological study and reflection. At age 83, Saucy shares decades worth of intellectual research, systematic processing, and pastoral application about the role our hearts play in our becoming more and more like the Messiah.
At its core, the book urges us to develop the discipline of meditation because our mind can be employed to shape our heart and our heart shapes everything about us. The thesis statement of the book may be Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
Tim Keller also encourages meditation as a crucial component in our prayer life. In his recent book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, he observes, “meditating on the law of the Lord, the Scripture, moves us through duty toward joy.” Both Saucy and Keller found in their own practicing of meditation a source for transformation that prayer and Bible study only began to address. Deeper life-change came from meditation that incorporated the insights gained through Bible study and the application sought after through prayer.
Consider one observation pointed out in several commentaries on the Psalms. The first two psalms serve as an introduction or gateway to the whole collection of praises that follow and contrast good and bad meditating. Keller observes that “the first Psalm is not a prayer per se but a meditation—in fact, it is a meditation on meditation” (146). It tells of “delighting in the law of the Lord” and “meditating on it day and night.”
By contrast, Psalm 2 cries out, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?” The two Psalms are linked together in several ways. One key way that gets lost in our English translations is that the word for meditate in Psalm 1:2 and the word for plot in Psalm 2:1 is the same Hebrew word—hagah. We can meditate on God’s word (which delightfully leads to fruitfulness and prosperity, depicted as a tree) or we can meditate against God and His Messiah (which tragically leads to experiencing God’s wrath and anger, depicted as pottery dashed to pieces). Either way, we meditate.
As I consider my own internal mutterings (that’s how some commentators explain the act of meditation), I see that sometimes I’m purposeful in dwelling on the good, the true, and the beautiful. I deliberately point my internal attention to a particular verse or phrase from the Bible. Unfortunately, at other times, I dwell on a complaint or a hurt or I rehearse a display of anger. Sometimes I repeat lyrics of some silly song I recently heard or replay a jingle from a television commercial. I’m tempted to say that I “mindlessly” dwell on nonsense, but the problem is that it’s not “mindless” at all. The words I hagah engage my mind and shape my heart whether I want them to or not.
What messages do you mutter to yourself? Where do they come from? And what effects do they have on your mind, heart, and life?
May the words of our mouths and the meditations (same Hebrew word—hagah) of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14).
Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.