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, ESV).[All Scripture references are ESV unless otherwise indicated.]
In Psalm 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;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.
Yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
And meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalm 77:11-12).
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,In Psalm 143, when David is overwhelmed with trouble, he uses the same three verbs as Asaph, beginning with “remember.”
And meditate on you in the watches of the night (Psalm 63:6).
I remember the days of old;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.
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands (Psalm 143:5).
But, second Asaph also uses a word that is translated in Psalm 77:12 “I ponder.”
I will ponder all your work,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”:
And meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalm 77:12).
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 (Psalm 1:2).
When I remember you upon my bed,In Psalm 2 it is used of the nations “plotting” against God.
and meditate on you in the watches of the night (Psalm 63:6).
Why do the nations rageThe word literally means “to let resound.” It is used in Psalm 92:3 of the sound or tones of a musical instrument as it resonates.
and the peoples plot in vain? (Psalm 2:1)
On an instrument of ten strings,It is used also in Psalm 9:16.
On the lute, And on the harp,
With harmonious [or resounding] sound (Psalm 92:3, NKJV).
The LORD is known by the judgment He executes;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.
The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.
Meditation. Selah (Psalm 9:16).
We find the term also at the end of Psalm 19:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heartIn other words: Let the inward tones of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord...
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).
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,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.
“As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey” (Isaiah 31:4)
Meditation involves remembering, and resounding, but finally Asaph speaks of meditating.
I will ponder all your work,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.
and meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalm 77:12).
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 (Psalm 104:34).
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways (Psalm 119:15).
Oh how I love your law!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.
It is my meditation all the day (Psalm 119:97).
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.