Not long ago, I asked Pastor Colin about the difference between meditation and prayer, as the two can be hard to distinguish, and understandably so. His reply: “In Scripture, God speaks to us. In prayer we speak to him. What God says to us prompts what we say to him.”
To meditate, then, is to think deeply about what God has said to us in the Bible and to prepare our minds and hearts for prayer. Scripture is the foundation of our praying; meditation readies us for it by helping us focus, understand, remember, worship, and apply.
Meditate to Focus
I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. (Psalm 119:15)
Whether we read the Bible in the morning, over our lunch break, or before bed at night, our schedules and responsibilities tend to assail us with distractions. In fact, distractions are a tool the enemy of our souls uses to take our eyes off Christ and to keep us from hearing God clearly in his Word.
Aleph says in Psalm 119 that he fixes his eyes on God’s ways. As wayward humans with many pursuits, temptations, and people vying for our attention, we are greatly helped by meditation, which leads us to fix our eyes on the Lord and tune out distractions…even if only for five or ten minutes. Focusing on what we are reading in the Bible provides us clarity when we enter into prayer.
Meditate to focus on how God is speaking to you through his living and active Word.
Meditate to Understand
Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. (Psalm 119:27)
When we meditate on the Word of God, we seek to understand how the God of the universe is speaking: about himself, about our world, and about our own hearts. We can begin our Bible reading by praying along with the Psalmist, “Make me understand your way!” God delights to answer this prayer.
Some questions to ask during meditation include: Why is this passage important? What do I need to know? What does it say about God? What does it say about me? How does this reading point to Jesus?
Meditate to understand what God is communicating to you through his Word.
Meditate to Remember
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. (Psalm 143:5)
The whole Bible is one grand story that all the way through points to Jesus Christ. When we meditate on Scripture, we do so to remember all that God has done in his great redemption story and how he sent Christ to save a people from their sin. We ponder the work of God’s hands.
Remembering in meditation may also bring us to ponder all that God has done in our own lives: how he saved us in Christ, what opportunities he is giving us to share the Good News with others, and what we have learned about who God is throughout our days.
Meditate to remember all that God has done through the gospel of grace.
Meditate to Worship
…but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2)
Once we have meditated to focus, understand, and remember, we will find our hearts inclined to worship! So we pause in meditation to lift our gaze to the excellencies of Jesus Christ, to take our eyes off the world, and to express to him thanksgiving and adoration when we pray. Meditation leads to delight when the Holy Spirit inclines our hearts to understand how glorious our God is.
Because of sin and its effects, there will be times when our hearts do not feel like delighting in the reading of the Bible. During these moments, the temptation is to stop reading, lose focus, and move on to other activities. So meditation is also key to exhorting our hearts to delight in God’s Word, which is necessary for our spiritual strength and joy!
Meditate to worship the God who deserves all our thanks and praise for who he is and what he has done in Christ.
Meditate to Apply
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. (Joshua 1:8)
Finally, we are better able to understand how to apply God’s Word to our lives when we slow down to meditate on it. In meditating to understand we ask, What do I need to know? Here, in applying what we read, we ask, What do I need to do?
Here’s a brief example. Let’s say you are reading Titus 3:3-4:
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray…But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy…
From this passage, you might be led to confess specific ways you have gone astray or been disobedient; you might praise God for providing his undeserved loving kindness in Christ for you; and you might ask for his help in loving someone who has hurt you with the mercy you’ve received in Christ Jesus.
Our desire in meditation is to “be careful to do according to all that is written” in the Bible. Then, we bring these points of application to God in prayer, asking for spiritual strength to obey, forsake sin, humble ourselves, and walk worthy of our calling in Christ.
Meditate to apply what you have read in the Bible to your daily life and to ask for help in prayer.
Meditate by the Spirit
It is no accident that the Bible often speaks about the value of meditation and its purposeful placement before the act of prayer. Consider that our time in the Word is like running a race: Meditation is the warm-up, and prayer is our sprint to the finish line. We cannot be effectual in our praying apart from engaging in the warm-up of meditation.
So what do we do when meditation seems impossible, when our focus is affected by outside circumstances and our hearts feel dulled to God’s Word?
We ask for and cling to God’s gracious help, poured out through the Holy Spirit, and if we’ve not meditated before today, we realize it is never too late to begin! For it is the Spirit who helps us in our weakness, fixing our eyes on Christ, giving us understanding, bringing to mind God’s wonderful works, filling us with joy, and leading us to walk in the truth. He is our great help and hope that we are never alone when we seek God through meditation, and he effectively prompts us to pray in response.