You could argue that Psalm 1 is the original ‘two ways to live’. In it the Psalmist sets out two paths that we can take in life. One path leads ultimately to destruction, while the other leads to blessing. And blessing here isn’t just about happiness, but it’s about flourishing and life and wholeness.
So what is it that determines whether we’re headed towards flourishing rather than withering, blessing rather than destruction? It’s what we love and what we listen to. Or to use the imagery of Psalm 1, it’s what we’re drinking in – what it is that’s shaping our thoughts and actions, our attitudes and desires.
Vs. 1 and 2 tell us that the person who’s on the path of blessing is the person who’s not being shaped by the sinful world around them, but is being shaped by God’s Word. The flourishing person is the one who meditates on God’s word day and night because it’s where they find their heart’s joy and direction. It’s significant that the Psalmist uses the word ‘meditate’ in vs. 2. The person who experiences this life of flourishing and growth, stability and fruitfulness, strength and vitality whatever the circumstances is not the person who merely hears or reads or even studies Scripture, but it’s the person who meditates on it day and night.
There are many different ways that we engage with God’s Word. We hear it preached, we study it on our own and with others, we read it – perhaps using a Bible reading plan. All of these are essential to our Christian growth, but meditation is the further step we need to take. Coming back to the tree imagery, meditation is about drawing God’s Word up inside ourselves. God doesn’t want us just to read and understand his Word, vital as that is. His intention is for his living and active Word to get inside us, for it to flow deep down into our soul, for it to soak into every crevice of our mind and heart so that it can animate, nourish, strengthen and form us.
So what does meditating on Scripture involve?
First, it involves a slow reading and a deep pondering. In our information age, we’re exposed to a torrent of words and images on a daily basis and we’ve been trained to read fast and shallow. But Bible meditation is slow and deep. It’s an attentive and thoughtful reading where we pay attention to words and phrases and ideas – lingering over them, turning them over slowly in our minds and pondering them. Often the word ‘rumination’ is used to talk about meditating on Scripture. To ruminate is the idea of a cow chewing the cud. The picture here is of a cow lazily chewing on grass, digesting it, then bringing it back again to chew on it some more. Our goal is to bite off, chew on and take in every bit of goodness from God’s Word. A slow reading and a deep pondering – thinking long and hard – means that the words stay with us because they’ve not rolled in one ear and out the other. Rather the words of the Bible get inside of us and can then begin to change us.
Second, it involves a slow and prayerful listening. As we meditate we pay close attention to the words of Scripture, but we also pay close attention to the presence of God with us and the voice of God to us as we come to Scripture. Meditation goes beyond merely understanding the passage and the application of it, but meditation is about hearing – hearing God’s word to us as we linger prayerfully in the passage. In meditation we ask: What is God’s word to me today? What do I need to hear? What does he need to address in my life? In meditation we put ourselves before the Lord, asking him to speak to us the words we need to hear as we open up the Bible. We pray the words of Samuel from 1 Samuel 3 ‘Speak, for your servant is listening’.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this about meditating on Scripture, ‘We want to come away from meditation differently than we go to it. What we want is to encounter Christ in his own word. We come to the text anxious to hear what Christ wants to say and give us today through his word’.
It’s helpful to say that we can only meditate in this way on a small number of verses each day. If your normal practice is to read a chapter or two of the Bible each day, it’s a good practice to pick just a few verses or even one verse to deeply meditate on and linger in. It’s often most helpful to pick the verses that have grabbed your attention as you’ve read. Go back and prayerfully linger there.
As you think about your own life, what place does Scripture meditation have in your daily rhythm? In your daily times in God’s Word, do you drink it in or does it tend to roll in one ear and out the other? How might you better build meditation into your everyday walk with Christ?
If you want to be a faithful Bible teacher, aim first at being a great Bible meditator.
Read more about Bible reading as encounter.