Other than suffering I believe that mediation on God’s Word is the single greatest tool God has ever used to facilitate change in my character AND to communicate how much He loves me.
What is Biblical Meditation?
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night. Psalm 1:1-2
The Hebrew word “meditate” is the word hagah. Can you say it? Hagah means to mutter to yourself, to talk to yourself, to muse, to ponder.
As a lion growls, a great lion over his prey… Isaiah 31:4.
The word translated “growl” here in Isaiah is the word hagah in Hebrew. You’ve watched enough nature shows to visualize this scene. A lion has killed his prey and has a giant paw draped over the kill and he begins to lick the carcass with his big red tongue and a low growl or purr rumbles from deep inside his chest. He protects it, gnaws on it, chews it, licks it, and turns it over and licks the other side.
“Like a lion, king of the beasts, that gnaws and chews and worries its prey…” (MSG)
You’ve seen a dog “worry” its bone. She chews on it beside the fireplace, picks it up and takes it in the other room and licks, chews, and even lays on top of it.
Happy are those (whose)
…delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
This tells us a couple of things about mediation:
• Think about the Word of God.
In eastern meditation you are to empty your mind of all thoughts, but here we are told to worry over the Law of the Lord. To sit with it. To reflect on it. To internalize it. Meditation is prayerful reflection on what God has told you in His word. It is responding to God. It is answering God. It’s listening to God. It’s asking questions of the imagery. It’s asking questions of the meaning of the phrases.
• Feel the Word of God.
Notice it says that happiness will come our way when we delight in the law of the Lord. This tells me that meditation is not just an intellectual pursuit, but also involves my heart. The purpose of meditation is to take the truths that we discover in our analysis, chew on them until they drop 18 inches into our hearts so that it actually affects us.
The purpose of meditation is not so much to make the truth clear to your heart, but real to our heart. It’s tasting the goodness and the sweetness and the flavor of God’s Word for you. It’s shaping your feelings and your imagination by making it real in your heart. Meditation is the mind descending into the heart.
So if we can learn to meditate on the Law of the Lord we will experience happiness and blessedness. Meditation can change you for the good. But meditation can change you for the bad as well. Because the wicked or ungodly also mediate.
The ungodly…follow the advice of the wicked,
(they) take the path that sinners tread,
(they) sit in the seat of scoffers.
Wicked refers to those living a life with no regard to God in their Monday-Saturday life. Advice here refers to thinking or world view, Path refers to behaviors, and scoffers refers to attitudes.
So who or what shapes your thinking? What shapes your behavior? What shapes your attitude? The idea here is that no one follows the advice of the wicked out of duty. They don’t have to force themselves to head down this path. It is not a drudgery. They all go willingly. They go because they want to go down that road.
We’ve been watching the “other crowd” intently and find their way to be an attractive way, we’ve studied their life trajectory and decided that it makes sense to us and so now we are delighting in it.
And that’s how worldliness happens. You start looking at the ways of the world and they captivate your imagination, and soon you begin to hagah and delight in them and it starts to change your behaviors and attitudes.
Are there any Benefits to Meditating?
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper. Vs. 3.
Like a tree planted by streams of water. That image may be lost a little on us here in the Pacific Northwest where water is so plentiful, but it would be a powerful image for desert-dwelling Bedouins. And the writer is teaching us to meditate by asking us to meditate. That is a wonderful way to learn.
Ask the question and look for the meaning of how is a tree planted by streams of water like a meditating person?
1. Meditation takes time.
Trees don’t grow over night. Trees put their roots down deep into the soil. Trees know they aren’t going anywhere. Meditation takes a great deal of time and over time it has a cumulative effect. Don’t leave here and try to meditate on a passage and then expect instant character change. That would be like going without one meal and then getting on a scale to see how much weight you’ve lost.
How do you eat a Porterhouse Steak? How do you enjoy a glass of fine wine? How do you drink a cup of good coffee? How do you read a good book? Slowly, you sip and savor so that you can experience the full range of sensuous pleasures.
Meditation takes time. Be patient with incremental change.
2. Meditation leads to depth and stability.
The tree is planted; it’s rooted. Unlike the chaff. Do you know what chaff is? Chaff is the husk. It’s the empty hull of a grain. Chaff is form without substance. There is a hollowness to chaff. There is a superficiality to chaff. There is a rootlessness to chaff. The psalmist is saying that the ungodly are like the hulls being carried away on the wind.
Notice that the ungodly or wicked are characterized by movement. If you look at the verbs that are attached to the wicked, it’s verbs of movement: walk, stand, sit, blows away.
Hebrew scholar Robert Alter said of this Psalm that, the ungodly are in constant motion. They’re restless, without direction, carried here and there by forces over which they have no control.
This is chaff. Someone who is subject to the winds of circumstance. Someone who is blown here and there by the winds of people’s approval.
Contrast that with the picture of a meditating person who is characterized not by random movement, but by stability. A tree is planted. The meditating person is a tree whose roots are down into the ground, and they’re not just drawing moisture from the soil, but they are drawing from streams of water—perhaps an underground aquifer. When a tree is planted beside a stream or river its health does not depend on the weather. Its growth doesn’t depend on the ambient condition. Circumstances all around can fluctuate and change and they will be just fine because they have tapped into another source—a deeper source.
Joy is not the absence of suffering, but it’s the presence of God. ~Elizabeth Elliot.
Unlike chaff, the meditating person is not subject to the climate change of the culture around them. Their roots go deep.
3. Meditation leads to fruit.
Derek Kidner pointed out in his commentary that the tree is not a pipe. A pipe is only a channel for water. But a tree will take in the water, assimilate the moisture, and produce, not water, but fruit.
That means that when we mediate on the Word, drawing it into your mind and heart, something organic happens; something transformational happens, and the Word becomes a part of you, and the Word turns into fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
When I was younger I wanted to be a pipe, but the older I get the more I want to be a tree.
4. Mediation leads to growth.
…their leaves do not wither. In all they do, they shall prosper.
At first glance this seems a little too good to be true. Seems like the writer is saying, “If you do this then this good will happen. If you don’t do this, a bad thing will happen.” Seems formulaic. And we Americans in our self-help torpor love quick easy formulas. We expect quick and easy solutions to very deep and complicated pathologies.
But the psalmist says that the tree will bear fruit when? All the time? At the end of the day? That fruit will ALWAYS be hanging on the tree? NO. It says the tree will bear fruit “in its season…”
See, meditation leads to stability, not immunity from suffering and dryness. There will be dry times. And there will times of barrenness. The godly will suffer. There will be winter for the godly. It doesn’t say that the godly will always have health, wealth and happiness…it says fruit and growth will come in season.
How Do We Meditate?
- • Begin with 1-2 minutes of silence.
• Invite the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the message Jesus wants you to hear.
• Read a selected passage aloud very slowly with long pauses. Feel the words on your tongue.
• Notice a word or a phrase that seems to resonate to your heart. Stop. Say the word and hagah.
• Sit with that word or phrase. Chew on it.
• Finish reading the passage.
• Sit in silence saying the word or phrase several times to yourself. (hagah)
• Read the entire passage a second time engaging your five senses.
What do you see?
What do you smell?
What do you taste?
What do you feel?
What do you hear?
• Journal or speak those images aloud.
• Sit with the sights, sounds and smells of the passage for a few minutes.
• Read the passage again a third time this time listening, seeing, and noticing what. Jesus might be trying to get you to do or say in your life for this given day. Imagine Jesus is sending you and encrypted message through the passage and you are to hear it and decode it.
• Do what he tells you to do.
Closing the Feeling Gap
Do you ever feel as if God is distant from you? How many of you ever feel as if God is a million miles away? Faithful Practice of Meditation helps close the gap between knowing you are loved and feeling loved.
What if one of my grandkids habitually were so busy playing that every time they passed my chair and I offered them my lap to sit in or offered to read them a book they just kept on playing like I wasn’t even there. I offer to sit with them, but they are too busy watching T.V. or playing video games or wanting to blow bubbles. No matter what I do they are so absorbed in their only play-world that they don’t take the time to “be” with me.
If they consistently operated that way is it possible that they might grow up and complain to their parents, friends or therapist that they never felt loved by their grandpa. Is it possible that they could grow up with that viewpoint? Of course.
I’m here to tell you that you’re heavenly Father is more than willing to go for walks with you, sit with you beside a bubbling stream, whisper to you through the laughter of a child—but you have to notice. You have to pay attention.
And that comes from hagah. Pondering on the Word that became flesh for you. If you do that over time, you will be changed and you will feel adored by your Heavenly Father.
Dear Joe: Thank you again. This is one of my favorite passages and a portion of it is on my Dad’s headstone. You always have something good to say just when I need to hear it again.