I’m bad at faking things. I suppose this is good for a pastor, but it’s also awkward sometimes. For example, if someone makes a joke and I just don’t get it, there’s this special art of not letting on that you have no idea what was so funny. I’m really bad at that. In that situation, I know something funny happened, I know I’m supposed to be laughing, but I just have to settle for faking it and letting the moment pass.
Many Christians undoubtedly share this feeling when it comes to the art of Biblical meditation. The psalmist says:
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”Psalm 1:1–2 (ESV)
We know there’s something important about meditation, we’ve heard people talk about it favorably, and yet, deep down, we just don’t get it. We know we’re supposed to be all about meditation, but it makes no practical sense to us, so we just have to settle for faking it and letting the blessing of meditation pass us by.
I’m basically just describing myself up until a couple of years ago. I read the Bible, I studied the Bible, I learned the Bible. The Bible was personal to me, filled with conviction and inspiration alike. And yet, I still struggled with the concept of Biblical meditation.
What helped me was a practical set of steps for my time in the Word, I owe a debt of gratitude to Martin Luther’s “Simple Way to Pray” for this practice and another debt of gratitude to Tim Keller for explaining this in his book on prayer.
Putting the “Biblical” Back into Meditation
When we consider Biblical meditation, we’re talking about “deep, reflective thought” about the Lord, his word or his works. There are plenty of unbiblical ways to meditate, and we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about something very different from what they do at the yoga studio or out in the world. We want to be filled with the Lord. We want to dwell on the Lord. We want to know Him better. So we meditate on the Lord.
But how? Tell many of us to sit still and think about something and chances are we’ll be thinking about some random detail of our day or the daily news within minutes. Either that or we’ll outright fall asleep.
How do we actually meditate?
Four Steps to Biblical Meditation
While Martin Luther’s advice was technically about prayer, I found that not only did it help me in prayer, it taught me to meditate in a concrete way. Luther advised that a Christian start out with a section of Scripture, this can be a verse or this can be a broader section. What follows then is a step by step process that follows the acronym: T, P, C, A. This stands for: Teach, Praise, Confess, Ask.
So, when I do my morning devotionals, I try to read broadly and then pick a part that stood out to me. I’ll walk through what I used this morning:
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.Acts 20:24 (ESV)
Luther’s first point is that you need to understand what your passage teaches, or more broadly, you need to understand the meaning of the passage you want to meditate on. This passage from Acts comes when Paul is saying goodbye to the Ephesian elders because he is on his way to Jerusalem and he knows he won’t ever see these dear saints again. In faith and love, he explains that his highest goal is to faithfully preach the Gospel, even at the cost of his life.
Luther then asked, how does this passage teach me to praise the Lord?
This is a wonderful question because its premise itself is an insight: We can praise the Lord from anywhere in the Scripture! At first glance, this may sound unusual. But give it a try and you realize God’s praise is everywhere.
So how am I meant to praise the Lord with this passage in Acts? I went with two points here:
First, remember that Paul is the work of the mighty intervention of God. He went from persecutor of the church to apostle of God thanks purely to the Lord. I praise the Lord that he can do such marvelous work with such pieces of work as us!
Second, while I believe Paul was a courageous man, why was he courageous? He believed in the overwhelming worth and need of the “gospel of the grace of God.” God has given us a Gospel of such overflowing, lavish grace that the worst the world can throw at us is nothing in comparison. Praise God for a gospel so good, so gracious and so capable of saving the worst of sinners!
Luther’s third point was to use the passage to confess your sin. This also may feel unusual, but it turns out that our sin is not hard to see. Sinner that I am, I can make this point easily.
As I read of Paul’s pure faith and his courageous ministry, I confess to my God that I don’t look like Paul. He was so given over to the Gospel that he had to proclaim it wherever he went. Why am I so quiet?
Paul was so certain of the blessed life to come that he regularly risked life and limb to bring good news to the lost and dying. Why is my passion so much less?
I see in myself a faith and a zeal that are so much smaller than that man of God and, more importantly, are so much smaller than my God deserves.
Father forgive me.
This part of the process may seem bleak to some, but faith tells us that: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)
Although this passage burdens me at first, my God is gracious to relieve that burden. I do not leave my prayer time burdened, I leave my prayer time having once more experienced the gracious cleansing of my Father.
Lastly, Luther used the passage to then ask the Lord for something. What does this passage lead me to ask?
Lord, help me to believe in the amazing grace of your Gospel. May I overflow with good news for the dying and encouragement for the weak. Lord, may your Gospel be great, and may I and the world be small. May your Gospel be the passion of my life.
Summary: Teach, Praise, Confess, Ask
Four steps later, I have wrestled with a passage, praised my God with a passage, seen my sin in a passage and asked for God’s help based on this passage. Four steps later, it turns out I’ve gone and meditated on God’s word.
There is an incredible blessing in Biblical meditation. As you practice this, you will find it becomes natural. Frankly, it doesn’t take very long to go deeper into the Word. One advantage to Luther’s method is that it introduces a wonderful diversity into spiritual life. You will find yourself prompted to consider praises, confessions and supplications that you may never have considered otherwise. And every day you return to the Word, God will spur you on in new and enriching directions.
I pray that you are spurred on to a rich life of Biblical meditation. This is doable, I promise. May you be blessed as you meditate on the Lord day and night.