For many of us, the practice of meditation is rapidly becoming a lost art. An even greater concern is that it is not merely being laid aside; rather, it is becoming something beyond our grasp. The ability to focus, to pay close attention, to slow down and to quieten the spirit and thereby meditate, has never been an easy endeavour, but the 21st century has turned this traditional challenge into a tremendous crisis.
Buckminster Fuller, a 20th-century inventor and visionary who created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve”, noted that until the 1900s human knowledge doubled approximately every century. That rate of information growth continued exponentially over the last century to the point where IBM has said we will eventually see a doubling of knowledge every 12 hours. As far as information is concerned, we are cursed with “too much of a good thing.” Though both our knowledge in absolute terms and our ready access to it via the internet and searchable databases is increasing exponentially, it is ironic that our capacity to think and meditate appears to be decreasing.
The relatively new mental condition termed Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has today infected all ages groups like the common cold. The explosion of video gaming, personal entertainment devices, along with the incorporation of social media and entertainment applications into mobile phones has contributed to an epidemic that experts claim is actually rewiring our brains (“Neural Basis of Video Gaming: A Systematic Review”, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2017). Terms like “quiet time” and “reading hour” are now antiquated. External stimuli and instant gratification are expected, rendering the healthy and spiritually beneficial discipline of meditating on scripture in danger of extinction. Distraction abounds to such an extent that only the diligent and disciplined will develop the habits necessary to benefit fully from God’s living word (Hebrews 4:12).
Meditation literally means to murmur, mumble, or talk to yourself; indeed, the Puritans described it as “preaching to yourself.”
Here are some suggestions to help us squeeze the good out of God’s word. We must take the individual scripture we read or hear, and then mull it over in our minds, ponder, consider it deeply, and finally bring it to bear on our lives. While meditation can be enjoyed throughout the day, a regular, quiet space of uninterrupted time is to be recommended. In Colossians 3:16 we are encouraged to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”. The concept of dwelling incorporates the idea of permanent abiding so as to have a lasting influence. Taking the word of God into our heart and mind, allowing it to make itself at home as we reflect, repeat, and dwell on it, will fulfil the desire of David in Psalm 19:14: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” This underscores the need to focus the mind in order to concentrate, and to employ the understanding so that we might enjoy the benefits of meditation.
Our hearts and minds are often a battleground which determines our direction in life. The Lord Jesus corrected the erroneous thinking of religious leaders who believed contamination was an external affair to be remedied by careful washings or avoidance of particular environments. He informed them that the problem lay inside: “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders” and all manner of evil (Mark 7:21). This confirms the importance of the heart and the care with which we should guard it. Solomon shared his wisdom when he counselled his son to “keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
To guard our heart we must stock it with God's word (Psalm 119:11). As we do this, we live out the truth of another Psalm: “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I muse (ponder) on the work of Your hands” (Psalm 143:5). Our heart is most in danger when, left to its own devices, it is exposed to anything other than the word of God, to things that are counter to godliness. Our time alone can be a minefield for the undisciplined mind, leading it into strange paths. Night time especially can be either dangerous or beneficially productive. As you go to sleep, learn to meditate on scripture. Rather than take your phone to bed, take the scriptures in your head. Those quiet times offer a treasure store of intimate moments with the Lord whereby the Holy Spirit can speak through His word, read or memorized. Rehearse the word of God in your mind. Treasure it in your heart. Repeat it over and over, stopping to ponder each significant word, promise or detail. Commune with God while you lie waiting for sleep, telling Him what you appreciate about His Word, and thanking Him for what He is teaching you (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; 63:6; 119:148). As much as we love to hear from our God, He too longs to hear from His children. His heart is delighted and our lives are enriched. With the right focus, understanding, and recollection of God’s word, our hearts will rise in worship so that, as scripture is applied in personal ways, the fruit of our meditation will be changed lives.
Cultivating these practices will enable us to speak “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). Paul summarizes his advice like this: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8). May the response of our hearts mirror the resolve of Asaph: “I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds” (Psalm 77:12).