What does it mean to meditate on the Bible?

“The Psalms represent the Bible’s own spiritual root system for the great tree we call Christianity.” —N.T. Wright

In our series on the Psalms, we will be exploring what it means to live in a Psalm. Discovering how this book constantly connects with the deepest sorrows and joys of the human heart across time and space is part of our rich inheritance as followers of Christ.

The Psalter was the hymn book for God’s people, filled with songs, poetry and exhortations. It promised (and still does) spiritual blessings to those who seek to take it to heart (Psalm 1:1). As a devout Jew, Jesus would have recited passages and sung from the psalms weekly, as they were central to worship in the first century. In the New Testament, Paul tells the church to encourage one another by speaking in “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19). The Psalms give us language to express joy, misery, grief, impatience, hope and every other emotion.

Psalm 1—the introduction to the Psalter—begins with the promise that those who “delight in the Lord’ and meditate on His law, are like trees putting down roots in His word, which was a reoccurring image in Psalms. Just as a tree draws water and nutrients from its roots, so the believer draws daily strength and grace from scripture. This spiritual fuel enables us to be productive, fruitful and prosperous in our walk with God.

Psalm 1:2 then exhorts us to “meditate day and night” on God’s law, prodding us to do more than just read it. While meditation is often associated with eastern religions, the Bible strongly advocates it as a discipline or practice. But what exactly does meditation mean?

In Hebrew, “meditation” means to study, imagine or muse.

In Latin, the word carries additional nuances of reflection, study and practice.

In English, it means to savor or digest.

Weaving these descriptions together, the reader should always take some time to thoughtfully reflect on what was just read. Rick Warren quipped, “If you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate!”

If meditation is the avenue to spiritual blessing, how do we cultivate it?
1. By memorizing verses, reading repetitively and focusing on certain passages. The truthfulness and language of scripture becomes our own as we grow more familiar with it and find fresh revelation.
2. Reading a verse or passage in different translations brings a more robust understanding. For example, Psalm 23:1 in the NLT says, “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” In the ESV, it is translated as “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. In the NIV it says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” Taken together, these phrases enrich our understanding of the sufficiency of God’s provision.
3. Meditation is most powerfully enhanced however, by music. Nothing touches the heart like music! Tim and Kathy Keller, in their book The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms give us additional insight:

“The word “meditate” can be translated as “to muse,” a word related to “music.” When we put words to music, they go right to the heart. When we meditate, we work the truth down until it affects the heart.”

Music moves worship to another dimension, especially when lyrics express our deepest needs and emotions. Scripture-based songs were a huge influence on me as I began to really understand the Christian life. In fact, they still are relevant to date. Verses from the Psalms express my prayers, while lovely and singable melodies stay in my mind and help me retain His life-giving words.

Martin Luther said, “The bridge from scripture to prayer is meditation.” Scripture reading, prayer and meditation are all intertwined. Living in a psalm is not just reading it, but living it, praying it and finding that it becomes a part of your own story.

Published September 26, 2016