How to Meditate on Scripture
After explaining the concept of biblical meditation to my friend, Jim, and pointing out some of the benefits, he seemed eager to add the practice to his daily devotional time. “I think I understand the concept,” Jim said. “It’s not necessarily the amount of Scripture that you read, but the amount you process and apply. I guess sometimes less is more, even when it comes to reading the Bible!” Jim’s only question was whether he could practice meditation in the “right way.” I assured him that there was no standard technique for how to meditate on a Bible verse, but I thought that a few practical suggestions might be helpful when beginning this practice.
Where to Start
Begin by selecting a verse or phrase of Scripture. Be sure you have read the surrounding verses so that you can understand the verse or phrase in its context. It may be helpful to write the chosen verse on a 3″ x 5″ card or highlight it on your phone or electronic device.
Begin by reading it over several times, trying to memorize it as best you can. Then slowly contemplate the verse word by word, thinking about each word and what it conveys about God, his plan, and his work in your life. Do the words reveal something about God? About ourselves? How can we respond to or pray about what these words mean? As appropriate, pray as you ponder the words of this verse.
Let’s Try It
Let’s begin with a well-known verse that you may have heard many times. The twenty-third psalm is often recited in churches and read at funerals, but meditation may help us more fully grasp its truths. Psalm 23:1 reads:
The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing.
With a prayer for guidance from the Holy Spirit, we begin pondering this verse word by word.
God is revealing himself as the Lord. He is not one of many, but the only Lord and ruler over all. “Lord” reminds us of his great sovereignty, his authority, and his reign over all things.
is my shepherd
Why has God chosen to reveal himself to his people as “shepherd”? This speaks to us of his care, guidance, and love. But God is not simply a shepherd; he is “my shepherd.” That means he cares for me. He is willing and able to guide me. He watches over me with concern for my well-being.
I lack nothing.
What do these words of assurance mean? The Spirit might comfort my heart by reminding me that because the Lord who reigns over all is my shepherd, I can rest assured that he will provide everything I need in life. I will not lack anything needed to follow him and do his will. He is all-powerful. He cares for me and takes responsibility for guiding me, so I can rest in his care with confidence.
What can I pray in light of Psalm 23:1? Do I need to ask for help trusting the Lord more? Do I need to pray about some situation in which I need his shepherd-like care? Should I thank and praise him for his care in the past as well as the future?
Let’s try another verse—one that is less familiar to many people, found in the book of the Jude, a brief letter that’s the second-to-last book in the New Testament. Jude 24 reads:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy. (ESV)
The first thing we might notice in reading the verse in its context is that it is only the first half of a long sentence. It is part of a doxology—a statement giving glory to God. The doxology of verses 24 and 25 concludes the book of Jude. After reading the verse over several times, we begin to prayerfully ponder it word by word.
This reminds us that all honor for what follows is due to the Lord (verse 25 clarifies this for us). We are reminded that our hearts and mouths should be filled with praise “to him.”
who is able to keep you from stumbling
As I reflect on these words, I remember that I am prone to failing in many ways. Maybe a recurrent sin comes to mind, but God is able to keep me from this. The words “who is able to keep you” remind me that my trust in living a more faithful life must be in him. I cannot keep myself from stumbling, but he can!
and to present you blameless
cause me to ask, How could God possibly present me blameless before his throne in light of all my sins? The answer is found in the completeness of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The One who suffered for my sin now keeps me from stumbling. These words continue to direct my focus Godward.
The next phrase,
before the presence of his glory with great joy
brings to mind the day when I will stand before him. Without Jesus, I could not exist in “the presence of his glory.” Yet the One who presents me has done such a remarkable work in saving me that I can be there “with great joy.”
What new thoughts has meditation upon Jude 24 brought to mind? Am I moved to praise the Lord with greater gratitude for all he has done for me? Do I have a deeper appreciation for the salvation Jesus has provided for me? What does verse 24 reveal about God? About myself? How should I respond? How can I pray in light of this?
Now let’s try meditating on a longer passage of Scripture. We will need more time to meditate upon a lengthier section of God’s Word, and it may be helpful to do this over a period of several days. Allow enough time for a passage of several verses. After choosing a passage of Scripture, read it slowly two or three times. Then focus on the passage, phrase by phrase, considering its message and how it speaks to your life. Continue this practice for several days.
As you return to your chosen passage each day, make notes about the ideas and questions that arise from your time with the passage. What is the passage teaching you about God? What does it tell you about yourself? Does it call you to respond in some way? How can you pray about what you have learned?
Consider Psalm 121, a short psalm of only eight verses. After reading the psalm slowly two or three times, meditate more deeply by prayerfully pondering it, phrase by phrase or verse by verse.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
To begin, I might meditate on possible reasons why the psalm begins this way. I might also consider how it speaks to me about my dependence upon God.
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Here, I might ask what foundational truth about God is being emphasized, and what that truth means in my life.
He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber;
As I meditate on these words, I might ponder the ways God has watched over and helped me during hard times.
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
What am I facing now in which this assurance of God’s constant watch is particularly comforting?
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
How can I understand verse 6 in light of verse 5?
The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life;
As I ponder these words, what assurance comes to me?
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
How does this verse move me to humble myself before God? To worship him? To pray? How does the repeated idea of the Lord watching over me (vv. 3, 4, 5, 7, 8) make me understand his presence with me?
Record your insights as you meditate on Psalm 121 over several days.
Now, let’s try with Philippians 2:1–11. Read this passage slowly two or three times, then ponder it verse by verse.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,
if any tenderness and compassion,
Reflect upon each short phrase in this verse. What does each reveal about the benefits of being “in Christ”? Is there one of these benefits I need to experience more fully?
then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
What action is called for on my part? How do I need to change to better conform to each of these three phrases?
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
Take some time to think about the idea of valuing. How do I treat the things I value? How might this look to value someone in my life—to treat them like the things I value?
not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.
Does this verse characterize the ways I typically relate to my family, friends, or co-workers? How does it call me to grow?
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Where and how does my mind separate from what I know to be a reflection of Christ? Trusting the Spirit to lead, how can I change?
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
What was the last situation where I found myself at an advantage? How did that impact the way I looked at the situation? What are some situations I can give up an advantage for the good of another?
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Servants are by definition primarily concerned with the well-being of another. Who in my life can I show concern for in the way I act toward them?
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Contemplate the great humility and love of Jesus Christ in coming to earth as a human being in order to die on the cross. What feelings, if any, come to mind and heart when I think of this?
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
If because of Jesus’s actions, God exalted him, how can I exalt him because of those actions?
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
Knees bow in recognition of authority. If Jesus is my authority, how might this impact the way I do my job or how I view my country?
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
How does my recognition of Jesus as Lord bring glory to God the Father? How do I separate and unite these two persons of the Trinity?
Why is the example of Jesus’s suffering and honor presented as an example of the “mind” or attitude God wants for me?
As you reflect and pray over this theologically rich passage over several days, take note of any new insights you gain about Jesus Christ, as well as practical ways these truths can transform your life.
Whether you choose to meditate upon an individual verse or a larger passage of Scripture, remember that meditation requires time and focused attention. As much as possible, get away from distractions. Turn off your computer and put aside your phone to give God and his words your undivided attention. As Christians in this technologically driven world, we have much to gain from recovery of the ancient practice of biblical meditation. The greatest benefit will be growing love for the One who has revealed himself in Scripture.
I will meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.