The Benefits of Biblical Meditation
Greater Love for God
One day, the gospel of Matthew tells us, Jesus was approached by a Pharisee who was an “expert” in Jewish law (matthew 22:35). As a Pharisee, he probably thought of himself as exceptionally knowledgeable about God’s truth, and a person who was far more faithful to God than the average citizen. This man decided to put Jesus to the test, perhaps expecting to expose the inferior knowledge of the itinerant Nazarene teacher or to trap him in some contradiction. So he asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus gave him a clear and definitive answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (matthew 22:34–38).
Jesus’s reply to the lawyer has provided us with the highest possible goal for our spiritual growth—to love God with all that we are. Biblical meditation can help us grow toward this highest of goals. God has given us the Scriptures to reveal himself to us so that we might know him better and love him more As we seek to enjoy fellowship with God by pondering the words of Scripture, the Holy Spirit opens our hearts to experience greater depths of his love. The Spirit also strengthens us by helping us more fully grasp “how wide and long and high and deep” Christ’s love is, deepening our roots in his love (ephesians 3:18–19). Biblical meditation is an avenue to more fully experience “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 corinthians 13:14).
When Jesus talked about love for God, he linked it with obedient action. He said to his followers, “If you love me, keep my commands” and “whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (john 14:15, 21). True love for God is expressed by sincere obedience to God’s will and ways as revealed to us in Scripture. Meditating upon Scripture is one of the best ways to internalize the truth of God’s Word and be strengthened by Christ’s Spirit to obey it.
A beautiful example of the benefit of meditation in enabling obedience is given to us in the book of Joshua. Joshua was the assistant to Moses, whom God used to free the Israelites from slavery. After Moses’s death, Joshua was called to lead hundreds of thousands of Israelites to the Promised Land (joshua 1:1–2). When commissioning Joshua with this task, God commanded him to be “strong and courageous” and to carefully obey his law as revealed to Moses. He then gave Joshua this mandate to prepare him for his daunting task:
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. —joshua 1:8
By keeping God’s law in his mouth and meditating upon it, Joshua would be strengthened to lead faithfully. His ongoing meditation would help enable his obedience to God.
Meditation upon Scripture strengthens us for obedience by strengthening our love for God and others.
For the Christian, obedience to the teachings of Scripture is not the path to salvation, but a love-motivated response to the One who has saved us. Our obedience to God flows from a motive of loving gratitude. Biblical meditation can strengthen us for love-empowered obedience, especially in areas in which we are weak.
For example, a person who struggles with gossip, slander, or other forms of wrong speaking might meditate on Ephesians 4:29, which states: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Through focused reflection upon this verse, Christ’s Spirit can strengthen us.
The person struggling with unforgiveness might meditate upon Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” As we reflect upon the words of Scripture, we open ourselves to God’s pouring his truth, strength, and love into our souls. Our response to God’s love is a growing desire to live by his truth through the strength of the Holy Spirit.
Renewal of Our Minds
Will was a college student who’d come to faith in Christ while on a retreat with a campus Christian fellowship. He was part of a weekly Bible study with a group of guys and was enjoying his new circle of Christian friends. One evening, he waited until everyone else had left the Bible study so he could have a one-on-one talk with the group leader. Will explained that he felt guilty and defeated because he continued to struggle with thoughts and feelings of lust. Prior to the retreat, he had spent countless hours viewing pornography on his computer. Now, he often felt tormented by his inability to get his thoughts off of the images that had been planted in his mind. “I would give anything to have never started watching that stuff,” Will said. “Is there anything that can help me transform my thought life?”
While any change is difficult, there is hope. The fact is that we all struggle with thoughts, words, and images that we wish had never entered our minds. Hurtful ideas or images can cause us real pain, while also contributing to lust, greed, or anger. But the Spirit can use Scripture to renew our minds so that we are transformed (romans 12:2). When we meditate upon Scripture, we invite Christ’s Spirit to mold the way we think.
Jesus prayed that his followers would be sanctified (set apart) by the truth of God’s Word (john 17:17). The cleansing of God’s Spirit is greater than the contaminating thoughts that have settled in our minds. It may take time, but continued biblical meditation can change the way we think and live.
Those who study the topic of prayer may encounter the name of a Scottish pastor who lived in the first half of the nineteenth century. Robert Murray M’Cheyne died at the age of twenty-nine, but was widely known for the richness of his devotional life. M’Cheyne taught others the immense value of uniting Scripture with prayer. He wrote:
Turn the Bible into prayer. Thus, if you are reading the first psalm, spread the Bible on the chair before you, and kneel and pray: “O Lord, give me the blessedness of the man,” etc. “Let me not stand in the counsel of the ungodly,” etc. This is the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible and of learning to pray.4
Biblical meditation is one of the best ways we can unite Scripture with prayer. As we ponder the words of Scripture with receptive hearts, the Holy Spirit will often show us ways we need to change in light of those words. A verse that speaks of love for our neighbors may prompt us to pray, “Lord, please make this a reality in my life.” A verse that promises God’s wisdom may stir us to ask, “Lord, please give me wisdom for the issue I will face today.”
As we meditate on a verse or phrase from Scripture, we’ll often see biblical truth that we need to apply in our lives. As Christ’s Spirit brings that truth to light for us, we can participate in the Spirit’s work of changing us as we pray for that truth to be applied. This can bring fresh vitality to our prayer lives and enable us to pray with greater confidence.
Experiencing God’s Peace
Margie was a 28-year-old wife, mother of twins, and CEO of a small web design firm. She freely acknowledged that she was a type-A personality who’d rather go without food for a day than put aside her smartphone for twenty-four hours. But an increasing inability to get to sleep at night, along with a diagnosis of high blood pressure, prompted Margie to ask the women in her small group to pray for her. After prayer, one of her friends asked, “Have you ever tried meditating on Bible verses? I’ve found that can really help me to experience more of God’s peace.” Margie agreed to schedule several minutes each day to reflect upon Scriptures—without her phone in the room. This would hopefully allow her to distance herself from the stress of the day and lead to better sleep.
Because meditation calls for focused attention on what God has revealed, it helps to calm our souls in God’s presence. The prophet Isaiah pointed to the soul-steadying benefit of focused trust in God when he wrote: “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (isaiah 26:3). In Psalm 119 we read, “Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble (v. 165). One of the wonderful benefits of biblical meditation is a greater experience of God’s peace in the midst of a stress-filled world.
Catalyst for Spiritual Growth
Follow Me by Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson records the results of a study on spiritual growth. The authors found that personal spiritual practices were “very powerful catalysts” for spiritual growth. But among the various practices surveyed, which included prayer, solitude, and Bible reading, one stood out as having much more impact on a person’s spiritual growth—“Reflection on Scripture.” Regardless of the level of one’s spiritual maturity, the study found that, “I reflect on the meaning of Scripture in my life” was the spiritual practice that was most predictive of growth.
The authors write:
There’s great significance in the word reflection. Reflecting on Scripture implies a contemplative process, one of thoughtful and careful deliberation. . . . This is not about skimming through a Bible passage or devotional in a mechanical way. This is a powerful experience of personal meditation that catalyzes spiritual growth, starting at the very beginning of the spiritual journey. 5
4 David P. Beaty, An All-Surpassing Fellowship (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 69.
5 Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Follow Me (Burlington, IL: Willow Creek Association), 41, 114.