In my opinion there are at least 3 core practices to the Christian life: Scripture, Prayer, and Meditation. All 3 are critical, all 3 are interconnected, yet all 3 play a unique function.
What is Meditation? Here is one way to answer that. Meditation is dwelling on the truth of God long enough and in enough different ways that it is no longer just a truth ‘out there’ – but a reality that is true for you intellectually, spiritually, socially, and psychologically.
The metaphor given in Psalm 1 helps us understand this. As Tim Keller says, we are not given the metaphor of a pipe but of a tree. What is the difference?
Pipe: truth would flow from God into us – the truth would look the same on the front end and the back end. That is how a pipe functions. It is a go-between
Tree: truth on one end and what on the other? Fruit – it starts out as a truth that is true ‘out there’ but is not yet true inside of you. That truth needs to come from the heart of God as found in Scripture and turn into fruit.
That is the role of meditation. Meditation is the process by which truth becomes fruit.
You can’t get the fruit without being exposed to the truth. But the opposite is true as well (which is why meditation is so important). You can be near the truth and hear the truth but not have the truth turn into fruit. We all have known people who know the right answers yet somehow those right answers don’t translate into a transformed character.
If truth is not turning into fruit meditation is not working.
Working it out:
So how do you meditate? To meditate is to allow a truth to marinate in you until it gets all the way into your heart, soul, mind and strength. To meditate is to take a truth, and to allow it to rotate around so you can look at it from multiple angles. To meditate is sit with something and reflect on it until that truth turns into fruit.
One of the best ways to understand meditation is to look to another similar practice that we all regularly engage: worry
How does worry work, particularly excessive worrying? Worry usually begins with a truth. Finances are really tight. You like the guy but are not sure if he is going to call. You are up for a promotion but don’t know if it will go through.
Worrying is taking a truth and meditating on it (negatively). We allow it to marinate. We let it rotate in our minds. We sit with it and obsess over it until it gets to the deepest parts of our psyche.
Truth: Finances are tight. Worry: meditate on every potential negative scenario. You imagine every potential expense that may be unforeseen. You are sure your car will break down, kid will have to go the doctor, and pipe at home will break. You are meditating
Truth: You like him but don’t know if he will call. So you begin to mediate/worry. You stare at the phone hoping you can will it to ring. You follow his Facebook page to see what he is doing. What are you doing? You are meditating.
Meditation is to take the truths of Scripture and use the same process as worry to help turn them into fruit within our life. We meditate on God’s goodness, grace, and love. We meditate on provision and guidance. We meditate on character and calling. We meditate on God’s concern for those in harm’s way.
Hopefully that paints the picture. A few principles to remember when meditating:
First, start with a truth. The Bible is filled with a wonderful assortments of truths to meditate on. A good book can get you started. As a preacher I have a bias for the power of a sermon. Often for me a well crafted sermon distills a truth that I will then meditate on for days.
Second, you need to meditate on it. “Blessed is the person who meditates on God’s laws day and night.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to literally practice meditation both morning and night, but it also doesn’t mean you don’t. The point is that meditation should be something happening on a constant basis. You can meditate during a quiet time, while working out, while taking a walk, or on a lunch break. The point is not to be legalistic – the point is to make this a high priority in your life.
Third, focus on the fruit. There is a really clear way for you to know if meditation is working or not. The person who is like a tree planted by living waters has fruit. If the truth you are meditating on is not translating into a changed character and life transformation its not working right. This by no means is to say we expect perfection or that there is no struggle involved. But it should be changing. If last year the fruit around that truth is the same as this year around that fruit then it is not getting in deep enough.