“Man does not live by bread alone, and meditation is slowly relishing the meal.”David Mathis
I’ve known for years that meditation is a spiritual discipline. I remember reading about it as a teenager in an old favorite book by Donald Whitney called Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. But knowing I should meditate on God’s Word is not the same as understanding what that looks like practically. I knew the answer had to involve more intentionality than just “think about what you read for awhile.” So I’m sharing the practical examples of meditation that I’ve collected through my research. I hope these actionable tips motivate you to start afresh with this discipline!
Perhaps you are someone who hasn’t considered meditation a necessary part of your daily Christian walk. You might consider other activities more central to feeling “grounded” spiritually. But here is where I think we need to allow God’s word to challenge us, and we need to be wary of our tendency to think we know best. Donald Whitney explains that what defines something as a spiritual discipline is that we actually see it taught or modeled in the Bible— that is our guide,
“otherwise we leave ourselves open to calling anything we want a spiritual discipline. So someone might say: Gardening is a spiritual discipline for me, or exercise is one of my spiritual disciplines, or any other hobby or pleasurable habit they could call a spiritual discipline.
But one of the problems with that is that mindset could tempt someone to say: Maybe meditation on Scripture works for you, but gardening does just as much for my soul as the Bible does for yours. Virtually anything being a spiritual discipline is one problem. The other problem is that it leaves it to us to determine what will be best for our spiritual health and maturity rather than accepting those things God has revealed in Scripture as the means of experiencing God and growing in Christlikeness.”
I hope this list of ideas for Bible meditation will help you practice this spiritual discipline more frequently, experience God more fully and grow in Christ-likeness. You might even find that you do some of these already, and you were meditating without knowing it!
Meditate Through Memorization
Meditation is possible without memorization, but memorization helps us take meditation on the go. When we hide the Word in our hearts, we will see its application and relevance as we go about life. I won’t spend time making a case for memorization here, especially since it’s something I myself need to work toward, but you should definitely read this post from my friend Rita on the topic!
“Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”Psalm 1:1-2
Meditate Through Repetition
Read the same passage over again several times. Consider playing it aloud from a Bible app too. As you slow down and re-read, you’ll notice details you didn’t catch the first time around. This is where you can begin to formulate good questions.
Read Alternate Translations
Compare the text you are in with several other translations for a well rounded understanding. The NIV, ESV, and CSB usually provide some variety, but you might even try reading the AMP (Amplified), NLT (New Living Translation) or ICB (International Children’s Bible) for passages that are harder to understand.
I love this quote from David Mathis. He said,
“It is a distinctively human trait to stop and consider, to chew on something with the teeth of our minds and hearts, to roll some reality around in our thoughts and press it deeply into our feelings, to look from different angles and seek to get a better sense of its significance.”
Invert the Text
Inversion is stating the truth in the reverse. I learned this technique from John Piper. For example Proverbs 1:7 reads:
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
To invert it would be to say:
The irreverence of the Lord is the beginning of stupidity; wise men embrace wisdom and discipline.
Inversion isn’t applicable to all texts, but in many cases it is.
Meditate By Finding Synonyms
Identify the key words in your text and think of synonyms for them. Use a thesaurus if you find that helpful. This can help expand your understanding of the meaning of a text or realize its scope. Psalm 119 is really one giant example of meditation on God’s law, and the Psalmist uses at least 9 different words for law (statutes, precepts, commands, etc)!
Write It In Your Own Words
Writing the text is good. Writing it in your own words is even better. This actually improves your reading retention! It doesn’t have to be polished. You can use everyday language to summarize the concepts and truths just like you would if you were telling a friend, or maybe even a child.
When it comes to reading retention, Donald Whitney says this:
“I have found there is an almost universal problem. With the intake of the Word of God it looks like this: Even our most devoted daily Bible readers will read a chapter, read three chapters, however much it is. Once they are finished, they close their Bible. And most days, if pressed, as soon as they close their Bible they would have to admit: I don’t remember a thing I read. In fact, many days I can’t even tell you where I have read.
I believe the simple, permanent, biblical solution to that is to meditate on Scripture. Not merely to read, but to meditate. People say: I just can’t remember what I read, though. But let’s say if it takes a person 2 seconds to read verse 1 of a chapter, then 2 seconds to read verse 2, then 2 seconds to read verse 3, you can have a thousand two-second encounters with the Word of God and not remember a thing you have read. What do you ever remember that you look at for two seconds?
Occasionally something, but not very often. So the problem is not your memory. It is not your IQ. It is not your education. It is your method.”
If you are an especially creative type you may enjoy composing a song or poem to summarize the truths you read—even something as simple as a haiku will really challenge you to reflect on what you’ve read and put it in a nutshell. Perhaps this pursuit of creativity in connection with meditation is another way we might apply Colossians 3:16,
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”ESV
Explore Words In Context
Use a search tool to find other uses of a word in the same book of the Bible. The author usually uses keywords more than once, so studying the other ways the word was used by that author helps broaden your understanding of how they meant for it to be understood.
You can search in English, or you can look up the original Hebrew (used in the Old Testament) or Greek (NT) which will give you a more accurate list of how many times that exact word appears. For example, in English we have one word: love. But in ancient Greek there are 6 words for love, and each carried a different meaning.
You can find the Greek or Hebrew word by googling “Greek Lexicon [Book] [Chapter:Verse]” (example: Greek Lexicon Luke 5:3). Then find the word you are studying and click the hyperlinked Greek word and it will open up the possible meanings it can have, as well as all the other locations it appears (stick to the same book to begin).
Meditate Through Prayer
“The reason we come away so cold from reading the word is, because we do not warm ourselves at the fires of meditation.”Thomas Watson
Ending with prayer is so important! While not all prayer is meditation and not all meditation is prayer, you can begin your prayer with meditation! Converse with the Lord about the truths you’ve encountered, ask for further clarity, ask for the Spirit to transform your life accordingly, praise God for the aspects of His character that were revealed. This gives you a moment to really take to heart what you have been processing.
Prayer moves our Bible reading from intellectual to relational.