Not long ago, I asked my pastor about the difference between meditation and prayer, as the two can be hard to distinguish. He replied, “In Scripture, God speaks to us. In prayer, we speak to him. What he says to us prompts what we say to him.”
To meditate, then, is to think deeply about what God has said to us in Scripture and to prepare our minds and hearts for prayer. Scripture fuels meditation, and meditation fuels prayer.
But what exactly does meditation look like? The Psalms give at least five steps for meditating on God’s Word. We meditate to focus, understand, remember, worship, and apply.
1. To focus
I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. (Ps. 119:15)
Whether we read our Bibles in the morning, over lunch, or before bed at night, our schedules and responsibilities tend to assail us with distractions. In fact, distractions are a tool Satan uses to pull our eyes off Christ and prevent us from hearing God in his Word.
Psalm 119 exhorts us to fix our eyes on God’s ways. As wayward humans with many pursuits and persons vying for our attention, meditation frees us to fix our eyes on Jesus and tune out distractions, even if only for five minutes. Focusing on what we’re reading in Scripture provides clarity when we pray.
Meditate to focus on how God is speaking to you through his Word.
2. To understand
Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. (Ps. 119:27)
In meditation we seek to understand how the God of the universe is speaking about himself, our world, and our hearts. We begin by praying with the psalmist, “Make me understand your way!” This is a prayer God delights to answer.
Questions to ask during meditation include: Why is this passage important? What do I need to know? What does it say about God? What does it say about me? How does this reading point to Jesus?
Meditate to understand what God is communicating to you through his Word.
3. To remember
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. (Ps. 143:5)
The whole Bible is one grand story that points to Jesus Christ from beginning to end. When we meditate on Scripture, we do so to remember all God has done in his great redemption story, how he sent Christ to save a people from their sin. In meditation we ponder the work of God’s hands.
Remembering may also bring us to ponder all God has done in our own lives: how he saved us, the opportunities he’s giving us to share the good news, and what we’ve learned about who God is.
Meditate to remember all that God has accomplished through the gospel of grace.
4. To worship
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Ps. 1:2)
Once we’ve meditated to focus, understand, and remember, we will normally find our hearts inclined to worship. So we pause to lift our gaze to the excellencies of Christ, to bend our eyes off the world, to express thanksgiving and adoration when we pray. Meditation leads to delight when the Holy Spirit inclines our hearts to see and savor how glorious God is.
Because of sin and its effects, our hearts often don’t delight in God’s Word. We are tempted to stop reading, to lose focus, to move on to other things. Meditation “arrests” our hearts to delight in God’s Word, which is vital for our spiritual strength and joy.
Meditate to worship the God who deserves all thanks and praise for who he is and what he has done in Christ.
5. To apply
Finally, we’re better able to understand how to apply the Bible when we slow down to meditate. In applying what we read, we ask, “Now what must I do?”
Here’s a brief example. Let’s say you’re reading Titus 3:3-4:
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray. . . . But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.
From this passage, you might confess specific ways you’ve disobeyed and gone astray. You might praise God for sending his undeserved lovingkindness in Christ. You might ask for his help in loving someone who’s hurt you with the mercy you’ve received.
Our desire in meditation is to be careful to “do according to all that is written” in the Bible (Josh. 1:8). Then, we bring these points of application to God in prayer, asking for spiritual strength to obey, forsake sin, humble ourselves, and walk worthy of our calling in Christ.
Meditate to apply the Bible to your daily life, and to ask for help in prayer.
Help in Weakness
It’s no accident the Bible often speaks about the value of meditation and its purposeful placement before prayer. Our time in the Word is like running a race: meditation is the warmup; prayer our run to the finish. We cannot be effective in the discipline of prayer apart from engaging in the warmup of meditation.
So what do we do when meditation seems impossible, when our focus is affected by outside circumstances and our hearts feel cold to God’s Word? We cling to his gracious help, poured out through his Spirit. And if we realize we’ve never truly meditated, we trust it’s never too late to begin.
For the Spirit helps us in our weakness, fixing our eyes on Christ, giving us understanding, bringing to mind God’s wonderful works, filling us with joy, and leading us to walk in the truth.