There is a kind of Bible study that goes beyond reading, Bible memory, group Bible study, Old Testament references in their context, and subject studies. Meditation is more mystical and practical. That may sound like a contradiction.
Let me tell you what meditation is not. It is not looking for some deeper, hidden meaning. It is not numerology or looking for a codified arrangement of the text. And it is not saying that the plain meaning of the text that we got from our previous reading and studying is not the correct meaning. We probably got the right meaning, and we can repeat it back. We know the text!
What, then, is this kind of Bible study? It does not have to do with our understanding; it has to do with where we understand it. Do we understand it in our heads, or do we understand it in our hearts?
Most study results in head knowledge. In other words, if we were given a practical lab examination on what we had studied, we might not do as well as we would do on a written exam. If we had studied Matthew 5:38-48, we might come up with the right answer on paper. Would we do as well if we were put into a laboratory with evil people who sued us, hit us, forced miles upon us, asked us for money, and borrowed our things? In addition, they are our enemies and persecute us.
When I go into this lab, I must have all my head knowledge transferred to my heart. My actions (planned and unplanned) come from there, not from my head. Transferring my true, cognitive knowledge to my heart is a mystical event. It is not done by concentration or hard study.
Having the knowledge in my heart makes it practical. That is where I need to store all this good stuff so that when I overflow, good stuff comes out. Here are three teachings from the gospels that describe this practicality, good and bad.
You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. (Matt. 12:34-35)Early in my Christian life, I memorized a lot of Scripture verses. I knew them word-for-word and could name the references. They were in my head, and I could call them up at any time. It did not occur to me or to others that I was not living out these Scriptures. I am not sure how many years it was before I got suspicious. It was one thing for my brain to overflow and spout Scripture; it was another thing entirely for my heart to overflow. I thought that memorizing Scripture was hiding His word in my heart. It was not; it was hiding His word in my head. I may or may not have been able to pass a written test. But it was a sure thing that I would not pass the lab test.
“Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’” …. He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’” (Mark 7:15, 20-23)
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)
I thank God that neither test is given, since we have been saved by grace. After we have been saved by grace, we are to be careful to do good works. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).Our new birth guarantees that we do not continue to sin, that is, live in sin.
No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him…. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:6, 9)
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness…. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Rom. 6:18, 22)
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealously, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:19-23)
These Scriptures are not commands; they are indicative statements. They just are.
After the new birth, we are given heart commands. Here is a representative one: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:1-2).
Our good works, whether they be the fruit of the Spirit or physical actions and words, are works that come from our hearts. We are in the lab all the time. Let’s look at a few biblical examples.
He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brother or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)Each of these texts has commands in it. Look at them again. What do they say? Do you understand them? Are they clear?
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Phil. 2:14-16)
But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. (Matt. 5:39-42)
You may have questions. If your questions take the following character: “What does it mean?”, “Where do you draw the line?”, “You mean I cannot invite my parents?”, “How rich?”, “Suppose he is wrong!”, “Suppose he is evil!”, then you probably understand in your head and do not understand with your heart.
To understand with your head, ask this question, “Is it clear?”
To begin to understand with your heart, ask this: “Is it true or false?” If you answer “True,” don’t say, “But…” After you say “True,” praise God with thanksgiving. When you thank God for these commands, you will begin to hide the Word in your heart.
How do you continue? Soak in these Scriptures, muse, meditate on them so that you begin to pray about the lame and the blind, your enemies, and evil people. Confess anything in your heart that is hindering willing heart obedience to the commands. Then begin to anticipate, long for, and pray for an opportunity to obey without conditions or excuses.
If you do not understand the previous paragraphs, and you are a Christian, something is very wrong. It may be that you are too comfortable in your evangelical church. You realize that if you suddenly obeyed these commands from the heart, you would be out of step with your friends. In other words, you do not want to be godly or holy if it means being different from the rest of the saints.
Meditation does not take study. It takes prayerful, willing submission to the text. That is why and how it can be done all of the time.
This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success. (Josh. 1:8)
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)
Soon you will anticipate and long for opportunities to put your meditation into action.
There is still another way to have a normal and natural heart obedience. In a father-son relationship, there are three causes of the son being like his father. The first is genetic inheritance. He looks like his father. The second is a command/obedience relationship. The third is imitation. This is the other way. The Bible makes reference to it several times. Here are few of those instances.
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:44, 48)We have become like our fathers by imitating them. It is the best way of learning anything that involves application.
Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. (1 Cor. 4:15-16)
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph. 4:32-5:2)
As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:14-16)
I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. (Phil. 2:20-23)
Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Cor. 10:32-11:1)
Meditate and imitate.