On Scripture Meditation

In the circles in which I run, many folks seem nervous about meditation, mostly because they equate meditation with anti- or sub-Christian practices. This is understandable. A quick walk through the “Self Help” or “Religion” section at a Barnes and Noble will demonstrate that meditation is all the rage, regardless of one’s religious convictions. Some forms of meditation are, at best, unhelpful, and at worst, likely diabolical. But we must not thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. As earlier generations of evangelicals understood, there definitely is a place for meditation as a spiritual discipline. Specifically, evangelicals should be willing to make meditation on the Scriptures a regular part of their personal devotional habits.

In his book An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness, Andy Davis notes the importance of Scripture meditation (p. 246):

Few things are as fruitful and productive as a consistent pattern of meditation on Scripture, for by filling our minds with verses, we automatically push out impurity. This kind of meditation is simply deep, repetitive thinking on passages of Scripture, mulling them over in our minds to draw out the full truth, connecting them to other truths, applying them deeply to our own lives. Psalm 1 speaks of the blessedness of the man who constantly meditates on the word of God, likening him to a tree planted by streams of water, constantly fruitful (Psalm 1:2–3).

God Who Draws Near

In his book The God Who Draws Near: An Introduction to Biblical SpiritualityMichael Haykin agrees on the importance of Scripture meditation. Nevertheless, many Christians have no idea how to go about adding meditation to their normal devotional routine. Haykin offers nine helpful suggestions about biblical meditation (pp. 66-67), which I have summarized below:

  1. Find a place of quiet and solitude
  2. Approach meditation from a submissive, God-centered frame of mind
  3. Have a plan for consistently reading the Scriptures
  4. Cultivate the discipline of Scripture memorization
  5. Read aloud the Scriptures you are meditating upon multiple times
  6. Set aside the necessary time to read and meditate on the Scriptures
  7. Consider using a hymnal as an aid in Scripture meditation
  8. Ask questions of the biblical text to stimulate your meditation
  9. Move from meditation on the Scriptures to prayer arising from the Scriptures

I appreciate this list very much. In my own experience, I have found that reading the Scriptures aloud and praying through the Scriptures I’ve been reading to be very meaningful ways to meditate on the text and make sure I’m not just reading for the sake of acquiring more biblical knowledge. (The latter is especially tempting for those of us with some theological education.)

If you are interested in learning for a past evangelical who made meditation a central spiritual discipline in his own walk with Christ, check out Kyle Strobel’s stellar book Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards (IVP, 2013). If you want to read some practical advice on meditating on Scripture, check out this nifty handout by Don Whitney.

 

 

 

Andrew Fuller’s Advice for Your Daily Quiet Time

Man-Reading-Bible235x275Various Christian traditions tend to emphasize different practices when it comes to cultivating a healthy personal piety. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, prayerful meditation, often with the aid of icons, has occupied a signal place in personal spirituality. In Roman Catholicism, Marian piety remains a perennial emphasis. In Anglicanism, the Book of Common Prayer shapes individual devotional practice almost as much as corporate worship. For most evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, arguably the central spiritual practice is the daily quiet time of Bible reading and prayer.

The famous Baptist pastor-theologian Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) was once asked to give his advice about personal Bible reading. It’s interesting that over two centuries ago, what he described is so very similar to what we would consider to be a healthy daily quiet time. He recommended daily Scripture reading and prayer, suggesting that morning was the best time. He recommended using commentaries and other tools when you come across something in your reading that confuses you, though he cautions against over-reliance on these non-inspired study tools. He suggested not just reading the Scriptures, but meditating on what you read. Fuller even recommended journaling about insights that come to you as you read and meditate on the biblical text. In other words, Andrew Fuller was Richard Foster and Donald Whitney before the latter two were cool. You can read his short essay below.

I do not wish the following remarks to supersede any other answer which may enter more fully into the subject. All I have to offer will be a few hints from my own experience.

In the first place, I have found it good to appoint set times for reading the Scriptures; and none have been so profitable as part of the season appropriated to private devotion on rising in the morning. The mind at this time is reinvigorated and unencumbered. To read a part of the Scriptures, previous to prayer, I have found to be very useful. It tends to collect the thoughts, to spiritualize the affections, and to furnish us with sentiments wherewith to plead at a throne of grace. And as reading assists prayer, so prayer assists reading. At these seasons we shall be less in danger of falling into idle speculations, and of perverting Scripture in support of hypotheses. A spiritual frame of mind, as Mr. [Samuel] Pearce somewhere observes, is as a good light in viewing a painting; it will not a little facilitate the understanding of the Scriptures. I do not mean to depreciate the labours of those who have commented on the sacred writings; but we may read expositors, and consult critics, while the “spirit and life” of the word utterly escape us. A tender, humble, holy frame is perhaps of more importance to our entering into the mind of the Holy Spirit than all other means united. It is thus that, by “an unction from the Holy One, we know all things.”

In reading by myself, I have also felt the advantage of being able to pause, and think, as well as pray; and to inquire how far the subject is any way applicable to my case, and conduct in life.

In the course of a morning’s exercise it may be supposed that some things will appear hard to be understood; and I may feel myself, after all my application, unable to resolve them. Here, then, let me avail myself of commentators and expositors. If I read them instead of reading the Scriptures, I may indeed derive some knowledge; but my mind will not be stored with the best riches; nor will the word “dwell richly in me in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” If, on the other hand, I read the Scriptures, and exercise my own mind on their meaning, only using the helps with which I am furnished when I particularly need them, such knowledge will avail me more than any other; for, having felt and laboured at the difficulty myself, what I obtain from others towards the solution of it becomes more interesting and abiding than if I had read it without any such previous efforts. And as to my own thoughts, though they may not be superior nor equal to those of others, in themselves considered, yet, if they be just, their having been the result of pleasing toil renders them of superior value to me. A small portion obtained by our own labour is sweeter than a large inheritance bequeathed by our predecessors. Knowledge thus obtained will not only be always accumulating, but of special use in times of trial; not like the cumbrous armour which does not fit us, but like the sling and the stone, which, though less brilliant, will be more efficacious.

I may add, it were well for those who can find leisure to commit to writing the most interesting thoughts which occur at these seasons. It is thus that they will be fixed in the memory; and the revision of them may serve to rekindle some of the best sensations in out life.

See Andrew Fuller, “Reading the Scriptures,” in The Works of Andrew Fuller, vol. III, ed. Joseph Belcher (1845; reprint, Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), p. 788.

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