Furthermore, I’ve been challenged that these Godly habits must go beyond outward compliance to Scripture if they are to be of true, lasting value.
Spiritual disciplines are the practices of believers that allow us to grow in our faith, deepen our relationship with God, and help us to reach others with His Gospel. They are the daily practices that, if done effectively and authentically, make up the process of God’s sanctifying work in our lives. Studying and meditating on His Word, meaningful prayer, and being an engaged member of a local body of Christ are tools God uses to shape our thoughts and actions into a greater likeness of the One we follow — Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, even as believers, we are “prone to wander,” as the old hymn reminds us. This translates even to our endeavors to implement Godly habits and disciplines. We can become distracted by lesser things. We can do all the right things but half-heartedly or without fully engaging our hearts and minds. We can seek after Godliness, but only outwardly and self-righteously.
When this happens we will find ourselves feeling empty and dry, lacking true joy. We can also be tempted to abandon the pursuit of these habits of grace altogether because it feels in vain. If this sounds familiar to you, there is hope.
While it is God who works in us and grows us, we must also be active participants. So how do we cultivate spiritual disciplines in a meaningful, lasting way? What are practical ways we can form habits of grace that deepen our relationship with God, produce fruit, and transform our hearts?
Please join me over the next three months (last Friday of each month) as we consider this together in a series I am calling Cultivating Fruitful Habits of Grace. Each month I want to examine a different spiritual discipline and provide practical tools to help us create lasting and sincere biblical habits. Let’s begin by looking at the discipline of mediation.
What is Biblical Meditation?
In our modern society, mediation has a very different meaning than it does in God’s Word. While secular meditation is centered on emptying the mind and finding oneself, biblical meditation focuses on filling our hearts and minds with God’s Word. It is purposeful contemplation of the Scriptures that leads to the application of the truth.
Meditation goes hand-in-hand with Bible reading and study. For me, it is not difficult to make a habit of reading the Bible. However, God doesn’t want us to just read His Word. He doesn’t want us only to know it in an academic sense. He wants us to be changed by it. This is why we need need to cultivate the habit of meditation.
“Receive instruction from His mouth, and lay up His Words in your heart.” Job 22:22
It is the contemplative meditation on God’s truth that changes us because that is what the Holy Spirit uses to capture our hearts and minds. As we ruminate on the Word, He speaks to us, encourages us, disciplines us, and corrects us. If we read the Bible every day but walk away from that time with no further thought or plans to put what we have seen into practice, we are like a sieve. The truth has simply passed through us and there is no remnant of it after the fact.
So, how can we pursue meditating on God’s Word? What are practical ways we can begin this important work and build this Godly habit?
1. Ask The Right Questions
Any time we want to learn more about a subject, the most basic way to approach a study is to ask questions. The same is true of meditation in the Bible. The reformer Martin Luther was once asked by his barber how to study the Scriptures. While his advice is over 500 years old, it is still worth following today.
As Luther read and studied the Scripture, he would ask four key questions. He told his friend, “I ask myself, what does the Lord God expect of me? Secondly, I find in it a source of thanksgiving; then, an opportunity for confession; and, finally, an occasion for prayer.”
With these simple but thoughtful questions, we too can dive deeper into the Word and open our minds to purposeful and profound meditation of God’s truth.
This is something I am working to implement myself. I’ve written down Luther’s counsel in a list that I keep with me as I read and study. Of course, the first thing we must do when we read any passage is to determine its context and historical meaning. Once that has been done, I refer to “Luther’s List” (as I like to call it) and journal my answers, so that I have something concrete to look back at and refer to as I contemplate on Scripture.
My “Luther’s List” looks something like this:
This is not a list that can or should be completed in haste. That is the point of meditation. It takes time. It's allowing our thoughts to be consumed with His truth, and that requires us to slow down and do the work of thoughtfully considering our answers and even the other questions they may raise.
2. “Read it, See it, Say it, Sing it”
Reading God’s Word is always the starting point of meditation. Before we can dwell on it, we must read it. We must read it to understand and we must always read it with Jesus in mind, since He is the centerpiece of all of Scripture.
Seeing God’s Word is about keeping it in our view at all times. Write verses on sticky notes and keep them in places you frequent - the kitchen, your car, the bathroom mirror, a bedside table, etc. Make Scripture the background picture of your phone or set reminders that pop up throughout your day with verses you want to remember. Pick a passage and set the goal to memorize one verse each week. Journal the Bible daily. There are so many ways to keep God’s Word before our eyes so that it permeates our minds and changes our hearts.
Find a friend with whom you regularly discuss what you are learning in God’s Word. Perhaps, even pick a study to do together. Have daily conversations with your spouse about Scripture. Talk to your children, even the little ones, about what God is teaching you. As Hunter Beless writes, “We talk about it when we sit and when we rise. Reciting, repeating it helps us be wise.”
Listen to theologically rich music throughout your day to keep His precious truths in the forefront of your mind. Think about the words and meanings of these songs. They are our doctrines in the form of music and a wonderful aid to memorization. Furthermore, we sing to the Lord as a response from a heart of gratitude. And as we praise Him for who He is, our hearts are encouraged and changed!
Additionally, Beless points out in her book that “sing it” is also about living out what we learn from the Bible. It is putting hands and feet to what we know in our minds. For example, when we find ourselves struggling with feelings of anxiety, anger, or loneliness, we sing and repeat the truths we know. We preach and repeat God’s Word to our own hearts. It is our hope and stability in a world that is groaning under the weight of sin.
Both of these tools are excellent places to begin (or to start again) the spiritual discipline of meditation. All habits of grace are important, but I have purposefully started with meditation first. It shapes us, not only in the day-to-day but it also greatly impacts the other disciplines we will look at in the coming months — prayer and our life in the Church.
I hope and pray that you are encouraged by this series and find joy in pursuing habits of grace. The Bible teaches us that if we are His, that we will be doing these spiritual disciplines together in Heaven for eternity! He will be our constant joy and focus (meditation). We will be able to speak with Him and commune with Him (prayer). We will sing and praise Him together with our brothers and sisters in Christ forever (the Church). So let us begin now to cultivate these habits of grace that He faithfully works in us and uses to change us into His likeness.
"And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 2 Cor. 3:18
What passages of Scripture have you been meditating on recently?
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