Why meditate?

When I think of meditation, I think of my father reading a book of psalms to my sister and myself when we were small.

There was a picture of David sitting under a tree with a harp in his hand at Psalm 1 where David talks of meditating on God’s law day and night.  Even then, I was struck by the idea of meditating.  At the time, it seemed like a peaceful thing to do.

Meditation got a bad rap among many Christians when Hindu and Buddhist meditation became popular among rebellious “flower children” in the 1960s.  I didn’t share those concerns, but I was so preoccupied with work, family and church activities that meditation and contemplation were far from my thoughts.

Now that I am retired, I no longer have an excuse – I certainly have the time to meditate if I wish.  But I find it hard to shake the very North American feeling that I should be doing something “useful”.  Praying through a list of needs is useful; studying the Bible is useful; planning church activities is useful; but “meditation”?

Yet, in Psalm 1, the psalmist praises the man who meditates all day on God’s word.  I assume he was talking about himself.  Did he have a lot of extra time on his hands?  Probably not.  Whether or not the person who wrote that psalm was David, he undoubtedly had a lot to do.  Life was not as easy as it is today.

Why did he meditate?  What good was it?

Part of the answer comes in verse 3 of that psalm.  The man who meditates on God and his word is “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.”

My activity is meaningless unless my inner self is planted firmly in God.

So how should I meditate?  I looked quickly through a Bible concordance this afternoon and saw a number of ways mentioned in the psalms.  I can meditate on God’s precepts, his wonders, his works and his promises.

One of my favourite writers is Jeanne Guyon who wrote  the classic  book, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ.  In it, she recommends beginning by slowly reading a portion of scripture which is practical and simple.  Then, she suggests stopping and “tasting” and “digesting” something you have read and turning it into prayer.  She says the aim is to “sense” the very heart of what you have read.  This is not study, but a kind of reflection.

But she does not stop there.  She says there is a second kind of meditative reading where the aim is to “behold God”.  Here the idea is to read scripture until the mind is quiet and all distractions have vanished. Then, by faith, you come into God’s presence.  And you hold your mind there.

I find this attractive.  How am I ever going to flourish as a child of God unless I am in his presence?

Jeanne Guyon was an example of the power of this truth.  She wrote this book in France more than 300 years ago when she was being hounded by people who found her views threatening.  She spent many years in jail for her writings.  But she had a profound influence on people because of her deep, unshakeable faith.  Her writings are still read today, long after the death of her persecutors.

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