Helps for Meditation
John Owen, 1616-1683
"His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night." Psalm 1:2
"I will meditate on all Your works, and consider all Your mighty deeds." Psalm 77:12
"I meditate on Your precepts, and consider Your ways." Psalm 119:15
"Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long." Psalm 119:97
"I meditate on all Your works, and consider what Your hands have done." Psalm 143:5
"My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on Your promises." Psalm 119:148
By disciplined meditation, I mean the art of pondering some chosen spiritual subject in an orderly, disciplined way. The purpose of this sort of meditation is to rouse the heart and soul to feel the goodness or badness of the subject being pondered.
Meditation is different from Bible study in which the chief aim is to learn the truth and to declare it to others.
Meditation is also different from prayer—for prayer is directed to God. The aim of meditation is to arouse our hearts to experience a sense of love, delight, and humility.
Meditation is different from being spiritually-minded and having spiritual thoughts arising naturally from a renewed heart. People may be skilled in spiritual thoughts—who are quite unable to think of a spiritual subject in a disciplined, orderly way.
Meditation is an art that must be learned. It needs the use of natural faculties and abilities that, through weakness and ignorance, some have not adequately developed.
So, with many, disciplined meditation may be beyond their ability, yet they still enjoy many spiritual thoughts of God that serve them just as well. Nevertheless, as disciplined meditation is a necessary duty and is the chief way by which our spiritual thoughts are aroused to activity—I will give you the following advice.
Whatever principle of grace we have in our hearts, we cannot easily make use of it for spiritual meditation or for any other spiritual duty—without great effort and difficulty. The following is only for those who intend to set apart some time daily for holy duties, such as prayer and reading the Bible.
1. Choose a TIME which is free from all worldly concerns.The best time is that which will cost you something. We must not at any time seek to serve God with what costs us nothing. Nor must we dedicate any time that does not demand self-denial. We must not expect to grow in spiritual-mindedness, if we only give to God time for worship when we have nothing else to do, or those times when because of tiredness we are not fit for anything else.
This is one great reason why men are so cold, formal, and lifeless in spiritual duties. When the body and mind are tired—then men think they are fit to come to God to learn about those great matters that concern His glory and the salvation of their souls. Yet this is what God condemns (Malachi 1:8). Both the law of nature and holy duties, require that we serve God with our very best. And shall we offer to Him that time in that we would be unfit to appear before an earthly ruler? Yet such are the times many choose for their devotions.
We may do well to stop here for a moment and think of the time we have in the past offered to God for meditation—so that we may be shamed into doing better in the future. The best time is when the natural strength of the spirit is most free and active. Do not trust to chance opportunities. Let the time itself be a free-will offering to God taken from the top of the heap. Let it be the best time possible.
2. Take time to PREPARE your mind for spiritual thoughts.Do not rush into heavenly thoughts, without first preparing your heart and mind (Ecc 5:1-2). Make every effort to understand the awesome holiness of God and the heavenly nature of the things you intend to meditate on—that you may approach God with due reverence and fear, and heavenly matters with a holy and healthy respect.
Our thoughts are like Jacob and Esau—spiritual and carnal thoughts struggle together in the same womb. Often the Esau of carnal thoughts will come out first, and for a while seem to carry the birthright. But where reverence for God has "cast out the bondwoman and her son" (Galatians 4:30), the mind will be free to fix itself on spiritual things.
Do not come to meditate on heavenly things only out of a sense of duty. We must not meditate on God and heavenly things merely because we feel the need for it, or because we think we ought to do so and that it would not do to utterly neglect it.
When the soul has at any time tasted that the Lord is gracious, when its past meditations on the Lord have been joyful, when spiritual things have excited the mind and heart—then the soul comes to this duty with earnest desires to have the same experiences repeated.
In the same way, make every effort to enjoy spiritual things—and your meditations of them will be sweet!
But if you still find, after all this preparation, that you are still unable to concentrate your mind on spiritual things, then take seriously the following advice:
Cry to God for help. Confess your need for more light on spiritual things to remove the darkness from your mind. Confess your weakness and inability to stop your wandering thoughts, when you should be thinking of holy things; and pray that God will strengthen your mind.
If your meditations only make you see and feel your darkness and weakness of mind, causing you to cry to God for more grace and spiritual strength—then your thoughts have done a good work, though not what you had planned.
Take king Hezekiah as an example. When his soul made every effort to have communion with God, it sank into broken, confused thoughts under the weight of its own weakness. Yet he still sought God for help. But though his prayer was no more than babbling, it was accepted by God. Hezekiah cried out, "O LORD, I am oppressed—undertake for me!" (Isaiah 38:14). Likewise, when we are meditating and feel oppressed by the darkness and weakness of our minds—we too should say, "O Lord, I am oppressed—undertake for me!"
3. It is good and helpful to choose a SPECIFIC SUBJECT to meditate on.Some have already been mentioned. Subjects may also be taken out of some spiritual experience we have just had, or some warning we have received from God, or something that reading or hearing the Word of God has brought to our minds. But the most frequent subject of our thoughts should be the person and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
4. Lastly, do not be discouraged when, after all your efforts, you find you accomplish little.Do not be put off by the difficulties you meet with. Remember that it is God you are dealing with. He will not break the bruised reed—nor quench the smoking flax (Isaiah 42:3). It is His will that none should despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10).
If in this duty, you have a ready mind—then it is accepted according to what a man has and not according to what he has not. He who can bring into this treasure only the mites of broken desires and humble prayers—shall not come behind those who cast in, out of their great abundance, much ability and skill. To give up because we are not immediately successful, is a fruit of pride and unbelief. If we get nothing out of meditation but a renewed sense of our own vileness and unworthiness—then we are still the gainers.
Yet those who conscientiously persist in this duty, shall grow daily more enlightened, more wise, and more experienced in spiritual things—until they are able to meditate on them with ease and success.