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.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish
What comes into our minds when we think of meditation is likely the image of some wise sage with a long gray beard sitting alone on a mountaintop, eyes closed, legs crossed, repeating some nonsense phrase over and over until an aura of peace and tranquility emanates from him. The Biblical image of the one who meditates cannot be farther from that isolationist picture. In Psalm 1, the one who meditates is seen to be surrounded by the clamor of conflicting ideas (the counsel of the wicked), wayward actions (the way of sinners), and the pull to belong to those who sit in judgement of truth and falsehood (the seat of scoffers). The one meditates is not a tree standing alone on a hilltop, far removed from the realities of life. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, able to withstand the droughts of life in the midst of a fallen world. He stands firmly rooted in some reality beyond the wily thoughts of wicked men, deeper than the outward rebellion of sinful men, belonging to some different class of being than those who sit in judgement of good and evil. The blessed man is an immovable object, unconcerned with the threats of the supposedly unstoppable forces whose blustering winds, in the end, will carry them away like dandelion seeds.
If that kind of poise does not appeal to you, you need read no further. If you are, by nature, a man cleaving through life like the keel of a ship through billowing waves then you have obviously far surpassed me, and I have no advice that would aid you. But, if like me, you feel more like blowing chaff than a flourishing tree, continue and we may discover the secret to an unshakable life. To unearth the riches of Psalm 1, we must answer two questions: 1) What is meditation? And 2) How do I practice meditation?
What is meditation?
Meditation is the practice of directing the whole self (mind, emotions, and will) toward something for the purpose of working it into your very being. The Psalmist says that the blessed man is the one whose delight is “the law of the Lord.” He then clarifies what making His law his delight looks like. The blessed man ceaselessly directs his whole self toward the thoughtful understanding of, the emotional experience of, and faithful obedience to the instruction of Yahweh.
Meditation on Scripture means that you prayerfully consider the text, letting the truth of Christ understood, stir your affections for Christ, and move your will to act in loving obedience to him. Through praise, confession, and petition you will prepare a place for the fire of the Holy Spirit to fall upon your heart. Praise God for who the passage reveals him to be. Confess the ways you have sinned against him. Petition God for the power of the Holy Spirit to put to death the sin and live! Seek to behold Christ, engaging your mind, emotions, and will — your whole heart. You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Yahweh, do I seek” (Psalm 27:8).
How do I practice meditation?
Before I open the Bible I pray in response to four verses in the Psalms that include some basic assumptions about what I need in order to understand, experience, and obey God’s word.
Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain (Ps 119:36).
My heart is naturally inclined toward selfish gain. In my fallenness I bring this inclination to the text of the Bible. I ask God to change the leaning of my heart. Instead of approaching the word to find some impressive nugget to share with others that might make them marvel at how smart I am, I need God to ready my mind to be renewed. Instead of approaching the word in order to feel better about myself, I need God to ready me to have the proper emotional response to whatever he would reveal — delight in his salvation, trust and admiration in his promises, fear over the consequences of possible sin, amazement at God’s holiness, Godly sorrow over my sin, loathing for anything that doesn’t conform to God’s character, rage at injustice, or vigilance against temptation. Instead of an inclination toward works righteousness, I need God to cause me understand obedience as a means of loving him, rather than a means to gaining him.
Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (Ps 119:18).
The word of God is filled with wonders. Jonathan Edwards described his amazement with God’s word saying that often he could barely read two words without seeing something there that would put him on his knees before the Lord. Sin has blinded me to these realities. I am especially indifferent to the greatest wonder, the glory of the face of Jesus Christ revealed in every word of Scripture. I need God to cause the scales to fall off of my eyes, to enlighten the eyes of my heart, to strengthen me in my inner being, so that I may behold Christ and worship him.
Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name (Ps 86:11).
My heart tends to scatter in a thousand directions, especially when I sit down before the living God. Everything in me wants to flee at his presence. My mind becomes dull and wants to chase rabbit trails. My emotions are more like a faintly flickering wick than an inferno of pleasure in God. My will is bent and twisted like a bruised reed rather the rod of iron it was designed to be. Thankfully, Jesus is a gentle shepherd who will not snuff out flickering wicks or break bruised reeds. He is eager to sharpen our minds, fan our affections into flame and strengthen our twisted wills. I need God to unite my heart around one all encompassing passion — the fear of Yahweh. Then and only then can I walk in the way of his truth in a way that is pleasing to him.
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days (Ps 90:14).
C.S. Lewis said that our problem is not that we desire too much satisfaction from God, but that we are far too easily satisfied. Jeremiah said that sin consists in seeking satisfaction in other sources than the fountainhead of living waters, Yahweh himself. I need God to satisfy me with his steadfast love clearly seen in his Word so that I am not tempted to seek satisfaction elsewhere.
Ask these questions to help you grasp the meaning of the text. What does the text mean? How do I know what the text means? Why did God inspire this text? Where does this text fit into the overall story of the Bible? What does it contribute to the gospel message? What do I share in common with those to (or about) whom the text was written and/or the one by whom the text was written?
Praise God for the the passage. What does the text teach me about God’s character? What does the text teach me about God’s works? Is there a tension between seemingly opposed attributes or actions of God? How is that tension resolved in Christ? How does the passage point toward that resolution? You don’t always have to find the tension in a text. The tension might be found between your text and a different text. Be free to simply praise God for what is clearly evident about him.
I find, however, that the greatest fuel for meditative praise and contemplation is to see the ‘pendulum’ swing between these juxtaposed qualities of God until he helps me to grasp the greatness of Christ’s redemptive work in resolving them. As in answering the question, “How can God forgive sinners, yet leave no sin unpunished?” (Exodus 34:6-7). Because the wrath of God against sin fell on Jesus, forgiven sin is punished. God reveals himself to be both just and the justifier of the ungodly.
Confess your sins to God. What sin does the text point out? What are the dangers of this sin? What is the specific nature of the guiltiness of this sin? In other words, “What aspect of God’s character does it offend, ignore, minimize, or deny?” The more specific you can be about instances of sin the better. “I was dishonest yesterday when I said that I had already started that project” is better than “I lied.”
Looking at the specific instance allows you to analyze the underlying motivations for the sin. “Why did I lie about the project?” you might ask. “I lied because I didn’t want my boss to be upset with me.” That reveals that the sin under the lie was a fear of man rather than of God. Asking why I fear man rather than God further may reveal the idolatry beneath the sin itself. Do I fear man rather than God because I love money and trust my job for financial security rather than God?
What do I learn about God’s grace by the fact that he redeems this sin? What specific aspects of the gospel address this sin? For the above lie, the answer would be that I don’t really believe that God is absolutely satisfied with me in Christ, if I did I wouldn’t care what my boss thought of me.
Petition God for your needs. What does the passage say I need? What specific problems result when this quality of God or this teaching is forgotten or denied? Does my life demonstrate that I am practicing this teaching? How will I be different if I begin to do so? Where will I next need this teaching? What aspect of love toward God do I most lack and need? Do I lack appreciation for who God is and what he’s done and therefore need to praise him and find my joy in him? Do I lack the comfort that comes from having God as my refuge and therefore need to rest in Christ’s finished work and the peace of God? Do I lack a sense of sympathy — unity of person and mission — and therefore need greater zeal and boldness stirred by the Holy Spirit? Are there any things I need to ‘put on’ in order to ‘put off’ my sin?
From Meditation to Contemplation
As I turn the fruits of my meditation into prayer throughout the process the Holy Spirit may draw me into a state of Holy contemplation. The revelations about a text can seem to come so quickly and vividly that it is hard to write them down, but I try! The Lord may see fit to reduce me to tears, raise me to explosive praise, or move me to silent peace. He may reveal himself in a fire, a whirlwind, an earthquake, or a gentle whisper. The experience is rarely the same, always a surprise, hard to describe, and overwhelming. Our God is not a tame lion after all.
Meditation is like building the altar at Solomon’s Temple. All the work was done, the altar set and ready, but until Solomon asks God to fill the house, it was all just stones and metal. In the same way my goal in meditation is to move from understanding a text of the Bible to experiencing God himself. The steps of reflect, praise, confess, and petition are my method for altar building. It’s not a guaranteed way to get God to fill the house. As the wind blows wherever it wills, so is the Holy Spirit. He chooses to bless me with his felt presence or not. But I keep building the altars day after day in hopes that he will let me taste and see that he is good.