From “Christian Meditation”
by Edmund P. Clowney, 1917-2005
To meditate on God’s Spirit-given word is to enter the very counsels of heaven. Divine and heavenly mysteries are revealed to us in God-given words. Meditation centres on God’s revelation, his word. When the psalmist speaks of meditating on the law of the Lord (Ps. 1:2) he uses a word that means “to mutter.” The word occurs again in the second psalm to describe the rebellious muttering of the kings who would cast off God‘s yoke (Ps. 2:1). It is also used to describe the growl of a lion and the cooing or “chattering” of doves (Isa. 31:4; 59:11). It seems evident that the psalmist‘s meditation is closely related to the repetition of the words of scripture. Before the days of pocket testaments, the one practical way to have the scriptures at hand was to memorise them and muttering is a universal aid to memorisation.
“My tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long” (Ps. 35:28).
The psalmist meditated at all seasons, day and night. He anticipated both morning and evening with the use of scripture; he meditated upon his bed in the night watches (Ps. 63:6).
The repetition needed for memorisation is not vain and it need not be unthinking. The rabbis were strong advocates of memorisation. Teachings were supposed to be repeated at least four times so that students could get a grip on them and there were humorous quips to this effect. A man who repeats his chapter one hundred times is not to be compared with the man who repeats it one hundred and one times. Rabbi Perida recommended four hundred repetitions for a dull pupil, then four hundred more! Only by dint of repetition could a passage be put in a student‘s “purse” so that it would be his to keep and use.
Not an arbitrary “mantra” but the rich treasure of scripture is the key to Christian meditation. Without memorisation, the treasury is likely to remain locked. If you doubt this, read a passage of scripture carefully, put your Bible aside and try to write out, not the exact words of the passage, but everything the passage says. Then check back to see how much is explicit or implied in the passage that was missed by your paraphrase.
So simple a technique as actually repeating the words of Scripture may seem too rudimentary for one seeking the transports of meditational joy, but there is no better way to begin real meditation. If we are to appropriate the word of God we must begin to use it and the psalmist sets the example of repetition aloud.
Repetition in song reinforces memorisation. Song not only provides unity in praise and opens emotional richness in worship, it also helps us with our scriptural meditations. Jonathan Edwards writes that it was always his custom while walking in the fields to sing out his meditations. John Owen strongly favoured praying aloud, fearing that mental prayer would release unrestrained fancy and become “a kind of purgatory in devotion.” Owen did recognise the need for mental meditation but argued that speaking words aloud has many benefits. Our thoughts are disciplined and the spoken word has the effect of stimulating further thought and reflection.
As we repeat the words given us of God, we not only appropriate them; we also bring them before God as the “offering of our lips” (Heb. 13:15). The Psalms move easily from meditation to prayer and from prayer to meditation. The psalmist addresses both his God and his soul. The use of the language of the Psalms aids us in meditating before the Lord and in praying to the Lord.
The words of the Lord are also to be shared with our fellow-Christians. It is the richly indwelling word of Christ that is the source of the spiritual wisdom out of which we encourage and admonish one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:15-21; Col. 3:16). Christian meditation is not limited to solitary soliloquising; not only is its fruit to be shared, the process itself invites fellowship. We grow together in the wisdom that flows from the indwelling Word of Christ.