Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Link Between Prayer and Meditation

Recently, I have been re-reading "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life" by Donald Whitney. It made a great impact on my Christian life when I first read it ten years ago. It contains a great number of reminders to develop our faith through biblically-based disciplines such as fasting, observing silence and solitude, journaling, etc. In my current re-reading, I have paid particular attention to his chapter on the discipline of prayer. The chapter is a good overview of the reasons and motivations for prayer. One apsect of prayer which Whitney covers and which I haven't seen covered elsewhere is the linkage between meditation and prayer.

First, some definitions are in order. In our multi-cultural and multi-religion society, we might think about meditation in its eastern religious sense in which meditation is the emptying of one's mind. My intended sense here is not the eastern religions' sense but one which follows a biblical pattern. It is the thoughtful pondering of Scripture. It is the process by which we think through the implications of biblical truths and how they apply to our lives.

Psalm 119 is the quintessential call to biblical meditation. Being the longest chapter of the Bible with 176 verses, it explicitly calls us to meditate in six separate verses:

Verse 15: I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways.

Verse 23:Even though princes sit and talk against me, Your servant meditates on Your statutes.

Verse 27: Make me understand the way of Your precepts, So I will meditate on Your wonders.

Verse 48: And I shall lift up my hands to Your commandments, Which I love; And I will meditate on Your statutes.

Verse 78: May the arrogant be ashamed, for they subvert me with a lie; But I shall meditate on Your precepts.

Verse 148: My eyes anticipate the night watches, That I may meditate on Your word.

The 17th century English Puritan Thomas Watson noted in his typical colorful style:
Meditate upon what you read.-- "I will meditate in thy precepts" (Ps. 119:15). The Hebrew word [for] "meditate" signifies, "to be intense in the mind." In meditation there must be a fixing of the thoughts upon the object: the Virgin Mary "pondered" those things, &c. (see Luke 2:19). Meditation is the concoction of scripture: reading and meditation must, like Castor and Pollux appear together. Meditation without reading is erroneous; reading without meditation is barren. The bee sucks the flower, then works it in the hive, and so turns it to honey: by reading we suck the flower of the word, by meditation we work it in the hive of our mind, and so it turns to profit. Meditation is the bellows [an airpump to heat up fires] of the affections: "While I was musing the fire burned" (Ps. 39:3). The reason we come away so cold from reading the word is because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation. (How We May Read the Scriptures with Most Spiritual Profit)

What Whitney shows us in his writings is that there is natural connection between Bible reading, meditation and prayer. He quotes from Thomas Manton (1620-1677), a contemporary of Thomas Watson, to demonstrate this link:

Meditation is a middle sort of duty between the word and prayer, and hath respect to both. The word feedeth meditation, and meditation feedeth prayer. These duties must always go hand in hand; meditation must follow hearing and precede prayer. To hear and not to meditate is unfruitful. We may hear and hear, but it is like putting a thing into a bag with holes…It is rashness to pray and not to meditate. What we take in by the word we digest by meditation and let out by prayer. These three duties must be ordered that one may not jostle out the other. Men are barren, dry and sapless in their prayers for want of exercising themselves in holy thoughts.

Whitney also quotes from the 19th century man of faith, George Muller, a man who ran an English orphanage in Bristol, caring for thousands of orphans, who never solicited the needed funding from others but prayed and trusted that God would supply the need. (And God did). Muller wrote:

Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, as an habitual thing, to give myself to prayer after having dressed in the morning. Now, I saw that the most important thing was to give myself to the reading of God's Word, and to meditation upon it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the Word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental (experiential) communion with the Lord.

I began therefore to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning, early in the morning. The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words of the Lord's blessing upon His precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the Word of God, searching as it were into every verse t get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word, ot for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul.

Biblical meditation has become something of a lost art among Christians today. Yet, it can provide us with a solid framework on which to base our prayers and give us a focus when our natural tendency is to mentally drift off or become easily distracted. Those who walked these ancient paths with the Lord have a timely lesson for us today.

This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." (Jeremiah 6:16a NASB)


Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave said...

A possible new heading might be: Prayer and Meditation: a Keyhole to Understanding Scripture
Your post is a fresh reminder as to the importance of the discipline of meditation and prayer in regards to coming to a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. Who better to guide the mind and aid in the digestion of His Word than God Himself. Through prayer and meditation, beseeching God for clarity and understanding, may we draw ever closer to the mind of Christ.

A.B. Dada said...

Interesting post, but wholly irrelevant to living the Kingdom life. The Psalms are loving and a great reminder of what God required of His people at the time, but He also did not give them unlimited access to the Spirit, either.

Prayer/meditation during the time fot the Law is different than prayer is today. Different timeframes, different mindsets.

Walter Hampel said...

A.B. Dada,

I'm curious about your comments.

How does a Christian's having access to the Holy Spirit now make meditation on the Word different from the time of the Old Testament?

Granted, we have the complete collection of Scripture now and more to meditate upon. We also have the "lens" by which to read it, namely that of Christ.

How does having access to the Holy Spirit in our time alter the understanding of Psalm 119 (from which the statements were taken about meditation on the word)?

Are we in a time in which having the Holy Spirit within all believers somehow supercedes the Scriptures?

I'm honestly trying to work through your comments.