These days, “meditation” is a well-known concept, and religious individuals are familiar with the word “devotional.” But what would we mean if we combined these into “devotional meditation”?
Meditation has a special meaning in Buddhism and mindfulness practice, but in more general usage, to “meditate” is simply to consider something thoughtfully. If a person meditates on something, he or she reflects on it or contemplates it. Synonyms would be words like ponder, muse, and cogitate. The word “ruminate” is an interesting word. Literally, it means “to chew.” But figuratively, when we say someone is “chewing on it,” we mean they are meditating about it, considering whether it’s true, etc. We also say we are “turning it over in our mind,” meaning we are “looking at it from different angles.”
In all of these expressions, we are pointing to a practice that only personal beings can engage in: we are evaluating ideas rationally, pondering their meaning and value. Often, we are not just thinking; we are thinking about our thinking. And that is a wonderful thing to do — it’s a pity we don’t do it more often.
For one of the meanings of “meditation,” the American Heritage Dictionary says it is the “devotional exercise of meditation.” This is meditation practiced as a means of showing devotion to God or increasing one’s devotion to Him. For those who engage in regular devotional activities, perhaps on a daily basis, meditation is one of the things that may be done. When we meditate as a part of our devotional practice, we think in a quiet, focused way about spiritual matters. This may be done in connection with reading from a devotional book, studying the Scriptures, and prayer — but devotional meditation is not exactly the same as any of these three things. It may overlap and intertwine with these, but meditation itself is simply thinking about what is true. It means taking something we know to be true about God and “turning it over in our minds.” Meditating on it, we see just how true it really is, and we begin to see other truths it is connected to. With quiet concentration, we look at the implications of that truth: “If this is true, what does that mean for my life? What should I do about this truth?”
Now, although devotional meditation is not the same as prayer or Bible study, it cannot be disconnected from either of those. It is dangerous to allow our thinking to become untethered from the Scriptures, so that meditation becomes an exercise in personal opinion-building. As important as it is to meditate on truth, especially about God, meditation can work to our detriment if it becomes a free-floating experience not governed by God’s revelation of Himself in the Scriptures.
In Psalm 1, this statement is made about the godly person: “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (v.2). Ideally, meditating on God and His law should be a joy (although we should not limit our meditation to the times when we are on a spiritual “high”). It is a privilege to use the minds given to us by our Heavenly Father to ponder His nature, His eternal purposes, and His revealed will for mankind — and there ought to be no thoughts that we take greater “delight” in than thoughts about Him. David said, speaking of God, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (Psalm 8:3,4). Truly, the heavens which God has created need to be “considered” — and that is what devotional meditation is. Rather than thinking casually, it is a deliberate, deep pondering. When we meditate devotionally, we do not just give a passing “glance” at things that are true; we think about them intently and let their significance sink in.
There is a sense, then, in which mediation needs to follow our times of Bible study and prayer. Before we let the truths we’ve learned get away from us, we need to meditate on them deeply, digesting and internalizing them. As most of us have experienced, there is a big difference between “knowing” something and really KNOWING it. As adults, many of us know a great many things at a deeper level than we knew them as children. This deeper knowledge is partly the result of meditation. Over the years, we’ve thought about these things, and now we see just how true they really are.
Spiritual growth takes time. It doesn’t happen instantaneously. But even after many years, we may not be any more mature spiritually if we haven’t taken the time to meditate on God. So I encourage you: if you haven’t made devotional meditation on God a part of your daily life, begin doing it today. It will take discipline to acquire the habit, but when its blessings become apparent in your life, you’ll be glad you did. <Gary Henry>