When I ask counselees about their spiritual journeys, the answer almost always begins as if it were a recitation of their Sunday school attendance or lack thereof. One gentleman recently said, “Well, I usually get to church two or three times a month, except during hunting season. During hunting season it is about once a month.” In Alabama that means at least two or three consecutive months beginning in late Fall through January, depending on the game of choice. My follow-up question is usually something like, “Thank you. Now let me qualify my question. Tell me about your personal journey with the Lord. What does that look like?” Even here, in the South, that question generates a wrinkled forehead. The follow-up question from the counselee is, “Do you mean how often I read the Bible?” This discussion will sometimes take ten minutes or more. I am both listening and cultivating the soil for some important seeds of teaching.
Reading the Bible is obviously important, but even those who read the Bible quite frequently do not profit from it. Sometimes this is true because the reading is obligatory and perfunctory. The words pass through the mind and are immediately forgotten. Sometimes it is because understanding the passage requires background information or involves some challenging theological issue. Or perhaps the reader has virtually no concept of how the Bible fits together and walks away confused and frustrated. Still others are on the hunt for a spiritual “high,” so they read until something touches their emotions. There it is the nugget for the day. They close the Bible and get on with life and never make any real connection between what they read and daily living.
Some twenty-five years ago, I found that my own reading of Scripture had become mostly academic. There was little vitality to my personal encounter with the living Word. The words of my friend George Scipione, “Engaging with the Word of God is to have a face-to-face conversation with the living God,” were no longer a vibrant reality for me.
I began reading a book by Kay Arthur on inductive Bible study, but was soon lost in the color coding. Then one day I was reading the Psalms, and the word “meditate” caught my attention. I decided to trace it through the Old Testament. In the process, I discovered that at the very core this word means “to talk oneself through.” I had just hit the mother lode in this sacred book.
Reading is certainly important. It gives breadth of knowledge as well as appreciation for the diversity of genres and literary styles. Study is important to gain a grasp of redemptive history and the unfolding drama of God’s hand from creation to consummation. Study is important to develop theological depth and clarity. Meditation incorporates all of these dimensions and reveals the pedagogical genius of the Lord. But, what does meditation really look like? How do you teach the process to counselees? Here is my answer.
This word, “meditate,” is an interesting and instructive word. It means more than to read, think, or memorize. According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon of the Hebrew language, meditation conveys the idea of moan, growl, utter, speak, or muse. One nuance of the word is soliloquy (the act of speaking while alone) and another lexicon suggests talking oneself through. This shade of meaning validates the idea of verbalizing as one carefully considers a passage. The pedagogical implications are at least five-fold:
- First, the one meditating reads the material, thereby passing it through his mind and formulating thoughtful responses to it.
- Second, the reader formulate his thoughts into cohesive speech.
- Third, as he speaks he hears his musings, which leads to further insight and understanding.
- Next he must triangulate his thoughts between the Word, the world and his experience to engage in an impromptu conversation with God. This becomes conversational prayer.
- Finally, activities like scribbling notes will help to further solidify the spiritual acumen and experience of the truth.
Meditating is more than reading and then praying about the Scriptural application. It is observing: what did the original reader hear? What do I hear? It is interpretation: what did it mean to original reader? What does it mean to me? It is application: what difference was it supposed to make in the life of the hearer? What difference should it make in my life? It is implementation: how will I go about implementing this passage in my life? What will I need to change? How will I go about making the change (in terms of self-directed homework and self-directed accountability)?
In counseling I will illustrate this process by having the counselee watch and listen as I demonstrate meditating through a portion of Ps 23.
Join the Conversation
Is meditation a regular part of your spiritual journey? Why or why not? Do you teach your counselees to meditate?