Selah: Rediscovering Biblical Meditation

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him – that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding [the wonders of His Person] more strongly and more clearly (Phillipians 3:10 Amplified Bible)

“It is well to meditate upon the things of God, because we thus get the real nutriment out of them…Truth is something like the cluster of the vine: if you would have wine from it, you must bruise it; you must press and squeeze it many times…meditation is of great value in opening up truth and leading us into its secrets.”-Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1)

Anyone who has read the Psalms has no doubt noticed how they are often punctuated by the enigmatic word “Selah.” What does this term mean? The Psalms were originally written to be sung with musical accompaniment. “Selah” is a musical cue for the singing to stop, and for the people to quietly meditate as the music plays. This leads us to a vital discipline which is often overlooked in our modern Evangelical circles.

It has been said that the Christian life consists of three primary facets:

  1. The Theological Facet, or the intellectual persuit of God. This comes primarily through diligent study of the Bible and related materials.
  2. The Religious Facet, or the practical persuit of God. This involves how we live out the moral and ethical aspects of the Christian faith.
  3. The Mystical Facet, or the dynamic persuit of God. This facet focuses on our direct personal communion of God, and how we experience His presence in our daily lives.

If we emphasize any of these facets at the expense of the others, it will lead to, at best, a very unbalanced Christian life, or at worst, to outright heresy.

I realize that, in this study, I will be dealing with some terminology that may be misunderstood if it is not properly defined. Before anyone accuses me of promoting any sort of “New Age” ideas, let me state up front that I am quite conservative in my theology. By meditation, I do not mean the same thing as practitioners of Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism or New Age.

In fact, in and of itself, “meditation” is not even a religious term, although many  religions have put their own various perspectives on it. Meditation is simply a mental exercise in which we learn to quiet our minds and to think deeply about something .For a Christian, learning to meditate the Scriptures can be a vital bridge between studying the Bible (as important as that is), and having the Bible actually become a part of you.

For example, in Joshua 1:7, God tells Joshua that if he will meditate (Hebrew:”speak, mutter” see Strong’s # 1897) on His Word day and night and observe to do the Word, his way will be prosperous and successful. Similarly, Psalm 1:2 tells us the wonderful benefits of delighting in God’s laws, and meditating on them day and night. In fact, you might be surprised at how much the Bible actually does say about meditation (the following verses are all from the King James Translation):

And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming (Genesis 24:63).

But his delight is in the law of the Lord ; and in his law doth he meditate day and night (Psalm 1:2).

I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings (Psalm 77:12).

I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways (Psalm 119:15).

Princes also did sit and speak against me: but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes (Psalm 119:23).meditate

My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes (Psalm 119:48).

Let the proud be ashamed; for they dealt perversely with me without a cause: but I will meditate in thy precepts (Psalm 119:78).

Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word (Psalm 119:148).

I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands (Psalm 143:5).

Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all (1 Timothy 4:15).

Contemplation and meditation have become virtually lost arts in the modern church. As a result, we have lost much of the beauty and intimacy which are by products of communion with God. Nonetheless, some of the greatest minds in Christian history still offer us some very touching portraits of their spiritual lives, often using language which can only be described as mystical. For example, John Calvin was fond of using a Latin term, sensus suavitus, which means “sense of sweetness.” It refers to the believer’s newfound ability, through the regenerating and illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, to see the truth and beauty of the Gospel. This is reflected in the following account from the great Puritan thinker, Jonathan Edwards:

My soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was greatly engaged, to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ; and the beauty and excellency of His person, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in Him (2).

As we conclude, I hope this brief study will inspire you to further explore this often neglected aspect of the Christian life (3). As you do, you will deeply grow in your understanding of the Scriptures and in your appreciation for principles such as:

  • Union with Christ: “…he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17)
  • Intimacy with Christ: “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)”
  • Transformation into Christ’s image: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
  • Knowing the otherwise unknowable: “Unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God…”(Mark 9: 33, 34) “…to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge…” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

May God bless you in your pursuit!

 

NOTES & BIBLIOGRAPHY:

1.Nichols, Stephen J. “The Mind Shapers-John Calvin.” “Christian History” Magazine, Issue 77,Vol. XXII, no. 1: Jonathan Edwards. 2002. Christianity Today International, Carol Stream, IL. p. 42

2., Douglas L. “Expect Joy.” “Christian History” Magazine, Issue 77,Vol. XXII, no. 1: Jonathan Edwards. 2002. Christianity Today International, Carol Stream, IL. p. 42

3. The focus of this study has largely been on why we should meditate. For an excellent introduction on how to put it into practice, I recommend Richard Foster’s classic book A Celebration of Discipline.

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