BCC Staff Note: Kyle ministers in South Africa. We have kept the appropriate spelling for counselling (two Ls). Also, Kyle has provided the BCC with a Biblical Meditation Worksheet that you can view and use here.
Effective Biblical Counseling and Meditation
Meditation is a key factor in effective biblical counselling. Why? Because God works, in power, by His Spirit, through His Word.
And because meditation is Word-focused, meditation helps ensure that genuine and powerful change takes place, by the Spirit, at a level of depth. It’s tempting to settle for merely tangible changes in counselling. Though we seek and welcome positive, tangible changes in circumstances, behaviour, thinking and emotions, we all know that deeper transformation needs to occur. Biblical meditation helps ensure that deep and genuine change takes place, by God’s Spirit, through God’s Word.
Of course, the topic of biblical meditation is far too large to cover in a single post! My hope is that this will simply kindle a desire to pursue meditation as we consider this issue from the prism of Psalm 1 & 2 (please turn there and read them).
We learn at least three things about Biblical Meditation from these two Psalms. What it is, How to do it, and Why we should do it.
What Is Biblical Meditation?
Psalm 1 & 2 both paint starkly contrastive pictures, showing us that there really are only two ways to live. There is a righteous way to live, marked by meditation. And there is an unrighteous way to live, also marked by meditation.
What do I mean? Take a look at Psalm 2:1. That word, ‘plot’ (ESV) is the same Hebrew word we find in Psalm 1:3, there translated as meditate. The implication the Psalmist is drawing is: you’ll either meditate on God’s Word or you’ll meditate on something else. You’ll gaze, dwell, delight in, focus on God’s Word or you’ll gaze, dwell, delight in or focus on something else.
In fact, Psalm 2:1 is quite bold: the multitudes meditate on what is vain, literally, on what is empty. If you don’t meditate on God’s truth, you’ll spend your life meditating on empty things.
But what is biblical meditation? Simply put, we could describe biblical meditation as: gazing at God, through His Word, so that we might know Him better and live fruitfully.
Look at Psalm 1:2. God’s Word is the focus of the meditation. Because God is a Person to know, by His Spirit and through his Word, there is content to our meditation. We don’t empty our minds, we fill them! Eastern meditation, by contrast, is anti-conceptual; it seeks to move beyond concept formation into an altered consciousness. But Biblical meditation, because it focuses on a Person, never moves beyond thinking conceptually.
And because God’s Word leads us to God Himself, meditation leads us into conversation, or prayer, with the Lord. We talk to God about His Word. We delight in His Word because we delight in Him and we talk back to Him.
Additionally, we see how meditating on God through His Word helps us to live fruitful lives (see Psalm 1:3). Carefully considering what God’s Word means and how it applies helps us to live wisely and thus effectively. Many of those in counselling would benefit enormously from meditation because it can help one apply biblical knowledge to the realities of one’s life.
Meditation is about gazing at God through His Word, enabling us to live more fruitfully.
How Can We Do It?
But how do we actually do meditation? Well, there’s no prescriptive formula, but reflecting on the nature of meditation, and reflecting on how others have practiced it through church history can be very helpful.
Summarizing much of that for you, I suggest the following as a potentially helpful template:
Pray – Read – Contemplate – Prayerfully Apply
- Prayerfully prepare by asking God for His help in understanding His Word (cf. Psalm 119:18).
There’s no need to make this stage long – a shorter prayer is often best, then move into reading.
- Read and re-read the passage.
Read the passage over, slowly, a few times. Look at the context and seek to understand it, you will learn a whole lot more than if you just read a verse or two in isolation.
- Contemplation: What is the Holy Spirit highlighting?
Listen to the Scripture further. Journal your questions. Use your imagination – even picture the scene your passage portrays! Like a cow chewing on the cud, keep returning to your text and seek to explore appropriate associations.
- Prayerful application: what does this truth mean for you, here, now?
Speak to God about what He is revealing to you. Ask Him how you can apply it to relationships, work and the upcoming day/week/year. This is an important final step. Remember – meditation enables us to live more effectively for God. Try to ascertain concrete action steps based on your meditation.
Why Should We Do It?
A lot of discussions on meditation end here, and while it may not explicitly be said, the inference is often felt: meditation is fuelled by guilt. “I need to do this in order to know that I’m a good Christian person.” Meditation can often be done for the wrong reasons.
But Psalm 1 & 2 won’t let us get away with that perspective. Because if you read Psalm 1 honestly, you’re left with a bit of a dilemma: I’m not the blessed person! To be honest, I’m like the fool because I often meditate on empty things; I walk in the way of the sinners.
This is God’s command: love my law, delight in my Word! But we know we don’t! There’s something deeply wrong with us: we find rugby and smartphones, fashion and food, more enticing than the Living God. We love creation more than the Creator. So we know we’re not the blessed person, and our destiny surely must be to be like chaff which is blown away in the wind.
But if Psalm 1 contains the theme of the Psalter, Psalm 2 contains the hope of it. Psalm 1 says: here is the blessed man. We reply: that doesn’t sound like me! Psalm 2 says: the blessed man is also a King – in whom we can all find blessing. Who is this blessed King?
Jesus, of course. You see, Jesus was the man who fully delighted in the law of the Lord, who meditated on it day and night. In whatever situation he was in, he saw it through the lens of Scripture. Even when he was cosmically punished on the cross, he used Scripture to describe his pain.
Because Jesus was uprooted, we can become the firmly planted tree. God’s blessed King took the place of cursed humanity. When we embrace his death for us, when we Kiss the Son, we find blessing because He was cursed. Meditation was something Jesus did perfectly; he gazed at God through His Word, so as to live fruitfully. A fruitful and perfect life which culminated in a painful death. And when you see that he did all of that for you, you’ll want to Kiss Him. You’ll want to embrace Him by faith.
When you understand His grace, you’ll want to dwell on His Word. And the more you understand His Word, the more you’ll want to dwell on His grace.
May God work in your soul powerfully, by his Spirit, as you meditate on his Word.
Join the Conversation
If you’re a counsellee, have you learnt how to meditate biblically?
If you are a counsellor, have you helped counselees embark on a journey of engaging deeply with God through biblical meditation?
 For more on Meditation and other spiritual disciplines, see Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s excellent Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Inter-Varsity Press, 2005).