Bible Meditation: An Unexpected Source of Success For Christians

Adapted from Living God's Word by Waylon Moore

Once I had the opportunity to lead the music for revival services at the church my cousin pastored in Pearland, Texas. 

Something happened that week that changed my life!

For our first visit during the revival, we went to pray with the Johnsons. A few months earlier the Johnsons' daughter had died in childbirth, leaving a healthy new baby, a toddler, a devastated husband, and her parents. Mr. Johnson was the deacon chairman at the church my cousin pastored. Mrs. Johnson was very ill, out of touch with reality.

As we drove, my cousin told me that the Johnsons were on edge, waiting for a bed in a mental hospital for Mrs. Johnson. He warned me, “Just act natural — no matter what Mrs. Johnson does.”

I got scared.

When we were inside the house, Mrs. Johnson walked into the room toward me. Dressed in a housecoat, she looked dazed and heavily medicated. She grabbed me by the shoulder. Her voice was monotone and pathetic.

“Look—at—my—daughter.— Isn't—she—beautiful?” She showed me a photo of her daughter's body in a casket. A picture of a casket? I tried to pull away. “Look—at—my—daughter.” She stared me in the eyes until I felt forced to take the photo.

“Uh, that's a nice colored photo,” I stumbled to find words. Mrs. Johnson kept holding on to me as my cousin began to pray for her. Afterward, Mr. Johnson lovingly held her, and we quietly excused ourselves and left.

To get the impact of what happened next, you need to know where I was in my journey with God at that point in my life. I had been concentrating on making my time with God more practical. I had asked ministers what it means to meditate on Scripture, and I had read biographies of men of God who did this. Through study I began to formulate steps to meditate on Scripture.

Followers of Eastern religions and New Age cults practice a mindless form of meditation in an effort to discover what they believe to be a divinity that lies hidden within themselves. Christian meditation, however, is neither mindless nor self-centered. Meditation is reflective thinking with a view to application. You think about God's ways and align your heart with His will and purpose.

The Greek word for meditate means to attend. 1   The Greek requires reading with attention to what the Scripture really says. Meditation opens Scripture the way a knife splits a watermelon.

I have learned that meditation can be done in five steps, each including a word that begins with the letter P.

  1. Understand the Perimeter of the verse.
  2. Paraphrase the verse.
  3. Pulverize the verse.
  4. Personalize the verse.
  5. Pray the verse into your life.

Step 1: Understand the Perimeter of the Verse

Look at the perimeter of the verse as you meditate. The meaning of a verse is colored and revealed by the verses that surround it. We can compare this step to a hamburger. The “meat” is the verse you choose for meditation. Surrounding the meat patty is the context — sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a bun!

You can eat a burger without the fixings, but who wants to? In the same way, you can study a verse without taking into account its context. But if you miss the meaning of the perimeter, you will lose the verse's flavor and perspective.

That night in Pearland I was meditating — using the five steps of meditation — on 1 Peter 5:7, which I had memorized.

I was examining it in light of its context or understanding the perimeter. When I read 1 Peter 5:7 for the first time within its perimeter — its context — I was astonished by the link between verses 7 and 8: “Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Why were these two verses placed together? God showed me a cause-effect relationship between casting burdens on the Lord and escaping the lion, Satan. Here's what God's Holy Spirit showed me:cast all your anxiety or get eaten alive!

Just then my thoughts turned to Mrs. Johnson. The weight of losing her daughter had overwhelmed her. That photo symbolized a burden she couldn't or wouldn't cast away. What would happen if she, by faith, gave her daughter to God, surrendering the right to have her on earth?

I'd never dealt with a situation like this before but was captivated by this Scripture. I had to call my cousin. He arranged for an appointment with the Johnson family the next morning. We arrived at the house, a sleepy music director and a pastor. I'd stayed up half the night praying.

As we came into the room, Mrs. Johnson again showed me the photo and grabbed my arm. “Let's sit down, Mrs. Johnson,” I suggested. I communicated my sympathy. Then I acted on what I'd learned from meditating: “Mrs. Johnson, your daughter trusted in Christ. She was never in that casket. The Bible says, ‘To be absent from the body . . . [is] to be at home with the Lord’ in 2 Corinthians 5:8. She's with Jesus, but you're trying to keep her here. Let's pray, and you give your precious girl to the Lord.”

Mrs. Johnson moaned and began to cry. I led her in a prayer thanking the Lord that her daughter was with Him in heaven and releasing her to His care. Mr. Johnson prayed, too, and then the pastor.

Then Mrs. Johnson stood up and looked around. She spoke with more focus as she declared, “I feel different.” Her eyes seemed clear. The pastor said, “I believe that God has brought health to our sister.”

I was dazed. Had God healed this woman? I regularly checked on Mrs. Johnson over the next year. She recovered and was caring for her grandchildren. She had fully cast her care on the Lord!

If you understand the perimeter as you meditate on Scripture, verses will jump off the pages of your Bible into the clay of your life.

Beyond Bible Reading

Meditation is reflective thinking with a view to living God's will as revealed in Scripture. God Himself invented the discipline of meditation. Unfortunately, Eastern religions have cleverly exported their brand of it, so that many Christians shy away from meditating on the Word. Biblical meditation is not clearing the mind of thought, as some religions teach. Our Teacher is the Holy Spirit. In meditation God's Spirit leads us to focus our minds on the living Lord revealed in the Word.

Meditation is as different from Bible reading as a one-way side street is from an eight-lane freeway. Reading is a one-way street, whereas meditation involves “two-way traffic.” 2   You encounter the living God, hearing His voice and learning from Him. At the same time, you respond to Him in prayer. Meditation's goal is a oneness with the living Lord.

God considers meditation so important that He commands us to do it.

In the original Hebrew, one word for meditate in Scripture is hagah. The word is first found in Joshua 1:8. The word means to murmur (in pleasure or anger), to ponder, or to imagine.

Moses, Joshua's predecessor, was leaving. He would not be on earth much longer to coach Joshua in his new and overwhelming position. After 40 years Moses knew the job well — so well, in fact, that he understood the spiritual stamina needed to be a successful leader. Moses was saying: “Joshua, day and night you must read, ponder, and apply God's Word. You must get continual guidance from your Boss, the God of the universe.”

Another classic passage using hagah is Psalm 1:2, 3. Read the Perimeter (context) of these verses in Psalm 1.

A second Hebrew word translated meditate is sîyach, meaning to ponder, to converse with oneself, to muse, or to pray. 4   The word is first used in Psalm 119:15. 

Other synonyms for meditate are think, commune, consider, and remember. Mary, Jesus' mother, is particularly noted in Scripture for her thoughtful meditation on God's Word and ways: “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19).

Andrew Murray, a missionary-pastor and the writer of more than 20 devotional books, says that a primary goal of meditation is nourishing the heart: “It is in meditation that the heart holds and appropriates the Word. . . . The intellect gathers and prepares the food upon which we are to feed. In meditation the heart takes it in and feeds on it.” 5

Step 2: Paraphrase the Verse

Let's learn and practice the next meditation step. After understanding the verse's context, the perimeter, we need to paraphrase it. In this step God plugs His Word into the socket of your life.Paraphrase means to put in your own words. Say it; then write it down. Try to keep the paraphrase about the same number of lines as the version in your Bible.

I wrote 1 Peter 5:7 in my heart-language: “Give every problem to God. He loves you and will carry every load.” Each person's paraphrase will be different. You can receive great insights as you and your friends or group members share your paraphrases. Try it with other verses.

The Process of Pulverizing

Multiple blessings are gained from Scripture meditation. Let's look at three significant ones.

Feeding the Soul

One of God's unusual men of faith was George Müller, who lived in England during the 1800s. Müller believed that God would lead hundreds of lost souls to Christ. Furthermore, without publicizing his needs, Müller prayed for money to feed over three thousand orphans in homes operated by his ministry. Over a period of 40 years and without a public request for help, God led people to send millions of dollars in response to Müller's believing prayer.

Entries in George Müller's diary, dated May 9, 1841, emphasize a breakthrough he experienced through Scripture meditation:

It has pleased the Lord to teach me a truth, the benefit of which I have not lost for more than fourteen years. The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord . . . not how much I might serve the Lord, . . . but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers . . . and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit. Before this time my practice had been . . . to give myself to prayer after having dressed myself in the morning. Now, I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditation on 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 communion with the Lord. 6

Müller meditated in order to have a happy, well-fed soul.

Comforting the Soul

David, the shepherd-king, punctuated his songs with insights about meditation's power over pain, crisis, and insecurity. Meditate on God's Word —

  • when facing opposition (see Psalm 119:42, 97, 98 )
  • when dealing with oppression (see Psalm 119:78 )
  • in times of crisis (see Psalm 119:23, 148 )
  • to win over depression (see Psalm 77:11, 12 )
  • when seeking God's will (see Psalm 119:10, 15 )
  • to boost confidence (see Psalm 63:5-11 )
  • when longing to please God (see Psalm 19:14; Psalm 104:34 )

Providing Spiritual Success

A further great value is found in the discipline of meditation. Prosperity and success are God's promised rewards (see Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2, 3; 1 Timothy 4:15 ). Notice this promise spelled out in Joshua 1:8: “‘Meditate on it day and night, . . . for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.’” Successful people are those who learn to apply God's wondrous wisdom.

Step 3: Pulverize the Verse

We've gone from understanding the perimeter (the larger context) of the verse to paraphrasing the verse. The next step is to pulverize the verse, looking at its individual words. Pulverizing involves a threefold process:

  1. Say the verse aloud. First say the entire verse aloud to yourself. Emphasize a different word each time you slowly quote it. Notice the relationship of each word to the other words and to the verse's entirety. Each word has the value of a pearl in an expensive necklace. You're looking at a string of pearls, one precious pearl at a time. See how each pearl (word) adds beauty and symmetry to the whole necklace (verse). Listen to God's Word as you read or quote it. When God speaks and we listen, He has our hearts. Action follows as we do His will and tell others about our experiences with Him. 
  2. Choose one or two key words. Three or four words may be significant in the verse, but choose the one or two that seem most important to you. Your goal is to discover God's will for you about the truth of the verse. Like a medical doctor who doesn't give everyone in the waiting room the same pill, the Holy Spirit leads different people to choose from a number of key words in each verse. 
  3. Ask questions about one of the key words. Think of the way a cow chews its cud. Up from its first stomach comes the partly digested food to be chewed again. Meditating on Scripture allows you to chew the meat and bread of the Word, digesting it into spiritual muscle and power. The Word becomes flesh! (see John 1:14 ) By asking questions, you chew an idea over and over to get maximal benefit from it.
  4. In this final step you bombard the key word or words with questions that cry out for answers. Make these six penetrating words your friends for all methods of Bible study: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Sometimes the answer to your posed question is not in the verse or even in the chapter. That's no problem. Search other Scriptures for answers. A Chinese proverb says, “When the pupil is ready, the teacher will come.” Asking questions gets you ready to want an answer. The process of questioning generates a seeking heart. The right questions can penetrate your foggy familiarity with certain passages and stories from the Bible. Realizing how little you know is humbling, and asking questions reveals the depth of your emptiness. The Holy Spirit will implant new insights and joyous opportunities to make the verse live in you! Furthermore, asking questions is an indispensable key to learning. With men I mentor, I sometimes suggest that they write 25 questions about a verse before our next time together. Then we discuss the verse in light of their questions. Illumination begins.

Meditation takes what may look like a simple picnic lunch and reveals the multiple courses of an extravagant banquet. Appetizers, soups, salads, breads, vegetables, steak, poultry, fish, and desserts appear from the picnic basket of a single verse. 

What a feast!

Step 4: Personalize the Verse

The fourth meditation step is to personalize the verse. Pray for wisdom to make it flesh and blood. The goal of all study is application. Don't stop with a nice idea or an interesting concept. Activate the idea!

Have you ever tried to give a problem to God, but it came back like a boomerang or a yo-yo? In prayer I've thrown my burden onto the Lord, and it returned in 15 minutes! How is it possible to break the cycle of worry?

Let me tell you what I've discovered: Ask God to show you a promise from Scripture about that burden. God will relate a specific promise from His Word to the anxiety you're facing. It may take time, but God will show you. After He shows you His Word, link your burden to the Father's love and faithfulness. Claim the verse by faith. Every time the anxiety comes, reaffirm His promise by praying the verse. Think of this process as carpenter's glue. Glue the promise to the problem! Say it aloud: glue the promise to the problem. Believing the verse the Lord gives you will literally overwhelm the problem with that promise.

I remember when I felt overwhelmed — with a problem, not a promise! Getting off the plane after burying my mother, I was told that my wife's surgery for a benign tumor was more complicated than expected: cancer! A flood of fearful thoughts rushed in. I had just lost my precious mom. Now would I lose the dearest person on earth to me?

In Clemmie's hospital room the Lord whispered: “I love and care for Clemmie. Give her to Me.” Through my tears I fought to place her in God's loving hands. God met us powerfully in the weeks of pain and healing that followed. Within a 20-year span Clemmie had two more cancer surgeries. We've claimed the Word, and by faith we've grasped God's strong hands as He has affirmed, “‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ ” in Jerimiah 31:3. We've cast ourselves on Him.

The promise in 1 Peter 5:7 is “He cares for you.” What need in your life is God speaking to? Make a plan to live this Scripture in a specific way as you glue this verse to one anxiety (person, problem, or pressure).

Step 5: Pray the Verse into Your Life by Putting Yourself in the Verse

The fifth step is to pray the verse back to God, putting your name and circumstance in the verse. For example, when Clemmie was diagnosed with cancer, I prayed: “Father, thank You for wanting to carry my load. By faith, not feeling, I now give Clemmie and her cancer to You. Please carry her as You promised. I know that You care for her and for me as my heart is breaking. Thank You for holding Clemmie in Your strong hands.” Satan is the great discourager. The Holy Spirit is the great encourager, His burden is light.

Meditation, then, is reflective thinking on God's Word and ways, with a view to application. Through this discipline you align your life with God's will and purpose as you seek to become a mature follower of Jesus Christ.

Meditation Worksheet

The meditation worksheet directs you through the process of meditation you have learned. Make copies of the worksheet to use in future times of meditation. Practice now by choosing one or more of the following passages and completing the worksheet.

  • Psalm 23:1
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22
  • Philippians 4:13
  • Hebrews 13:8

1 W.H. Griffith Thomas, as quoted by Wilbur M. Smith, Profitable Bible Study, 2nd rev. ed. (Natick, Mass.: W.A. Wilde Co., 1963), 62. 
2 John Hunter, Knowing God's Secrets (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965), 107. 
3 James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Hendersonville, Tenn.: Mendenhall Sales, n.d.), 82. 
4 Ibid., 115. 
5 Andrew Murray, as quoted by Wilbur M. Smith, Profitable Bible Study, 2nd rev. ed. (Natick, Mass.: W.A. Wilde Co., 1963), 63. 
6 George Müller, as quoted by Wilbur M. Smith, Profitable Bible Study, 2nd rev. ed. (Natick, Mass.: W.A. Wilde Co., 1963), 64.