(or, How to train your brain to think deeply, in a world that wants you instead to live life in distracting snippets) And, subsequently, the second post of series on Puritan thought. Today’s thoughts are brought to you from Thomas Watson, an English Puritan writer, who lived 1620-1686.
Any Christian who has read the Psalms has encountered the word “meditate” in its various forms on many occassions. And even though I grew up in the church, I never heard this word discussed, nor was this practice taught; the word “meditation” was thoroughly avoided as if Eastern Mysticism and yogis now had the sole rights to it. Christian meditation is very different–and I can personally attest to meditation being refreshing, renewing, reviving and delightful. As you work your way through the Psalms, you note the Psalmist meditates on the Law, the words and works of God, what is seen of Him in His creation, the acts of redemption He has performed, the promises made to His people, His faithfulness–really the list is long. I hope this focus on meditation will enable you and I to live out Psalm 1:2 (keep in mind, “law” included all the written word to that point):
“His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night”
It is the Puritans, and Jonathan Edwards, who taught me to love meditation, to rightly define it from Scripture, and to practice it heartily. These next several weeks, my series on Puritan Thoughts will be dedicated to the practice of meditation, because as Thomas Watson states, “meditation is a friend to all the graces” 1. All quotes are from the Kindle edition, with electronic locations indicated.
Some delightful words from Thomas Watson’s work on Meditation are that:
“Grace breeds delight in God, and delight breeds meditation. Meditation is a duty wherein consists the essentials of religion and which nourishes the very life-blood of it.” (Loc 71)
“Meditation is the chewing upon the truths we have heard. Meditation is like the watering of a seed; it makes the fruits of grace to flourish.” (Loc 78)
“Meditation is the soul’s retiring of itself, that by a serious and solemn thinking upon God, the heart may be raised up to heavenly affections.” (Loc 85)
“Meditation is a serious and solemn thinking upon God. The Hebrew word “to meditate” signifies with intenseness to recollect and gather together the thoughts…there must be a fixing the heart upon the object, a steeping of the thoughts.” (Loc 99)
With this small beginning of a definition and “how to,” keep in mind this is something for Christians to grow in, not something that will come “natural” at first. Our minds and hearts have been trained by our self and this world (nature, if you will) to be easily distracted, to flit from thought to thought quickly, to turn much of our day into “multi-tasking.” Science now shows us that our brains do not actually operate in this fashion–which is why we have drivers talking on their cell phones while killing others in oncoming vehicles. Or more simply, you try and talk to someone on one topic while writing your grocery list and say “cabbage” accidently or write a word they just said on your list. Our brains are created to focus, and so to fight the noetic effects of sin, we must engage our brains and train them once again to focus.
To make a start, pick a passage to read, and re-read, and consider all the words, and linger there. Read the passage, pray that passage, ask the Spirit to illumine your mind. Keep your phone in the other room, sit where you cannot see your computer screen. To grow in this, make a start of ten minutes, but each time add a few minutes. When this begins as a set apart time, and you grow in being able to direct your thoughts toward the Word, you will find it easier to live consciously in His presence while going about your daily vocation. And then you will be able to turn “mindless work” into meditative work. Is there a task you can perform without too much thought, because you have sufficiently trained your muscles? A daily jog, washing dishes, ironing, the walk from your car to the office, a weekly hike, or even waiting in line for your pizza or fries? Don’t open your phone. Instead chew the cud of His Word, recollect a passage, turn it over in your mind, thinking upon His glory and beauty and perfections. From that refreshed mindset, pray. Your prayers will change as you grow in the grace of meditation.
Jesus has given true believers the command to abide in His Word, and to pray from that abiding posture. Meditating is but one way that we grow in abiding, dwelling, living in His Word. As we live there (in heart, soul, and mind), our prayers will be shaped by the Word moreso than by fleshly reactions to circumstances. More on that next week, when we look at what Thomas Watson has to say on meditation and prayer.