These directions on how to meditate are taken from the 18th century Puritan theologian Thomas Boston. The type of meditation Boston is describing is the Puritan practice of meditation by theological subject. In this type of meditation, the topics meditated on were often the attributes of God, or other systematic theological subjects.
How to Meditate
Begin with a short prayer asking God to bless your time in meditation. A good example is David’s prayer in the Psalms, ‘O Lord, open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
Be resolute to meditate on this subject and finish. Your mind will be pulled in all kinds of ways. Satan will try to divert you. Do not have it.
Write out a short description of what the subject you have chosen is.
If there are different kinds or categories within your subject list them out and consider the differences.
If possible, consider the causes of your subject and write them out.
Consider the effects of your subject and write them out.
Consider the properties of your subject. Of what does it consist? Write these out.
Consider if there are opposites of your subject. What are they and why are they opposites?
What things can your subject be compared to? Is there anything similar?
Look up and examine all the Scriptural testimony concerning your subject. Does it shed further light for any of the previous? A topical concordance would be good for this.
Think and enlarge on the subject that your heart my be affected and touched with it. Pray that God would give you a suitable relish and affection for the subject at hand.
Mourn the lack of this affection in your soul to God.
Work to deeply desire the affection for this spiritual subject that you lack.
Confess your inability to do for yourself what you lack to God.
Ask God to work in you this desire, and petition him for it dearly.
Believe that God will grant your request.
Conclude all of this with thankfulness to God and commit yourselves to him.
For further reading see The Whole Works of Thomas Boston, Volume 4, p. 453. The Duty of Solemn Meditation. For help in which subjects to consider, Thomas Watson (a contemporary of Boston), offers an abundance of different topics for this type of meditation in his classic treatise on meditation titled, ‘The Christian on the Mount.’
This is an updated version of my last post, Beholding the Glory of the Gospel. Essentially this is a step by step guide for what to do when reading your Bible. I have updated this post to better reflect what most helps me get into the presence of God and to experience him. This is something to go through once you have your Bible in front of you and have a Bible reading plan to start. If you’re more of a neat-nic like me, you might find this helpful (if not, you may just be overwhelmed). I find that if I don’t have a plan for how to read, I simply read my Bible and just go on my way without it having any affect on me.
This plan is something I’ve gathered together from a few different sources over a few years. It really helps my Bible reading affect my soul, and work change in me, rather than just being something I glance over. Before starting you may want to grab a coffee, get out a journal, maybe light a candle, or turn on some quiet music that helps you get into God’s presence. To go through everything here will probably take a few sittings, so some people may find it better to pick and choose some things that are most helpful for them. My hope is that this will help you to more deeply enjoy, know, and be swallowed up in the glorious majesty of Jesus our king!
Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”
2 Corinthians 2:16
to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.
Remove other cares from my thoughts. If necessary list them out for dealing with later.
Get my heart impressed with an awful sense of the majesty and holiness of God into who’s presence I am going, and who’s word I am about to hear. See Psa. 89:5-14; Isa. 6:1-5; Psa. 46:1-11.
Apply Christ’s suffering, death, and his imputed righteous life in my place, to myself and my sin and even my self made righteousness that stands between my soul and God.
Examine myself and stir up in my heart great spiritual desires for my own soul’s needs and deficiencies.
Pray that God would give me assistance in seeing, feeling, and hearing what he has for me in his word. Pray that he would direct the word to me as I need it, and that he would press it home on my heart with his blessing in order that I may be enlightened, sanctified, strengthened, humbled, or raised up by it, as my case requires according to Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
Ask that God would pour out his Spirit on me through the reading of his word, knowing that none of these actions procure God’s action toward me, but that he acts according to his own will, and pours out his Spirit on whom he wills. Ask this according to the promise in Proverbs 1:23: “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.”
Treat the reading with great respect and read without many distractions or breaks which show contempt for God who is speaking to me by his word.
Read each verse as if it is to me. See Thomas Watson here: “Take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: “God means my sins;” when it presseth any duty, “God intends me in this.” Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves: a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied.” (See Watson’s great little book on spiritual disciplines, Heaven Taken by Storm.) Donald Whitney says of this quote: “Watson was right when he said, “Take every word as spoken to yourselves.” But we cannot do that until we understand how it was intended for those who heard it first. If you take every word of God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12:1-7 as spoken to yourself, you’ll soon be moving to Israel. But if you understand that particular call as unique to Abram, you can still discover the timeless truths within it and apply every word to yourself. Have you followed the call of God to come to Christ? Are you willing to obey the voice of God wherever He might call you—to a new job, a new location, the mission field, etc.?” (See Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life).
Consider each section of Scripture prayerfully, diligently, and slowly, not carelessly passing by anything so as to miss anything God would have for me.
Prayerfully consider how each verse makes me feel, and also how the author (both the Biblical, and ultimate author, God the Holy Spirit) feels in this writing. Think on the emotion that rises and send it up to prayer to God for every sentence or so. This is the gateway to real interaction with God.
Do this until a word from God stands out in my heart by the Power of the Holy Spirit. This can be a word specifically to my spiritual need, situation, fear; or a word that frightens me or gives me deep concern.
TILLING THE SOIL
If nothing in God’s word seems to be jumping out and speaking to me directly:
Then make a list of everything it says about God (Father, Son, and Spirit).
List anything that it tells you about yourself.
List any examples to be followed (or things that need to be avoided).
List any commands to be obeyed.
Finally, list any promises to claim.
When this is all done, choose the verse and truth that is most striking and helpful to you (sometimes nothing in particular will really stand out, if this happens just choose the one that most strikes you, even if it doesn’t seem that great – often God will surprise you with these).
Paraphrase the thought or verse in your own words.
Write down answers to the following questions:
What does this text show me about God for which I should praise or thank him? Adore, praise, and thank him for this.
What does the text show me about my sin that I should confess and repent of? What false attitudes, behavior, emotions, or idols come alive in me whenever I forget this truth? Confess and repent of this in prayer to God.
What does the text show me about a need that I have? What do I need to do or become in light of this? How shall I petition God for it? Petition and plead with God for this in prayer.
How is Jesus Christ or the grace that I have in him crucial to helping me overcome the sin I have confessed or to answering the need I have? Pour out your thanks to God for Jesus and his salvation.
How would this change my life if I took it seriously— if this truth were fully alive and effective in my inward being? Also, why might God be showing this to me now? What is going on in my life that he would be bringing this to my attention today? How must I apply this to my life. Are there things I can implement in life to make trusting Jesus in this area a reality?
Pray for all of your needs and pressing concerns.
Pray for others on the truth that God has revealed to you. If you have a prayer list, use it here.
Take a final moment just to enjoy God and his presence. Do this however you would like. I personally prefer enjoying God’s presence as I read a devotion on the Bible text I just read. Good devotions I’ve found that follow a Bible reading plan are:
Older Devotions (Dead Guys)
Philip Doddridge’s Family Expositor (Usually 2-6 volumes depending on the edition; contains a devotion for every section in the New Testament (about every 4-10 verses), and by far, my very favorite) Paperback V1V2 | Hardcover V1V2
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (very devotional throughout, goes through the entire Bible by sections (usually 2-5 pages for every 10-15 verses give or take) Single Volume | Six Volume Edition
Joseph Hall’s Contemplations (contains a 2 or 3 page devotion for every narrative section (typically a chapter) of the Bible) Kindle Edition V1V2V3 | Hardcover
Isaac Watts’ Psalms & Hymns (the Psalms; typically one to three hymns for each Psalm) Paperback | Hardcover
Thomas Chalmers’ Sabbath Scripture Readings Volumes I & II (I haven’t spent much time in these, but they contain devotions for every chapter of the New Testament in volume I and Gen. 1 – 2 Kings 11 in volume II) Paperback V1V2
D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God, Volumes I & II (this follows the McCheyne Bible reading plan and pretty much covers the whole Bible, (although there are some chapters that don’t get a devotion); the devotions typically correspond to a single Bible chapter) Paperback V1V2 | Hardcover V1V2
Joel Beeke’s Family Worship Guide (entire Bible) (I haven’t looked at this yet, but it is likely very good) Hardcover | Leather
ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible (entire Bible) (I haven’t seen much of this one either, but it’s supposed to be great) Many Editions
There are many other good devotionals that I didn’t list because they aren’t really arranged chronologically in order to be a companion to reading through the Bible, but rather as something to be read on their own. I’m also sure that there are other devotions that are arranged to be read chronologically with Bible reading that I haven’t heard of yet. If you know of any, feel free to post them in the comments!
I’ve gleaned these directions from several authors. The Approaching God and Hearing Godsections are mostly adaptations from a sermon (which I can no longer find) of the puritan Thomas Boston. Some of the content in the Hearing God section is from Donald Whitney’s excellent Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. The Tilling the Soil and Meditation sections are taken directly from Tim Keller’s great book Prayer. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version.
May God provoke you to more awe, delight, and satisfaction in him through his word in the coming year!