Bible Gateway interviewed Robert J. Morgan (@robertjmorgan) about his book, Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation: Find True Peace in Jesus (Thomas Nelson, 2017).
What is the act of meditating and what does the Bible say about its importance?
Robert J. Morgan: Biblical meditation is the habit of treasuring up God’s words and pondering them in our hearts. It’s grounded in daily Bible study; but when we leave our time of Bible reading, it’s important to take Scripture with us so we can mentally mull over it all day long. Meditation is pondering, picturing, and practicing Scripture. If I’m meditating on the Love Chapter of the Bible, for example, I quote verses from 1 Corinthians 13 to myself all day. If I need guidance, I preach Proverbs 3:5-6 to myself day and night. If I’m anxious, I keep rehearsing Philippians 4:4-6. Meditation is the portable habit of training the mind to think about Scripture passages in every spare moment, in times of both tension and relaxation.
How does transcendental meditation differ from biblical meditation?
Robert J. Morgan: Biblical meditation is not transcendental meditation. It’s transformational meditation, for Romans 12 tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, which happens as we ponder and practice Scripture. Transcendental meditation seeks to relax the body by emptying the mind and the muscles of stress. Many transcendentalists repeat a phrase over and over to divert the mind from other thoughts. While there’s value in deep breathing and muscle relaxation, biblical meditation isn’t a matter of emptying the mind but of filling it with Scripture.
When I meditate, I think about passages of Scripture with which I’m familiar. Yesterday, for example, I had a long flight from California. When my eyes got tired, I closed them and thought of Joshua 1:8-9, letting that passage cycle through my mind over and over. To me, biblical meditation is a much better answer for stress than transcendental meditation.
What makes it necessary for biblical mediation to be reclaimed?
Robert J. Morgan: To reclaim biblical meditation, we need three things:
(1) A determined time of daily Bible reading and study. We can’t practice biblical meditation without biblical content, and that requires being in Scripture.
(2) A Scripture memory plan. Every morning I spend a few minutes working on whatever verse I’m memorizing, and when I get that verse into my mind, I go to the next one. I recently learned Colossians 3:1-4 by heart, and now whenever I walk through the park I rehearse it to myself, rolling every word through my mind.
(3) A plan to train our minds to turn toward Scripture when they’re idle. If I wake up during the night, rather than allowing my mind to think about what’s fretting me, I should instantly begin quoting Colossians 3:1-4, or some other passage. Biblical memorization and meditation has become the most helpful habit I’ve ever discovered.
You say biblical meditation is not thinking about Scripture, but thinking Scripture. Explain.
Robert J. Morgan: I’m grateful for the Bible study tools at our disposal and for all the devotional aids. But good spiritual nutrition doesn’t depend on reading a devotional thought or finding a good insight from a commentary, helpful though those may be. It comes as we quote and read and think about the undiluted words of Scripture itself. If I face a difficult challenge that threatens me, there’s no substitute to saying to myself: “God is our refuge and strength, an every-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” (Psalm 46:1-2).
What happens to our minds as we think Scripture?
Robert J. Morgan: We’re made new in the attitude of our minds (Ephesians 4:23). As we meditate on God’s Word we begin thinking his thoughts. The Bible says our thoughts are not his thoughts; for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are his thoughts above ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). There’s wisdom from above and wisdom from below (James 3:15-17). Left to ourselves, our intellects are lacking; our thinking is distorted, inadequate, and short-sided. But God’s thoughts are eternal, true, wise, and always correct in their perspective.
He sent down his thoughts to us in his Word (Isaiah 55:10-11), and as we memorize and meditate on Scripture we begin thinking increasingly as God does. We begin seeing things from his point of view. When we look at the situations of life through the lens of Scripture, we begin seeing things in Scriptural terms and our minds are God-conditioned.
How can a person train his mind so that Scripture “constantly circulates”?
Robert J. Morgan: Here’s how I do it. Every morning I spend some time in Bible reading and prayer, and during that time I take about five minutes to work on a verse I’m memorizing. I usually memorize consecutive verses in a passage. I don’t rush the process, but over time I’ve been able to memorize many paragraphs of Scripture. Then I find moments during the day when I can let these verses circulate through my mind like oil through a machine.
Sometimes, if I feel a wave of fatigue sweep over me, I’ll stretch out on the sofa for a few minutes and silently quote these Scriptures. As we wait on the Lord, our strength is renewed. It’s especially helpful to fall asleep at night while pondering a particular verse. In time, our minds learn to use Scripture as their default setting. The Holy Spirit has something to do with that, and true peace and wisdom come as the Spirit within us uses the Word within us to transform us.
How does biblical meditation fit in with the biblical mandate to “fear not”?
Robert J. Morgan: I’m fearful by nature; I have issues with anxiety. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken my fears to the Bible and found fortifying verses, which I’ve claimed and clung to. One of the first verses I learned as a child was Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Sometimes in a moment of worry, I simply quote that verse over and over, not as a mantra but as a way of pounding it more deeply into my heart and mind.
What are some techniques you recommend?
Robert J. Morgan: I have a small loose-leaf notebook in which I keep my Bible memory passages. When I choose a passage to memorize, I print it on its own page in pen and ink from the translation I like best, and I work on it a phrase at a time. This is a lifetime project. I hope to be adding verses as long as I live. We also have to create some quiet zones in our lives. Our electronics have robbed us of leisure spaces between tasks, but we have to take back some of that space. I’ve learned that taking five minutes here or there to walk in the garden or sit on the swing and quote Scripture is like a shot of B-66 to my system.
What should be the result of biblical mediation in a person’s life?
Robert J. Morgan: Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Robert J. Morgan: If you were to walk into my office almost anytime, you’d see Bible Gateway on the side monitor of my computer. I love being able to reference any Bible verse from any translation so quickly and easily.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Robert J. Morgan: We’ve created a free downloadable study guide for Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation so it can be used for group studies. The book itself is inexpensive, and the study guide is free. But I believe the practice of biblical meditation is the missing link in Bible study, lesson development, and sermon preparation—and I want to change that. In this age of incredible stress, it would be of utmost help for every one of us to reclaim the lost art of biblical meditation.
Bio: Robert J. Morgan is the teaching pastor of The Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee, where he’s served for more than 30 years. The author of Then Sings My Soul: The Story of Our Songs—Drawing Strength from the Great Hymns of Our Faith, he’s a bestselling and Gold-Medallion-winning author with more than 35 books in print and more than 4 million books in circulation. His products in electronic and audio format number hundreds of thousands. He’s also a staff writer for Dr. David Jeremiah and Turning Points Ministries. Rob’s books have been translated into multiple languages, and he has appeared on many national television and radio programs. He and his wife, Katrina, reside in the Opryland area of Nashville and in Roan Mountain, Tennessee. They have three daughters and 14 grandchildren.
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