The Focus of Meditation

In his wonderful book, Reading Scripture with the Reformers, Timothy George reminds us of Martin Luther's method of meditation. In a day when Twitter and Facebook timelines fill any free time, meditation upon scripture is a lost art. We find it difficult to do, if we try at all. But for Martin Luther, it was where he received his life. Below are George's comments.

Luther says that one should meditate not only in the heart but also outwardly, "by actually repeating and comparing oral speech and literal words of the book, reading and rereading them with diligence, attention, and reflection, so that you may see what the Holy Spirit means by them," He further emphasizes that the call to meditation is a lifelong vocation: "And take care that you do not grow weary or think that you have done enough when you have read, heard, and spoken them once or twice, and that you then have complete understanding. You will never be a particularly good theologian if you do that, for you will be like untimely fruit which falls to the ground before it is half ripe."

In his first lecture series on the Psalms, Luther distinguished meditating and thinking by defining the former as "to think carefully, deeply, and diligently...to muse in the heart, to stir up in the inside, or to be moved in the innermost self." To be stirred so deeply in this way is not a matter of private musing but rather a rule of life that involves, as the psalmist says, meditating on God's law "day and night." Day and night refer not only to matins and vespers but also to every season of human existence, good times and bad times, times of prosperity and times of adversity, of contemplation and activism, of life and death. In this context, Luther applies the description of the godly woman in Proverbs 31:18 to the ever-present solace of Scripture: "Her lamp does not go out at night," that is, in the time of death. The focus of meditation is always the God-given external word, the inspired text of Scripture, not the innermost recesses of the human psyche. Oswald Baylor has well expressed Luther's concern at this point: "Those who want to search for the Holy Spirit deep inside themselves, in a realm too deep for words to express, will find ghosts, not God."

The key sentence for me is: "The focus of meditation is always the God-given external word, the inspired text of Scripture, not the innermost recesses of the human psyche." 

I live in the world of introspection. I search out my innermost feelings and attitudes. I can tell you what's going on inside better than I can what's going on outside. I'm a reader of my heart more than a reader of God's. I see the text message notification of my fears and disappointments more boldly than I see the written text of God's inspired word. But that is not what God wants for me. I need not more of my own thoughts but more of God's.

If the focus of meditation is always the God-given external word rather than the innermost recesses of the human psyche, we must always be looking outside ourselves. That will be the catalyst for the inward transformation we're trying to attain with our self-analysis. 

So, here's a rule to live by: for every one look inside your own heart, take ten looks to the cross. In our heart, we will find such ugliness and sin. It would do us well to see that ugliness and sin nailed dying with the crucified Jesus. Only then can we look beyond the cross to the newness of life granted in the resurrection. We all want new life. Why do we spend so much time looking inwardly when outside in the world Jesus kciked the stone away and walked out of the tomb? Don't you want to walk with him? I know I do. I'm tired of my treadmill.