Did you ever stop to analyze the continual conversation going on in your head? We should because, as it has been said before, no one speaks to you more than yourself.
That is, each of us has a running conversation going on inside of us, and we rarely stop long enough to examine what is being said and where it comes from. And because we don’t bother to do so, we are not equipped to do what the Psalmist does in Psalm 42—speak to his soul and direct his thoughts towards God.
In biblical terms, this is called meditation, the deliberate and willful act of directing our minds to think on things that we choose. In the Psalm, the writer is experiencing what can only be described as spiritual depression, a term Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones used to describe a sermon series of his based on this Psalm. The Psalmist is away from the temple and therefore feels far off from God’s presence. Couple that with the fact that his enemies are mocking him, reminding him that there is no sign of the nearness of God, and you have a recipe for depression.
But in the midst of such depressing circumstances, with his enemies oppressing him and feeling far from the presence of God, the Psalmist turns the entire situation around. How? By beginning to take responsibility for the condition of his soul by directing his thoughts elsewhere. In other words, he speaks to his soul, commanding it to once again hope in God by first asking the question, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you n turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5). There is absolutely no reason for his soul to be cast down, and he reminds himself of this. Instead of being cast down, he commands his soul to “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
Such a discipline is more than mental gymnastics but is part and parcel of biblical meditation. It is what the apostle Paul teaches when writing to the Philippian church and telling the believers that “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). They deliberately are to choose what their minds think on. And they can now do so because of the Spirit who dwells within them.
We can see in this that biblical meditation differs greatly from Eastern meditation. The latter teaches that one must empty his or her mind of all thoughts in order to attain a state of peace. Biblical meditation is not the emptying of our minds but directing them to God and his Word. It is taking responsibility for the thoughts in our heads and directing them to think the thoughts of God (Scripture).
The truth is, we are either taking responsibility for what we muse on or else we are allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed with the cares of this world, pressures, and other thoughts. J.B. Phillips, in his modern translation of Romans 12:2 translated it: