The apostle Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans that one of the reasons the Father has given us his Spirit is to help us in our ultimate weakness: knowing how to pray (Romans 8:26-27).
Those who have sought to be diligent in this discipline understand exactly what the apostle is teaching. When it comes to our prayer lives, even the most advanced in this spiritual discipline know they are imminently weak.
To condescend to our weakness, God also gave us an entire book of Scripture containing nothing but prayers and praises to God. It is safe to say that if one prays through the Psalms regularly, he or she will have prayed through every form of prayer: praise, thanksgiving, adoration, confession, petitions, etc. And not only every form, but every mood as well. Some of the Psalms are expressions of exuberant exaltation, while others can only be described as desperate pleas for help. Sometimes a wide array of moods can be found in a single Psalm.
Jewish scholars view the first Psalm as kind of an introduction to the entire Psalter. If so, we learn an important lesson regarding how to best prepare ourselves to pray. For Psalm 1 calls us to deeply meditate on the law of the Lord (Psalm 1:2). The fact that this is found in the introduction to the Psalter instructs us in the fact that before we can pray properly, we must first learn to meditate on God’s Word. In David’s day, that meant meditating on the first five books of Moses (torah) which is all that was available to David at that time. But in our day we have the entire written canon to which we can direct our minds.
The fact that the first Psalm is a call to meditate on God’s Word has much to teach us regarding the place meditation holds in learning to pray properly. Many devotional writers view meditation as sort of a bridge between reading Scripture and prayer. Obviously, reading Scripture is important, but mere reading alone will not prepare our hearts to pray. For that, we must be instructed in how to meditate on God’s Word as a bridge between reading and praying. We will explore this more thoroughly in the second blog on this topic. But first we must understand the structure of this Psalm so as to sufficiently grasp the necessity of meditation to live a sanctified life.
We might say that verses one and two present us with the two sides of the life of sanctification, one negative and one positive. Most people have been taught the negative side of living a sanctified life, resisting the spirit of the age by saying “No” to sin. The righteous man or woman “does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (Psalms 1:1). This statement reminds me of the saying I once heard, “live fish swim against the stream; dead fish go with it.” In other words, when a person receives the life of God one of the evidences of that is that they begin to resist the spirit of the age.
As a new believer, I joined a church that majored in Psalm 1:1. We talked much about what we had given up for Jesus. We loved to focus on the things we no longer did now that Jesus had saved us. I am thankful for this emphasis for I learned early the importance of holiness. Nevertheless, I also learned that focusing primarily on what I should no longer do alone did not empower me to successfully resist temptation. In fact, if I was honest, the more I struggled to say “No” I found myself increasingly drawn to sin.
One day when I was praying about this, my eyes fell on Psalm 1:2, a verse I had not previously given much thought to. I realized it presented what might be called the positive side of the sanctified life. The righteous man or woman doesn’t live an ungodly life only because he or she refuses temptation; rather, because they take delight in God’s word. I looked up the Hebrew word translated by delight and realized that it was sometimes translated by the English word pleasure. I remember being somewhat taken back by that. Pleasure was something I had given up for Jesus. But here the Psalmist speaks of being pleasured and taking great delight in God’s written revelation.
And because he finds such pleasure in God’s word, he meditates on it day and night. What does it mean to meditate? It is derived from a Hebrew word, which means to so occupied with a matter, one begins to “mutter to oneself”. It is to deeply imbibe Scripture into the mind so that we begin to think about it constantly. We have all had moments where we are so occupied in our minds with a matter that we begin muttering to ourselves.
This is essentially what meditation consists of. It is to allow our minds to be so occupied with Scripture, we begin to utter the very words of Scripture in prayer.
The English Puritans were masters of this practice. They taught that one must meditate properly on the Word before prayer can be properly offered. It was, for them, a bridge between studying the Bible and praying. Without meditating, one was tempted to bring his own thoughts to prayer. But through meditation on Scripture, one was guided to know how to pray. This was more than just uttering the very words of Scripture, but allowing their thoughts to be directed by Scripture. More on this in the next blog.