One thing that struck me after reading Tim Keller’s book on prayer was how much importance he placed on meditation. Not just meditation in the abstract, or even the secular benefits of it, but the practice of meditating specifically on Scripture as a prelude to prayer. He spent a good portion on the topic, but I could have used more, or at least a wider look at the subject.
Thankfully, David Saxton has supplied that study. In his God’s Battle Plan For The Mind, readers are offered one part historical theology and one practical theology. The goal, as Saxton explains, is
to convince God’s people of the absolute necessity of personal meditation. This book will motivate the believer to begin this work; teach practically how to meditate on divine truth; and guide in right patterns of thinking throughout the day. (2)
He then clarifies that while he is unpacking the Purtian practice, they are but a secondary source to the biblical teaching on the subject. The rest of the opening chapter explains the importance of recovering this habit in our Christian lives. Without meditation, we are ultimately taking in truth like someone who eats without chewing. Unless we take the time to meditate on what we read and listen to from God’s word, we won’t properly digest and apply the truth to our hearts.
In chapter 2, Saxton tackles unbiblical forms of meditation. He is primarily seeking to distinguish the biblical practice from Roman Catholic contemplative forms on the one hand and mystical Eastern religious practices on the other. Having done that, we then offers a positive definition of biblical meditation in chapter 3. It is essentially a spiritual activity of heart and mind which centers on dwelling on and delighting in God’s word (26).
Chapter 3 transitions briefly into the Puritan practice, but it chapters 4 and 5 that do the primary unpacking. In the first, Saxton uses Puritan writings to explain “occasional meditation” which can occur any time and anywhere. This kind of sporadic practice is subordinate to the more important “deliberate meditation” which is the focus of chapter 5. This is more in line with what Keller discusses and takes place at a specific place and time that one deliberately plans out. Ideally, in Puritan thought, this is part of one’s morning ritual to start the day. Or, in evangelicalese, it would be part of one’s morning quiet time.
This is dealt with in more detail in chapter 6 which gets down to the brass tacks of practicing meditation. The steps for effectively beginning this are (59-64):
- Praying for the Spirit’s help for fervency
- Choosing a Scriptural thought by Bible reading
- Questioning, considering, and examining oneself
- Concluding with personal application, resolution, and prayer
In chapters 7 and 8, Saxton discusses importance times for meditation as well as subjects for meditation. The latter primarily includes the examples of sin (in order to overcome it) and God (in order to find grace and help). Chapters 9, 10, and 11 give reasons, benefits, and enemies of meditation respectively. Reasons for meditation include (95-103):
- The Christian’s work and duty is to think upon God with praise
- Meditation follows the example of Christ and other godly people
- Meditation is God’s own command given for a believer’s good
- Meditation is necessary for a believer to know God’s Word well
- Meditation assists believers in the duty of prayer and all other means of grace
- Meditation applies the Scripture to redeeming the time with one’s mind
- Without meditation, one cannot become a godly, stable Christian
- Christians meditate because God’s Word is a love letter to his people
Benefits of meditation include deepening of repentance, increased resolve to fight sin, and inflamed heart affections for God among other reasons. As for the enemies, Saxton does a fine job of detailing the typical excuses/reasons Christians might have for not pursuing meditation, as well as reasons working against us that we might not be consciously aware of. I’ll let you read for yourself to see what those are. The final formal chapter (12) offers further motivation to begin the habit of meditation and the conclusion explores briefly the connection between meditation and growth in godliness.
On the whole, I found this book very helpful. It filled out more of what Keller was saying in his book by focusing on the breadth of Puritan teaching on the subject, as well as just in general giving more detail about the practice of meditation. While some might complain that this book is overly fixated on the Puritans, I would say (a) it is keeping with the aims of the book, and (b) they seem to be the ones who both took the practice most seriously and gave the most detailed instruction and encouragement for actually implementing it into one’s daily life. I personally need to grow tremendously in this area and will look forward to integrating the insights from Saxton’s book in the coming weeks and months. If you’d like to do the same, I’d highly suggest picking up a copy for yourself!
David W. Saxton, God’s Battle Plan For The Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, January 2015. 160 pp. Paperback, $18.00.
Read an excerpt
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Thanks to Reformation Heritage Books for the review copy!