In his classic work, A Christian on the Mount: A Treatise Concerning Meditation, Puritan Thomas Watson offers six rules for biblical meditation. In this book, Watson claims that “…a godly Christian is a meditating Christian” (79). As I think about the role that biblical meditation should play in soul care, I would adapt Watson’s argument to say that “a healing counselee is a meditating counselee.” In this brief post, I will list Watson’s rules and comment on their relevance to counseling.
“Rule 1: When you go to meditate – be very SERIOUS in the work. Let there be a deep impression upon your soul” (984).
Before meditating, our counselees must get their souls into the proper frame. Just as a man would not address the President without first gathering himself, so too must our counselees gather themselves before engaging their Sovereign in meditation.
This means that it is beneficial for the meditator to find a quiet place, settle in, and quiet his soul before meditating. I have found it helpful to spend a few moments with my eyes closed, breathing deeply, and imagining myself in specific gospel scenes with Jesus. After a brief time, I feel relaxed and ready to meditate.
“Rule 2. READ before you meditate” (995).
This directive is indispensable for the Christian. We have to remember that biblical meditation differs from other types of meditation in that it is always grounded or tied into Scripture in some way! Tying our mediations to biblical passages, verses, themes, scenes, or motifs counteracts our fleshly natures that will all too readily steer us into autonomous self-exaltation.
Watson is adamant about this rule for he exhorts,
Observe this rule: let reading usher in meditation. Reading without meditation is unfruitful! Meditation without reading is dangerous (1008)!
“Rule 3: Do not multiply the subjects of meditation. That is, meditate not on too many things at once” (1008).
Sometimes the simplest rules are the most easily overlooked. In our zeal to “read the Bible in a year” we often skim above the surface and never test the vastness beneath. When we meditate, or teach others to do it, we must remember that depth, not distance, is the goal.
I encourage my counselees to start in one of the Gospels and focus on one section at a time. By using the headings found in most modern Bibles, counselees can focus on a maximum of a paragraph or two each day. From that amount of text, they can then narrow things down to a verse, sentence, or phrase to meditate upon.
“Rule 4. To meditation, join EXAMINATION” (1016).
Since meditation strengthens one’s communion with Christ, you must plant the seed of your meditation into your heart. As you interact with the text and apply it to your soul through self-examination, you will feel God’s love in Christ more deeply and personally.
Watson delineates meditation and self-examination in this way:
Meditation is like a telescope by which we contemplate heavenly objects; but self-examination is like a looking glass by which we see into our own souls, and can judge how it is with us (1027).
“Rule 5: Seal up meditation with PRAYER” (1027).
Albeit not a clinical psychologist, Watson understood that for a permanent impression to be made, the meditator would have to “story” this experience so that it could be recalled and relived repeatedly over his or her lifetime. As such, the deep affective experience of meditation needs to be verbalized. Through prayer, the meditator glorifies God by storying his experience in a way that establishes a new sense of self characterized by new memories, neural networks, and a deeper sense of love from God and for others.
I know that this contention sounds a little too psychological for some, but think about how the prayers of the Psalmists often recalled God’s deliverance from Egypt. As the Israelites repeatedly remembered and retold these stories, God forged a new sense of identity within their hearts. These verbalized prayers helped change their corporate self-concept and transformed their identities from Egyptian slaves into royal children. These prayers permanently fixed their identities. Watson sees this phenomenon this way:
Prayer fastens meditation upon the soul. Prayer is a tying knot at the end of meditation so that it does not slip (1031).
“Rule 6. The last rule is, let meditation be reduced to PRACTICE” (1035).
What use are any of the spiritual disciplines (including meditation) if they do not lead to a deeper union with Christ? Without a building, the architect’s design plans are meaningless. So too, without an emulation of Christ, meditation is meaningless. Therefore, in meditation, we need to work diligently at walking away from the mirror of God’s word without forgetting how we look (James 1). This means that we must intentionally DO something in response to what God has done to us in our time of meditation. For Watson, this means that we must “live out [our] meditation” (1035).
What might this look like? This morning, I meditated on Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-56. During my meditation, I noticed the parallel structure in verses 46 and 47:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
As I reflected on this passage, I saw two things. First, here it shows that soul and spirit are used interchangeably. Second, I noticed that one way to “magnify” God is to “rejoice in” him. Therefore, in order to DO something with this meditation, I decided to write this blog entry rejoicing in the God who draws me closer as I meditate upon his word!
Join the Conversation
How might you implement Watson’s rules in your own meditation time? How might you teach these rules to your counselees?