by Rev. Travis Berg

For most of us, meditation seems to be antithetical to orthodox Christianity. We associate it with techniques like deep breathing, posture, and the recitation of words without content. The introduction of Eastern religions into Western thought, especially during the 1960’s period of American history, has formed our preconceptions about what meditation is.

But the Latin word meditatio means “a thinking over, contemplation, dwelling upon.”[1] For the Christian, meditation is thinking. Thinking involves content. The Christian is not trying to extinguish his critical capacities by meditation or clear his mind; on the contrary, the Christian seeks to use his intellect in order to understand the Word of God. Here, the intellect or reason is to be used in its ministerial or serving sense.  Justifying faith presupposes the historical knowledge of the Gospel. As Paul says in Romans 10: “And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?”[2] Of course, a mere historical knowledge is not justifying faith. Don’t even the demons possess that?[3] As you can see, intellectual apprehension is not the goal, but it is the means to the end. The Holy Spirit works faith in the heart through the knowledge grasped by the head. This is why we pray in the general prayers of our church: “Help all who hear the Word rightly to understand and truly to believe it.”[4]

How does one meditate upon the Scriptures? Martin Luther wrote, “You should meditate . . . by actually repeating and comparing oral speech and literal words of the book, reading and rereading them with diligent attention and reflection, so that you may see what the Holy Spirit means by them.”[5]

Repetition is the key. There is an old Missouri Synod Bible reference book which very correctly states: “One careful reading will give you only one fourth of the lesson. It will enable you to summarize, to give the main thought.”[6] Carefully read the portion of Scripture at least four or five times. Then answer certain questions about the text. These questions are as follows: who, where, when, and what happened. Who are the principle biblical figures involved? Where is this history taking place? When is this history happening? What is a short summary of the entire history?

Then, from your close reading, discover what the history entails. What is the problem? Obviously, the problem will always be sin, but sin is never abstract. Is it the sin of pride? Is it lust or hatred? Or are God’s people suffering under the tyrannical hand of a despot?

Then ask, “What is the climax or turning point?” How does our Lord solve this particular problem of sin? Does He send a prophet to preach repentance, like Nathan to David? Does He work mighty miracles, like He did for Gideon? Does He punish, as He did with the ten plagues?

Finally, what is the resolution? Is there repentance and faith, as there was for Nineveh or Nebuchadnezzar? Is there a hardening of the heart, as there was for Pharaoh? Is there rescue and relief, as there was for the children of Israel?

After all of this work is done, then we can finally ask: What is the Holy Spirit trying to teach us through His Word? How can we find out? One way to find out is to view the lesson through the lens of Luther’s Small Catechism. Is God threatening to punish due to the transgression of His Law? Is our God comforting us with the blessed promise of a Savior? Is God teaching us how to pray, as He does in the Psalms? Or do we see God giving grace through means, thus strengthening our faith in the means of grace, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper? Is God depicting our duties as fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, or workers?

Meditation upon the Scriptures takes a bit of time, but it is well worth the effort. May God bless your reading of Scripture and your meditation upon it!

The Rev. Travis Berg is pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Latimer, Iowa.

[1] Lewis, C. T. (1890). An Elementary Latin Dictionary. Medford, MA: American Book Company.

[2] Verse 14, NKJV.

[3] James 2:19

[4] General Prayer 2, LSB Altar Book, pg. 441.

[5] LW 34:286.

[6] Bible History References, Vol. 1, pg. 445.