William Walsham How, 1823-1897

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer." Psalm 19:14

The practice of Meditation is so helpful and blessed a practice that every means should be taken to encourage it, and every aid to its performance should be heartily welcomed. It has in past times been too much neglected by our Church, so that it is unhappily too true that, when one seeks for help in this holy work, one is almost driven to the books of other times and of other churches.

But there are, no doubt, some persons who will ask what is meant by Meditation, and who will like to have some simple account of the practice. Meditation means literally the thinking about some selected subject. Its proper exercise implies such a thinking about it as to draw out the imagination, the mind, the affections, the will. This is not an easy thing. Perhaps it is beyond the reach of a great many. It is not every one who is able to concentrate his attention, even for a short time, upon some one selected subject of thought, realizing it with vivid imagination, and drawing it out Godward in prayer, praise, and adoration. Some can do this, and very blessed are they who not only can but do. Yet for this not only are deep earnestness, strong faith, and some advance in spiritual things required, but also a considerable amount of mental power.

With ordinary Christians, Meditation will generally take the form of devotional reading. This is of the utmost value; only we must remember it is not exactly what is meant by Meditation. If, however, devotional reading, whether of Holy Scripture, or of some well-selected book of devotion, is deliberate, thoughtful, interspersed with mental prayers and aspirations—it approaches very nearly to true Meditation. Hurried, thoughtless, prayerless reading is worse than useless. It only encourages a vague, indolent, unreal habit of mind.

Let me try to describe what a true Meditation should be. The first thing is to select your subject. It is very easy to waste a great deal of precious time in casting about for a suitable subject, so that it is most desirable either to arrange one's subjects beforehand, or to have some book which arranges them. The more experience one has in Meditation, the less one requires the subject to be drawn out and shaped and developed for one. For most persons, however, it is a great help to have the subject cast into a form for Meditation, and drawn out into a few suggestive heads, with practical thoughts arising out of them.

The subject being fixed upon, the first thing is shut out other things, and put yourself in the presence of God, praying for the help of His Holy Spirit in what you are about to do. Then try to call up before your mind the scene, or the doctrine, or the idea, upon which you are to meditate. Exercise the understanding and the imagination upon it, until you grasp its meaning as fully as you can, and stamp the impression of it upon your soul.

Then ask yourself what practical lesson it has for you, what sins or neglects it accuses you of, what duties it suggests, what emotions it ought to arouse in you. You want the subject to touch both your life and your heart, both your conduct and your feelings.

Then, finally, gather all up into some practical resolution. All this, too, should be accompanied with secret prayer. It is well often to address your thoughts during the Meditation to God, speaking to Him such things as suggest themselves. At other times you may address your own soul. But, from beginning to end, it is indispensable that the Meditation should have for its end and object your own spiritual gain.

It must not be undertaken with any lower aim; as, for example, for the purpose of preparing a lesson to teach others, or with a view to an examination, or the like. If we have to study some special subject, or portion of the Bible, for any such purpose, it is a good rule to make one's Meditations upon quite a different course of subjects.

One other hint should be given. Do not go away and forget your Meditation after it is over. As a writer on this subject quaintly says, "Make a bouquet of the best thoughts you have met with in your Meditation, and take it with you to refresh yourself with during the day."

These last words seem to take for granted that the Meditation will be made in the morning. There is no time so good for it. The mind is freer from distraction and fresh after the night's rest; and the Morning Meditation leaves its fragrance on the whole day. If possible, let your meditation precede your Morning Prayer. This must, however, be a point for each person's own judgment and experience to decide. Some, very probably, can meditate better at night, and some may possibly be able to rescue half-an-hour from the cares and distractions of the day.

One view of Meditation we must, however, keep in mind in deciding the question of time—namely, its relation to prayer. I am sure that, of all aids to devout prayer, there is none more efficacious than preparatory Meditation. Meditation should always precede prayer. Those who complain so sadly (and who does not?) of the difficulty of prayer—of coldness, dryness, wandering thoughts—will find wonderful help in this practice. A quarter of an hour (the least that can be allotted to the work) spent in Meditation beforehand, will often give marvelous life and fervor and blessedness to the prayer which follows.

And now, how often should Meditation be practiced? If possible, every day. But for many this would not be possible; for some, because their occupations are pressing and their time is limited; for others, because the demand upon their mental powers would be too great, and, by attempting more than they could effect, they would become formal and superficial.

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer." Psalm 19:14