God gives us the tool of meditation to help us understand and obey His beneficial laws. Here are some practical steps on how to meditate on the law.
Righteous people are known for their habit of meditating on the law of God day and night (Psalm 1:2). They ask God for understanding, and gain it by studying the Word of God and meditating on it (Psalm 119:27; Proverbs 2:3-9).
How can we be numbered among those who meditate on the law of God? Of course, the law of God includes all of His instructions and admonitions. This article seeks to explain steps and principles for specifically meditating on the 10 Commandments, and these principles can be used to meditate on any aspect of the Word of God. The Third Commandment will be used to illustrate the steps and principles: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).
What is meditation?
In Joshua 1:8 God commands, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
From this we can extract the definition that meditation is the process of doing the thinking required to live by every word of God. This thinking can be classified broadly under the processes of memorizing, analyzing, synthesizing and applying.
God expects us to memorize, learn and remember His Word (Deuteronomy 6:6; Jeremiah 31:33; John 15:7). In these scriptures, the expressions “in your heart” and “in their minds” describe a process of permanent learning and remembering.
Your first task in meditation is to learn and remember the content of the commandment itself and to collect and learn all the scriptures that explain the commandment. This memorization can be done verbatim when appropriate, or it can be done in outline where appropriate. This compels reflection on the commandment on a level that is higher than mere reading.
The next major thinking process is analysis. Analysis is the process of breaking down a topic into its smaller parts with the aid of questions. Psalm 77:6 says, “I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search.”
The psalmist approached meditation as a search for understanding. Analysis during meditation involves mentally asking and searching for the answers to a series of questions.
So, after (or during) your memorization of a commandment, you try to dig deeper by asking as many questions about it as you can. As you ask questions, make an attempt at answering each question for yourself first, then search for answers in Scripture, this website, sermons and other sources. But first you need to ask the right questions.
The following are examples of the kind of questions you should ask.
What are the positive and negative sides of the commandment?
All of the commandments can be worded positively and negatively. This question starts the analysis by breaking down the command into its two major legs for further analysis.
The positive side deals with things that God commands us to do. Failure to do them is a sin of omission.
The negative side deals with things God commands us not to do. Doing them involves a sin of commission.
Focusing on only one side can blind you to what you need to see on the other side.
The Third Commandment is negatively stated: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (emphasis added). And it can be positively stated as, “You shall hallow the name of the LORD your God.” We should then proceed to further analyze each side separately.
What is the letter and spirit of each side of a commandment and of the scriptures that explain it?
The letter is the literal meaning based on the actual wording of the commandment, whereas the spirit is the meaning implied in the intent and purpose of the commandment. We should obey both the letter and spirit of the commandments.
The literal meaning of the Third Commandment is that we should not uselessly utter the name of God with our mouth. But the full meaning and purpose that is intended by God is revealed through the scriptures that expand on or explain the Third Commandment. These include avoiding profaning God’s name by misconduct (Leviticus 20:3), not worshipping the wrong way (Matthew 15:8-9) and avoiding the blasphemy of falsely claiming to be a Christian (Revelation 2:9).
We should also explore the letter and spirit of each of the scriptures that explain the commandment.
Ask: Who, what, when, where, why and how?
The next step is to take each side of the commandment—the negative and the positive—and break it down further with the aid of six key types of questions: who, what, when, where, why and how.
For example: What does “take” mean? What is the “name” of the Lord? What does “in vain” mean? What does “guiltless” mean? Why should we not take the name of God in vain? Why is this important to God? When should we not take His name in vain? Where should we not take it in vain? How do you not take it in vain? Who should not take the name of God in vain?
Having asked these questions, find the scriptures and literature that answer them.
What spiritual fruits are required to fulfill this commandment, and how can I seek and find them?
Spiritual fruits are the traits of God’s character that He must impart to us in order for us to fulfill His commandments. Spiritual fruits have certain components associated with them, such as habits, attitudes and beliefs. You seek spiritual fruits by asking for them in faith coupled with practicing these habits, attitudes and beliefs.
We need to seek the spiritual fruit of reverence for the name of God. This will require practicing the habit of thinking before we utter the name of God, and the attitude of respect for things that are holy to God, and the belief that the name of God is holy and should be kept that way.For example, we need to seek the spiritual fruit of reverence for the name of God. This will require practicing the habit of thinking before we utter the name of God, and the attitude of respect for things that are holy to God, and the belief that the name of God is holy and should be kept that way. We will discover the required spiritual fruits from the scriptures that expand on the commandment.
Synthesis is the reverse of analysis. It is the thinking process of putting together a whole from the parts separated during analysis. In other words, this aspect of meditation involves mentally putting together a complete explanation of the subject of the commandment. This can be done by reciting the explanation to yourself, in your own words, from memory. Synthesis also includes organizing your material as you explain it to yourself.
You can make use of the same analytical questions to organize your material by summarizing the explanation under each question in the form of an answer.
Application involves the thinking required to examine ourselves, searching for sin and for ways to practice righteous fruits of obedience. You apply also by testing your beliefs and doctrines related to the commandment. Another way we apply the law is to use it as a guide to discern right from wrong in situations that are ethical or moral dilemmas.
All of these applications require effectively thinking through the law of God. We use insights from the Word of God and from experience to make the right choice every time so that we can walk perfectly.
Don’t wait until you have memorized, analyzed and synthesized each scripture related to a commandment before you start putting them into practice. Applying what we learn is a continuous, lifetime process—and it’s the way we develop the character of our loving God!
Study more about the 10 Commandments in our free booklet God’s 10 Commandments: Still Relevant Today.
You’ll also want to see our interesting video series “The 10 Commandments: A Matter of the Heart.”