Communion with God involves words. Humans cannot think without them, and as one mind communes with another, words are needed. So in communion with God, we must hear his words, and respond with our own. A purposeful, expectant search for God’s communicated desires in his Word could be called interrogative meditation.
Warren Wiersbe said, “Talk to your Bible if you expect it to talk to you.” Interrogative meditation is reverently interrogating the text of Scripture with questions, as we seek the beauty of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in its pages. The very act of treating Scripture in this fashion is an incarnation of the posture of diligent seeking. Interrogative meditation seeks with the intention of finding. It digs, sifts, sorts, and then polishes the gems of truth. It seeks persistently, until it finds what it has been looking for. Most importantly, this search is for God himself. The Christian seeking some “inspirational thoughts”, or some interesting ideas, is not looking for what the Spirit seeks to reveal. He is at cross-purposes with God’s intention in giving the Word.
Interrogative meditation comes to the Word, understanding that only God can disclose himself, and will only do so to the diligent seeker. Psalm 119 describes this pursuit like no other portion of Scripture, which is perhaps why God providentially located it more or less in the center of our canon of Scripture: open to the middle of your Bible to find the key to unlocking your Bible. Three things combine in that psalm: the sufficiency of God’s Word in itself, the psalmist’s intense desire to know God and his ways through Scripture, and the continual calls for grace – for God to reveal himself and teach the psalmist.
With the right goal in mind, the reverent interrogation of the text begins. The seeking heart is looking carefully at what God’s Word says, and then at what God’s Word means. The seeking heart then asks, how should I respond? First observation, then interpretation, then response, or application. These questions turn into prayers, the prayers of a believer communing with God.
George Muller wrestled with a wandering mind during prayer until he linked meditation and prayer in one inseparable act of seeking communion.
I began therefore to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning, early in the morning. The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon his precious Word, was, to begin to meditate on the Word of God, searching as it were into every verse, to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul.
The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession or intercession, or supplication, or have given thanks, I go to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the Word may lead to it, but still continually keeping before me that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation. The result of this is, that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation, and then my inner man almost invariably is even sensibly nourished and strengthened, and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart.1
Adoration is the highest and ultimate form of communing prayer. Here we adore and admire God for his beauty. As we understand the beauty of his works, ways, desires, plans, promises, the response is awe, respect, admiration and joy. As we come to see God’s reliability and desirability, we express adoration in words of deepened dependence, and deepened delight.
Thanksgiving mingles in with adoration, expressing our gratitude for God’s many mercies showered on us. Whereas adoration focuses on God’s nature, thanksgiving focuses on God’s acts towards us. We express thanksgiving, contentment, gladness and satisfaction in God, further expressing that God alone is our ultimate need-love and ultimate gift-love.
Our meditations will no doubt drift from Scripture to life, from God’s Word to God’s world. Here our adoration and thanksgiving loves God for his very real work in our lives: the way he has revealed himself, the answered prayers, the spiritual growth, the pleasures of creation, the opportunities given, the people and relationships, the struggles and their lessons, the pain and its results.
Nothing is more helpful at this point than a collection of hymns, poems or psalms. These express adoration, admiration and thanksgiving in ways which give shapely and elegant expression to our affections. Psalm 150 teaches us that to rightly adore we need three things: we need the glory of God revealed, we need the right affective response in our hearts, and we need an adequate vehicle to express that response. Good hymns, poems and prayers provide that vehicle. The best of them not only assist our expressions of adoration, they elevate them, helping us to feel what we ought to feel, to imagine God in Scriptural images. The hymns and poems of Isaac Watts, John and Charles Wesley, Gerhard Tersteegen, Paul Gerhardt, John Newton, William Cowper, Christina Rossetti, and James Montgomery are among the best of Christian poets. Let the reading, or better, singing of these hymns mingle in with prayers of adoration and thanksgiving.
Indeed, many Christians have profited from including in their private worship readings from sermons, devotional classics, theology books or spiritual growth books. While no substitute for Scripture, rightly used, these can only aid meditations on the manifold beauties of God.
Prayer is a response, and if we are not responding to God’s revelation, our prayers devolve into bland repetitions. Vital, lively prayer is prayed in faith (Matthew 21:22), in full sincerity (Matt 6:7), and with persistence (Col 4:2). Prayer that responds to God’s Word is prayer rooted in God’s will, God’s promises, and God’s person. Though prayer is a response, there is no denying the wholehearted effort that must go into it. The single-minded, diligent, persistent, and expectant posture of faith must keep us focused on communing with God.
- Soul Nourishment First [↩]