donald-whitneyThe easiest way to decide what to meditate on is to choose the verse(s), phrase, or word that impresses you most during your encounter with Scripture. Obviously, this is a subjective approach, but any approach is going to be somewhat subjective. Besides, meditation is essentially a subjective activity, a fact that underscores the importance of basing it on Scripture, the perfectly objective resource.

Our understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit also leads us to believe that many times He, as Author of the Book, will impress us with a certain part of Scripture because that is the very part He wants us to meditate on for that day. No doubt this approach can be misused or taken to an extreme. We must use wisdom and make sure we don’t fail to meditate often on the Person and work of Jesus Christ and the great themes of the Bible.

Verses that conspicuously relate to your concerns and personal needs are clearly targets for meditation. Although we don’t want to approach the Bible simply as a digest of wise advice, a collection of promises, or an “answer book,” it is God’s will that we give our attention to those things He has written that directly pertain to our circumstances. If you have been struggling with your thought life and you read Philippians, then you probably need to meditate on 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Is the salvation of a friend or family member on your mind? Should you encounter John 4, the thing to do would be to meditate on Jesus’ manner of communication there and draw parallels to your own situation. Sensing distance from God or a dryness in your spiritual condition? Looking for clues to the character of God and drawing on them is a good choice.

One of the most consistent ways to select a passage for meditation is to discern the main message of (one of) the section(s) of your encounter with the Scripture and meditate on its meaning and application. For instance, recently I read Luke 11. There are ten paragraphs to that chapter in the version I was using. I chose one section, verses 5–13. The main theme of that paragraph is persistence in prayer. I reflected on that idea, especially as it is set forth in verses 9–10, which talk about asking, seeking, and knocking. This is harder to do in books like Proverbs where an individual verse is often a self-contained concept and not part of a paragraph. When in such sections, you must rely on one of the methods mentioned above to select your text for meditation.

Repeat It in Different Ways

This method takes the verse or phrase of Scripture and turns it like a diamond to examine every facet.

A meditation on Jesus’ words at the beginning of John 11:25 would look like this:

I am the resurrection and the life.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

Of course, the point is not simply to repeat vainly each word of the verse until they’ve all been emphasized. The purpose is to think deeply upon the light (truth) that flashes into your mind each time the verse is turned. It’s simple, but effective. I’ve found it especially helpful when I have trouble concentrating on a passage or when insights come slowly from it.

Rewrite It in Your Own Words

From his earliest home-school days, Jonathan Edwards’ father taught him to do his thinking with pen in hand, a habit he retained throughout his life. This practice helps you to focus your attention to the matter at hand, while stimulating your flow of thinking. Paraphrasing the verse(s) you are considering is also a good way to make sure you understand the meaning. I have a friend who says that paraphrasing verses after the fashion of the Amplified Bible is the most productive method of opening a text for him. The very act of thinking of synonyms and other ways of restating the inspired meaning of a part of God’s Word is in itself a way of meditation.

Look for Applications of the Text

Ask yourself, “How am I to respond to this text? What would God have me do as a result of my encounter with this part of His Word?”

The outcome of meditation should be application. Like chewing without swallowing, so meditation is incomplete without some type of application. This is so important that the entire next section is devoted to applying God’s Word.

Pray Through the Text

This is the spirit of Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” The Holy Spirit is the Great Guide into the truth (John 14:26). Meditation is more than just riveted human concentration or creative mental energy. Praying your way through a verse of Scripture submits the mind to the Holy Spirit’s illumination of the text and intensifies your spiritual perception. The Bible was written under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration; pray for His illumination in your meditation.

I recently meditated on Psalm 119:50: “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Thy word has revived me” (NASB). I prayed through the text along these lines:


Lord, You know the affliction I’m going through right now. Your Word promises to comfort me in my affliction. Your Word can revive me in my affliction. I really believe that is true. Your Word has revived me in affliction during the past, and I confess my faith to You that it will revive me in this experience. I pray that You will revive me now through the comfort of Your Word.


As I prayed through this text, the Holy Spirit began to bring to my mind truths from Scripture about the sovereignty of God over His Church, His providence over the circumstances in my life, His power, His constant presence and love, and so on. In this extended time of meditation and prayer, my soul was revived and I felt comforted by the Comforter.

Meditation must always involve two people—the Christian and the Holy Spirit. Praying over a text is the invitation for the Holy Spirit to hold His divine light over the words of Scripture to show you what you cannot see without Him.



Don’t Rush—Take Time!

What value is there to reading one, three, or more chapters of Scripture only to find that after you’ve finished you can’t recall a thing you’ve read? It’s better to read a small amount of Scripture and meditate on it than to read an extensive section without meditation.

Maurice Roberts wrote these words from Scotland in 1990:


Our age has been sadly deficient in what may be termed spiritual greatness. At the root of this is the modern disease of shallowness. We are all too impatient to meditate on the faith we profess.… It is not the busy skimming over religious books or the careless hastening through religious duties which makes for a strong Christian faith. Rather, it is unhurried meditation on gospel truths and the exposing of our minds to these truths that yields the fruit of sanctified character.


Read less (if necessary) in order to meditate more. Although many Christians need to find the time to increase their Bible reading, there may be some who are spending all the time they can or should reading the Bible. If you could not possibly add more time to your devotional schedule for meditating on your Scripture reading, read less in order to have some unhurried time for meditation. Even though you may find moments throughout the day when you meditate on God’s Word (see Psalm 119:97), the best meditation generally occurs when it’s part of your main daily encounter with the Bible.

May our experience in scriptural meditation be as joyful and fruitful as that of Jonathan Edwards, who penned these lines in his journal soon after his conversion: “I seemed often to see so much light exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading; often dwelling long on one sentence to see the wonders contained in it, and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders.”

Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 29–31.

I have prepared a 13 week study of Donald Whitney’s classic book. It is available as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service. Through this service, you get access to thousands of Bible lessons for one low monthly cost. This Study Guide is also available on Amazon.