Are you, or your church, stagnant in your devotional life? John Ball (1585–1640) cares about your spiritual health! Well over three-hundred years ago, Ball, the English pastor turned schoolmaster, sought to teach his fellow Christians to care about their prayer life and Bible reading. He was concerned because it seemed they’d lost their passionate appetite for God’s glory. His answer: write a treatise on the spiritual discipline, the art of biblical meditation.
Business of Biblical Meditation
What is this practice? As Ball thoroughly defines it:
Meditation is a serious, earnest, and purposed musing upon some point of Christian instruction, tending to lead us forward toward the Kingdom of Heaven, and serving for our daily strengthening against the flesh, the world, and the Devil. Or it is a steadfast and earnest bending of the mind upon some spiritual and heavenly matter, discoursing thereof with ourselves, till we bring the [this matter] to some profitable issue, both for the settling of our judgments and bettering of our hearts and lives.
Simply, Biblical meditation is a filling of the mind with Scripture or a scriptural doctrine—digesting that thought for a period of time and then prayerfully drawing out personal applications. Biblical meditation has as its goal a growing knowledge of God’s word and a growing intimacy with Christ, not a sensation of feelings. This discipline is an artform in which every Christian is capable of maturing. Is this discipline commonly practiced in the church today? Is this a method pastors regularly teach concerning the growth of their congregation’s spiritual health?
Meditation, and its synonyms rumination, consideration, contemplation, are outlined throughout the Old and New Testaments (see Joshua 1:8; Psalm 8:3–4; Philippians 4:7–9; Colossians 3:1–17). A rich history of this practice is traced from Augustine of Hippo through Martin Luther. But Ball lamented that this practice of meditation had become to Christians nothing more than a self-directed speculation about God using their own personal notions. Meditation is not mere speculation; it is an intentional exegetical endeavor invigorated by the Holy Spirit. Intentional use of meditation is nothing less than communing with God by the means God gave us to know his deity and his provision of salvation. Meditation is a practice and lifestyle commissioned by God for all Christians who ingest Bible and biblical doctrines.
Method for Biblical Meditation
What was Ball’s method for teaching meditation?
First, Ball practiced this discipline on his own. How can we expect our people and fellow members to grow in their spiritual discipline if we are not growing in ours?
Second, Ball guided his people in the proper means. Biblical mediation must always start with Bible. When we go to God in worship we need not become Nadab and Abihu, bringing the strange flames of whatever we want, whatever we feel we could somehow meld with Scripture. Biblical meditation has its starting place in Scripture; we may walk through the woods, but we do so with God’s word resting on our tongues. We do not empty the mind as we would in the pagan practices of eastern meditation. For Christian spiritual growth we fill the mind with the thoughts of the Triune God, his doctrines, and his Word to us lest we starve in the wilderness with Zion before us. Paul urges, “Think on these things!”
Third, Ball instructed his people to seek after personal application. That is the whole of this practice. Often, we get caught up in the ideas of mysticism when we hear the term spirituality. Biblical spirituality is not so deceptively shallow as to only give an ephemeral experience. Real spirituality not only affects our heart, but our mind and will. When we grow in our intimacy with Christ, we grow in our love for one another; from there, we seek to impart the saving knowledge wherein we’ve grown. Spiritual health is markedly communal; those nearest the Lord Jesus are observed as those seeking to bring others alongside them. Why did Ball assume the poor spiritual health of his people? Because they were observed as caring more about their own personal notions of spirituality than drawing others into intimacy with God’s Word.
The Modern Church
The experience in our church culture is not so different from Ball’s experience. We still find stagnancy in our devotion and folks are unclear as to what “counts” as spiritual discipline or experience. How do we incorporate real biblical meditation into our churches today? Contextualizing this practice is the work of each local congregation.
However, three words of advice: First, we must begin by growing in our own spiritual practices. Second, as with any doctrine and practice, we must be wise in addressing what biblical spirituality is not. Biblical meditation is nothing like Buddhist mysticism, nor is it compatible. Third, we are likely already practicing some form of biblical meditation one way or another, especially if we are praying the Bible. Harness what spiritual growth is present in you and your fellow believers and bring them up with you in maturity. What doctrine, what verse or verses, what matter of repentance would stir you today (even for five minutes) as you meditate on the things of God? John Ball saw biblical meditation as serious business, let’s see it the same!
 John Ball, A Treatise of Divine Meditation (London: H. Matlock, 1660), 3–4.
 Ball, A Treatise on Divine Meditation, A3.
 Ball, A Treatise on Divine Meditation, 54.