David W. Saxton. God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015. See here to buy the book.
God’s Battle Plan for the Mind is about meditating on the Scriptures, and it focuses on Puritan insights about the importance of doing so and ways to do it.
Meditating on the Scriptures has been a mixed experience for me. One can easily fall into the trap of meditating on the Scriptures and falling into feelings of self-condemnation because one falls short of God’s rules, or negative thinking because there is a lot in the Bible about God’s wrath. To be honest, there are times when I think that it is mentally healthier for me to think about nothing at all rather than the Bible!
At the same time, in reading this book, I could identify with a lot of what David Saxton and the Puritans had to say about meditation. I do find that it is important for me to discipline my thoughts, to sit down and to deliberate about the kind of person I should be, and to seek God’s grace and strength. Reflection, mindfulness, and contemplating the higher things in life can be very beneficial to a person, as opposed to allowing one’s mind to swim aimlessly into negative territory.
Overall, as I read Saxton’s book, I found the Puritans to be constructive in their approach to meditation. Yes, they recommended thinking about hell, God’s judgment, and the warnings in Scripture, for they believed that this could encourage repentance. Yes, they sometimes tossed in a spiritual threat towards those who failed to meditate. But they also promoted relying on God’s love and grace, contemplating why sin is bad, and looking forward to heaven. I was especially impressed when they tried to meet people where they were. If you have a problem with covetousness and greed, focus on heaven, one Puritan recommended. If you have difficulty having warm feelings towards God while meditating, turn to God in prayer, for we all must depend on God to meditate well, anyway.
As someone with Asperger’s who likes clear guidelines, I was impressed with how practical the Puritans were. They offered ideas on subjects for meditation, the practical benefit of meditation, and the amount of time that one may want to spend on meditation. They were not necessarily doing so to be legalistic, but rather were focusing on the goals of meditation and possible ways to meet those goals. They also backed up many of their insights with Scripture, for there are passages about meditating on God’s commandments and setting one’s mind on heaven, the home of the saints.
Do I plan to change anything in my life after reading this book? On the one hand, I am fairly satisfied with my spiritual practice, in that I think about the importance of being a good person and pray for the strength to be that. I also do not want to fall into beating a dead horse when trying to meditate on the Bible, for I sometimes feel that there is only so much that I can say about a Bible passage. (There may be more to the passage, but only so much about it that swims around in my mind.) On the other hand, I do agree with Saxton that some of us (and this has been me) can listen to sermon after sermon and fail to grow because we do not stop and absorb the sermon. In addition, I do think that I should have more of an application component in my devotional reading: to contemplate, not just what the passage means and why it says things as it does, but also how it relates to my life and my relationship with God and others.
I received this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review.