Meditations of the Heart
Meditations of the Heart by James T. Berry, Ph.D.
What were you thinking before you started reading this article? We all think almost
all the time. Have you ever considered what you are thinking about? At any given
moment, you can stop and think about what you were thinking. My wife likes to ask
she was hoping to hear sweet loving thoughts I was having about our time spent
together. Unfortunately, my thoughts were about the quality of the road surface, the
width of the road shoulders, and how well the Tennessee grass mowers do their
jobs on the interstate. We had a laugh about that, but my thoughts did not impress
her that day.
Most of the time we simply think without awareness of our thoughts similar to
breathing without thinking about our breaths. How often would you be happy to
share your thoughts? How often would you be embarrassed? Mercifully, God did
not give us the ability to read each others' thoughts. I believe we could not handle
the hurts and disillusionment that would accrue from hearing the negative thoughts
of others. On the other hand, God does know our thoughts and the words of Psalm
19 raise a lofty goal. "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer." So, how is your
thought life? What are you thinking about? Are your meditations acceptable to
God? What is acceptable and what is not? I have a few thoughts about our
thoughts to help with this question. Consider with me three categories of
unacceptable meditations and three categories of acceptable ones.
Negative Thought Categories
Negatives: The negative categories are Negatives, Malevolents, and Lusts.
Negatives are the ordinary thoughts that express negative content about ourselves,
others, or life in general. The possible examples are endless. Self examples
include, "I'm too _______ (skinny, tall, fat, etc.)." "Nobody likes me." "I'm a loser."
Negative thoughts about others include, "He can't do anything right." "It's all her
fault." "My boss doesn't care." Negative thoughts about life include, "Life is
hopeless." "The car is going to break down." "People are dangerous." Notice that
many of the negative thoughts are global in nature. They assume that all people are
dangerous or that I am a complete loser. Cognitive therapists call this
overgeneralization. The truth might be that I have failed in some significant way, but
I am not a loser in all ways.
It is important to fight the tendency to see oneself, others, or the future as all bad or
all lost. There is a darkness to this type of thinking. Think about your thought life.
How much light or darkness is there for you. If your thinking tends to be dark, you
may have internalized negative templates that are influencing you without your
awareness. Therapists call these negative templates schemas. Negative
schemas can harm you in your relationships and your living without your even
knowing it. Schemas can be overcome, but you have to become aware of them in
order to drive them from your soul.
Malevolents: Our next category of negative thinking are the Malevolents. The
word malevolent is an adjective meaning to wish evil on others. I am using it as a
noun to describe in one word thoughts that have evil, harmful intent. Most people
do not think of themselves as malevolent. That title is usually reserved for wicked
witches. However we all have had malevolent thoughts. These thoughts flow from
roots of bitterness and malice within. Malevolents are characterized by holding
others, i.e., grudges; refusing to forgive; planning harm toward another; cursing
others; bearing false witness; etc. Malevolents are born from anger, and anger is
born from hurt. There are many ways to get hurt in life. We can feel slighted,
passed by, ignored, disrespected, attacked, used, misled, abused, etc. Therapists
commonly see this played out when people are divorcing. The powerful hurts of
divorce bring to the fore the malevolent hating thoughts within.
When hurts lead to anger, and anger is not resolved, bitter roots take hold in the
soul. It is absolutely crucial for your life and health to not let bitter roots grow and
fester. You cannot avoid getting hurt in life, but you can keep a bitter root from
developing. Examine your thoughts. Ask yourself, "What am I holding against
others?" Are you having Malevolents? If so, you have forgiveness work to do. If
you let the bitter roots fester in your soul, you will slip further and further away into a
darkness of isolation and despair, and you'll cut yourself off from the grace of God.
Ask God to help you forgive if you are blocked. Seek help with your pastor or
therapist. Do not be defined by bitterness!
Lusts: The last category of negative thoughts are the Lusts. These thoughts are
characterized by fantasy and the forbidden. Much of lustful thinking is wanting
something that is not yours. Envying another's home, job, body, spouse, car, or life
qualify as Lusts. Sexual fantasies are common for many, but thoughts of greed and
envy are prevalent too. Lustful thinking is dangerous because it robs us of
contentment and joy in the present. We start to think that our things, children,
spouses, and lives are not good enough. This can also lead to a negative and
bitter heart. Lustful thinking can be a problem for anyone at any economic level.
So, how about your thought life? Do you spend time dreaming of escape from your
life or marriage or job? If you do, you are not living in the present and are not
making your life any better. The time you spend thinking about what cannot be is
time you have lost thinking about what could be better in real life. If you catch
yourself lusting sexually after a forbidden person, try purposefully thinking about how
you can pursue the person in your life God has given you. If you find yourself
envying another person's home, try purposefully thinking about how you can
improve your own home or start making realistic plans about how to move to a
place that works.
Another helpful act is to confess Malevolents and Lusts to God. The last thing most
people think to do when having sinful thoughts is to admit openly those thoughts to
God. However, God already knows you are thinking them, so he will not be
surprised. Secondly, he has heard the very thoughts you are having no matter how
bad they are from the beginning of man's walk on the planet (after the fall).
Confession of your sinful thoughts helps to loosen their hold on our souls and invites
God's Spirit to transform our core so that negative sinful thoughts are less and less
a part of our lives freeing us to live more fully and joyfully in the present.
Positive Thought Categories
Delights: Now let's turn our attention to meditations of the heart that are pleasing to
God and healthy for our souls. Here too are three categories: Delights, Truths, and
Magnificants. Delights are positive thoughts about the past, present, or future that
uplift or delight the soul. Think back to a warm memory from the past. Your
memory may involve a good experience where you felt safe and secure. You might
think back to times of great camaraderie with friends as you journeyed together
through a challenge. Maybe your memory is of a triumph in sports or work. Maybe
you persisted and achieved a goal that others thought you could not achieve. It is
good to remember these delights from the past especially when you are
discouraged in the present. The Jewish people in the Bible were good at
establishing memorials to remember the great things God did for them. As
described in 1 Samuel 7, Samuel, the leader of Israel at the time, erected a large
stone he called Ebenezer to remind the people of God's presence. Every time the
Israelites saw the stone, they were re-minded. They thought again of God's being
with them through it all. You might consider having your own Ebenezer to re-mind
My favorite delights are those of the present. I am a highly sensory person. I find
delights in many things I see, hear, smell, etc. Examples include the food I'm
eating, the music I hear, the forest I move through, clean air, beautiful clouds, the
grace of a deer running, a good movie, the beauty of my spouse, and the glory of
sunsets. As I mentioned earlier, I can even delight in the way the roads are made
and the grass is mowed. What are your delights? You might try brainstorming a list
of them. It is amazing what you can delight in if you think about it.
It is also possible to delight in the future. What are you looking forward to? This is
the positive version of fantasy. It can be quite motivating and energizing to spend
some time thinking about upcoming events, experiences, or adventures. Think
about your next upcoming date with your spouse, that upcoming concert you long to
hear, that vacation you have worked hard to make possible. If your thoughts and
good fantasies bring more energy and life to your present, then they are probably
Truths: The second category of positive thoughts and pleasing meditations are
Truths. This category includes both positive and difficult content. Truths are about
being honest with yourself about what is going on inside your soul as well as what is
going on with relationships. Becoming aware of one's emotions can be helpful in
figuring out what needs to be done in one's life. "Why are you cast down, O my
soul?" The writer in Psalm 42 has become aware of negative emotion in his soul.
It is good for us to consider such emotions, consider the causes, and consider what
to do about them. These are truth thoughts. You might take time to consider what
you are sad about, what you are angry about, what you are afraid of, and positively,
what you are happy about. It is important to not become stuck in negative
emotions, but to deal with them in order to return to a state of peace and joy before
As I have aged, I have found myself plagued by regrets at times. These thoughts
intrusively break into my consciousness and cause pain. Unfortunately, at this point
in life, I am unable to change history to make the reality of the regrets evaporate.
Instead, I face each regret, express sorrow and grief over my actions or lack of
actions, confess these feelings and realities to God, ask Him for help in letting them
go, and seek His reminder of the good that I have done and am capable of doing in
the future. It is a humbling thing to face one's regrets, but it is necessary if one is to
become free to live in the present and future. Almost all of us have regrets. Know
that you are not alone. When you are ready, deal with them one by one, and you will
find freedom from their condemnation. "There is therefore no condemnation for
those in Christ Jesus." See Romans 8.
The topic of regrets is close in nature to the subject of grief. We grieve when we
experience loss. You cannot avoid it. Loss happens. Having thoughts of grief are
normal and necessary. Grief usually comes in seasons. It is particularly difficult
when loss piles on loss and you have not yet recuperated form the last loss when
another comes. It is hard to have Delights when you are grieving. It is important for
you to allow yourself to feel the grief feelings deeply, yet you will need rest as well
so you can continue your journey through the darkness of these times. It is normal
to question your faith and God's presence during these times. It is important to
develop a strong relationship with God before these seasons come so that you will
experience His comforts and security even through these storms. Grief thoughts
and feelings are a part of real life and are acceptable in His sight.
Another form of Truths applies to relationships. Thinking about your relationships is
normal and necessary. Sometimes these thoughts will be Delights. Sometimes
your thoughts will be troubled or even negative. For example, if you are not being
respected in your relationship, you will probably have feelings that are troubling,
sad, or angry. Looking behind the feelings you'll find thoughts about the
relationship. You might think, "I don't like the way he talked to me last night at the
class. I think he was being disrespectful. I don't like it, and I'm going to address
this with him the next time we are together." These thoughts are acceptable in
God's sight. In fact they are necessary if you are going to be a healthy effective
person. You do not want to be bogged down with confusion or lingering anger. It
would rob you of joy for life and cripple your effectiveness as a person. In a word,
sometimes one has to be assertive to deal with negative realities in life. The goal is
not harm but peace via speaking the truth in love.
Finally in the Truths category of positive thoughts is thinking about thanksgivings. I
could have spoken of this in the Delights, but I think it fits better here. Thanksgiving
is acknowledging the truth of being blessed. For every sorrow or pain we
experience in life, there are hundreds, even thousands of blessings. The problem
is that pain gets our attention. Whereas with blessings, we become desensitized to
them and fail to be aware of them. One of the best medicines for anyone stuck in a
negative mood or pattern is to count your blessings. Dr. Daniel Amen in his book,
Change your brain, Change your life, says that when you have thoughts, your brain
releases chemicals that creates an electrical transmission in your brain so that you
become aware of the thought. "Every time you have an angry thought, an unkind
thought, a sad thought, or a cranky thought, your brain releases chemicals that
make your body feel bad (and activate your deep limbic system). ... Your body
reacts to every negative thought you have. ... Every time you have a good thought, a
happy thought, a hopeful thought, or a kind thought, your brain releases chemicals
that made your body feel good (and cool your deep limbic system). ... Your body
also reacts to good thoughts." (pp. 57-58)
So what are you thankful for? Take time to think about these blessings. If you are
having trouble, start with "micro-blessings." Do your fingers work? Are you able to
walk? Can you speak? Does anyone pay attention to you? Do you have any
money in your wallet? Does your dog wag its tail at your arrival? Some of these
micro-blessings are not so small at all. Our bodies are amazing creations. We
tend to appreciate what is a blessing when something goes wrong. After breaking
my writing hand after falling off a horse, I realized how much I used and depended
on that hand. I was thankful to have another hand to use during that time. Now I am
thankful to have the first hand fully functional. Get the idea? No matter how broken
your life is, there are a multitude of blessings you can become aware of.
Magnificants: For those of you who have persisted in reading this far, I have
saved the best for last: the Magnificants. Magnificants are magnificent thoughts of
forgiveness, goals and callings, and worship.
Forgiveness is one of the grand Magnificants just as unforgiveness was one of the
Malevolents. Forgiveness is a miraculous gift from God to us to free our souls.
Forgiveness can even be granted when the one who hurt you is not asking for
forgiveness. Forgiveness frees the soul. One should guard against saying, "I can
never forgive him for that." Rather, one could say, "Im struggling to forgive him."
Forgiveness is not easy nor should it be. It is possible to become a more forgiving
Forgiveness is the granting of a pardon. It is the canceling of a debt owed. It
allows a person to get off the hook of punishment for what they deserved. When we
are the ones who are guilty of harming someone else, we are deeply grateful for
forgiveness. However, when we are the wounded ones, it is harder to apply
forgiveness. The guilty party does not deserve forgiveness. Forgiveness is a
miraculous free gift. The hurt party absorbs the wound without exacting a wound
from the hurting party. For the person who learns the secret of granting forgiveness,
the wound does not remain toxic in the soul. The person becomes cleared and free
to live fully. The guilty party is also freed, and has an opportunity to start again.
Refusing to forgive is the fast track toward developing a bitter root in the soul.
People with well-developed bitter roots find forgiveness difficult and sometimes
impossible to render. Do not let a bitter root grow in your soul. Examine your
thoughts for bitterness. What are you holding against others? Ask God to help you
forgive. Remember that God and others have forgiven you for your transgressions.
Remember the Lord's prayer, "Forgive us our debts (trespasses) as we forgive our
debtors (those who trespass against us)." God wants you to forgive all who have
wounded you. God wants you to be free.
Another type of Magnificant are goals and calling. What are the magnificent goals
for your life? What would God be calling you to do and be? It is never too late to
contemplate these things. In fact, our lives may have seasons of different goals and
callings. When was the last time you stopped to consider what meaningful direction
your life could be taking? Given our age of entertainment, it is easy for us to live
much of our lives without thought or significant purpose. We were not made to
spend our lives solely on entertainment. Life is meaningless living that way. We
were made for purpose, for a higher calling. We all have a place in the greater
story. We must pursue it though. It doesn't happen automatically. I am reminded of
the movie, The Matrix, where people were plugged into a virtual reality world that
wasn't reality at all. Most of the people had no idea that what they were living wasn't
real. We were made for real life. Pursue it. Use your thinking to dream of great
goals. Find a way to be a blessing. Ask God to help you find your mission and
calling for this season of your life. Then pursue it not expecting ease, but persist
because it is right and good to do.
Lastly is the Magnificant of worship. Thinking about our God, our creator and
savior, is the most noble of thought. Allowing your soul to marvel at the thought of
Him is an intimate blessing for Him and also lifts our souls. The thoughts are so
powerful that we want to burst out in song. Singing is an ultimate way to express
the feelings and thoughts of our souls. Have you had the experience of singing with
your whole heart? Take time to think the magnificent thoughts of worship. Allow
your soul to sing.
If you need to, go to a quiet, safe place all alone and express your thoughts and
feelings to God. The words of your mouth and the meditations of your heart will
indeed be acceptable in His sight and you will know Him as your rock and your
Let us clear our souls as much as possible of Negatives, Malevlolents, and Lusts
and live our internal lives with Delights, Truths, and Magnificants. When someone
asks you, "What are you thinking about?" you'll have no shame in answering.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any
excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
Philippians 4:8. May God bless you with Delights, Truths, and Magnificants.