The year was 388 A.D. A young man and his mother were on a journey. They stopped at an acquaintance's house to rest. The young man had lived a sinful life, but had recently been converted through the prayers of his mother. His father had already died; he came to salvation soon before his own death. In the house, mother and son stood at an open window overlooking a garden. The were discussing spiritual matters. This is how the son remembered the conversation:
"We were conversing alone very pleasantly and 'forgetting those things which are past, and reaching forward toward those things which are the future.' We were in the present and in the presence of truth...discussing together what is the nature of eternal life of the saints: which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man. We opened wide the mouth of our heart, thirsting for those supernal streams...'the fountain of life'...that we may be sprinkled with its waters according to our capacity and might in some measure weigh the truth of so profound a mystery.
"And when our conversation had brought us to the point where the very highest of physical sense and the most intense illumination of physical light seemed, in comparison with the sweetness of the life to come, not worthy of comparison, nor even of mention, we lifted ourselves with more ardent love toward the Selfsame, and we gradually passed through all the levels of bodily objects, and even through the heaven itself, where the sun and moon and stars shine on the earth. Indeed, we soared higher yet by an inner musing, speaking and marveling at [God's] works...And while we were thus speaking and straining after her (wisdom), we just barely touched her with the whole efforts of our hearts. Then with a sigh, leaving the first fruits of the Spirit bound to that ecstasy, we returned to the sounds of our own tongue, where the spoken word had both beginning and end."
After undergoing this deeply spiritual experience, mother and son continued their conversation. The mother finally said this to her son:
"Son, for myself I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here or why I am here. There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God hath answered this more than abundantly, so that I see you now made his servant and spurning all earthly happiness. What more am I to do here."*
Five days later, the mother had caught a fever, died, and went to join her husband in the presence of the God. The mother's name was Monica. The son, Augustine. He would become a bishop and one of the Church's most important theologians.
Take note of the two results this conversation between mother and son produced:
First, both experienced a foretaste of heaven. Augustine employs rapturous language in trying to convey what he and his mother experienced. Yet the experience was so personal, so profound, that he can only describe it in general terms. This reminds us of Paul's vision of paradise: "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows--such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man--whether in the body or ought of the body I do not know, God knows--how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." (2Cor. 12: 2-4) What Paul experienced, he could not convey in words. What he saw and heard was too holy to reveal. Perhaps Augustine, as Paul, believed that the details of what he and his mother experienced was not meant to be revealed.
Second, this vision of heaven produced in Monica a desire to be done with earthly life. She had a foretaste of heavenly life which brought her to the point of no longer desiring what life on earth had to offer. Having a glimpse of her life to come, and being assured that Augustine would too experience eternal life in God's presence, she was content with leaving this life behind.
Some of Christ's disciples experience such visions. But many don't, especially western Christians. But meditation upon spiritual things, including what heaven is like for the saints who are already there, produces the desire for God and heaven which eventually extinguishes our desire to remain here on earth. As the ties that bind our affections for this earthly life are broken, we become desirous of being in the presence of God. We become content with our own mortality and grow impatient to be done with this world. Having assurance of our life to come, the trials of life, though vexing, no longer cause us to despair. This is the outworking of Christian meditation in the practical side of life.
Meditation upon heaven was not a one time thing for Monica and Augustine. Not even a vision as they experienced could produce the desire to leave this earthly life. Only much time meditating upon the things of God could have brought them to that point of spiritual maturity. They obeyed Paul's admonition to the Church at Philippi: "...whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you." (Phil. 4: 8-9)
According to Strong's Concordance, one Hebrew word for meditate is hagah, which means to murmer (in pleasure or anger), by implication, to ponder. Hagah can mean imagine, meditate, mourn, mutter, or roar. In an idiom particular to Hebrew, the word can mean speak, study, talk, or utter. Hagah appears in Joshua 1:8, Ps. 63:6 and Ps. 77:12. Most famously, it appears in Ps. 1:2. Describing the man who is blessed, the psalmist states that for the blessed man, "...his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His Law he meditates day and night." Day and night. This denotes constant application. Disciplined meditation upon the things of God, followed by disciplined application, leads to the state described by the psalmist: "He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not whither; and whatever he does shall prosper." (Ps. 1:3)
Another Old Testament word for meditate is siyach. Its primary root means to ponder, to converse with one's self and hence, out loud. Siyach can also mean to commune, complain, declare, meditate, muse, pray, speak, or talk (with). Siyach appears in Ps. 119: 15, 23, 48, 78, 148.
A New Testament word for meditate is meletao, to revolve in the mind, which is found in 1Tim. 4:15. Paul writes to Timothy: "Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all." Here, Paul states that meditation leads to right action, right conduct. Ultimately, it leads to a transformation that is noted by those closest to us. Meditation leads to every day blessings, such as Monica's affections being redirected away from earth. These everyday blessings are available to all believers. And for some, meditation will bring visions of the life to come.
All scripture quotations from the NKJV.