“Yeah, you’re right. Kierkegaard’s answer is basically an invitation for rest for the soul provided by the gospel and secured by Jesus – in very flowery 19th century prose. Yet, he actually meditates on portions of the gospel. Piper actually does it really well, too, in one of his sermons that I read for an 843 a few months ago. Here’s what he did:
Do we mean what the psalmist does by “remembering” and “meditating” and “musing”? I wonder. Take an example. Suppose you are feeling unworthy and unacceptable to God and generally a failure and having little motivation to rise above the sense of despondency. Now, you have lots of knowledge in your head of Christ’s great deeds of old. And if someone says to you, “But don’t you know that you are justified by faith and God looks on you in Christ as you cast yourself on him for mercy?” you might say, “Yes, I know that in my head, but it isn’t having any effect on my feelings.”
But is that passive knowing about – or that awareness of – justification what the psalmist means by “remember, meditate, muse”? Could it be that he means something like this? I will call to mind that my Lord Jesus – the kindest, most loving, and utterly sinless man – on a day in history hung on a Roman cross of torture and execution in horrible pain next to a man who had lived a life of sin all his life and was on the brink of eternal damnation. I will remember the sufferings of what he experienced that day and let them brew in my mind. I will remember that the thief next to him said, for some wonderful and inexplicable reason (for he was cursing at first), “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42). I will meditate on the grace of God that brought that change of heart. I will muse on how unlikely that was and how hopeless that request was. I will talk to myself about how this man had no time to become good and deserving before he died. I will think about what kind of grace he thought might be available from this dying Christ.
Then I will remember – I will consciously pursue the memory, I will call it up from my memory or I will track it down in the Gospel of Luke – that Jesus said to the thief, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). And I will pause here and muse on this answer a long time. I will not hurry off somewhere to say that such knowledge has no effect on my emotions. I will pause. I will linger and muse and meditate on this. This is a wonder. Here is a dying man declaring a life-long thief accepted and loved and heaven-bound. Here is a grace that sweeps a lifetime of guilt away in an instant. Here is a power that says death can hold neither you nor me. Here is an authority that decides who goes to heaven and who doesn’t. Here is an immediacy that says it will happen this very day. No purgatory, no testing, no penance. Just absolute forgiveness and acquittal and cleansing and acceptance. “Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders” (Psalm 77:13). [Source: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/i-will-meditate-on-all-your-work-and-muse-on-your-deeds]
Yet, even though it’s an encouragement to know that Piper is speaking to believers and so implicitly saying that believers can go through the repetitive cycle of feelings of guilt and forgiveness, a question remains: “That’s all fine and good for the thief, Piper. I mean, he died immediately and had no further opportunity to sin. But what about me? I can plead for forgiveness and it can seem so sincere and then I can turn around once again do that very same thing two seconds later. What about that? Am I licensed to enjoy the gracious forgiveness of the Lord when I’m a continuing and hopeless sinner?” And the best place, in my mind, to turn to is John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin – which is a long meditation on Romans 8:13:
13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
This book is all about indwelling sin – that sin that we “longer-than-the-thief Christians” do over and over again – ones that even may be rooted in our nature. In the first 8 chapters, he basically takes the verse word-by-word – what is “the sinful nature,” what is “by the Spirit,” what is “put to death,” what are “the misdeeds of the body,” etc. So, chapter 2 addresses the necessity of mortification and it starts:
I. That the choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.
Where he has his famous statement:
Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you. Your being dead with Christ virtually, your being quickened with him, will not excuse you from this work.
And he offers 6 specific reasons for us to participate in the mortification of sin. In particular, related to our discussion, his 5th reason is about the despairing effect that negligence of mortification has on our souls:
5. Negligence in this duty casts the soul into a perfect contrary condition to that which the apostle affirms was his, 2 Cor. 4:16, “Though our outward man perish, yet the inwardman is renewed day by day.” In these the inward man perisheth, and the outward man is renewed day by day. Sin is as the house of David, and grace as the house of Saul. Exercise and success are the two main cherishers of grace in the heart; when it is suffered to lie still, it withers and decays: the things of it are ready to die, Rev. 3:2; and sin gets ground towards the hardening of the heart, Heb. 3:13. This is that which I intend: by the omission of this duty grace withers, lust flourisheth, and the frame of the heart grows worse and worse; and the Lord knows what desperate and fearful issues it hath had with many. Where sin, through the neglect of mortification, gets a considerable victory, it breaks the bones of the soul, Ps. 31:10, and makes a man weak, sick, and ready to die, Ps. 38:3-5, so that he cannot look up, Ps. 60:12, Isa. 33:24; and when poor creatures will take blow by blow, wound after wound, foil after foil, and never rouse up themselves to a vigorous opposition, can they expect any thing but to be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and that their souls should bleed to death? 2 John 8. Indeed, it is a sad thing to consider the fearful issues of this neglect, which lie under our eyes every day. See we not those, whom we knew humble, melting, broken-hearted Christians, tender and fearful to offend, zealous for God and all his ways, his Sabbaths and ordinances, grown, through neglect of watching unto this duty, earthly, carnal, cold, wrathful, complying with the men of the world and things of the world, to the scandal of religion and the fearful temptation of them that know them? The truth is, what between placing mortification in a rigid, stubborn frame of spirit, which is for the most part earthly, legal, censorious, partial, consistent with wrath, envy, malice, pride, on the one hand, and pretences of liberty, grace, and I know not what, on the other, true evangelical mortification is almost lost amongst us: of which afterward.
Thus, by implication, the “prescription” that Owen would suggest – which goes beyond the typical true but somewhat confusing prescription of “Go to Jesus on the cross” – is to mortify the deeds of the body by the Spirit. In order to know what all that is, though, you’ll have to read the book. It’s too long to put in an email. :) [See entire book here (or get on Kindle / books): http://www.jesus.org.uk/vault/library/owen_mortification.pdf].