This course covers the theory and practice of meditation as it applies to a Biblical or Christian worldview. Using key Biblical passages as your guide, you will learn how to cultivate greater peace and wisdom in your life as you impress the word of God deep into your heart and mind.
You Can Fully Embrace the Benefits of Meditation While Staying True to Your Own Beliefs.
Meditation is often misunderstood as either a non-spiritual mental health practice or a mysterious ritual belonging to Eastern religions. In fact, meditation has always been intended as a spiritual practice, but it does NOT belong exclusively to Eastern mystical traditions. Meditation, and the related practices of contemplative prayer and “lectio divina” have been part of Christianity from the beginning.
Daily meditation is a powerful tool to transform our lives and cultivate greater peace and wisdom.
In our modern life, we are too often stressed out, over-scheduled, and unfocused. In fact, it seems life conspires to keep us in this state of unrest. However, Jesus Christ said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The spiritual life should not one of constant anxiety and fear and reactivity.
What Is Biblical Meditation?
What is meditation?
The concept has been corrupted in modern thought. In the minds of many Christians, meditation is associated with eastern religions, like Hinduism and Buddhism – belief systems that don’t acknowledge God as Father or Jesus as Savior and Lord. This association leads many to believe that meditation in any form opens the mind to evil spirits or untrue teaching.
But that robs us of an important way of interacting with Scripture.
When I began staying home with my kids, I was overwhelmed. While I suspected such an endeavor would be hard, I wasn’t prepared for the ways it challenged me. My daily time in the Bible kept me rooted in Christ; my weekly Bible study kept me digging into Scripture; but the thing that reassured me that I was in Jesus’ hands was meditation on his holy Word.
What the Bible Says About Meditation
Since the concept of meditation has been appropriated by other religions, we’ve lost an important and meaningful way of interacting with Scripture. The Bible mentions 23 occurrences of some translation of meditate: 19 of them appear in the Psalms, and of the 23, 20 refer specifically to meditating on the Lord in some way. We are told to meditate on his actions, law, or testimonies – all of which are found within his Word.
There are several words in the Bible that translate as a form of meditate, depending on their context, including speak, utter, study, imagine, and muse. (There is even one instance of it being translated as sing, my personal favorite.) The Bible uses meditation as deep contemplation, a turning over and around in the mind to gain greater understanding and be changed by God’s truth.
True, meditation is a tool of learning that can be abused. Yet, instead of avoiding it, we should use it with care, biblical understanding, and respect.
What Biblical Meditation Isn’t
- Sitting with an empty mind
- Mindlessly repeating a single word or phrase to gain some sort of altered state
- Burning candles, or sitting calmly on a rug, or listening to sonorous music
- Practicing yoga
Biblical meditation isn’t even primarily for relaxation, although you may find it calming and comforting. It’s not about controlling your breathing, although there may be times when deep breaths are helpful. It’s never mindless; instead meditation means that your mind is focused on God and his Word.
What Biblical Meditation Is
Not only is biblical meditation about focusing on God through contemplation on his Word, it’s about quieting our hearts with Scripture and a deeper intimacy with Jesus.
The particulars of biblical meditation can vary, but the practice isn’t complicated. A meditative practice that helps me is sitting quietly and thinking over a passage piece by piece, breaking it apart and dwelling on each word and line of Scripture. I would not be surprised if many of us, even those who scoff at the concept of meditation, have engaged in it without realizing it:
- If you’ve ever sat with a Scripture and gone over it repeatedly, trying to understand each word, you’ve meditated.
- If you’ve ever been compelled by a sermon or passage of Scripture to sit and think over a single attribute or testimony of God, you’ve meditated.
- If you’ve ever felt tempted and brought a Scripture to mind, going over it repeatedly to gain God’s strength and rest, you’ve meditated.
Meditation implies wonder and thought, remembering the Lord in all his glory and pondering him in his fullness:I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? (Psalm 77:11-13)
The Difference Between Meditation and Reading
When we do our daily Bible reading, we’re acknowledging and strengthening our communion with God. In that regard, our daily reading and Scripture meditation are the same. Bible meditation also shares a similarity with Bible study; like Bible study, it’s meant to take a lingering look into specific aspects and contexts of Scripture.
Where daily reading is our regular nourishment in God’s Word, and Bible study is meant to deepen our understanding of that nourishment, Bible meditation is learning to savor every morsel of God’s rich, vibrant, life-giving Scripture:In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” (Psalm 119:14-16)
Think of Bible meditation like slowly enjoying a piece of chocolate, letting it melt in your mouth, paying close attention to every nuance of flavor and texture. Like a thoughtful experience with well-made food, meditation brings delight in God’s holy testimonies and character, and that delight inspires even more meditation on his Word.
While Bible study educates and convinces the mind, Bible meditation persuades and entices the heart. In the hardest times, I mull over what God has said, reminding myself of his justice and goodness; this settles my soul and turns my eyes from my immediate troubles to his eternal grace.
What Does Meditation Mean in the Bible? How Can I Practice Biblical Meditation?
Meditation is a key component to a Christian’s growth. While meditation isn’t described in Scripture as many think of meditation today, which is greatly influenced by Eastern meditation methods, meditation in the Bible is associated with growth and prosperity. April Motl Crosswalk.com Contributor
Meditation is a key component to a Christian’s growth. While meditation isn’t described in Scripture as many think of meditation today, which is greatly influenced by Eastern meditation methods, meditation in the Bible is associated with growth and prosperity.
Definition of Meditate in the Bible
Examples of Meditation in the Bible
The first person we see “meditating” in the Bible is Isaac. He was meditating (suach) in a field when the Lord brought his wife, Rebekah, to him
Isaac was the son God promised to Abraham and Sarah. While we know a lot about Abraham’s amazing faith, Isaac had his own personal journey with God.
Isaac was what we would consider a little old to be a bachelor, but there he was, waiting on the Lord’s provision for a wife. He was in the midst of grieving the death of his mother, meditating and waiting when God brought Rebekah to him. Most Bible scholars consider him to be prayerfully processing life with God during this time.
Scripture records that he took Rebekah as his wife, loved her all his days, and was comforted after his mother’s death. In a culture of polygamy, Isaac loved only Rebekah. When the two of them shared anniversary after anniversary with no children, Isaac prayed, and the Lord heard his prayer and blessed them with twins.
Meditation and prayer were intricately woven into Isaac’s life, even shaping the direction of his family.
The next instance of meditating we see in Scripture occurs in the book of Joshua:
After Moses died, the Lord gave instructions to Joshua, Moses’ aid. One instruction was to meditate on the “Book of the Law.”
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate [hagah] on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”
“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates [hah] day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.”
In these two examples, meditating on God’s word results in doing “all that is written in it,” “yield[ing] fruit” and prospering.
Whether our business is blessed because we carry it out with godly principles or our souls are wrapped in the rich peace of Christ, without meditating on Scripture, we can be sure we will miss opportunities to prosper in our walks with God. Because as Christians, there is no greater prosperity for us than to know the Lord. Meditating on Scripture is a way to experiencing Him!
I David meditated on his past experiences with God when his current experience was overwhelming.
“Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart is appalled within me. I remember the days of old; I meditate [hag ah] on all Your doings; I muse on the work of Your hands.”
While the passage doesn’t directly mention prosperity or success, we can see in David’s life that intentionally setting his heart and mind on God anchored and steadied him in his responses to life.
Throughout the Psalms we see David’s example of directing his thoughts to Scripture and to his past experiences with God when life became difficult.
Practicing Biblical Meditation
All of us meditate on something throughout the day; we just may or may not do it with intention. When we are tempted to let our thoughts rule us, we can practice biblical meditation by being deliberate with our thoughts and direct them on the things of the Lord. Instead of getting lost in pain, we can set our minds on the promises of God.
The New Testament gives numerous instructions on how to direct our thoughts, but the word meditate is not often used.
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossi ans 3:2-4)
“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 6:6-8)
This example from 1 Timothy is translated “meditate” in the King James Version (and the NKJV) but is translated “take pains” in the New American Standard.
“Meditate [metal] on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.” (1 Timothy 4:15 JINK)
Again, progress (or growth) is indicated as a result of meditating on the ways of God. Old and New Testaments remind us that where we set our thoughts greatly impact the fruitfulness of our lives.
Here are other tips to help you meditate on God’s word.
1. Start and end your day with the Word.
If we read the Word in the morning, it’s easy for it to slip out of our thoughts over the course of the day. Schedules and demands squeeze those Bible verses from us. If this is an issue you face, as you crawl into bed at the end of the day, ask yourself what you read in the Bible that morning.
2. Do something with the Word.
But if we do something with what we read, it helps keep God’s word at the forefront of our thoughts. Essentially, whether you do correlative study with a Bible passage, make a craft with verses, or make a song from a verse, doing something with the words helps you hold on to them. And if you can remember them, then you can meditate on them.
3. Talk about God’s word.
If we are regularly talking about God’s word, we will meditate on God’s word. And if we are talking and thinking about God’s word, we will be more able to obey God’s word. And if we are obeying God’s word, our lives are more positioned for His blessings!
Whether you start diligently studying Scripture using word tools, stick post-it notes with Bible verses all over your house, or memorize whole chapters, get your mind soaked with Scripture! You will be blessed when you do!
April Motl is a pastor’s wife, home school mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, being a wife, and serving at church, she writes and teaches for women. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts”
We are also told to “be of the same mind toward one another” which means essentially that we must develop and maintain the mind of Christ or God’s thoughts. We are to “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospe But if my thoughts are contrary to God’s, then I must exchange my thinking with God’s and for that process, He has given us His inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word. So what is our need? We are to study the Scripture, but for that to be effective, we also need to develop the art of biblical meditation.
Joshua 1:8 This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.
If I were the devil (please, no comment), I would do my best to divide and fragment the thinking of the church of Jesus Christ. I would try to get God’s people confused as to who they are and why they are here. I would try to get them preoccupied with other things. I would try to get them to live independently, to think like the world thinks, to think like the natural man thinks in the futility of his mind (Eph. 4:17-18). In other words, I would like to keep people away from serious involvement with the Word of God. I would want to keep their relationship to God’s Word superficial and secondary. Someone has said that the Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. But he also has a number of cultural values or belief systems, actually illusions and snares, that he uses to confuse and manipulate the church so that it must, of necessity, fail in its calling and purpose whenever it operates under these illusions.
Each of these are opposed to and work against developing and maintaining the mind of Christ through studying and meditating on the Word. They are designed to keep us out of the Word which is so essential to our ability to avoid the delusions of Satan and the world system and to hear and respond to the call of God on our lives.
What Does It Mean to Meditate?
The first question we must consider concerns the meaning of meditation and what meditation involves. This is particularly important to the Christian because of the great and growing emphasis on meditation in eastern religions. Transcendental meditation, as it is often called, is not biblical meditation. It is dangerous and actually opens up one’s mind for Satanic attack as it is found in New Age thinking. My purpose here is to deal only with the meaning and blessing of biblical meditation and to point out that eastern forms of meditation and biblical meditation are miles apart.
The Actions of Meditation
Meditation means “the act of focusing one’s thoughts: to ponder, think on, muse.” Meditation consists of reflective thinking or contemplation, usually on a specific subject to discern its meaning or significance or a plan of action.
Some synonyms would be contemplation, reflection, rumination, deep thinking, or remembering in the sense of keeping or calling something to mind for the purpose of consideration, reflection, or meditation. Compare for instance the following verses of Scripture:
The Objects of Meditation
In Eastern forms of meditation as in TM there is an attempt to empty the mind. Biblical meditation, however, is an attempt to empty the mind of the wrong things in order to fill it with what is right and true according to the index of God’s inspired Word.
All Eastern forms of meditation stress the need to become detached from the world. There is an emphasis upon losing person hood and individuality and merging with the Cosmic Mind… Detachment is the final goal of Eastern religion. It is an escaping from the miserable wheel of existence… It is merely a method of controlling the brain waves in order to improve your psychological and emotional well-being.1
Biblical meditation involves becoming detached from the controlling and hindering influences of the world and attached to the living God through Christ that we might, through faith and transformed values, experience the sufficiency of the Savior and reach out to a hurting world in need of the living Christ.
Biblical meditation is object oriented.
It begins with reflective reading and rereading of the Word and is followed by reflection on what has been read and committed to memory. In Scripture, the word meditate is generally found with an object (God, His Word, or works, etc.) or in a context where the object of meditation is understood.
In Scripture it does not mean to sit and ponder infinity or to empty the mind so some force can fill it by repeating some chant or mantra. Such is dangerous and opens the mind to demonic attack. Meditation in the Bible means reflective thinking on biblical truth so that God is able to speak to us through Scripture and through the thoughts that come to mind as we are reflecting on the Word, but that must also be filtered by the Word.
The goal of Christian meditation is to internalize and personalize the Scripture so that its truth can affect how we think, our attitudes, and how we live, our actions.
10 Ways to Effectively Practice Biblical Meditation
The word “meditation” has developed something of a bad reputation in certain Christian circles. This is understandable because the word carries a lot of mystery with it. What is Christian meditation? How is it different than meditation in eastern religions? How can Christians develop this discipline in their lives?
In this article I want to reclaim meditation as one of the essential spiritual disciplines for all believers.
1. Meditation begins with thinking on Scripture.
To meditate properly our souls must reflect upon what our minds have ingested, and our hearts must rejoice in what our souls have grasped. We have truly meditated when we slowly read, prayerfully absorb and humbly rely upon what God has revealed to us in his Word. All of this, of course, in conscious dependence on the internal, energizing work of the Spirit.
2. Meditation is being attentive to God.
It is one way we “keep seeking the things above where Christ is” (Col. 3:1). It is a conscious, continuous engagement of the mind with God. This renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:1-2) is part of the process by which the word of God penetrates the soul and spirit with the light of illumination and the power of transformation.
3. Meditation on Scripture is essential to Christian living.
Just consider a handful of texts that make this clear:
“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success”
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night”
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you”
“I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways”
In addition, consider numerous other exhortations and examples of meditation on God’s word from
4. Meditate on God’s glory in nature
We should also train our souls to meditate on the glory and majesty of God as revealed in natural creation. Jonathan Edwards describes the impact of one encounter with the power and wonder of creation:
“And as I walking there [in his father’s pasture], and looked up on the sky and clouds; there came into my mind, a sweet sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, that I know not how to express. . . . The appearance of everything was altered: there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost everything. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon, for a long time; and so in the day time, spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things: in the mean time, singing forth with a low voice, my contemplation of the Creator and Redeemer. And scarce any thing, among all the works of nature, was so sweet to me as thunder and lightning. Formerly, nothing had been so terrible to me. I used to be a person uncommonly terrified with thunder: and it used to strike me with terror, when I saw a thunder-storm rising. But now, on the contrary, it rejoiced me. I felt God at the first appearance of a thunder-storm. And used to take the opportunity at such times to fix myself to view the clouds, and see the lightnings play, and hear the majestic and awful voice of God’s thunder: which often times was exceeding entertaining, leading me to sweet contemplation of my great and glorious God. And while I viewed, used to spend my time, as it always seemed natural to me, to sing or chant forth my meditations; to speak my thoughts in soliloquies, and speak with a singing voice” (Extractions from his Private Diary, 27-28).
5. Meditate on God himself.
We should also regularly reflect and meditate on God himself and his many works.
“One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire [meditate, NASB] in his temple”
“When I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night”
“I consider the days of old, the years long ago. I said, ‘Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart. Then my spirit made a diligent search. . . . I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder [meditate] all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds”
6. Christian meditation is different.
Christian meditation must be distinguished from the sort that we find in eastern religions or new age fads. Here are seven differences between Christian and eastern meditations:
- Unlike eastern meditation, which advocates emptying the mind, Christian meditation calls on us to fill our mind with God and his truth. Nowhere in the Bible is the “mind” described as evil or unworthy of being the means by which God communicates with us. What the Bible does denounce is intellectual pride, but not the intellect itself. It is humility that we need, not ignorance. I stand opposed to arrogant and cynical intellectualism. But that is not the same thing as using the mind God has given us, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the instruction of Scripture, to evaluate and discern and critically assess what is happening in both the church and the world.
- Unlike eastern meditation, which advocates mental passivity, Christian meditation calls on us to actively exert our mental energy. This is nowhere better stated than by Paul in . Here he encourages us to “let our minds dwell on” whatever is “true,” “honorable,” “right,” “pure,” “lovely,” and of “good repute.” Those things that are “excellent” and “worthy of praise” are to be the targets of our mental aim. It isn’t enough merely to acknowledge that things and ideas of moral and mental excellence are important. Merely affirming such truths and virtues will benefit little in a time of testing. We must energetically give deliberative weight to these things. Our minds must be captivated by them in such a way that the tawdry, sleazy, fictitious, and fanciful fluff of the world loses its appeal.
- Unlike eastern meditation, which advocates detachment from the world, Christian meditation calls for attachment to God. If the believer disengages from the distractions and allurements of the world, it is in order that he/she might engage with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Unlike eastern meditation, which advocates visualization in order to create one’s own reality, Christian meditation calls for visualization of the reality already created by God.
- Unlike eastern meditation, which advocates metaphysical union with ‘god’, Christian meditation calls for spiritual communion with God.
- Unlike eastern meditation, which advocates an inner journey to find the center of one’s being, Christian meditation calls for an outward focus on the objective revelation of God in Scripture and creation.
- Unlike eastern meditation, which advocates mystical transport as the goal of one’s efforts, Christian meditation calls for moral transformation as the goal of one’s efforts.
7. Developing the Discipline: Step 1
So how should the Christian go about developing the discipline of meditation? The first step is to rehearse in one’s mind the presence of God. Perhaps reading and reflecting on will help. Focus your attention on the inescapable presence, the intimate nearness of God. Issues of posture, time, and place are secondary, but not unimportant. The only rule would be: do whatever is most conducive to concentration. If a posture is uncomfortable, change it. If a particular time of day or night is inconvenient, change it. If the place you have chosen exposes you to repeated interruptions and distractions, move it. I enjoy watching football on TV as much as the next guy, but trying to engage with God’s Word during the huddle is hardly an effective way to experience its power!
8. Developing the Discipline: Step 2
The second step is to peruse. By this I mean read, repeat the reading, write it out, then re-write it. We must keep in mind the difference between informative reading of the Scriptures and formative reading. The former focuses on the gathering of information, the increase of knowledge, the collection and memorization of data. The purpose of the latter is to be formed or shaped by the text, through the work of the Holy Spirit. With informative reading, I am in control of the text. With formative reading, the text controls me.
9. Developing the Discipline: Step 3
It also helps to apply your imagination and senses to the truth of the text. Envision yourself personally engaged in the relationship or encounter or experience of which the text speaks. Hear the words as they are spoken. Feel the touch of Jesus on a diseased body. Taste and smell the fish and bread as they are served to the multitudes. See the truths that God has revealed by mentally recreating the scene with yourself present. There is nothing magical or mysterious in this. The purpose of the imagination is not, as some have argued, to create our own reality. Our imagination is a function of our minds whereby we experience more intimately and powerfully the reality God has created. As you are doing so, reflect on the truth of the Word; brood over the truth of the text; absorb it, soak in it, as you turn it over and over in your mind.
10. Developing the Discipline: Final Step!
The final steps can be summarized in four words: pray, personalize, praise, and practice.
• Pray: It is difficult to know when meditation moves into prayer. It isn’t really that important. But at some point, take the truth as the Holy Spirit has illumined it and pray it back to God, whether in petition, thanksgiving, or intercession. In other words, take Scripture and turn it into dialogue with God.
• Personalize: Where possible, and according to sound principles of biblical interpretation, replace proper names and personal pronouns with your own name. God never intended for his Word to float aimlessly in impersonal abstractions. He designed it for you and for me.
• Praise: Then worship the Lord for who he is and what he has done and how it has been revealed in Scripture. Meditation ought always to lead us into adoration and celebration of God.
• Practice. Commit yourself to doing what the Word commands. The aim of meditation is moral transformation. The aim of contemplation is obedience. And in obedience is joy inexpressible and full of glory.
This article is adapted from Sam Storm’s article, “10 Things You Should Know about Christian Meditation,” originally appeared on Sam Storms.com. Used with permission.
Sam Storms is an A millennial, Calvinistic, charismatic, credo-baptist, complementary, Christian Hedonist who loves his wife of 44 years, his two daughters, his four grandchildren, books, baseball, movies, and all things Oklahoma University. In 2008 Sam became Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridleway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sam is on the Board of Directors of both Desiring God and Bethlehem College & Seminary, and also serves as a member of the Council of The Gospel Coalition. Sam is President-Elect of the Evangelical Theological Society.
Meditation in the Bible:
Psalm 1:1-3: “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.”
Psalm 77:12: “I will meditate on all your work and muse on your deeds.”
Psalm 104:1: “Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; As for me, I shall be glad in the LORD. Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty, Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain. “
Psalm 119:15-16: “I will meditate on your precepts and regard Your ways. I shall delight in your statutes; I shall not forget your word.”
Joshua 1:8: “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”
Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
If the Bible encourages us to meditate, how do we incorporate this practice without dabbling in Eastern religion? Here are five main differences between Eastern meditation and biblical meditation:
5 Steps to Meditating on Your Bible
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Not long ago, I asked my pastor about the difference between meditation and prayer, as the two can be hard to distinguish. He replied, “In Scripture, God speaks to us. In prayer, we speak to him. What he says to us prompts what we say to him.”
To meditate, then, is to think deeply about what God has said to us in Scripture and to prepare our minds and hearts for prayer. Scripture fuels meditation, and meditation fuels prayer.
But what exactly does meditation look like? The Psalms give at least five steps for meditating on God’s Word. We meditate to focus, understand, remember, worship, and apply.
1. To focus
I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. (Ps. 119:15)
Whether we read our Bibles in the morning, over lunch, or before bed at night, our schedules and responsibilities tend to assail us with distractions. In fact, distractions are a tool Satan uses to pull our eyes off Christ and prevent us from hearing God in his Word.
Psalm 119 exhorts us to fix our eyes on God’s ways. As wayward humans with many pursuits and persons vying for our attention, meditation frees us to fix our eyes on Jesus and tune out distractions, even if only for five minutes. Focusing on what we’re reading in Scripture provides clarity when we pray.
Meditate to focus on how God is speaking to you through his Word.
2. To understand
Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. (Ps. 119:27)
In meditation we seek to understand how the God of the universe is speaking about himself, our world, and our hearts. We begin by praying with the psalmist, “Make me understand your way!” This is a prayer God delights to answer.
Questions to ask during meditation include: Why is this passage important? What do I need to know? What does it say about God? What does it say about me? How does this reading point to Jesus?
Meditate to understand what God is communicating to you through his Word.
3. To remember
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. (Ps. 143:5)
The whole Bible is one grand story that points to Jesus Christ from beginning to end. When we meditate on Scripture, we do so to remember all God has done in his great redemption story, how he sent Christ to save a people from their sin. In meditation we ponder the work of God’s hands.
Remembering may also bring us to ponder all God has done in our own lives: how he saved us, the opportunities he’s giving us to share the good news, and what we’ve learned about who God is.
Meditate to remember all that God has accomplished through the gospel of grace.
4. To worship
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Ps. 1:2)
Once we’ve meditated to focus, understand, and remember, we will normally find our hearts inclined to worship. So we pause to lift our gaze to the excellencies of Christ, to bend our eyes off the world, to express thanksgiving and adoration when we pray. Meditation leads to delight when the Holy Spirit inclines our hearts to see and savor how glorious God is.
Because of sin and its effects, our hearts often don’t delight in God’s Word. We are tempted to stop reading, to lose focus, to move on to other things. Meditation “arrests” our hearts to delight in God’s Word, which is vital for our spiritual strength and joy.
Meditate to worship the God who deserves all thanks and praise for who he is and what he has done in Christ.
5. To apply
Finally, we’re better able to understand how to apply the Bible when we slow down to meditate. In applying what we read, we ask, “Now what must I do?”
Here’s a brief example. Let’s say you’re reading
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray. . . . But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.
From this passage, you might confess specific ways you’ve disobeyed and gone astray. You might praise God for sending his undeserved loving-kindness in Christ. You might ask for his help in loving someone who’s hurt you with the mercy you’ve received.
Our desire in meditation is to be careful to “do according to all that is written” in the Bible (Josh. 1:8). Then, we bring these points of application to God in prayer, asking for spiritual strength to obey, forsake sin, humble ourselves, and walk worthy of our calling in Christ.
Meditate to apply the Bible to your daily life, and to ask for help in prayer.
What Does the Bible Say about Meditation?
The room was dim, the instructor’s voice was calm and those few moments of stillness were a breath of fresh air in the middle of my frantically busy day. As I slipped my shoes back on and exited the studio, I was glad that my friend had invited me to take part in the meditation class, but at the same time my soul felt a little unsettled. Repeating phrases like, “everything I need is already within me,” seemed contrary to the roots of my faith. I wondered if meditation is something I should participate in as a Christian? And does the Bible have anything to say about it?
The answer is that the Bible has a lot to say on meditation and it gives us clear instruction on how we should take part in the growing trend of mindfulness. Meditation is a good practice that is encouraged in the Old and New Testament alike, however Christians should be sure their meditative thoughts are fixed on the right things. The ultimate question for any Christian who participates in meditation is this: what is at the center of your meditative focus – self-enlightenment or God-alignment?
What is Meditation?
Meditation is readily available in countless forms. Meditation apps promise to reduce your anxiety and help you sleep better at night. There are classes, online courses, retreats and stacks of books that will lead you to inner serenity. Almost all secular meditation resources use reflective thinking, controlled breathing and the practice of accepting your life and thoughts as is and without judgment. These practices clear your mind of mental clutter and help you be present in the moment, they relieve stress and improve focus.
There are many benefits to meditation, but the problem is none of them involve a Savior. They only involve temporary relief from the pressures of life.
Biblical meditation is entirely different, it has a different focus, a different application and a different outcome.
Secular meditation is focused on letting go of our attachment to everything but the present moment, the present breath. Biblical mediation is focused on clinging as close as we can to the ways, promises and words of God.
One of the first times the Bible mentions meditation is in Joshua 1:8 and it reads, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” In these verses the focus of the meditation is on the words of Scripture. The Bible also mentions meditating on God’s unfailing love (Psalm 48:9), on God’s works and all his mighty deeds (Psalm 77:12), on God’s precepts and his ways (Psalm 119:15) and on God’s promises (Psalm 119:148).
Secular meditation leaves you without a resolution to your issues. You take a moment to clear the mind and then you’re immediately back to your real, chaotic life. You may have a calmer disposition, but what you don’t have is a solution to your real problems.
Many of the times meditation is mentioned in the Bible, it also describes what we should do after we meditate on God’s word and ways. James 1:25 says, “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.” Biblical meditation has a clear path for you to follow, a compassionate Savior to walk with you and the Holy Spirit to guide you.
Can you see how meditation on Scripture employs every advantage of secular meditation and then some? You get the same pause, the same mental reset but you also get infinitely more. Daily time spent meditating and then acting on God’s word changes everything from the inside-out and as James 1:25 says, the changes it makes move us towards freedom and blessing.
Can Meditation Be Dangerous?
What should cause Christians to pause when they’re participating in meditation? Frankly, there’s a lot of dangerous meditation out there. Any thought or practice that is pointing our meditative affections to serenity, success, or to a deeper understanding of self could be moving us away from a focus on Jesus. Most of us aren’t driving to the local yoga studio for our daily meditation session, but whether we know it or not, most of us are making space in our thoughts to meditate on something. We need to be aware of it and we need to be cautious. I’ll give a current cultural example of this:
The past few years, droves of women have hung on every word that comes from the mouth of Rachel Hollis. While I do think she has plenty of advice and enthusiasm that greatly benefits many women, I also think practices like the ones emphasized in her Start Today journal and Start Today Podcast need to be handled very carefully.
She doesn’t call her morning routine meditation, but it fits easily into the category of mindfulness. She encourages women to take a few minutes every morning to focus their thoughts and to set the intention for where they’re going to go that day. I have no problems at all with this practice. I have a problem with the direction in which she points the focus of every woman who follows her advice.
She shouts that you should follow your dreams, let your heart be your guide and chase the same kind of wild success that she has achieved. Her personal goals that she wrote repeatedly each morning for years are, “I am a New York Times bestselling author. I am one of the top motivational speakers in the world. I only fly first class.”
Why is this a dangerous type of meditation? It is dangerous because Jeremiah 17:5,9 says this: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord…The heart is deceitful above all things and, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
If our focused thoughts and reflections lead us to chase after a better, richer, more successful version of ourselves then our meditations are leading our hearts away from the Lord. And our hearts are “desperately sick.” Another translation says “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Chasing our heart’s desires can feel thrilling and good. We can even throw a little Jesus and charity for others in there for good measure, but God asks us to walk a narrow path where he is the only goal, the only purpose, the only desire of our hearts.
Maybe the meditation of your heart hasn’t been on the success you want to achieve someday but rather it’s been on how hurt you have felt by the betrayal of someone close. Maybe it’s been on the ways you feel your life lacks what others have or it’s been on how anxious you feel about the future or how much you regret the past. All of those feelings are real and they shouldn’t be brushed under the rug with no acknowledgement. But the desires of our heart also shouldn’t be ruling our minds and directing all our thoughts.
This is why we must meditate on the word of God continuously. It doesn’t replace the emotions we feel, but it does put them in their proper place in relation to who God is and what his promises towards us are.