Meditation is a word that conjures many different images and ideas in the mind. In today’s society, many words are being co-opted and their definitions changed, making conversation with others complicated. Meditation is no different. It has fallen victim to societal appropriation. This has led to many “Christian” practices that may not be so Christian.
Most of us think of Psalm 19:14 when discussing meditation; “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord…” But is our current understanding of meditation appropriate for this?
Let’s look at Miriam Webster for the definition of meditate. Three out of the four uses of the word “meditate” are using one’s mind. The mind is engaged, pondering, planning, and deciding. The mind is focused on remembering and/or understanding things. The one oddball definition refers to the type of meditation that society is usually referencing when using the word. It refers to a practice to achieve spiritual awareness or a closeness with a spiritual power/being. So let’s look at that a bit.
Most meditation practices in the US come from Eastern religions or the occult. They may or may not explicitly state this. So let’s take a look at the most common origins of modern-day meditation. (Keep in mind, this is a BRIEF look and does not go into every detail/aspect/sect of each religion)
In Hinduism, meditation is used to realize that one’s personal identity is a barrier to the truth. Your mind is seen as part of your physical self and that physical self prohibits you from obtaining spiritual enlightenment. The goal is to bypass the mind by using breathing techniques and various forms of yoga. These practices cause your mind to go into a light trance or hypnotic state during the meditation, and this is done purposely. Once you still your mind, you can become one with god/universe/oneness.
The purpose behind Hindu meditation is to achieve a heightened level of spiritual awareness. Breathing and body positions are used to achieve this higher spiritual state. Your rational mind is a barrier to achieving spiritual enlightenment, therefore, circumventing the mind is essential. By achieving spiritual enlightenment, you become one with the Hindu godhead or the universal force. You are no longer yourself, you are part of god/universal force because you are god. You just need to get to enlightenment to unleash that.
Everything about this practice is focused on self. You are focusing on yourself in order to rid yourself of your uniqueness so you can become divine. You are not focused on God, you are focused on becoming divine.
As Buddhism came from Hinduism, its meditation practices are similar. Buddhist meditation is sometimes called “mindfulness” and its goal is to completely empty the mind, becoming detached from feeling or thought. The goal is to realize there is no self. There should be no attachments, no emotion (good or bad), and no purpose. According to Buddha, all suffering is caused by desire. So the goal is to be rid of desire. Peace is considered to be the condition of being void of all desire.
Meditation is focused on breathing. By focusing on the breathing, you are pushing out all else. No thoughts, no desires, no reality…only breathing. This type of meditation is also self focused. The idea is to literally empty your mind so much so that you no longer exist as an individual person. You are trying to rid yourself, of yourself.
In the occult, meditation is sometimes called “centering.” This often refers to someone entering a trance state. This can be achieved in various ways. Popular ways to achieve the trance state are to use crystals, hypnosis, or drugs. The trance state is supposed to reveal the future, reveal past lives, enable one to speak to the deceased, and more. These practices, which come in many different forms, are focused on giving the practitioner more control, more power, and special knowledge.
Another similar practice is Creative Visualization or Guided Meditation. This is often found in the New Age but can be found by many names in various different groups. This type of meditation has its origins in the idea that what you think can be manifested into reality. A person will guide another person through breathing exercises and then guide them through various things to reflect. Therefore, practitioners regularly empty their mind of anything “bad” and fill it with “good” things. This type of meditation is very self-centered as well as materialistic, looking to better one’s situation by controlling power to force good things to happen.
Now that we have briefly looked at the origins of modern-day meditation practices, let’s parse out what meditation is according to the Bible.
The Bible has several words that get translated as “meditate.” However, we don’t have to go into long linguistic exercises to understand what the Bible directs us to do. We just have to read. I have selected some (not all as that would make this article into a book) scripture that represents God’s design for meditation. So let’s get into it!
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.
We can see here that God wants Joshua to read the law (scripture) and understand it so thoroughly that he will follow it. That is a lot of thinking! It is the direct opposite of emptying one’s mind or trying to speak something into reality. It is closer to memorization, a practice that I think we can all agree takes a lot of brain power!
It isn’t just memorization either. Joshua is to meditate (or think on) the law so much that he understands it. If Joshua doesn’t understand the law, he can’t apply it. So he needs to study God’s law. This is more than just reading or just memorizing. It is a deep understanding that allows a person to apply the concept to any situation that warrants a need for that concept. David reiterates this:
My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
When we read our Bible and memorize verses, we need to be thinking of what we are reading/memorizing. What does it mean? Why is it important? We need to mull over it. This type of meditation is focused on God, not ourselves. It is also something that can be done throughout the day, not just sitting in silence.
We see this concept from David in Psalm 119:97:
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Here David is saying that God’s law is his meditation. If God wanted us to empty our minds, then his law would not be the meditation. It would be impossible to empty your mind and keep the law in there at the same time. In addition, David meditates on it all day. In other words, he thinks about it while he is going about his day. He isn’t required to sit a certain way, breathe a certain way, chant special things, or even have a designated spot.
These verses show that we are to fill our minds with God’s word so that we may walk in obedience. We do this by reading, thinking, and understanding scripture. This is also something we can do as we go through our day. The focus is on God and his word.
The Scripture is not the only thing that we are to meditate on. We see in Psalms that we are to meditate on God’s works, deeds, promises and love. These are the things that we experience with God.
I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night,
That I may meditate on your promise.
We have thought on your steadfast love, O God,
In the midst of your temple.
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.
Why do we recount these things? So that we remember them! Recounting, or remembering, God’s works, deeds, promises, and love is a way to memorize our experiences with God. Just like we take a photograph to remember an event, we make mental photographs when we recall these experiences. People do this in many different ways. Telling others, keeping a journal of what God has done, keeping an object to remember the incident, are all good ways to do this. (you can really get creative with how to do this!) The idea is that you revisit what God has done on your life. You meditate on it.
Why do we do this? It is so we remember how God has come through for us. The Israelites, when they were wandering in the desert, did not do this. They continually forgot the miracles that God did for them. He sent plagues in order to have Pharoah free them. He split the Red Sea. He sent manna from heaven. He made water come out of rocks. And so much more!! Yet every time a difficult situation arose, the Israelites complained and asked to be sent back to Egypt (into slavery!). They couldn’t remember what God had done for them in the past. We meditate on what God has done for us so that we remember it! Those memories help build our faith.
But we aren’t done! The Bible has so much to say! Worldly meditation is about losing your thoughts because they are in the way. Biblical meditation is nothing of the sort. When we are spending time with God, we are to fill our minds with his word and what he has done for us. But what about the other times when we are going about our lives? God’s word has something to say about our thoughts then too.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
No matter what we are doing, our mind is to be filled. We fill our minds with God’s word and our experiences with God. We also fill our minds with good things (which God defined in Philippians).
Many will say that they need meditation to help calm their mind and spirit. When trying to calm ourselves, relieve our anxieties, and/or bring peace to our soul, we can turn to God’s word. He has provided all we need.
1 PETER 5:7
Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.
There are so many scriptures to use, but I will leave it with those four. God’s word has all we need. By understanding God’s word, we understand our relationship with him more. That understanding brings peace, calmness, and rest. We don’t need special breathing techniques, body positions, trance-like states, or a guide to get us closer to God. We just need time with God and his word.
But what about Psalm 46:10 when the Bible says “Be still and know that I am God?” Doesn’t that show us that we should meditate in a way that our mind is still? The simple answer to that is no. As with all scripture, it needs to be taken into context. Be still from what? The psalm is about some type of threat the author faced and that God is the one to take refuge and strength in. Right before verse 10, the author talks about how God makes wars cease. “Be still” is to stop the fighting, to cease the frantic activity. So this verse is God telling the author to stop being busy and frantic. Instead, focus on God and look to him for help. It doesn’t support worldly meditation, but instead upholds the Biblical meditation! Don’t quiet your mind to the point you bypass it. Do the opposite! Stop being worried about your enemies and focus on God, looking to him for help!
To continue the verse, once you are still, you are to “know that I am God.” This means that you are to be aware of God. Again, this isn’t emptying your mind, or focusing on a mantra. This involves recognizing God and focusing on his attributes. Your mind thinks about God, tries to understand God, makes requests of God, remembers God, etc.. It is God-centered, not self-centered. This is what brings the peace that many look for in meditation practices.
Many people believe that it is ok to take a pagan practice and use it in a Christian way. A similar concept is that the pagan practice used to be Christian and Christians need to take it back. Regarding the latter, it is false. We need only to look at scripture to see how God wants us to meditate. He does not give us any kind of mandate to take things back. He states that we are to meditate on his word in the aforementioned ways. There is no need to take anything back. We just need to focus on doing what God has asked of us.
Regarding the first statement, God has never asked his people to redeem a pagan practice. We don’t take witchcraft and turn it Christian. We don’t take Ouija boards and make them Christian. We don’t take child sacrifice and dedicate it to God. We don’t commit adultery and claim it is for God because we read Song of Solomon before engaging in sexual behavior. I could go on. The point is that God calls us to live holy (set apart) lives and to be transformed by his word. We are not to look like the world. We are to look different.
The differences between society’s versions of meditation and Biblical meditation are profound.
The Take Away
Remember, meditation is not evil in itself. However, the way we are doing it can be. The Bible tells us to meditate on God’s word, deeds, works, promises and love. Meriam Webster’s three definitions are consistent with the Bible. However, the definition that refers to spiritual enlightenment is not consistent with God’s definition of meditation. If we are emptying our minds, we are giving opportunity for other things to come in. God tells us not to do this. We are to fill our minds with true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable things. We are to fill it with God’s words and the memories of how God has provided for us. We are to ponder, try to understand, and reflect on God’s word.