A Google search of ‘meditation’ produces hundreds of results and a host of definitions. As meditation increases in popularity, many Christians have wondered if it’s okay to adopt the practice. Many others have wondered how the Bible’s definition of meditation differs from the others. Still, others wonder if it’s something every Christian should do, or if it’s only okay for a select few.
Here are five things to know about Christian Meditation.
1. Is meditation biblical?
Meditation is mentioned in both the Old and the New Testaments. Here are a few examples of scriptures that mention meditation:
The same word for meditate is also translated as “think about,” or “dwell on.” While these scriptures mention the action of meditating, they don’t necessarily describe the Christian practice of meditation. However, rest assured that meditation has a long history within Christianity, going as far back as the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the Early Church era.
2. What is the purpose of Christian meditation?
The purpose of Christian meditation is to cultivate a deeper understanding of God’s Word and of our faith. This is also referred to as spiritual formation. As we mature in our faith, the Holy Spirit is transforming us into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). Meditation provides an opportunity for believers to partner with the Holy Spirit and create additional space for his transformative work. Author Kenneth Boa provides an extended discussion of the spiritual disciplines, including meditation, in his book Conformed to His Image (Zondervan, 2001). Boa claims that meditation “attunes the inward self to the Holy Spirit so that our hearts harmonize and resonate with his voice.” Meditation is our way to intentionally align with the work of the Holy Spirit and the will of God.
3. How does Christian meditation differ from other forms of meditation?
The Bible speaks often of meditation and so does the world, but we should be careful not to confuse the two. Many forms of non-Christian meditation emphasize relaxation and stress reduction, while other forms are intended to help the practitioner reach "self-actualization." Most involve an emptying of the mind, some by focusing on something external (the flame of a candle, for example) and some by focusing on something internal, usually a particular word or image.
The most significant difference between Christian meditation and all other forms of meditation is the subject of focus. Any time meditation is mentioned in the Bible, it is instructing God’s people to meditate on him. For example, in Philippians 4:8, Paul says, “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.” (NKJV) When Paul says to “meditate” on these things, he is instructing believers to think about, dwell on, or consider the things of God. Likewise, in Joshua 1:8, the Lord tells Joshua to meditate on his law. Again, the focus is explicitly on the things of God.
4. How can a Christian learn to practice meditation?
Thankfully, it is relatively easy to learn to meditate. First, select a scripture upon which to meditate. Pick a scripture you want to internalize and understand more fully. Any scripture that speaks of God’s character, God’s love, or your identity as a child of God is a good place to start. Once you’ve selected your scripture, settle into a comfortable seated position and slowly read the scripture aloud several times. The goal is to bring the scripture to the forefront of your mind and to allow any other mental activity to rest. With the designated scripture fresh in mind, begin to consider its implications; at this point, it may be helpful to close your eyes. This should not feel strenuous as if you’re answering a test question. Simply allow your mind to consider any association or inference that comes to mind as you consider the scripture. If you struggle with this, or if your mind begins to wander, open your eyes again and slowly re-read the designated scripture a few more times.
Above all, be patient with yourself and keep your mind on the Lord.
5. Are there any risks to meditation?
Failing to focus on scripture leaves our thoughts vulnerable to outside ideas that can distort our understanding of God’s truth. Some days will be more or less difficult to maintain focus. On the bad days, don’t hesitate to spend more time reading the designated scripture than pondering it.
It is also recommended to have some experience with and knowledge of the Bible before beginning a practice of Christian meditation. A practice of meditation without a baseline understanding of God’s character can result in a serious misunderstanding of who God is, how he feels about people, and what this means for believers. Keep in mind that meditation is intended to cultivate a deeper understanding, not an initial understanding of God’s Word.
Finally, it is risky to view meditation as an exercise that will produce immediate results. Meditation is a spiritual discipline. As the name implies, spiritual disciplines are long-term practices designed to produce long-term spiritual formation (spiritual maturity). If we're expecting meditation to produce a "spiritual experience" (hearing God speak, receiving a personal revelation, etc.) we run the risk of encouraging our imaginations to run wild. It is very likely that years of Christian meditation will produce a number of memorable experiences, but it is best to maintain expectations of long-term spiritual formation and leave the exceptions to God.