May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. -Psalm 19:14
I used to think that meditation was just for people that practiced Eastern religions like Hinduism or Buddhism, but I have since realized this is not the case. Christians can (and should) meditate, too. It’s just that we take a slightly different approach toward a slightly different destination.First off, what exactly is meditation anyway? It sounds kind of complicated, but it isn’t really. Biblically speaking, to meditate is to simply focus on or ponder something that God has revealed to us in His word. Robert Saucy, the late biblical scholar and professor from Talbot Seminary in southern California, said “…meditation means to think, to think to yourself, even to talk to yourself, or sing, about some concept until it gets into your inner being and your behavior.”
The late J.I. Packer, a beloved theologian and author, described meditation simply as “holy thought,” that helps to “clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God…” *
So whether it is for a minute, an hour, or a whole day, when we meditate on something in the Bible, it means that we are thinking about it, actively engaging with it in our minds.
In fact, this is one of the differences between the Christian faith and some of the Eastern religious meditation exercises that have gained popularity in our time. Oftentimes those approaches instruct you to empty your mind and focus on essentially nothing, whereas Christ-followers are taught to focus our minds specifically on the transformative truth of God’s word. Thus, the objective of Christian meditation isn’t to empty our minds, but to fill them with the life-giving, life-changing word of God.
Maybe an example would help. In the Psalms, David often described his meditation on certain aspects of God’s character:
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. -Psalm 77:11-12
I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor
and your wonderful miracles…The Lord is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.-Psalm 145:5, 8
Did you catch what David was reflecting on there? And here’s a familiar New Testament passage on meditation:
… 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. -Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)
From a non-Christian perspective, meditation experts say that ultimately the goal of meditation is to bring about greater personal awareness. But from a Christian perspective, we would say the ultimate goal of mediation is not primarily to become more aware of ourselves, but to become more aware of God as He reveals himself in Scripture. Then in the process of our sustained gaze at the stunning character of the Lord one of the positive side-effects is that we also become more aware of ourselves, as if we were looking into a mirror that has the power to show us who we really are (Hebrews 4:12).
Thus, the objective of Christian meditation isn’t to empty our minds, but to fill them with the life-giving, life-changing word of God.
It’s worth noting that one of the reasons meditation has made a bit of a comeback recently is because of its helpfulness in emotion management. If you struggle with anxiety and/or depression, you should know that meditation helps – a lot. Sometimes combined with controlled breathing techniques and/or various stretching exercises, both Christian and non-Christian approaches to meditation have been used for millennia as a strategy to promote personal calmness, concentration, and emotional tranquility.
The only difference for Christians is that these benefits (calmness, concentration, positive emotions) aren’t necessarily the goal of meditation, but the result of it. In other words, the more intentional we are about what we give our thoughts to, the better it is for our mental and emotional health.
The bottom line is that we get to choose what we meditate on and what we meditate on can either make us or break us. Personally, I find that if I meditate on today’s headlines for very long, anxiety grows within me like a mushroom. I can almost feel my blood pressure rise. Alternatively, when I invest some time in meditating on who God is and who I am in relationship to Him, my spirit is refreshed and my heart is renewed.
Hope this helps.
It’s a new day with God. Run with it.
* J.I. Packer, Knowing God, pg. 23