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 endeavour 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.
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 favourite.) 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.
Biblical meditation is not:
- 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.
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)
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 savour 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 flavour 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.
Credit: Brad Archer for The Gospel Coalition 18 September 2017.