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.
So How Do We Meditate Rightly?
There is so much more to Biblical meditation than mindlessly repeating Scripture over and over again. Don Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life has many insightful suggestions on how to meditate on the Bible. They include:
1. Repeat the text and emphasize different words each time
For example with John 2:5:
Whatever he says to you do it. Whatever he says to you do it. Whatever he says to you do it. Whatever he says to you do it Whatever he says to you do it. Whatever he says to you do it.
-Rewrite the text in your own words
-Look for applications of this text - what is it leading you to in response?
-Pray through the text
-Ask the Philippians 4:8 questions of the text
What is true or what truth does it exemplify? What is honorable about it? What is right about it? What is pure or how does it exemplify purity? What is lovely about it? What is admirable or commendable about it? What is excellent about it? What is praiseworthy about it?
Prayer and Meditation
Biblical meditation and prayer go hand in hand. A beautiful example of this is Psalm 143:5 and 7-8. While the psalmist is struggling deeply and expressing his pain to God, he is also meditating on what God has done in his life and praying to ask God to answer again like he has before!
"I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done…Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails…Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”
In the midst of our raw prayers, let’s also include a remembrance of who God is, what his word says and what he has done in the past. Meditation fills us with God’s truth and prayer is the overflow.
Take a moment now to contemplate how you can fix your focus on God and include biblical meditation in your daily life. What do you think it would look like if you detached yourself from self-driven patterns of thought and instead fixed your mind on the immovable truth of the word of God? Today is a great day to start!
Photo credit: Unsplash/Dingzeyu Li
Shelby Turner is a speaker and writer who lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband and three sons. She founded The Gathering, a women’s event in Kansas City, Missouri that connects women with God in a real way. You can connect with her on her blog at www.shelbyraeturner.com or she also loves to hang out on instagram at @shelbyraeturner.