This page contains:
- Q&A on Christian meditation
- Reflections on Christian meditation
- Meditation quotes (inc. Charles Spurgeon, Dallas Willard)
Q&A ON CHRISTIAN MEDITATION
Q: What is meditation?
A: Most secular sources, in defining meditation, do not mention direct references in Scripture to meditation, such as Joshua 1 and Psalms 1 and 119. Christians should not be deterred by what secular sources do not say, or by what they say, about meditation.
Merriam-Webster, in a remarkably ill-informed definition, for example, relays this definition of “meditate” in its online dictionary: “to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.” Clearly in the Bible, there is no instruction for “breathing” in meditation or for using a “mantra,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “a mystical formula of invocation or incantation (as in Hinduism).”
For the Christian, the primary source for meditation is Scripture, such as the specific encouragement to meditate in Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2 and Psalm 119:15 and in innumerable passages in the Bible that call for believers to pursue God’s implanting of His wholesome way of life in their hearts.
Q: What differentiates Christian meditation from other forms of meditation?
A. In Christian mediation, a believer seeks to focus his or her mind on God through his Scripture, whether a few words, a single verse, or a passage that spans two or more verses. A believer may have an inner yearning to turn to several Scriptures in times of meditation. In Transcendental Meditation or other commercialized types of meditation rooted in Eastern religions, a mantra (such as a sound like “om”) is typically repeated over and over to empty one’s mind of all thoughts and to enter a trance-like state. The same effort is made in the popular “mindful meditation” that focuses on one’s breathing to enter a subconscious state.
It is possible that a Christian may fall asleep while meditating or enter a deep state of rest. This, however, is not the goal of Christian meditation. It is the pursuit of God’s transformation of our hearts and minds through the supernatural effect of his revelation through Scripture.
Q: Is there a specifically “Christian” way to meditate?
A. The Bible does not set forth a specific method of meditation. Rather, it calls for believers to be wholehearted in their relationship with God. Meditation is one part, not the only part, of that wholeheartedness. Key facets of the Christian life include prayer (meditation, in fact, can be a form of prayer); reading and studying Scripture; love for one’s neighbors as well as his or her enemies; and a hopefulness to help others embrace Jesus as their Lord, Savior and guide on this earth and into eternity.
Certainly, general principles about meditation can be gleaned from Scripture. Deuteronomy 6, for example, notes that the commands of the Lord are to be “upon your heart.” God’s people are to “impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” And many faithful Jewish believers maintain customs reflecting this part of the passage: “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
In this case, meditation can be a lifestyle – active and relational within one’s family and out in public, not simply limited to the general concept of a tender solitary time with God.
REFLECTIONS ON CHRISTIAN MEDITATION
Mention the word “meditation,” and quickly the discussion turns to such practices as yoga, New Age religion, Transcendental Meditation and “mindful meditation” drawn from Hinduism, and the rituals of other Eastern religions such as Buddhism.
I have not read extensively about any of these, each of which is a subject of immense discourse in the cyber-world, in scholarly as well as experiential writings and within Christian organizations that relay cautionary information about “alternative religions” and “cults.” Like you, I have had to decide how best to utilize my discretionary time before and after work hours and during the weekends. For me, this has entailed 1) trying to be a better husband and father; 2) exploring, memorizing, re-memorizing, meditating upon, and being transformed by Scripture and sensing an ongoing call to write about what God is teaching me; 3) getting involved in the ministry of my church; 4) and trying to do what current science indicates as important for my health.
Although I don’t have the time to do an in-depth analysis of yoga, for example, I can make this suggestion: Don’t venture into anything that entails the use of simplistic sounds (typically called “mantras”) to pull or push you into the recesses of the subconscious. Similarly, don’t venture into anything that entails the emptying of your mind in order to achieve a cosmic bliss.
Whether a simplistic sound or an empty mind, they pale in comparison to the wholesomeness of a few words, phrases or sentences from Scripture. Ponder the choice: a mind that is largely vacuous or one that is at rest in even a sliver of Scripture, such as the God’s description of wisdom in James 3:17: “… the wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”
An added word about one facet of yoga regarding various physical postures. People in the field of physical therapy highly recommend exercises for stretching and strengthening the muscles in our arms, legs and back for long-term flexibility and mobility. Some of these exercises may look like yoga, but they are recommended from a health science standpoint and can easily accommodate thoughts from Scripture while someone is engaging in them. Do not be hesitant to ask a doctor about this facet of good health.
Let me add a word to those who have physical disabilities (like I do): Christian faith never glorifies a physical posture. It only glorifies the God who created the universe, the Son who brought a wondrous salvation from sin and the Holy Spirit who abides with any believer regardless of his or her physical condition.
NOT JUST YOGA
Even if you do not practice yoga, there is a distinct possibility that you are among the countless millions who are involved in an equally dangerous form of meditation: the absorption of contemporary media, particularly the culture that it reflects.
You might regard that as an absurd statement. Sometimes, though, seemingly absurd statements prove to be true upon closer examination and reflection. Simply consider two points:
First, take a look at dictionary definitions of “meditate” and “meditation.” The definitions typically begin with the idea of deep, continuous thinking, of focusing one’s mind, of pondering or contemplating something. Then — secondarily — they describe meditating and meditation as a solemn devotional or sacred activity. (It’s interesting that, at least according to basic dictionary definitions, meditation is not described as the use of mantras or the voiding of one’s mind.)
Second, it seems to me that a person surely experiences a focusing of his or her mind toward deep, continuous thinking whenever he/she absorbs contemporary media — except that the thinking is largely being done by those who produce its visual or auditory content. The beliefs and agendas of the decision-makers and many of actors and technicians they employ are being infused to a significant degree, and perhaps alarmingly so, into the mind of every viewer, listener and reader as well as every enthusiast of interactive media.
The next several times you engage in contemporary media, take note of the almost-otherworldly channel — perhaps more accurately, a wide surreal pipeline — through which all of the stimuli flows toward and into your mind. Only occasionally do we interrupt the flow to ask such reality-check questions as “Is that really right? What’s really being depicted here? What belief system is afoot?”
Remember, nearly everyone has an agenda, what is often called a worldview.
For many people, it’s “Leave me alone.”
For Christians, ideally it’s a yearning to live optimally in this world and the world to come — and help others do so — through a wholesome faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who continually energizes our lives by His Holy Spirit in our minds and hearts.
For non-Christians, their agendas may center on avoidance or dismissal of spiritual matters in order to engage in the supposed pleasures of this world; antagonism toward God and toward Christians and the beliefs we hold; and, in precious instances, a yearning for a faith that can fill their empty souls.
Much of today’s media content is the brainchild of those who are dismissive of a supernatural God who created the universe, the ageless viability of the Ten Commandments and the idea of redemption from sin through repentance, redemption and new life in Jesus Christ.
Secular media, however, can take a toll on even the most well-intentioned Christians. The massive expenditures on advertising worldwide is ample evidence of the power of the various forms of media to influence and, over time, alter our thoughts and behavior.
So, be careful about your source of meditation. Alcohol use, enjoyment of food or outdoor recreation, even charitable work — any of these, not just media stupor, so to speak, can drift into a form of meditation, of occupying one’s thoughts. No doubt, we are in continuous need of a counterbalance or, perhaps far more than we realize, in dire need an antidote.
Open a Bible and search through it. Open your heart to the Holy Spirit. Let God’s cleansing and healing of your soul begin to take root.
(For more on meditation, see Art Toalston’s ebook, When I Meditate, at the Resources tab.)
Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s “Loving the Law of the Lord,” Sermon #3090, preached at London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle on May 10, 1874.
“It is an admirable plan to fix your thoughts upon some text of Scripture before you leave your bedroom in the morning—it will sweeten your meditation all the day. Always look God in the face before you see the face of anyone else. Lock up your heart in the morning and hand the key to God and keep the world out of your heart. Take a text and lay it on your tongue like a wafer made with honey and let it melt in your mouth all day. If you do this, and meditate upon it, you will be surprised to notice how the various events of life will help to open up that text. If that particular text does not seem suitable to some special occasion, steal away into a quiet place and get another one—only let your soul be so full of the Word of God that at all the intervals and spaces when you can think upon it, the Word of God dwelling in you richly may come welling up into your mind and make your meditation to be sweet and profitable!”
Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciples (p. 150 of 1991 paperback edition):
“As a pastor, teacher, and counselor I have repeatedly seen the transformation of inner and outer life that comes simply from memorization and meditation upon Scripture.”
Gregory R. Frizzell, How to Develop a Powerful Prayer Life: The Biblical Path to Holiness and Relationship with God (Memphis,Tenn.: The Master Design, 1999), pp. 72-73:
“Never forget that God’s top priority for your life is the development of Christ’s character and holiness in your life (Romans 8:29). Therefore, your personal petitions should relate to the development of His image in your life. But what is the image of Christ and what does He look like in a person’s life? I believe Galatians 5:22-23 contains one of the most concise and perfect pictures in all of Scripture. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.’
“You could not possibly pray more in the will of God than to pray each spiritual fruit for your life daily. As you pray one by one through the fruit of the Holy Spirit, you are praying for the exact image of Christ to be formed in your life. In 1981, God led me to begin daily praying through all nine fruit of the Spirit. To this day, I have never found anything that comes close to the power of daily praying these character words for my own spiritual growth.
“Many believers pray in far too general terms. We pray things like ‘Lord, just help me be a better Christian’ or, ‘Lord, help me grow and do better.’ But what do such requests really mean? They are so general they have little focus and thus very little power. On the other hand, the fruit of the Holy Spirit are very specific and provide biblical petitions for powerful spiritual growth.
“As you pray through each of the spiritual fruit, you will discover this process also becomes an opportunity for God to search and cleanse your life. With each fruit you not only ask God to fill you with that trait, but you also ask God to reveal how you are not living that particular fruit.”