Meditation – A Christian Perspective
Defining meditation, uncovering some dangerous Eastern roots, and demonstrating how the Bible presents meditation.
Biblical meditation is a verbal and mental exercise. It focuses on God, his Word, his works, or things that would be pleasing to the Lord. Christian meditation is distinguished from Eastern meditation which focuses on the self, another spiritual entity, or sometimes nothing.
Meditation is everywhere these days.
Whether at the local yoga studio or in the business section of an airport bookstore, it seems everyone is getting into it. It’s not just for religious people anymore, meditation has gone mainstream.
In the past 5 years, worldwide Google search queries for “meditation” have increased over 70%. More people are becoming interested in “meditation” and nearly every popular platform is jumping on board. According to the Huffington Post, some of the benefits of (mindfulness) meditation include…
- Lowers stress
- “Get to know your true self.”
- Helps you get better grades.
- “Makes you a better person.”
In our practical age of doing things because they work (not because they’re true), our society is open to more non-traditional methods to achieve spiritual health. And meditation ‘works’ for many people.
But how is a Christian supposed to think about meditation? Isn’t meditation an Eastern religious practice we’re supposed to avoid? Or perhaps it’s completely harmless and useful to navigate the stresses of life.
In this post, I plan to define meditation, uncover its Eastern roots, and show how the Bible presents meditation.
Meditation & Its Origins
According to Merriam-Webster, to meditate means “to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.”
People have been practicing some form of meditation for thousands of years. Chopra.org, a New Age resource, has published a History of Meditation. Here are the more earlier dates according to their timeline.
- 1,500 BCE / BC – The earliest documented records of meditation, stemming from the teachings of the Vedas in ancient India.
- Between 400-100 BCE / BC – The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali were compiled, outlining the eight limbs of yoga.
- Between 400 BCE – 200 CE / AD – The Bhagavad Gita was written, an epic poem and (Hindu) scripture that discusses the philosophy of yoga, meditation, and how to live a spiritual life.
- 1700s CE / AD – Fast forward to the 18th century, where translations of the ancient teachings began to travel to scholars in the West.
This timeline recounts meditation from an Eastern perspective, though Eastern religions are not the only religions to have practiced meditation since ancient times. The Book of Joshua in the Bible was written (1400 BC) around the same time as the earliest documented records of Eastern meditation. Joshua 1:8 says…
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (emphasis mine)
Although the ancient Hebrew would not understand meditation in the same way as an ancient Hindu yogi would, the concept of meditation was present in one of the oldest books of the Hebrew Bible. In other words, New Age, non-Christian pantheists are not the only groups who meditate.
“I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.” (Psalm 119:15)
How The Bible Speaks About Meditation
In the Bible, the Hebrew word for “meditate” is ‘hagah’ (הָגָה). According to Strong’s Concordance, it means to moan, growl, utter, speak, muse.
In Hebrew, there’s a verbal and a mental aspect to meditation. It’s about pondering and thinking but it’s also about saying and groaning. That suggests that Christian meditation would be both a verbal and mental exercise. More importantly, the focus should be upon God, his Word, his works, or things that would be pleasing to the Lord.
Here are a few verses that explore how God’s servants verbally and mentally meditated in the Book of Psalms (emphasis mine)…
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
“When I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.” (Psalm 63:6)
“May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.” (Psalm 104:34)
“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.” (Psalm 119:97-99)
“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.” (Psalm 143:5)
In these verses, the Psalmists extol a particular type of meditation. It’s directed at God, aiming to be pleasing to God, based on God’s law and God’s acts. In short, Biblical meditation is directed toward God, not ourselves or nothing.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-3)
In Meditation: God’s Way Is Always The Best Way
God wants his people to meditate. But he wants us to do it his way, not in a way that will be detrimental to our souls.
With so much information that encourages meditation the wrong way, it’s hard to do the right thing. But we must be vigilant to seek God’s direction in all of these sometimes-confusing areas. God wants what is our ultimate good – communion with him. And God’s way is always the best way.
Todd Clay: Four Spiritual Dangers in Eastern Meditation