When you think about the practice of meditation, what image comes to mind? Like many, you may picture the caricature of someone seated in the lotus position, eyes closed, hands extended, murmuring a steady stream of “Om” sounds.
It’s a caricature many Christians don’t identify with or even outwardly reject. The prevailing sentiment is that meditation is for mystics and yogis, not for the children of God.
But meditation is, in fact, a Christian discipline. Not only that, it’s one that should characterize us. But before you put on your stretchy pants and assume the lotus position for your quiet time, let’s distinguish between the mystical practice of meditation and the practice indicated in the Bible. What is the object of Christian meditation? Why should we practice it? And how?
In Psalm 1, we are told that the one who is called blessed is characterized by delighting in the law of the Lord, “and on [it] he meditates day and night” (v. 2, ESV). When the psalmist speaks of meditating, the object of his reflection is God’s law (Torah), God’s promises, God’s works, and God’s ways. The record of these things would have been found in the sacred writings we now call the Old Testament. Modern-day followers of the one true God understand the object of our meditation to include the whole of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.
So, the “what” of our meditation is the Scriptures. But the “why” also matters. And it stands in contrast to the meditation of the yogis. Mystical meditation is the emptying of the mind for the purpose of ceasing. Those pursuing the benefits of meditation are told to focus on their breathing and quiet their thoughts for the purpose of relieving stress or anxiety or other forms of mental distress or confusion.
By contrast, Christian meditation is thefilling of the mind for the purpose of acting. It is a means of learning by repeated exposure to the same ideas. It involves study, reflection, and rumination. Unlike mystical meditation, Christian meditation sees understanding as the product of thinking on whatsoever is virtuous (Phil. 4:8). Christian meditation is not an end in itself but is intended to yield the fruit of right living. In Joshua 1:8, God tells Joshua, “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.”
But what about the “how” of Christian meditation? Mystical meditation methods sometimes make inroads into Christian practice: “If I read a verse and hold very still and quiet my mind, the Spirit will speak insight into the empty space.” While well intentioned, this approach can often lead to misinterpretation on a grand scale. It tends to skip any reflection on the context of a passage, instead promising an immediate yield in the form of application or encouragement.
Yes, the Scriptures have a plain meaning the Spirit illuminates, but they also yield deeper and deeper levels of understanding when we make them our repeated object of thought. Put another way, rumination begets illumination. The Spirit responds to the diligent employment of the mind by giving insight, wisdom, and understanding.
Christian meditation adheres to the well-worn maxim that repetition is the mother of learning. We meditate on God’s words by reading and re-reading.
Because we are privileged to live in a time of unprecedented access to the Scriptures, we can do this in a wealth of ways. We can read first in one translation and then again in another. We can listen to the Scriptures being read via an app. We can hear them sung and learn to sing them ourselves. We can copy them line by line into a journal, praying them as we write. We can illustrate what we are reading in a margin. We can read them aloud in a community group or a family setting, as a means to “talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 6:7).
Think. Study. Reflect. Ruminate. Meditating on God’s law, his promises, his works, and his ways trains us to think according to them. And it prompts us to act as we ought. It may not promise a Zenlike state, but it promises something even better: the peace that passes understanding, the fruit of a mind that is fixed on the things of God.
Jen Wilkin is an author and Bible teacher. An advocate for Bible literacy, her passion is to see others become articulate and committed followers of Christ. You can find her at JenWilkin.net and on the Knowing Faith podcast.
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