Meditation is nothing new. It’s a part of many traditions and religions, and studies have shown it to have great benefits in terms of health and stress levels. Setting aside the fact that it may actually be good for us, many Christians consider it to be sinful. Have you ever wondered why that is?
The answer lies in the simple fact that it is practiced heavily by other religions. Many of these religions use meditation to focus on the mind. They train themselves to control their thoughts, which in turn changes their perception of the world. They are better able to cope with stress, become more compassionate and peaceful people, manage their emotions, and become diligent in their thought life. Sounds all good right?
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Now before you write me off, let me explain what’s wrong with worldly meditation. Something is missing – and that something is actually a Someone. You see, worldly meditation is all about you. It takes everything that’s right with meditating (and there is a right way to meditate, but more on that later), and it removes God from the picture entirely. Worldly meditation places the power, the control, the ability to transform, and the ability to experience peace in the hands of the one who is meditating.
So is there such a thing as biblical meditation? If so, what does it look like in practice?
We first see meditation in the book of Genesis. Isaac was in his field meditating when he first laid eyes on Rebekah. (Genesis 24:62-67) It comes up again in the book of Joshua when God tells the people to “meditate on the Book of the Law day and night.”
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 success. – Joshua 1:8
God called them to meditate, to purposefully think about His Law. The principle is simple: your thoughts control your actions. If your mind focused on His Law and His goodness, there will be no room for sin. It will be much easier to say ‘no’ to temptation.
Meditation is also discussed frequently throughout the Psalms:
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. – Psalm 19:14 (NIV)
Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. – Psalm 48:9 (NIV)
My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. – Psalm 119:148 (NIV)
We aren’t just called to meditate on God’s Word; we are to also meditate on His love and His promises. In this way, biblical meditation is entirely different from worldly meditation.
The method: Worldly meditation tells you to “empty your mind” or to “let your mind guide your meditation experience.” Biblical meditation tells us to focus on God, His Word, and His promises. Instead of emptying our minds we are actually filling our minds continually with Him.
The results: While both promise peace, character transformation, and genuine happiness (or joy), it’s a promise that worldly meditation simply cannot keep… at least not fully. And if you do experience some of these things, it’s for all the wrong reasons. The only way to experience true peace in EVERY circumstance is to have God’s peace which transcends all understanding. And He alone is the true source of joy. And what about character transformation? I’m not going to lie… reading the list of benefits on a meditation website sounds a lot like reading the list of the fruits of the Spirit. Can you genuinely become more patient, kind, and more self-controlled apart from the Holy Spirit? Maybe on the surface… but only the Holy Spirit can offer the real deal.
At first, I found it interesting that the world’s version tried to offer things that only God can provide, but then something clicked. Worldly meditation is the enemy’s counterfeit of biblical meditation. He took a biblical concept, removed God from the equation, and tried to offer it with the same potential “benefits.”
As Christians, we often throw things out that seem “worldly.” When meditation became popular, many Christians threw it out in fear that they would somehow be doing something not of God. But the truth is that meditation belonged to God first. The enemy simply distorted it.
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by [b]streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. – Psalm 1:1-3
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*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.