As a kid growing up in church, I remember being warned about meditation. Meditation was a weird and scary habit, something practiced by Hollywood actors who sat in a lotus position while reciting ancient Hindu mantras. Perhaps because of the fear that meditation is too closely connected to Eastern religion, I’ve rarely heard of a pastor encouraging his congregation to meditate.
The Bible does encourage God’s people to meditate on His Word, though. In Psalm 1:2, the blessed man meditates on God’s law, “day and night.” Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, includes at least six references to the importance of meditating on God’s Word. In Philippians 4:8, Paul tells his readers to “think” about things that are true, noble, right, pure, and so on. The Greek word he uses in that passage is one that has the idea of carefully pondering or reflecting upon certain things. In other words, we’re called to meditate on what is true, and what greater truth is there than the Word of God?
Biblical meditation is quite different from Buddhist or Hindu meditation, however. The goal of meditation in Eastern religions is to empty the mind of all thoughts, desires, or opinions. The goal of biblical meditation is to fill our minds with the truth of God’s Word. What we’re hoping to do when we meditate on Scripture is to replace our sinful and fleshly thoughts with the holy and spiritual thoughts of God.
How do we meditate on the Scripture, then? We begin by reading a passage repeatedly, perhaps five or six times in a row. Read it aloud and not merely inside your mind. Saying something out loud engages not only our minds in the act of meditation, but also our bodies. It also helps us with memorization – the more you repeat a passage out loud, the more likely it is to stick in your head. As you read the passage, turn the words over in your mind. Think about them carefully. Formulate questions and answer them as well as you can.
For example, imagine you’re reading Psalm 1:1: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.” After you read it aloud several times, you might ask yourself, “Why is there a progression of movement in this verse, from walking, to standing, to sitting?” Or, “What does it mean to be blessed?” And, “What are the benefits of delighting in God’s Law?” Simply ponder those questions and consider the answers to them in your mind. Ask God to give you wisdom to understand His Word in deeper ways.
Meditation isn’t the same as studying the passage; you’re just pondering it, chewing on it in your mind, and allowing the Spirit of God to speak through its words. When you’re meditating on Scripture, you aren’t necessarily writing anything down or parsing Greek words. You’re simply letting God’s Word saturate your heart and mind so that it becomes a part of you. As it does that, the Holy Spirit will begin to transform the way you think. Your values will slowly align with the values of God. Fleshly thoughts – anger, lust, pride, greed, envy, and the like – will be replaced with spiritual thoughts and feelings. Meditation isn’t a pathway to immediate spiritual transformation, but it is a powerful step in the process of learning to know and apply God’s Word.
So there’s no need to be afraid of biblical meditation. It isn’t some weird spiritual exercise invented by celebrities and New Age gurus. Instead, it’s a biblical practice that, when properly applied, helps us to know and obey God in deeper ways.