Meditation has permeated our culture.
Commercials and advertisements feature people in yoga classes practicing meditation. The New York City School System sets aside time at the beginning of the day for students to practice mindfulness and deep breathing to counter stress. The medical field promotes meditation as a “simple, fast way to reduce stress.” According to the Pew Research Center, 40% of Americans say that they meditate regularly at least once a week.
When practiced in these settings, meditation is typically an intentional focus of the mind on one thing (mindfulness). We get rid of the anxious and competing thoughts by focusing on one thing for a concerted period of time. This one thing could be our breathing or a mantra — a special word for reflection.
In Eastern religions, meditation becomes a means to achieve unity with the godhead where, with practice, a complete emptiness of the mind and self occurs as we achieve enlightenment.
Part of me gets excited about the current practice of meditation. We all need to reduce stress in our lives. However, is biblical meditation simply adding a veneer to our contemporary practice? How is the biblical picture of meditation similar or different from our cultural practices?
Meditation has been encouraged and practiced by God-followers for thousands of years. It’s not a current fad but an on-going practice that’s life-transforming. Here are some examples of meditation in the Bible.
Genesis 24:63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening.
Joshua 1:8 This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you might be careful to do. . . .
Psalm 1:2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psalm 48:9 . . . we meditate on your unfailing love (NIV).
Psalm 63:5,6 . . . and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.
Psalm 77:12 I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Psalm 119:97 Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Psalm 143:5 I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the works of your hands.
Let’s meditate on meditation. Psalm 1 extols the value of meditation; here’s a portion of the Psalm:
Blessed is the man . . .
whose delight is in the Law of the LORD,
and on this Law he meditates day and night.
The Psalmist answers the question, “How do you picture a blessed person’s life?” The blessed person meditates rather than following the way of the wicked, sinners, or scoffers (1:1). This meditation is different from an emptying of the mind but is an “ongoing mental interaction with God’s word,” writes scholar Daniel Estes.
Meditation, as exhorted and exemplified in the Scriptures, always has an object — God’s word (Psalm 119:97), His works (Psalm 143:5), or His ways (Psalm 48:9). We must put the “W” back into meditation.
The Hebrew word for “meditate” (hahah) means “to murmur” or “mutter.” This “muttering” pictures us going over and over the words in our minds, working “like a root stimulator, allowing the words to penetrate [our] heart more quickly and deeply.” We can compare it to the verb “ruminate” — to chew over-and-over again.
Meditation forces us to “linger, to repeat, to be slow and deliberate and to value the leisurely pace, expecting to be sustained.” Author Esther DeWaal describes this slow pace as “allow[ing] ourselves to be drawn uncluttered into the orbit of God.” What a beautiful word picture for meditation’s fruit. Biblical meditation, then, is a focused rumination on God’s word, works, or ways, drawing me into His presence.
Biblical meditation is more than an anxiety reducer or the means to unite with the universe. Biblical meditation prompts worship and produces a moral outcome. Worship happens as my life is refreshed and filled with wonder at God’s character God (Psalm 63:5,6; 77:12); helping me stand in awe of His ways and His works. This naturally leads to worship.
The moral outcome — obedience to His word — pulls us into Jesus’s orbit. We meditate that “we may be careful to do” as God instructed Joshua (Joshua 1:8). Meditation helps me choose the dominant voice of God’s over the voice of the wicked (Psalm 1:1-2).
“Meditation,” writes Alan Jacobs, “allows the text to enter into our thought lives in such a deep way that we gain the mind of Christ and thus exhibit to the world His lifestyle and His character.” Morality and not just mindfulness is the end result of meditation.
We’re exhorted to “meditate day and night.” How can we do this? Let’s compare our minds to a tape measure. When using a tape measure, we extend the tape from its case to measure something. When the measurement is completed, it snaps back into its case.
Our minds are like this; when we’re working, driving, or talking, it’s as if the tape measure of our mind is pulled out of the case and engaged with life. When work, driving, or the conversation ends, my mind snaps back into the case and I’m free to choose whatever I want to think about. Now we can meditate day and night.
Here’s two simple ways to put the “W” back into meditation. I ask the Lord for one thought, one word from Him as I spend time in his presence. That’s why I practice a time of prayer and Bible reflection in the mornings; it sets me up for the rest of the day. When the tape measure of my mind is not occupied with the task at hand, I choose to think about His word for the day. This is word-based meditation.
A second way is alphabet meditation. I start thinking about God’s works and ways using the alphabet to connect each letter to God’s ways. He is Almighty, beautiful, daunting, elegant, faithful, etc. Sometimes I pause to think about how I’ve experienced His ways. At other times, I praise God for His works. This helps me put the “W” back into meditation.
Biblical meditation — filling my mind with God’s words, ways, or works — pulls me into Jesus’s life orbit. When I do this, worship naturally happens, and obedience is encouraged. Now I’m putting the “W” back into meditation.
This material is drawn from Bill’s upcoming Tyndale Publishing/NavPress book.