Is meditation biblical?
Is there a Christian tradition of meditation?
It is a rightful concern that many types of beliefs enter our everyday life, and, if we aren’t in tune with God and His Word, we could easily allow spiritual things that are not of God to enter into our thinking. These are important questions to ask and it is right to test everything and hold fast what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Often the underlying concern to whether meditation is biblical and whether there is a valid Christian tradition of meditation is whether we might be using terms that are most commonly associated with New Age philosophies and branding them as Christian. Let me humbly offer a different perspective. Perhaps many in the New Age and secular mindfulness fields are using terms that were first associated with the ancient Christian traditions of meditation.
If these Christian traditions of meditation are rooted in Scripture and in God’s plan and design for us, then we may actually be facing an opposite problem. Perhaps secular meditation and mindfulness practices have stolen the word ‘meditation’ what was first ours as a means to abide and commune with the triune God. From this perspective, the things God designed us for are being corrupted by human brokenness, and my hope is to reclaim them according to God’s plan and design.
“An unschooled man who knows how to meditate upon the Lord has learned far more than the man with the highest education who does not know how to meditate.” – Charles Stanley
The Bible has much to say regarding the use of meditation to enter deeply into the eternal mystery of God and reality of Christ within. The root Hebrew words for meditation in the Old Testament are hagah and siach. The meanings of the root words for meditation range from moaning, utterances, and musings of our heart cries to God found in Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2 to putting forth, speaking about, and reflecting on God in Psalm 104:34 and Proverbs 23:29.
“In place of our exhaustion and spiritual fatigue, God will give us rest. All He asks is that we come to Him…that we spend a while thinking about Him, meditating on Him, listening in silence, totally and thoroughly lost in the hiding place of His presence.” – Chuck Swindoll
Meditation in the Greek New Testament is logizomai or sumballó and defined as our reckoning, counting, and considering the true, honorable, and just things of God in Philippians 4:8 or reveals how we throw together, discuss, consider, and meet with God from a brooding heart as Mary does in Luke 2:19. So if prayers of supplication are “speaking to God directly” then the Christian tradition of meditation is time spent musing, reflecting, considering, meeting, and listening to God as we wait in His stillness. These are all practices that predate Buddhism, Hinduism, and New Age. In fact, the first mention of meditation in the Bible is found in Genesis 24:63 (ESV) when “Isaac went out to meditate (siach) in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming.” This would have been written about 1,500 BC or approximately 1,000 years before the origins of Buddhism!
I practice several different types of meditation that the Holy Spirit uses to invade my soul with the peace of Christ. My favorites are Lectio Divina and Ignatian spirituality. These are an approach to the spiritual life based on Benedictine and Jesuit traditions from the early 1500s and teach an active attentiveness and responsiveness to God through our imagination, thoughts, and memories based on the divine reading of the word of God.
“The greatest single distinguishing feature of the omnipotence of God is that our imagination gets lost thinking about it.” – Blaise Pascal
One word often associated with meditation can be quite frightening to evangelical Christians, especially in the west. Mantra is a sanskrit word meaning sacred utterance. A word or sound repeated to aid concentration. We are surrounded by mantras throughout our day. Words and phrases to help us focus. “Like a good neighbor, ______ is there”…”Can You Hear Me ____?”…”The few, the proud, the _______”…”Melts in Your Mouth, ________.” These repetitive slogans are designed to help us focus on messages to remember.
Even the use of a repetitive prayer (mantra) predates Buddhism and New Age spirituality. Hesychasm is a mystical tradition of contemplative prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It focuses on retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God. It is an inner prayer, aimed at union with God on a level beyond images, concepts, and even language. Examples of hesychasm date to 400 AD as a constantly repetitive use of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.“
Protestants are well acquainted with prayers of supplication. Prayers involving us asking or begging God for something earnestly and humbly. We know how to supplicate well. And God loves hearing our prayers of supplication. They are a sweet fragrance to Him (Revelation 8). But let me challenge us. If prayers of supplication are us speaking to God, consider intentionally finding time to listen to His answer in quiet meditation.
“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation.” –C.S. Lewis