What Christian Meditation is NOT
The idea of “meditation” often evokes visuals of zen-master gurus, sitted cross-legged chanting “ommmmmmmm”, and eastern religious rituals or symbols. “Christian meditation” often invites contradictory feelings of curiosity, desire, discomfort, and nervousness. With all the information floating on the web, podcasts, and popular media, you likely have legitimate confusion or concerns about being duped by twisted secular-spiritual or psuedo-Christian thinking. Especially when intelligent Bible-teaching experts disagree on this topic.
Christians live in an interesting, paradoxical existence. We are transformed, renewed, and saved for eternity, but we live in a fallen, broken world. We are being perfected, but not yet perfect. We are constantly discerning how live in the world while approaching “worldly” topics well. Aversion to practices such as meditation without exploration and understanding puts us at risk of legalistic, shallow beliefs. While it is right for you to discern the meditation practices of other spiritual orders and pop culture, Christian meditation proves worth the time to seek God and understand its foundations.
You should not have anxiety or fear about this subject; that is not the life God intended for His followers. We can trust Scripture to inform us. Scripture reminds us that perfect love casts out fear in 1 John 4:18. Or you might recall from 2 Timothy 1:7 that God did not give you a Spirit of fear. Instead, God requires that His believers take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). This means comparing our thoughts, the world’s thoughts to His Word for determining the truth. Thankfully, we can process our ideas against the world's ideas by pressig into the Bible and the Holy Spirit for answers.
Furthermore, God asks that we settle tricky, uncomfortable matters with Him (Isaiah 1:18). This includes our thoughts and understanding of meditation. After all, if God reasons out your salvation with you, certainly He can handle your questions on meditation.
So, what is the truth?
Why Do Your Questions on Meditation Matter?
It is GREAT that you are asking these questions! These questions can cultivate your knowledge of and dependance on God and His Truth. With the rise in the promotion of meditation practices in popular culture, it is helpful to Biblically articulate your beliefs and understanding.
Reason #1. You Need to Know God’s Truth
This is generally true about everything… always! The modern resurgence in meditation practices has created an overwhelming amount of visiblity and information about this ancient practice. The information is rarely Biblically explored. Unfortunately, Christian meditation practices and mainstream disciplines are co-mingling.
With growing scientific research reporting myriad benefits of meditation, Christians and non-Christians are curious about the practice. Deciphering truth is necessary. If wisdom and discernment are not used, Christians risk experimenting or actively practicing potentially dangerous occult rituals in a way that does not honor God or invites attack from the enemy.
Knowing Biblical truth allows you to discern how you could or should practice meditation.
Reason #2. You Need to Be Prepared to Engage in Thoughtful Conversation
Your family, neighbors, colleagues, and even church family hold varying views on meditation, even Christian meditation. These differing views open the door to questions and debates; these are connection opportunities.
God asks you to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). This includes how your faith applies to modern, everyday life. To confidentaly engage in an intelligent, non-combative conversation on Christian meditation, it is helpful to have a strong Biblical foundation on the topic.
What Truth Addresses Your Questions on Meditation?
To get you started on your quest for the truth about meditation, we have compiled an overview of what Christian meditation is NOT. Consider the points below and the Scriptures referenced in prayer as you take this matter before God.
1. Christian Meditation DOES NOT Partner With Eastern Mysticism
When the subject of meditation arises, most individuals, even Christians, tend to think of connections to Eastern Mysticism, New Age philosophies, Buddhism or Hinduism. It is true that many of these spiritual belief systems include meditative practices. However, Christian meditation holds to specific tenets and definitions which differ greatly from other practices. Some of these are discussed below as we continue considering what Biblical meditation is NOT.
Christian meditation requires specific focuses. It is linked to godly obedience and delighting in the Lord. Psalm 111:2 is simple and informative, “How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them.” Christian Meditation focuses on and delights in the God of the Bible.
2. Christian Meditation IS NOT a Reaction to New Age Practices
Since the beginning of humanity, God’s people have inappropriately attempted to mix worldly concepts with Christian thought in a way that pleases God. These attempts fail. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, there are plenty of examples of God's people adopting pagan practices to replace or augment appropriate worship of God. One such example is when the Israelites were freed from captivity in Babylon. Many chose to stay, forsaking their God for the mixed lifestyle to which they had become accustomed. Another example, the experience of Daniel refusing to bow in worship the golden image setup by King Nebuchadnezzar illustrates the importance of remaining faithful to God even when others bow to idols.
Whether in Babylon or our modern culture, slapping a Christian title on a pagan practice fails to remove its God-opposing foundation or heart. Scripture points this out in Old Testament examples when improper cleaning out of the temples brought grave problems. This practice should be avoided. However, Christian or biblical meditation is not such an example.
Even a brief exploration of the origins of mediation suggests strong parallels with historical Eastern practices This may lead you to believe it originated as a pagan discipline. However, a Hebrew word for meditation, suach, referenced God’s people to meditate starting in Genesis. In Genesis 24:63, we know Isaac practiced meditation in the evening in a field.
Psalm 1:1-3 illustrates the focus and blessing of biblical living in stark opposition to wicked practices. The psalmist calls the godly, those who meditate on God’s law, to walk, stand and sit differently. Growth, fruit and prosperity result according to verse three.
3. Christian Meditation IS NOT Grounded in Self-Help & Personal Power
Western meditation philosophies heretically combine Eastern ideas with self-help and “personal power” concepts. For example, a common Western meditative practice is personal affirmations, which are also called incantations or mantras. This practice involves repeating statements like “I am happy! I am in control of myself” or “I am a powerful, successful, money-making machine.”
These incantations focus on YOU… YOUR power, YOUR wealth, YOUR success, YOUR beauty, and YOUR happiness. This is derived from American “manifest destiny” or “law of attraction” ideas. Western affirmation meditation grows worship of and dependence on YOURSELF.
As another example of Eastern practice… Srila Prabhupadaa, the spiritual teacher and founder of the Hare Krishna Movement, prescribes followers to chant the Maha Mantra “Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare, Hare Rāma Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma Hare Hare” once for each of 108 beads on a necklace, 16 times per day, for a total of 1,728 repitions.
In contrast, Deuteronomy 6, Mark 12 and Luke 10 contain bold references about the focus of whom Christian worship and dependence. Biblical meditation focuses on God, not self. Even when practicing Christian meditation affirmations, an individual’s mind focuses on his or her identity in Christ. The source of all good, blessings, gifts, power, success, is God. This humble posture rebukes lies of the enemy and grows your worship of, joy in, and dependence on Jesus, not self. It also eliminates the pride prevalent in other meditative practices and the fall which results (Proverbs 16:18).
4. Christian Meditation DOES NOT Empty Your Mind of All Thought
A primary goal of many Eastern meditation practices is to empty the mind or the self of thoughts. The belief is that by allowing inner thoughts, emotions, sensations, and craving to diminish… you progress toward achieving enlightenment or transcendence.
This idea is translated from several other Buddhism or Hinduism terms used to reference ascertaining “awakening” (bodhi); insight (prajna, kensho and satori); “correct knowledge” or “clarity” (vidyā); the “blowing out” (nirvāṇa) of disturbing emotions and desires and the subsequent freedom or release (vimutti); and the attainment of Buddhahood, as exemplified by Gautama Buddha. (Wikipedia)
The Western version of this concept has evolved to being associated with “self-realization” and “knowledge of the true and false selves”. Christian's do not have to “achieve” these states! The Bible explicitly informs us about who we are, why we exist, how we are equipped, from where we come, and for what we are eternally destined.
Emptying the mind is an unhelpful (at best) and potentially dangerous practice. Nowhere in Scripture are God’s children encouraged to free their minds to whatever enters. On the contrary, Scripture warns to guard your heart and mind (Proverbs 4:23, Philippians 4:7). Biblical meditation intentionally places God’s Word into that space.
5. Christian Meditation IS NOT Focused on … Whatever!
Modern meditation practices suggest focusing on any number of symbols, people, or thoughts. Other possibilities are physical positions & movements, rituals, specific sounds, light patterns, self, success, awareness, breathing, vocal machinations, general “spirituality”, “positive vibes or thoughts”, inspirational, success and more all offer possibilities.
The practitioner or guru defines the desired focus. Christian meditation limits the choice of focus to that which Scripture deems appropriate and beneficial. These limitations are God ordained, not a product of a religion, spiritual guru or legalistic set of guidelines. Study of the Scriptures points us to where our thoughts are to be focused.
In John 4:23-24, Jesus says “But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Colossians 2:6-8 offers helpful instructions “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.”
Scripture directs our meditation to focus on the following, which are sufficient:
- The character of God (Psalm 48:9)
- The teachings of the Bible (Psalm 1:2, Joshua 1:8)
- Our identity in Christ (Genesis 1:21)
- Christian life of love, service, fellowship, and sharing the Gospel (Romans 12:2)
6. Christian Meditation IS NOT Practiced for the Scientific Benefits
Medical studies from esteemed institutions join the voices claiming the benefits of meditation. Stress and anxiety are reduced, emotional health improves, attention span increases, sleep improves, pain decreases and the list goes on. While these are wonderful benefits, biblical meditation is not motivated by physical effects. The sole reason Christians meditate is to connect with and worship the one true God, to obey and please Him.
The Psalms provide examples of the worship of God’s people through meditation. Furthermore, God blesses His children when they obey. Meditating on His character, His Word and who you are in Him pleases Him. The physical benefits are simply the gift of a loving Father to His children.
Medical discoveries simply affirm God's intentional, creative, masterful design of humanity! In Luke 19:40, Jesus says if humanity ceased praising him, the stones of Earth would burst into worship. Many of the Psalms reference the skies proclaiming the work of God's hands (Psalm 19:1). If the beautiful natural world declares the glory of God… how much moreso do we?
7. Christian Meditation IS NOT A Product of Popular Culture
Many people pursue trying popular trends because of a desire for new experiences or simply because of the fear of missing out. If Oprah promotes it or <fill-in-the blank celebrity name> practices it, folks follow and experiment without considering personal motivations or discerning spiritual implications. Christians are no exception.
This is not appropriate for Christians. In the example of medication, it is not a trend. It is a spiritual practice. It is a Biblical discipline that God ordained to connect His people with Him, engrave His Word on their hearts and cause them to act on it (Joshua 1:8).
Paul offers explicity instrucitons in Romans 12:1-2, ” And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
This relates to our understanding of meditation. It is wise to recognize meditation as a serious, powerful spiritual discipline, not a trifling matter with which to tinker.
8. Christian Meditation IS NOT About Isolationism
When you move beyond the ideas of not practicing meditation for general spiritual enlightenment, physical health, mental clarity, novel experience, or achieving “success”… another consideration arises. Meditation can tend toward isolationism and is not a magical, spiritual “cure-all” elixir.
Solitude with God is helpful. Isolation from God and His people is not.
Biblical meditation is a powerful practice and tool. It is one of many Christian spiritual disciplines, all of which complement each other. Meditating does not replace studying God’s Word (although you can definitely meditate on it!), praying, gathering with other believers, worshipping God in song, serving, loving, sharing the Gospel, admiring nature, practicing hospitality, fasting, or enjoying the Sabbath.
Scripture is clear on the activities Christians are to include in their daily and weekly routines (Acts 2:42 among others). Jesus, who regularly withdrew to focus on the Father (meditation), provides the ultimate example of how Christians are to live in a broken world. Meditation is simply one activity among others which helps focus on God as Jesus did.