Christian meditation is a hotly debated subject in our culture currently. Meditation is becoming wildly more popular amongst those who consider themselves “spiritual” and amongst those who consider themselves not even slightly religious at all. People are adapting to the new societal norm of mediation. For Christianity, however, meditation shouldn’t be something new. Meditation has been apart of our Bible since the book of Genesis.
What is Christian Meditation? Christian meditation is the act of filling one’s mind with Scripture, and dwelling on God and all that He offers to humanity. While the word “meditation” in the Bible has three seperate definitions, it can be summarized. It means to “mutter, speak and ponder” to oneself the words of Scripture so that we are constantly meditating on what God has spoken to us. This produces not only knowledge of the Bible, but also, a heart transformation.
We should not shy away from meditation, but we should respect mediation wisely and in the correct manner.
The definition of meditation in the Bible is generally to “mutter or speak quietly”. In Psalm 1, it is written, that the ideal Bible reader is one who meditates on the Scripture day and night.
The word meditate in Psalm 1 is from the Hebrew word, hagah. As Strong’s translates this word, it means “to murmur (in pleasure or anger); by implication, to ponder: imagine, meditate, mourn, mutter… speak, study, talk, utter”. This is what meditation typically means in our Christian English Bible.
However, there are two other definitions of “meditate”.
The first time meditation is used in our Bibles is in Genesis 24:63. This Hebrew word is suwach. Strong’s gives the translation as: “to meditate, muse, commune, speak, or complain”.
From the New Testament, we see the apostles actually using the Greek word for “meditate” in their letters. The third Strong’s definition of “meditate” that we find in the Bible is from the Greek word meletaō, which means “to take care of, i.e. (by implication) revolve in the mind, imagine, (pre-)meditate”. What did the apostles mean and what are the connotations of the Greek word for meditation? We will explore this is the history section.
Let it be known that meditation has a common theme throughout the Old and New Testament. We have to keep in mind the Biblical definition of meditation if we want to follow completely what our Scripture is telling us.
Misconceptions of the Biblical Definition
In a day and age where mediation is growing wildly more popular, it is easy for Christians to get confused about what meditation is. Often times, Christians will shy away from meditation because they associate it with other world religions. While this is the right thing to do, we should not neglect the true meditation of the Bible.
Many times, mediation is recognized for another religious definition; “to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness” (Marriam Webster). This is clearly not what David was talking about when he wrote his Psalm. Or what the ancient Jews were doing in the time of the Old Testament.
Let’s explore the real history of how the ancient Israelites participated in meditation, and the roots of meditation through Judaism and Christianity.
In ancient Jewish culture, the followers of God would meditate on His word by speaking it to themselves over and over. They would dwell on the Scripture. As time went on, meditation to the follower of God changed slightly. During the New Testament, both Jews and Gentiles were all coming to God. This is when meditation changed slightly because the word now had a Greek connotation and culture, rather than a Hebrew connotation and culture.
Old Testament Meditation History
Oftentimes in the Bible, the books are actually Ancient Jewish Meditation literature. This literature lacks a lot of detail that we would typically look for if it was a narrative. But it is not a narrative. It is literature that is highly intelligent and poetic, and we are to focus on every detail and to meditate on what the author is saying. To understand Scripture properly, we must first understand what the Jewish Meditation Literature is and how to actually meditate on it. We can look to the Ancient Jews to understand completely how we are to treat this literature. Today, we read a majority of the Bible in the wrong way for which it was intended.
From the very beginning of God’s people starting with Abraham, we see meditation mentioned. Meditation comes early in the Bible, in the very first book of Genesis. Arguably, meditation was at the central foundation of the Christian faith. For Jews throughout the centuries, meditation was a form of learning the Torah and integrating the teaches from it into their own lives.
The actual idea of meditation literally is to ponder, dwell on, and mutter the Scripture to ourselves so that it starts to take root in our hearts.
We are to slow down and understand the Scripture itself. As a believer, we should mutter or speak quietly to ourselves the word of God’s Bible as our form of meditation. One of the fathers of our faith, King David, led us to do so (Psalm 1:2). David was so passionate about meditation that there are at least 14 Psalms that mention it.
Meditation in the Old Testament can also be linked to the Dead Sea Scroll Community. This community was dedicated to studying the word of God, and they actually called the Bible “The Scroll of Meditation” (the same word used in Psalm 1). This is a community of people who meditated on the word of God, the way in which we ought to meditate today.
New Testament Meditation History
The newly found Christians would have been either a Jew or Gentile before coming to Christ. In both Greek and Hebrew cultures, the people understood what meditation was. In 1 Timothy 4:15, Paul uses the Greek word for meditation. Paul did this because he knew that it was not immoral for the Church member to do so and because he knew that they could relate to this language. The entire Roman empire was familiar with meditation because they practiced it. In this way, whether Jew or Gentile, the new Christians would have had meditation experience.
In the early Christian church, members would have carried on some ancient Hebrew traditions (especially if they were Jewish previously). They would recite Scripture to meditate on who God is and His heart for humanity, and they would have read the Davidic Psalms, and learned how he had meditated on God.
One of the earliest forms of meditation succeding the New Testament times is called the Lectio Divina. Developed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, this “divine reading” was a Christian form of ancient Greek (pagan) meditation. How did it begin as meditation? “It was originally practiced by monks who spent a large portion of their days praying and reading Scripture. While reading they noticed that at times individual words, phrases, or verses seemed to leap off of the page with special personal importance”. This form of meditation was primarily adopted by the Catholic tradition over the centuries and it was not found in the early Christian church.
7 Biblical Examples
Our Biblical examples of meditation are:
- Genesis 24:63
- Joshua 1:8
- Psalm 1:1-2
- Psalm 19:14
- Acts 4:25
- Philippians 4:8
- 1 Timothy 4:15
1. Genesis 24:63
Genesis 24:63 says, “He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching”.
This word “meditate” here has been disputed amongst scholars for centuries. The scholars do not entirely agree on what “meditate” meant here, because the original word, suwach, has a negative connotation. Many scholars do agree that he was lamenting of some sort, but itis also related to the Hebrew words of thoughtfulness.
Despite the discrepancies, we can gather that Isaac was seeking the Lord during his time of meditation. We do not always have to be in a peaceful state, to meditate on who the Lord is or to give Him our troubles. Isaac was troubled during this time, yet he still sought the Lord.
John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible explains the verse this way, “Both the time and place were very proper for meditation: the place, ‘in the field’: where he might view the works of nature, and be led to the Creator of them, and the praise of him, and where he might be alone, and nothing to disturb his thoughts: and the time, ‘at evening’; after the labor, care, and hurry of the day were over, and before repose at night, and when the air was cool and refreshing, and everything was assisting to, and served to compose the mind, and help thought and contemplation”.
It is a lovely description of how we can choose to meditate, following how Isaac did it. Isaac’s situation is relatable, even during our time. Isaac was in distress and went to meditate with the Lord in a peaceful place.
2. Joshua 1:8
Joshua 1:8 “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 good success”.
What did Joshua mean when he said this? It is important to know the context and culture in which he commanded this. Joshua was the new leader of the Israelite people, who were receiving their new promised land. He was in charge of leading them in holiness and righteousness, and he was appointed by God.
Joshua not only knew the word of God, but it was on his lips. He spoke it, over and over, so that it was on his heart. The words of God would not depart from him, because he meditated on them. He meditated on it day and night, which is also mentioned in Psalm 1. Because it is mentioned twice in the Bible, by two separate authors during two separate time periods, we can conclude that this is an important aspect of meditation.
It is also important that we see what comes out of meditating on God’s law. Prosperity and success come from knowing and following the law of the Lord. This is a promise that Joshua gave the Israelite people, but the principle applies to us today. We are not exempt from following the Lord’s commands, but we are also not exempt from the promises that flow from it.
3. Psalm 1:1-2
Psalm 1:1-2 says “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law, and he meditates day and night”.
In David’s first Psalm, he speaks of meditation. This is no surprise because meditation is a theme throughout the rest of his writings. David puts a strong emphasis on this practice.
Here, he is describing the meditation of God’s law. In his time, the Lord’s law was at the center of the Jewish faith, and the Jewish could find the Lord’s character through His law. From Bible Study Tools, we find that “To meditate, as it is generally understood, signifies to discuss, to dispute; and its meaning is always confined to a being employed in words”. This holds true. David uses words to meditate. This is how we should meditate as well.
4. Psalm 19:14
Psalm 19:14 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer”.
Again, we see that words and meditation have a common connection. David is explaining that what we meditate on, is what will pour out of our being (our mouth). Our mouth is the heart that controls our being. The meditation of our heart is to be acceptable to the Lord, and so are our actions.
What did David mean by the “meditation of my heart”? John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible says, “his inward thoughts continually revolving in his mind; or his meditation on the word of God and divine things; or mental prayer, which is not expressed, only conceived in the mind”.
It should also be known that when David refers to the “words” of his mouth, he was talking about the Lord’s words. He was explaining that the words of his mouth were words that he read from Scripture. So the meditation of our heart should be God’s Word. John Gill says this about the “word” of this Scripture “as words and thoughts are when they are according to the word of God; and as the sacrifices of prayer, whether vocal or mental and of praise, are through Jesus Christ our Lord”.
5. Acts 4:25
Acts 4:25 “who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the people plot in vain?'”.
This is an interesting verse because it is in the New Testament, which means that Greek is being used. The Greek word for meditating is, meletaō, which here in the ESV translation was translated as “plot”. This meant to the Greek-speaking people “meditate, devise, or contrive”.
So why did Luke use this word, and what did he mean? In context, Luke is speaking of evil-doers who specifically plot against Jesus purposefully. This shows us that meditation is deliberate. It is something that man does purposefully, whether used for good or evil, we still are acting with our conscience through meditation.
6. Philippians 4:8
Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things”.
Many people have looked to this verse, as a reference for what a Christ-follower should dwell on. We are to dwell on these things, that Paul urges us to consider. In this way, our thinking will become more like Christ. When we meditate on the essence of God, our minds will be transformed into a new creation.
As the Expositor’s Greek Testament puts it, “The peace of God will be the guardian of their thoughts and imaginations, only they must do their part in bending their minds to worthy objects”. God works with us. However, we must determine what we choose to think about. We are in charge of what we meditate on, so Paul urges us to meditate on Godly things.
7. 1 Timothy 4:15
1 Timothy 4:15 “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress”.
Paul is teaching Timothy to meditate on the word of God, in order to build up the church of God.
John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible of Paul’s teaching is this; “Meditate on these things… Not only on those instructions, advice, and exhortations, which the apostle had given him, throughout this chapter, which might be very useful to him, often to think of, and revolve in his mind, and seriously consider and reflect upon; but upon the Scriptures, the reading of which he had recommended to him, and the doctrines contained therein; it becomes every man not only to read, but meditate on the word of God, and much more ministers of the Gospel. The Scriptures should be read with care, and be industriously and laboriously searched into”.
The Greek word here, meletaō, is translated as “practice these things”. Paul is explaining to Timothy that he must meditate on Scripture and on his own calling. This can be said to anyone of the Christian faith. We are to fully devote ourselves to Scripture and to our calling.
How is Christian Meditation Different than Other Meditation?
From the Scripture and from our knowledge of other religious meditation, we can see a wide difference between Christian meditation compared to other meditation.
I created this table to compare Christian and Eastern meditation practices.
From examining the Scriptures, we find that we are not called to “empty our minds” or practice breathing techniques. It is not about being “out of our body” or “killing our desires”. It is so much more than that. Not only are we looking past ourselves, like other religious meditation, but we are actually looking to someone higher than ourselves.
When we focus on the Creator, on God, on the Most High, our minds can go in new places that it has not gone before.
The highlighted difference between Christian Meditation and other religious mediation is this; a filling of the mind from Scripture.
Scripture is the differentiation. Meditating on Scripture is what sets us apart from the rest of the world. We meditate on God’s law, on His words, and on His plan for humanity. When we mutter Scripture to ourselves, our mind is being transformed. We are potentially “writing Scripture on our hearts” because we will learn those verses by heart.
Not only will we be meditating on His word, but we will be transformed. We saw from our Scripture passages that our words will change. And our words show what is in our hearts. When we start to think differently, we will start to act differently. This was David’s cry; to be more pleasing in God’s sight, and He chose to do this through meditation.
Why do Christians Meditate?
We meditate because we want to be more like Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate representation of God, and we want to imitate Jesus. And there are many ways to become more like Jesus. As Christians, we can meditate to follow Scripture, to build up the church, to be obedient to God, and for wholesome benefits that bring us closer to the Father.
To Follow Scripture
Scripture calls us to meditate. No, it does not determine our salvation or our morals. But it does show our heart to the Lord. When we meditate on His Scriptures, we are following the writings of some of the greatest leaders in our faith. From Moses, David, Joshua, Luke, and Paul, we can find that meditation is obedience to Scripture.
If we believe that Scripture is truly God’s word, then we should follow it. May we meditate on Scripture, in order to follow Scripture.
To Build Up The Church
Paul says this in his letter to Timothy, succeding his verse about meditation; “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). The apostle is making the point that when we are filled with God’s word, we are exhorting and teaching the church. This means that we are strongly encouraging and empowering the church body.
Timothy was to do this through his meditation on Scripture, and through devoting himself to the calling that the Lord had given him. We can do the same. Through our knowledge and understanding of the Scripture, we are able to build up the church by sharing the messages of hope and teaching others to understand the Scripture more deeply. This will allow others to walk deeper with the Lord, and therefore, the church will be strengthened.
To Be Obedient to God
David says that when we meditate on God’s law, we will keep His ways.
Psalm 119:15,17 “I will meditate on your precepts and think about your ways… Deal generously with your servant so that I might live; then I will keep your word”.
What we learn from this, is that it takes not only meditating on God’s word to follow His word. It takes the Lord dealing generously with us. It is by the grace of God that we are able to follow His word. However, He desires our obedience to His law, so He will enable us to be obedient.
Reciting His law in our hearts teaches our minds how to behave and act. It renews us from dwelling on what we believe and takes us to a holy way of thinking.
The Spiritual Benefits
There are spiritual benefits to meditation.
The first I would like to explain, is the benefit of peace. Our spirits find peace when we meditate on the works of God. For example, meditating on the fact that God is for you and not against you, will remind your spirit that there is peace in Him.
Spiritualy speaking, meditating on God allows us to grow in intimacy with Him. The more time we spend thinking about and dwelling on His character, the closer our spirit will be with Him. In this, we will spiritually find intimacy with our Father and Creator.
When we meditate on God’s trustworthiness, we will find that our spirit is more trusting in Him. This goes for all characteristics of God. When we meditate on who He is, the more our spirits will connect with Him.
The Mental Benefits
Scientists have been proving for years, the mental health benefits of meditation. Consider pondering God’s love, faithfulness, His creation, etc. This type of discipline transforms your mind when you meditate on God’s good attributes. It can actually change the way you think.
“In a review published in March 2014 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers reviewed more than 18,000 scientific studies looking at the relationship between meditation and depression and anxiety. Forty-seven trials with data on 3,515 patients met their criteria for well-designed research. The results showed that mindful meditation programs over an eight-week period had moderate evidence in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety”. This research was found on How Meditation Can Improve Your Mental Health.
It makes sense. If God wants us to meditate, He has made it beneficial for our minds. Meditating is literally a transformation of the mind, and Scripture teaches us that it changes our hearts as well.
The Health Benefits
There are actually a number of physical benefits due to the effects of meditation. Health benefits of mediation include (but are not limited to); a decrease of pain in the body, sleep improvement, reduced stress and a decrease in blood pressure. There is also preliminary evidence that meditation can reduce anxiety and depression.
“A 2014 review of the literature found that mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved anxiety, depression, and pain, and low evidence of improved stress/distress and mental health-related quality of life” (8 Things to Know About Meditation for Health).
The Lord knows our bodies because He created them. This is why there are even health benefits when we choose to fixate our minds and meditate on Him.