What Is Biblical Meditation?
Meditation has become popular in Western culture. But is meditation in the Bible? What does the Bible say about meditation? Should Christians meditate?
God has given Christians five tools to help develop their spiritual lives: Bible study, prayer, fasting, meditation and fellowship. This blog will focus on meditation as a spiritual power tool that helps us think deeply about the things of God—and can actually enhance the other four tools!
In our busy world that is full of distractions, meditation is one of the most neglected of all Christian tools. Christian meditation is designed to help us think more similarly to how God thinks and is essential for aligning our thought patterns with His.
Though there are various forms of meditation that come from Eastern religion and philosophy, they are quite different from the meditation we read about in the Bible. To learn how to practice proper spiritual meditation, we need to go to the Bible.
What is biblical meditation?
Biblical meditation has nothing to do with clearing the mind (which is often the goal of other forms of meditation). Instead, biblical meditation is all about thinking.
One of the key scriptures on this topic is Philippians 4:8: “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 . . . meditate [think] on these things.”
Biblical meditation involves deep thinking. Thinking about things that are:
- Based on truth.
The purpose of biblical meditation is to replace negative thoughts with positive, godly ones. King David was known as a “man after His [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; 16:7, 13). He was close to God and was a frequent practitioner of biblical meditation (Psalm 5:1; 7:1; 19:14; etc.), as were other servants of God.
Psalm 119, the longest psalm, mentions “meditate” or “meditation” eight times (verses 15, 23, 27, 48, 78, 97, 99 and 148).
These verses show we are to meditate on God’s precepts, His ways, His statutes, His wonderful works, His commandments, His laws, His testimonies and His word. In other words, meditation is aligning our thoughts with every word of God (Matthew 4:4).
A close examination of God’s Word
The apostle James calls God’s law the “perfect law of liberty.” God’s law should be used as a spiritual mirror to see our reflection. Instead of allowing us to see dirt and imperfections on our face, it helps us see flaws in our character.
However, James warns that if we hear God’s Word but don’t follow through with action to change, then we’re like people who look at themselves in the mirror and immediately forget what they look like (James 1:23-25).
Do we sometimes fall in that category? Do we ever read the Bible but quickly forget what we read and learned?
Meditation helps us etch God’s Word in our mind, so we are less likely to forget it.This is where meditation comes in!
Meditation helps us etch God’s Word in our mind, so we are less likely to forget it.
James encourages us to “look” into the perfect law of liberty and continue in it. The word look is the Greek word parakupto.
Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary defines this word as “to stoop to a thing in order to look at it . . . to look carefully into.”
It describes a close examination of something and giving it focused thought. Meditating on what we read in God’s Word helps us not be that person who quickly forgets.
Where should we meditate?
The first place in the Bible where meditation is mentioned is the book of Genesis. We read that “Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening” (Genesis 24:63).
Isaac was the son of Abraham, who was a wealthy man (Genesis 13:2). Since Isaac received the bulk of his father’s physical possessions, he would have been wealthy himself—with many cattle and servants.
So we see him getting away from all the noise and physical distractions of life and going to a quiet place to meditate. In this case, he was pleasantly distracted from his meditation by the arrival of his soon-to-be wife (Genesis 24:64). It seems likely meditation was something he did often.
The lesson is that Isaac sought out a quiet place to meditate. We don’t need to find a field, but we can have a quiet place to go where we can be away from distractions (including our phones). Jesus tells us, “When you pray, go into your room” and “shut your door” (Matthew 6:6).
Both meditation and prayer are best done in a private, quiet location so we can be free of distractions.
When should we meditate?
In the case of Isaac, we read that he went out at evening time—at the end of his work day. It’s wise to have a time we habitually set aside for meditation and prayer. But we shouldn’t be so regimented that we meditate only at a specific time. It’s something we can do throughout our day.
God instructed Joshua to meditate on His law “day and night” (Joshua 1:8). David repeated the same instruction in Psalm 1:2.
The author of Psalm 119 wrote that the law of God was his “meditation all the day” and that he meditated through the “night watches” (verses 97, 148). (The night was divided into three watches of four hours each—basically sunset to 10 p.m., 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., and 2 a.m. to sunrise.)
Jesus Christ often went to secluded places to be alone and pray and meditate.This isn’t saying we should meditate all day every day. The expressions “day and night” and “all the day” are figuratively describing a habitual practice. In a general sense, God and His way should always be on our mind—but we can also give focused time to meditation at any time of the day.
Jesus Christ often went to secluded places to be alone and pray and meditate. In Mark 1:35 we see that “a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place.” Those who make it a habit to wake up very early know that it’s difficult to do unless it becomes our habit. Jesus could do it because it was His habit.
Many Christians find it is helpful to wake up a little earlier than normal to spend time alone in prayer and meditation.
Why should we meditate?
At Queen’s University in Canada, psychologists used a functional MRI to scan people while they were thinking. They found what they called a “thought worm”—brain activity that showed a person was focused on the same thought. By counting when the brain activity changed, researchers were able to determine that we each have roughly 6,000 thoughts per day.
While the fMRI can detect that a person is moving to a new thought; it cannot determine what a person is thinking about.
What do you think about?
The proverb “for as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7) highlights the importance of our thoughts. We understand that physically we are what we eat. Our bodies will often reflect what kind of diet we eat. Spiritually, we are what we think—in our words and character. Our character is measured by the sum total of our thoughts.
So what we think about is important. It will determine if we live carnally or righteously (Romans 8:6).
To be carnally minded is to have our thoughts focused only on physical things. Christians have to think about physical things, but they have to be careful to think about spiritual things as well!
Meditating on God’s Word helps us to put His Word in our hearts and minds.Jim Kwik, a memory expert, said this: “The most important thing is to keep the most important thing the most important thing.” Jesus said something similar: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? . . . But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:25, 33).
This means we should keep our primary focus on spiritual things!
Meditating on God’s Word helps us to put His Word in our hearts and minds (Hebrews 8:10). This is not easy because our carnal nature resists spiritual thoughts. The apostle Paul says we must engage in spiritual “warfare” to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
Here we are told to make war against our carnal thoughts. Meditation is one of the keys to waging that war! It actually is a life-or-death issue (Romans 8:6).
Who should we meditate on?
Job was a pretty amazing man. God described him as “blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). He lost everything in a short amount of time—his possessions, his wealth, his children, his health. Even his friends turned on him.
Despite his incredible character, one of Job’s weaknesses was not fully seeing himself in comparison to God. At one point he demanded that God answer to him for what he went through (Job 9:32).
God confronted him from a whirlwind (Job 38:1). God didn’t answer any of Job’s questions or address any of his complaints. Job wasn’t told why he suffered. Instead, God showed Job His greatness through a series of difficult questions about His creation, none of which Job was able to answer.
Job finally said these words: “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).
What did Job mean, “Now my eye sees You?”
At that point Job saw that he was nothing in comparison to his Creator. Job started to see God for the supreme being that He is, sovereign over all things, mighty and all-powerful, yet also merciful and loving. Job saw his own flaw and how God’s thoughts and ways are far higher (Isaiah 55:8-9). Job saw himself accurately only when he saw himself in comparison to God.
How did God get him to see this? It was through the wonders of His creation. It’s humbling when we compare ourselves to what we see in God’s creation, from the greatness of the universe to the complexity of a living cell. We really see how small we are and how powerful God is.
The apostle Paul wrote: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood [through] the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhood” (Romans 1:20). In other words, we can see God through His creation.
We can come to see ourselves more accurately by learning about and meditating on God’s power and glory. We can come to a deeper understanding of how much greater He is than we are (Job 33:12). We can glimpse God’s perfection (Job 34:10-12) and His strength and understanding (Job 36:5). We should meditate on the greatness of God. It helps us see ourselves from the right perspective.
We can learn to see God more clearly through meditation.