Chapter 1: What Is Christian Meditation?
Christian meditation is a form of prayer that helps to focus our attention on God through silence and listening to scripture. The word meditation itself means to think deeply or carefully about something. Meditation is growing in popularity, as more people look for practices to help ease anxiety and improve focus. In popular culture, meditation is most often used as a way to practice mindfulness, the ability to focus on the present moment without distraction or forgetfulness, as a spiritual practice to train the mind, or a psychological tool to combat hurry, worry, or stress.
Christian Meditation is a form of prayer
For Christians, meditation is part of the spiritual practice of prayer. Many Christians understand Prayer as key to personal transformation and connection with God—leaning on many examples of prayer in the bible. But speaking to God is not the only way to pray. In his seminal book on the topic, Richard Foster describes three types of prayer: inward prayers which are prayers to God to transform us, upward prayers which seek intimacy with God, and outward prayers which ask God to intervene in our lives or that of others. Foster describes meditative prayer as a form of upward prayer that helps us internalize and personalize the scriptures, in which “the Bible ceases to be a quotation dictionary and becomes instead ‘wonderful words of life’ that lead us to the Word of life.” The Psalms are often referred to as the prayer book of the bible and throughout the psalms, we see many types of prayers -- prayers petitioning God to do something in the author’s life or intercede in the life of others, prayers lamenting suffering or sins of the world, and many prayers meditating on God’s goodness and Glory. Psalm 1, the first book of the psalms, is an example of a meditation. The Psalmist dwells on prosperity and reminds us that the prosperous person is one who engages the scriptures and “meditates on his law day and night.”
Christian Meditation is a way to listen to God
Meditation is also a way of listening to God, increasing our knowledge of Christ. God is everywhere and is speaking to us in many ways: through nature, through other people, through the activity of the Holy Spirit, directly and, of course, through the scriptures. As Christians we are called to listen, as described in these bible verses about prayer:
- “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” (Isaiah 55:3, NIV).
- “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Rev 3:20, NIV)
When we meditate, we adopt a posture of stillness and silence which are key for listening. Psychologists describe active or “mindful” listening as a way of listening to hear and understand, rather than to respond. In the same way, when we meditate on scripture, we pray in an attentive way, ready to hear what God is saying.
Should Christians Meditate?
Some Christians are wary of meditation—especially its association with Buddhist and other Eastern traditions. But there are numerous examples of meditation in the bible. From Moses to Isaac to King David and Jesus, many biblical characters are depicted as meditating. A few Greek and Hebrew words are commonly translated as “to meditate” and these include:
So clearly, Christian meditation is not a sin nor something that belongs to Eastern religions. Meditation is an act that takes on the intent that’s given to it. Meditation is no more a sin than singing is - it all depends on what you sing and the intent. In addition to meditation in the bible, we also have a lot of examples throughout church history of Christians practicing different forms of meditation and such as Lectio Divinia, Ignatian Meditation, and more. Rather than, Should Chrisitans meditate?,” a better question might be: How should Chrisitans meditate?” Psalm 1 gives us the answer: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”
Along with Psalm 1, many other bible passages and examples of meditation in the bible address the how of meditation. Let’s take a look at those in the next chapter.