Meditation is one of those words that gets all caught up in confusion. Depending on your worldview, it may mean a variety of different things. For instance, as the word has entered into its contemporary usage, it has taken on more of an eastern context that can be understood to mean “to become familiar with one’s self/Self”. This is directly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism and comes from the Tibetan word “Gom”, and is used to train the mind to be familiar with various states that are beneficial like concentration, compassion, etc.
Meditation is not unique to Buddhism. It appears in Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Jewish Kabbalhaism. Buddhists often call it “dhyāna”.
In fact, Oxford’s Dictionary of American English provides the following definition: “to think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.” It gives the following synonyms: “contemplation, thought, thinking, musing, pondering, consideration, reflection, deliberation, rumination, brooding, reverie, brown study, concentration; prayer; formal cogitation.”
So, meditation runs a wide spectrum of meanings that range from deep contemplation of something to training the mind to enter various mental states, to becoming familiar with your core self/Self.
BEING SET APART
“Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” ~2nd Corinthians 6:17- 7:1
It can be very easy to get bogged down in a quagmire of bad understanding regarding the practice of meditation, but God has called us to come out from among the world and be separate. He tells us to cleanse both our flesh and spirit from all filthiness and perfect holiness in the fear of God.
This doesn’t mean we ignore meditation altogether, rather, it means that we should purify our understanding of it from the errors of this world.
THE HEART OF CHRISTIAN MEDITATION
One of my favorite passages in scripture is Psalm 119:9-16, and I think it is the perfect place to start for our topic:
“9 How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. 10 With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! 11 Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. 12 Blessed are You, O Lord! Teach me Your statutes. 13 With my lips I have declared all the judgments of Your mouth. 14 I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches. 15 I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. 16 I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.” ~Psalms 119:9-16
The Psalmist asks the question “how can we cleanse our way”, just as we should be asking the same question today in light of 2nd Corinthians 7:1, and the Psalmist answers this question by turning to the word. Literally. And in so doing the Psalmist describes to us Christian meditation.
Christian meditation is not all “mental”, neither is it “abstract”. The Psalmist answers with, “By taking heed according to Your word”. The World English Bible translates this passage as “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word”, and the NASB says “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” I think the apostle Peter summarized the depths of God’s word written to us here in Psalms when he was moved by the Spirit to write, “you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1st Peter 1:22-23). The Christian (born again through the Word) takes God’s word in with their whole heart; it is the process by which the word is translated into purifying obedience deep into the soul!
Again, the Spirit moved upon Paul to write, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16), echoing what the Psalmist wrote when he said “Your word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you”.
To put it another way, Christian meditation is a process by which we allow the word of Christ to flourish within us, moving through every crevice of our heart and mind, cleansing us of every impurity. I think it is worth noting that it seems that it may be for a lack of true meditation that so many Christians today suffer from persistent addictions.
The Psalmist concludes this by revealing to us that it is in meditation that the Christian finds joy in the testimonies of God and delights in all His statutes!
The Christian that meditates often on the word of God has no need of synthesizing joy in his or her life because the joys of God’s word is already flourishing in his or her heart! It is a result of meditation that we do not need to substitute entertainment for joy because we are filled with the substance and reality of God’s word.
In this way, Christian meditation centers on the Word of God and activates the heart to obedience in sincere love. It activates all the senses, but not in vain, they are activated to the joy of the LORD!
IN THE BEGINNING
Meditation is not new or foreign to God’s people.
I was raised in a background that ignored the idea of “meditation” altogether, as were many of my peers, which is why I am not surprised that a counterfeit form of meditation is sweeping my generation.
“63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening”~Genesis 24:63
Meditation was a practice that the forefathers of our faith made a point of practicing. Isaac actually separated himself for the purpose of meditation. The note that I would like to add here is that meditation is a lonely practice; lonely in the human sense, that is, but it is very full of fellowship with God in the Spirit.
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it.”~Joshua 1:8
God spoke to Joshua after Moses’ death and commanded him to meditate on His statutes day and night so that he would be faithful to do all that was commanded. I cannot emphasize it enough that true meditation always purifies the soul in obedience. This is one way in which the counterfeit meditation that we are witnessing in our time is differentiated; it does not purify the soul in obedience. It alters the mind, changes our modes of consciousness, and purports to improve the health of the body, but it does not produce either obedience to, or joy in, the statutes of the LORD.
PLEASING TO GOD
“May my meditation be sweet to Him; I will be glad in the Lord.” ~Psalm 104:34
Meditation is sweet to God, and it brings great joy in the Lord to the heart of those who practice it. God delights in our fellowship with Him.
John writes “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1). Meditation is our “sweet” fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Word, and He Himself is pleased with right meditation.
Conversely, this implies that there is a kind of meditation with which He is not pleased. A meditation that does not enter the sanctuary of the heart, I believe, is not pleasing to Him, just as the Psalmist writes,
“meditate within your heart on your bed and be still” (Psalm 4:4),
“let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O LORD” (Psalm 19:14),
“I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search” (Psalm 77:6).
The meditation that is sweet to the LORD is such that takes place in the heart and activates the spirit to make diligent search of the wonders of God!
I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that Christian meditation is clothed in the glorious songs of the night! It is filled with wonder and mystery, but grounded firmly in the praise of truth!
Considering this, I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say blessed is the man that has delighted himself in the meditations of God’s Word! Just as the Psalmist wrote,
“1Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful;2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” ~Psalm 1:1-2
MYSTERY OF THE NIGHT WATCHES
“My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word.” ~Psalm 119:148
I am disappointed when I hear Christians speak as if there is no mystery in God! To speak in such a way is to act as if God were finite and entirely definable, like the creation that He has made (which we still do not fully understand, though it is finite, and, therefore, by definition definable). God is infinite, He has revealed Himself in comprehendible ways to human senses, but, He transcends those human senses entirely.
I believe Christians are sometimes afraid of the mystery of God because they have witnessed the abuses that truth has suffered when souls get lost in mystery, but I think this fear is ungrounded.
We have been given the manifold counsel of God’s covenant as an anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:17-19), which is no longer veiled to us (v19). If we will stay grounded in the counsel of God’s word, we will not go astray in mystery, as so many have before.
Neither, indeed, does this mystery necessitate that we abandon the senses of our mind and give ourselves over to emotionalism. For, indeed, our very counsel is God’s word, and it activates our deep contemplation, but it is from this point that we stand in grand awe and wonder at the majesty and mystery of God!
And I believe this is the perspective that the Psalmist writes when He speaks of his meditation that keeps him awake into the night watches. This kind of meditation is further distinguished from the world’s meditation by its characteristic of consciousness. It is not “asleep” or “near asleep”, but it is very much awake, activated, and engaged in the wonder and awe of God’s word!
This kind of meditation into the night watches is not possible for someone that has confined their study of God’s word to academics alone. The Psalmist wrote “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation” (Psalm 119:99). His meditation had taken him to a point beyond that which academics alone is capable of carrying someone. Those who have confined themselves to intellectual study of God’s word will soon become bored with this kind of meditation and will find their mind wandering to other various more engaging topics.
As well, if the depths of God’s word have not become your delight, then you will find your heart constantly wandering to your real joys.
FREE TO ALL GOOD THINGS
“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. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” ~Philippians 4:8-9
The expectation of the New Testament regarding how we will handle the things that we have learned and received from the apostles is that we will meditate on them!
What was sweet to the LORD in the Old Testament is only that much sweeter to Him now because of the perfect work of Jesus Christ. Our forefathers in the faith were much more limited in their ability to enter into sweet meditation because they were not filled with the Holy Spirit, justified and sanctified by the blood of Christ, and born again of the incorruptible Seed that was long ago foretold to Abraham.
But now, being children of all these things, and lacking in no blessing from God, we are free to enter into this wonderful fellowship with God in whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, good, virtuous, and praiseworthy.
Ezekiel prophesied, saying, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The statutes of God now dwell in you through the Holy Spirit so that you are freely able to meditate upon all these things. There is no hindrance to you to prevent you from meditating upon all these good things.
Conversely, when we make ourselves to dwell on the bad things of this world, we apply our own hand to quenching what the Holy Spirit comes to bring to life in us. The tragedy in our movies, TV shows, video games, and music, is that they bring things that are impure, untrue, unjust, deplorable, bad, vile, and dishonorable into our mind. They seduce our hearts to delight in these things rather than the joys of God’s word.
If I had to choose the spiritual discipline that has been most neglected, I would choose Christian meditation. And where Christians neglect spiritual discipline, Satan always acts swiftly to introduce a counterfeit spiritual indiscipline. This seems to be why, as I mentioned, this generation is being swept with a meditation that is totally foreign to the Christian faith, and that does not produce the fruits that Christian meditation produces.
Contrary to the world’s meditation that declares “follow the dictates of your heart”, true Christian meditation follows the Holy Spirit in the counsel of the word, with joy, awe, and wonder for the mystery of God. Many Christians have unwittingly been consumed by a counterfeit meditation that declares “follow the dictates of your heart”, but we should remember the counsel of God’s word that keeps us grounded in the truth and says “Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” (Jeremiah 7:24)
This post is already long enough, so I was not able to look at the integral part that “prayer” plays in meditation, acting as a kind of conduit or catalyst for Christian meditation; indeed, reading early Christian writers and even the scripture itself, the word “pray” or “prayer” is often used in the same fashion as the word “meditate” or “meditation” is used in the passages we looked at above. It is associated with joy and obedience, with the word, and with the desires of our heart.
But my hope is that this post will serve to bring your attention to a spiritual discipline that is so very central to a joyful Christian life!
May the grace, mercy, and peace of God be upon you all in sincere love, Amen!