Meditation for Christians
The Importance of Prayer and Meditation
Meditation has become a popular way to help reduce stress and anxiety. Scientific studies on the effects of meditation have found that it can help lower blood pressure, relieve many psychological disorders such as anxiety, and even can help with irritable bowel syndrome! Sadly, according to the National Institutes of Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in America, with 18% of Americans being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and many more suffering silently without a diagnosis. The pandemic, social instability, the economy, and a myriad of other conditions in our country today have taken their toll on our peace and wellbeing. Being able to help relieve some of the suffering due to this high level of stress with something as simple as prayer and meditation should be great news for all of us. Even though studies on meditation use mainly eastern religious mindfulness procedures, Christian prayer and meditation have the basic components in common. Those three basic elements in common are: a quiet location with as few distractions as possible; getting into a comfortable position; focusing of attention on something, usually a word or breathing.
Physical Benefits of Meditation
In the health and wellness world, meditation comes highly recommended by many practitioners not only for reducing the effects of stress, but also for overall brain health, which interests me because of my family history of Alzheimer’s disease. Here are just three studies focused on the brain that suggest a positive effect from meditation:
In a 2012 study, researchers compared brain images from 50 adults who meditated and 50 adults who did not meditate. The results suggested that people who practiced meditation for several years have more folds in the outer layer of the brain. Those folds indicate an increase in the brain’s ability to process information. In other words, meditation may make you smarter!
In 2013 researchers reviewed three studies and concluded that meditation may slow, stall, or even reverse changes that take place in the brain due to normal aging. Meditation could be an effective anti-aging strategy.
Results from another 2012 study suggest that meditation can affect activity in the amygdala (the emotion-processing center of the brain), and that different types of meditation affect the amygdala even when the person is not meditating, meaning that the effects of meditation on emotions are lasting even after the person is done with their meditation for the day.
I always find it interesting when the scientific world discovers that something taught by the Bible is good for us. This happens all the time and is not surprising to me at all. God made us and gave us His Word to help guide us and show us how to live. As the Creator, God understands how our brains work and what we need to do to keep from being overcome by anxiety in an evil, fallen world. As stated earlier, most of the meditation techniques you hear about today are not Christian in nature but come from Eastern mysticism practices where you empty the mind and focus on a mantra while sitting in a lotus position. Satan always has a counterfeit for the things of God. For example, his counterfeit savior is the Anti-Christ, his counterfeit for creation is evolution, and his counterfeit for prayer and Christian meditation is Eastern mysticism. While you do sit quietly and focus in Christian meditation, you don’t empty the mind, you engage the mind with thoughts of Scripture or with the greatness of God. The results are a calmness that comes not from our own inner being, but from the Holy Spirit within us, teaching us and giving us understanding. Scripture calls it the “peace of God that passes all understanding.”
What the Bible says about Meditation
There are at least 20 scriptures concerning meditation found in the Bible. But first, we need to be sure we understand the Biblical definition of meditation. One good definition I found is from a Christian scholar named Donald Whitney who described meditation as “deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture, or upon life from a scriptural perspective, for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer.”
I also looked in Scripture for the word meditate and used my Strong’s Concordance to see what the word means in both Hebrew and Greek. In some passages, the word is transliterated as “hagah.” It means to murmur (talk to yourself), to ponder, to imagine, to speak, study or talk about something. Here are some passages using this word:
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 he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:1-2
When I remember You upon my bed and meditate on You in the watches of the night; for You have been my help. Psalm 63:6
I will ponder all Your work and meditate on Your mighty deeds. Psalm 77:12
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that You have done. I ponder the work of Your hands. Psalm 143:5
In these Scriptures, we see that we should meditate on God’s Law, (or the Law of Christ as New Testament believers) upon God Himself, (which would include all members of the Godhead) and upon His works.
Another word translated as “meditate” is the word which is transliterated as “syach.” It means to ponder, converse with oneself aloud, utter, commune, complain, declare, muse, pray, and speak. This word is used in all the places where we read the word meditate in Psalm 119.
I will meditate on Your precepts and fix my eyes on Your ways. Verse 15
Even though princes sit plotting against me, Your servant will meditate on Your statutes. Verse 23
I will lift up my hands toward Your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on Your statutes. Verse 48
Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will meditate on Your precepts. Verse 78
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on Your promise. Verse 148
Psalm 119 is the psalm that extols the virtues and beauty of God’s Word. All of these verses talk about meditating upon the teachings of God found in His Word.
In the New Testament, the Greek word “meletao” is used in 1 Timothy 4:13-15. This word means to revolve, or turn over, in the mind.
Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all. KJV
In this passage, Paul is telling Timothy to immerse himself in reading scripture, teaching others, doctrine, (the teachings of the Bible concerning what we believe), and his gift given to him by the Holy Spirit.
One of the tenants of secular meditation is to be mindful of the moment and empty the mind of those things that cause stress. This practice is what helps to bring about the physical benefits of meditation. Jesus also taught us to live in the present when He told us to be anxious for nothing and not to worry about tomorrow because each day has enough trouble of its own. We live in the present by trusting God and trusting in His wisdom and provision for our lives. We cannot focus on the present and what we should be doing for God and for others if we are constantly worrying about the future or feeling guilt over our past. Those feelings are what cause us to have anxiety and all the health problems associated with it. We need to learn and practice having a calm and quiet heart by living in the present, ever focused on God and His Word. Rather than emptying the mind to achieve peace, Christians fill our minds with God’s Word which brings us comfort and removes anxiety.
How to Practice Christian Meditation
So, how do we practically apply all of this and start practicing Christian meditation? As we read through scripture in our quiet time, we need to think and reflect on what it is saying to us. Choose a short passage or verse to reflect on each day for just a few minutes. You might even choose an attribute of God that stands out as you read to ponder on – some aspect of His greatness. Think about what it means and how it applies to you. You can write your thoughts about it in a journal or note pad if that is something you enjoy. Sometimes I ask God to reveal to me during the day or at some time in the future exactly what that scripture means. In the Psalms we are also told to ponder on God’s Word and His greatness when we are in bed at night. In that case, you would need to have some passage committed to memory or just reflect on God’s goodness before you fall asleep.
Some people listen to instrumental music quietly in the background when they meditate on the Word and pray. I have done that before, but sometimes the music distracts me, so I just try to find a quiet place without any noise if I am feeling distracted. There are Christian meditation apps that have nature sounds in the background while someone talks about a verse. I downloaded the free version of the Abide app so I could hear a guided Christian meditation for help as I am learning about just how to meditate. For some people, this may be a practical way to start. When I started studying about meditation and how to do it, I realized that I have been practicing Christian meditation without realizing it every morning when I read scripture and pray. I choose one or two verses to write down and really ponder over each day. Then I write down a prayer asking God to help me understand and apply the truth of the verses to my daily walk. But now that I have learned a little more about the practice, I can do it in a more mindful way, paying more attention to actually pondering over verses and turning them over in my mind, like the scripture says to do.
Every journey starts somewhere, and the journey to grow deeper with God through meditation is no different. We will need to be patient as we practice spending quiet times focused on God’s Word and His greatness. Learning to meditate may be challenging just as learning to pray was a challenge at first. The more we stick with it, the better we will get at it and the more benefits we will experience both spiritually and physically. One book I am finding extremely helpful is Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation by Robert Morgan, the author of Red Sea Rules, one of my favorite Bible studies. This book is strictly Christian in its outlook and teachings on meditation and is helping me on my journey. If you have any suggestions for books or websites or just advice from your own personal experience please feel free to share in the comment section. May God add His blessing as we strive to grow in our faith and devotion to Him!