-Chewing: The Art Of Christian Meditation
Since the 1960s, the “Christian West” has shown a growing interest in eastern religions and some of their practices. The New Age influence has stimulated the multiplication of workshops, clubs and clinics associated with Yoga, Zen, Buddhist and Taoist related practices, Transcendental Meditation (TM) and the like. In particular, the practice of meditation has become popular, even trendy. Today meditation is definitely “in.” Diverse websites present a variety of meditation techniques that promise results such as inner peace, fulfillment and enlightenment, better mental and physical health, increased intelligence and creativity. They recommend such helps as meditation stools, cushions, background music, postures and sacred places. They invite you to “enter into the realm of meditation,” to “seek your personal revelation,” to “tap into the power of your mind.” In the Bible we also find references to meditation. Is Christian meditation similar to that practiced in eastern religions? Can we combine them? What Is Christian Meditation? Before entering the Promised Land, the Lord God instructed Joshua: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Josh. 1:8 NIV). Notice that the biblical definition of meditation encourages an active mind and focused thinking. Here Joshua is commanded by the Lord not only to read the Law, but also to meditate, think about and reflect on it. This meditation is a calm and disciplined “chewing” of God’s Word. The insights and convictions gained through this meditation will lead naturally to attitudes and activities that He can bless.
What Is Eastern Or New Age Meditation?
In order to relax or achieve inner peace, meditation techniques based on Eastern religions suggest ways to empty the mind. By choosing to disconnect from reality – either by concentrating on breathing, or by repeating again and again a word or set of sounds (called a “mantra”), or by focusing on one object (like a candle or a tree) – the mind enters into a peaceful standby state. It is a mystic or psychic experience. Emptying the mind can also lead to a spiritual experience. Many testify how hypnosis and trance have opened their life to the influence and torment of evil spirits.
Notice the stark contrast between Christian meditation and Eastern or New Age meditation. Christian meditation leads to freedom and blessing by filling of the mind, while the other offers a false peace by seeking to empty the mind. It is a false peace achieved through denial, a peace apart from God. Christian meditation encourages an active rather than a passive mind, and constructive thinking rather than mindless drifting. The practice of Christian meditation eventually leads us to face the source of anxiety, guilt, sin or conflict. The Lord uses this meditation to correct our defective thinking or lead us to recognition, confession and restoration. Those who try to empty their minds are really trying to run away from their problems. The feeling of peace and well-being achieved through a static or vacant mind is at best artificial and short-lived. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn. 14:27).
The Content Of Christian Meditation
Our minds can be actively engaged in good as well as bad things (Ps. 38:12). Therefore the psalmist prays “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD” (Ps. 19:14). Some psalms suggest good themes for our meditation. Let’s look at four of these themes.
The Word of God: “Oh how I love Your Law! I meditate on it all the day long … I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on Your statutes” (Ps. 119:97,99). Meditation on God’s Word leads to improved insight.
The works of God: “I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds.” “I will meditate on Your wonderful works” (Ps. 77:12; 145:5). This could include meditating on the wonders of God’s creation, His acts of judgment and grace, and the Father giving His beloved Son to save a lost world.
Past experiences with the Lord: “My spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all Your works and consider what Your hands have done. I spread out my hands to You; my soul thirsts for You like a parched land” (Ps. 143:4-6). We can meditate on God’s dealings with people over the years. We may also reflect on how the Lord has touched our own life in the past and how He is dealing with us today.
The Lord Himself: “Within Your temple, O God, we meditate on Your unfailing love.” “May my meditation be pleasing to Him, as I rejoice in the LORD” (Ps. 48:9; 104:34). We can meditate on such attributes of God as His love, goodness, mercy, patience, holiness, justice, faithfulness, nearness and greatness. It’s difficult to meditate on Him without talking to Him. Christian meditation and prayer are closely related.
The Practice Of Christian Meditation
It has been said that if we know how to worry, we have the necessary skills to meditate! What do we do when we worry? We talk to ourselves, asking “What?” “Why?” “How?” Similarly, when we meditate on Scripture, we talk to ourselves about it. It’s a chewing process. We start by asking the Lord to speak to us through His Word, to illuminate our minds. We read a chapter, but we go back to that verse or expression that caught our attention. We then begin to talk to ourselves about it. We ask ourselves questions such as: What could this mean? What does this say about God? Is this something I should do? Does it point to a sin I should confess?
Where and when can we meditate? In the Bible we find people meditating in a field (Gen. 24:63), in a place of worship (Ps. 48:9) even while in bed (Ps. 63:6). “Oh, how I love Your Law! I meditate on it all day long” (Ps. 119:97). Christian meditation is not something only for the “advanced.” It is designed for all to enjoy! Meditation is, and always has been, a basic tool of Christian spirituality.
Benefits Of Christian Meditation
Of course it is good to listen to scriptural sermons and attend biblical seminars. It is good to read Christian books, watch Christian videos and listen to Christian music. But none of these can yield the benefits of meditation. Spurgeon once said, “It is well to meditate upon the things of God, because thus we get the real nutriment out of them.” Meditation makes truth real to us. It helps truth travel from our head to our heart.
Dangers Of Christian Meditation
Christian meditation can be dangerous if we focus only on one text or one truth. It’s dangerous to chew on one verse – to chew, eat and digest only one side of a truth – while ignoring its biblical context. For example, like David we can meditate on God’s unfailing love. We can enjoy and maybe even begin to feel the warmth of His love. But we might overdo it and forget that God is also righteous and holy.
Christian meditation is completely different from Eastern or New Age meditation. Seeking to empty or disconnect our minds can be dangerous. Instead, we should follow Paul’s advice to Timothy and engage our minds with God’s words: “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this” (2 Tim. 2:7). Christian meditation is a chewing process. As Christians we are encouraged to meditate on God, His Word and His works. This will enhance our spirituality by making God’s truth real to us.
The next time you read your Bible, take a little time to be still and to meditate. The Lord’s invitation still stands: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
By Philip Nunn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org
much like the Hebrew concept of digesting the Word. Chewing slowly and letting it become a part of us. We are what we eat, eh?