Meditation has become somewhat popular in our western culture, it has always been a major part of oriental cultures, but Americans are starting to catch on too. Think of how many exercise classes incorporate some element of meditation now. The same is true in various types of counseling and therapy, and of course there are many spiritual or religious movements using meditation. Meditation is a major part of many religions and it is also a fundamental part of Christianity, but the meditation spoke of in the Bible is very different from meditation of the world’s religions.
Recently I was in a group where we were being spoken to by a public speaker who was also a practicing Buddhist. While her religion was not at all the focus of her subject, she still began her talk by having us participate in some meditation (something that I knew came from her religion and culture). She began by having us close our eyes, to focus on our breathing, to forget about our concerns, and mostly to relax. It was a nice way to pull us in, a nice experience to relax some, but I couldn’t help but be on guard a little knowing where the practice comes from. The experience had me thinking, what is meditation? How could it be good or bad? Is it right to do or is it just a waste of time to distract us from what we should be doing?
Meditation is spoken of many times in scripture, mostly in the Psalms. Psalm 1 speaks of the blessed man who keeps his way from trouble, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night” Psl 1:2 NASB. Notice what the mediation is upon and what this meditation must be like. It is a focus on the law of the Lord, a concentration on those things and it is this man’s joy – his delight. Perhaps this reminds you of Psalm 119 where the word of God is praised in the longest chapter of the bible, it is also where we find the word meditate many times again. “I will meditate on Thy precepts…” v. 15, “… I will meditate on Thy statutes” v.48, “…that I may meditate on Thy word” v.148. Many other Psalms use the term also, such as 143:5, “… I meditate on all Thy doings; I muse on the works of Thy hands”. It is easy to see what is being described, to meditate is to think upon a particular item. This last passage even gives us an alternative term to help us understand it – to muse on the subject or to be consumed in thought and focus on these aspects of the Lord; particularly His commands and desires for us, the power of Him and His creation, or the eternal aspects our minds struggle to comprehend. This is what meditation is, it is focus, deep thought, concentration, and reverence toward what God has revealed. What good is the word of God if we never meditate on what it means? How can we ever respect the authority of God if we never meditate on His power? Meditation is a key aspect to the man of God under the Old or New Covenant, if we truly are thinking on and concerned with what God has said, what he has done, and what He will do, then we are meditating on Him.
In contrast, the meditation of the world’s religions is far different from the meditation we find in scripture. Perhaps a decent summary of the world’s meditation would be a way to simply relax, to set aside stress and connect with the spiritual things as we imagine them. There is a mindless aspect to this worldly meditation. As I looked further into the meditation of the Buddhist and similar religions, their meditation was described as a way of setting all these concerns aside in order to focus on one thing. I thought for a moment that there is something similar there we could relate to, that in order to focus on one thing, (such as the law of God), we must lay aside our other concerns. But when you consider the ultimate goal of their meditation – nirvana, it is evident that progress, conclusion and understanding from this thought process is not the goal. Nirvana in the Buddhist religion is the hard to reach point of meditation that reaches the peak of total emptiness, it is to be completely apart from your concerns or even your own awareness of who you are, unaware of your situations that might take your thoughts away from this mental place of perfect freedom. Its goal is not focus on any particular item, but rather just the opposite – it is the achievement of forgetting about everything for a moment. This may sound great to the person in need of a vacation, but it is in stark contrast to the sober and alert Christian of the New Testament (1 Pet 5:7, Acts 20:28), and it also isn’t the way of the Psalmist who is concerned of the devil’s snare and the Lord’s teachings (Psl 1). The meditation of the Buddhist or Hindu is a way to simply escape their current problems rather than face what needs to be done by God’s instruction. It offers no more than a drug or drink of alcohol, a simple escape for the moment and a way to avoid seeking the truth which is true meditation.
Meditation is an important part of our Christian walk, without it we will never apply what God has taught us, we will never appreciate what we have been given, or acknowledge the power that God holds. Biblical meditation is far different from the meditation that the world shows us and it nearly the complete opposite of what the other religions have made it to be. As usual, the God of the Bible stands in obvious contrast to the gods of the world, and He differs in meditation too.
“The book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and you will have success.” Joshua 1:8