What does the Bible say about meditation?

Meditation can be practiced in different ways for different purposes. One broad definition that encompasses these varied practices of meditation is, "the act of thinking deeply or focusing one's mind for spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation." In some religions, people are taught to empty their minds during meditation, other times people are taught to focus on a mantra or saying. Sometimes these religious practices are said to be for the purpose of finding inner peace, or connecting with the universe, or communicating with other spirits, possibly even spirits of people who have passed away. The Bible does not condone these types of meditation practices. However, it does prescribe appropriate ways of and goals for meditating in ways that are grounded in truth and focused on God.

Two Hebrew words are often translated in the Old Testament into English as "meditate": haga and siah. Both have a sense of pondering, musing over, murmuring under one's breath, and muttering in prayer. One of these words is even used for the low growling sound a lion makes as he eats his prey—the idea of delighting in a delicious meal, savoring mouthfuls, as the lion is mentally absorbed in the experience of consuming this life-giving food (Isaiah 31:4).

This verb is what Joshua was commanded to do when he was commissioned as Moses' replacement as leader of the people to take them into the Promised Land. The Lord said to Joshua, "This 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" (Joshua 1:8). God commanded that Joshua think about and ponder His Word, reciting it under his breath while communing with God in prayer about these words and what they meant for him and how he should think, feel, and act. In the surrounding verses, Joshua was told three times to "Be strong and courageous" (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9). In Joshua 1:9 God expounded on this instruction by adding, "Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." Meditating on the Book of the Law would help Joshua learn who God is and what He had done so that his fears could be allayed and he would have the courage to obey God's call on his life. Paul wrote to the Roman church, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2). God knew that meditating on His Word would renew Joshua's mind and help him discern God's will.

The psalmist of Psalm 119 composed a poem extolling the blessing of God's Word and the instructions therein. He wrote, "I will meditate on your precepts" (Psalm 119:15, 78), "on your statutes" (Psalm 119:23, 48), and "on your promise" (Psalm 119:148). He also included, "I will meditate on your wondrous works" (Psalm 119:27). Psalm 143:5 declares, "I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands." So it is not just God's Word or His instruction upon which people should ruminate, but rather people should also meditate on God's actions throughout history and within their own lives. David professed in Psalm 145 that one generation would commend God's works and "declare [His] mighty acts" to another, implying the passing down of history so that succeeding generations would know what God has done (Psalm 145:4). He then said, "On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate" (Psalm 145:5). People can meditate on God's characteristics like His majesty or His steadfast love (Psalm 107:43).

In the New Testament, Paul commanded the Philippians, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8). Paul knew the truth James expresses: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17). Thus meditating on the good things in the Philippians' lives would turn their attention back to God and His trustworthy character.

The Bible instructs its readers to meditate on God's Word, His actions, and His character, but sometimes people need to experience God's presence directly and intimately. David wrote in Psalm 62:1, "For God alone my soul waits in silence." In Psalm 63:6 he talks about satisfaction of his soul in connection to times "when I remember you [God] upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night." Jeremiah declared, "The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD" (Lamentations 3:25–26). Romans 8:26 says, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." Silent waiting in God's presence is not a call to invite any spirit to commune with one's mind, but must be done with the directed intent to seek the Lord and Him only.

Isaiah 8:19 explains, "when [non-believers] say to you, 'Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,' should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?" We commune directly with God and seek no other. Isaiah also wrote, "O LORD, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul. My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you" (Isaiah 26:8–9). The practice of quieting one's mind (Psalm 131:2) and silently waiting for God can only be done when His glory ("your name and remembrance") are the desire of our soul.

Paul instructed the Corinthians to "take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). When we are directing our thoughts to repeatedly consider God's Word, regularly remember His work, consistently revere His character, and trustingly await His active presence, then we are meditating in a biblical way.

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