When we think of Christian meditation, we can be assured that it’s not some new idea riding the coattails of transcendentalism, but instead has its roots firmly planted in God’s Word.
In the very first Psalm, written most likely around the year 444 BC, the psalmist mentions the word “meditate,” or hagah in Hebrew, usually translated as “muse.” In English, “muse” is defined as “thinking or meditating in silence,” or “to gaze meditatively or wonderingly.” (dictionary.com)
This is not an emptying of your mind, but rather a filling of it with the living, active Word of God.
What Is The History Of Christian Meditation?
Genesis 24:63 tells us, “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming.” This is the first use of the word “meditate” (suach in Hebrew, derived from siach which is usually rendered as ponder or muse) in the Old Testament.
Isaac, son of Abraham, lived from about 1896 BC to 1716 B.C. Buddha, (Siddhārtha Gautama, founder of Buddhism) lived from approximately 563 to 483 B.C. So the Jews would not have been influenced by Buddha at all in those days. More than 1100 years before Buddha was even born, Isaac was meditating.
King David lived from 1035-970 BC and wrote about meditation many times in the psalms he composed. Psalm 19:14: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 38:12: Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek my hurt speak of ruin and meditate treachery all day long.
Psalm 63:6: when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
These are just a few examples of the use of the Hebrew word hagah (“meditate” “muse” or “mutter”) and higgayon (“meditation” or “musing”) in the Old Testament. Filling our hearts with God’s Word, musing on it, singing it, letting it seep into our souls, brings to mind the picture of the “tree firmly planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1). That tree bears fruit in its season, and when we are firmly planted in God’s Word, our lives produce the good fruit of the Spirit of God, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Galatians 5:22-23)).
Psalm 119 may have been written in 450 BC, either by the prophet Ezra or some believe by 176 different people who wrote one verse each.
So why is meditation most often associated with eastern religions like Buddhism instead of God’s Word?
How Is It Different From Other Meditation?
There are many forms of meditation in eastern religions, ranging from the emptying of the mind sought in Buddhist practices in order to reach a state of “nirvana” or complete transcendence of the physical realm, a release from the constant cycle of reincarnation, to Hindu practices focused on the characteristics of Krishna.
Far from the emptiness and transcendence that eastern meditation embraces, biblical or Christian meditation focuses on the living Word of God and positions you to hear from God while calming your heart and your body.
Breathing techniques often encouraged in meditation are designed to affect your limbic system, especially that area of your brain associated with your emotions. When you feel “dysregulated,” or stirred up emotionally, concentrating on your breathing helps you to become regulated again, allowing your mind and your body to become calm. Not only has this proven to be a great reliever of stress that can build up over time, but it allows you to better hear the voice of God.
Eastern meditation techniques focus on a single object or sound, encouraging you to concentrate for long periods of time on these objects or sounds until your mind “transcends” its physical state.
Christian meditation focuses on specific phrases or a single word from Scripture in order to allow God to speak to you about that word or phrase and affect a change in your heart through that word or phrase. The end goal in Christian meditation is not that you would transcend the physical, but that God would draw you closer to Himself and transform your life so that you are more effective as a minister of reconciliation in His kingdom (2 Corinthians 5:18).
Eastern meditation’s goal is the salvation of your body from its physical existence also known as Nirvana, or the release from the cycle of reincarnation. As you focus on a sound or a singular object, your mind is freed from all distractions from the physical realm and therefore emptied of everything.
Christian meditation encourages emptying your mind–but from anything that would distract you from hearing from God, not from all things. In fact, instead of being emptied, the goal of Christian meditation is that you would be filled by the Spirit of God.
Visualization techniques are often used in sports training and by psychologists and have proven successful in helping athletes concentrate and people under great stress relax and calm their minds and bodies. Studies have shown that this ability to calm your body can have great effect on both mental and physical health.
But going beyond just physical and mental health, Christian meditation allows for your spiritual health to improve as well. When you’re faced with upheaval in your life, you can use breathing techniques and meditation to calm your body and your mind, but what helps you to know that you can have true peace in your soul?
In Psalm 63, King David was beset by enemies. He didn’t just need to be calm, he needed to know that God would never leave him, that he was not fighting his battles alone. These are his words in the midst of his enemies:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Transcendence from the physical world, salvation from the cycle of reincarnation, puts the onus on the meditator to achieve this state. But salvation, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God, comes through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Focusing on Him and His Word in the practice of biblical meditation allows us to experience “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, [which] will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
Indeed, Paul goes on to encourage his readers in Philippi, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart]” (Philippians 4:8, Amplified Bible).