Q: #169. Doesn't the Bible say that Christians should meditate?
A: The Bible does indeed speak about the importance and benefits of meditation. In fact, the Bible mentions the words “meditate” and “meditation” 20 times (18 in the Old Testament and 2 in the New Testament). However, it is important to differentiate between what the Bible means when it speaks of meditation versus what is generally called meditation today.
The meditation that most people speak about and practice today has its roots in Hinduism. This form of meditation (often practiced in various forms of yoga) is self-centered (looking inward). Its ultimate goal is to better oneself and become united with the “ultimate or higher reality.” The practitioner is told to assume various postures, repeat a certain mantra, control his breathing, empty his mind, etc… to reach this goal (and attain salvation).
In addition, many of those who are practicing these forms of Hindu meditation, as well as most of those who are trying to “Christianize” them, also have a self- centered goal of attaining better health. The medical community is backing this push of meditation for better health by citing numerous studies that link it to lower blood pressure, less stress, improved heart rate, etc…
(For more on the dangers of yoga and this form of meditation see Q: #168.)
Now, on the other hand, what the Bible calls meditation is the complete opposite. Biblical meditation is God-centered (looking outward and upward to God) (Ps 63:6)(Ps 77:12)(Ps 143:5) and primarily focused on His Word (Ps 119:15,23,48,78,148). In the Old Testament, where “meditation” is mentioned the majority of the time in the Bible (especially in the Psalms), two different Hebrew words are used: “hagah” meaning “to murmur, moan, growl utter, speak” and “siyach meaning “to ponder.”
Here is a way to understand this a little better from a negative standpoint. What is worrying? Worrying is when we continually “murmur” about and “ponder” (or meditate upon) a problem we are facing. Another example would be a crime called pre-meditated murder. There is generally worse punishment for this kind of murder than murdering someone in the “heat of the moment” because the offender carefully thought it out and “pondered” or “meditated” upon how he would commit the crime.
In positive, Biblical terms, this is generally applied to how we should approach God’s Word. We are to take a passage (or several passages) of scripture and “meditate” upon it. This means that we “ponder” over and over what it means, and pray to God asking Him to reveal its meaning and how we can apply it. We should also “murmur” or “speak” the passage, which I believe should be tied to scripture memorization. (This was done much more in Bible times because few people actually had the written Word and probably why this word was selected.)
In perhaps the most prominent verse on meditation in the Bible, God commanded Joshua to meditate on His law “day and night” (Also see: Gen 24:63, Ps 1:2, Ps 63:6, Ps 119:48,97,148), and if he did so, he would be “prosperous” and “have success” (Josh 1:8). The Bible also says that “insight” (Ps 119:99), “understanding” (Ps 49:3), and “satisfaction” (Ps 63:5-6) come with Godly meditation.
Our meditation upon God and His Word is an act of worship to Him, and through it, our ultimate desire should be to please Him (Ps 19:14)(Ps 104:34), not fulfill ourselves as is the goal of “worldly meditation.”