Is “Biblical Meditation” an Oxymoron?

Is your life as crazy as mine? There always seems to be something out of the ordinary going on. Sometimes I feel like it’s all I can do to keep my head above water. It’s at times like this I am reminded of my desperate need to spend time in the presence of God. One way to do this is through biblical meditation.

Did I just freak you out?

Don’t close this window yet.

First, let’s look at how biblical meditation is different from Eastern meditation.

Popular ideas about meditation

What do you picture when you hear the word “meditation”? I think of someone sitting with their knees out, hands out to the sides, and chanting “Ohm.” They might be clearing their thoughts, detaching themselves by watching thoughts and emotions race by, or spending time in their “happy place.”

None of these things is what the Bible teaches about meditation. How does the Bible describe meditation? Is “biblical meditation” an oxymoron?

Keep an open mind as we look what the Bible says about meditation.

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What is “biblical meditation”?

Simply put, biblical meditation is thinking about God and His Word.

Donald Whitney in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life defines mediation as “deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture, or upon life from a scriptural perspective, for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer” (46-47).

If I had to define biblical mediation with one verse, it would be Philippians 4:8.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (NIV)

Richard Foster in The Celebration of Discipline links this spiritual discipline with the early practice of “contemplative prayer.” He fleshes out the definition of biblical meditation like this:

“The Bible uses two different Hebrew words… to convey the idea of meditaiton, and together they are used some fifty-eight times. These words have various meanings: listening to God’s word, reflecting on God’s works, rehearsing God’s deeds, ruminating on God’s law, and more. In each case there is a stress upon changed behavior as a result of our encounter with the living God. Repentance and obedience are essential features in any biblical understanding of meditation” (15).

So, basically, biblical meditation is a mental reset button. It’s a chance to stop, remember how great God is, and the fact that He’s in charge (not us). It’s a chance to sit a while in God’s presence as we think about Him and His Word. It’s a chance to examine our own lives in light of God’s commands, repent of sin, and ask God to help us become more like Christ.

How to meditate biblically

Biblical meditation is not hard, but it takes time. Whitney suggests several mediation methods. I think my favorite is the MINUTE MEDITATION.

  1. Stop, just for 60 seconds.
  2. Close your eyes. (You can still hear if the kids are about to kill each other or burn the house down.)
  3. Think of the Lord God Almighty. Review a memory verse. Talk to your Savior. Just savor Him for one minute.

If you have longer, that’s great too! Spend some time on a passage of Scripture or an attribute of God. Think it through slowly and ponder it.

Whitney tells the story of an infamous professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. Dr. Howard Hendricks asked students in his class to come back the next day with 25 observations they drew from Acts 1:8. When they turned in their assignment, he asked them to come back the next day with 25 more. The following day, he told them to return with as many more observations as they could find. In reaction to their flabbergasted expressions, he casually mentioned that the all-time record was over 600.  (Wow!)

Not every passage will yield as many insights, but it does challenge us to stop and ponder, think through, Bible passages. What do they mean? What does each specific word mean? Does any of the words carry loaded meanings based on the way you remember it is used other places in Scripture?

A Word of Caution

One quick word of caution. Don’t get so excited about figuring out the deep meaning of a word or verse that you start to think it means something God’s Word never intended. If you think you’ve discovered something novel, study the rest of Scripture to make sure it fits. The Bible never contradicts itself. If what you think you’ve discovered doesn’t mesh with other teachings in the Bible, either you need to study it some more, or you’re wrong.

Bible Verses About Meditation

Are you looking for a place to start? Why not try these verses about meditation. I’ll leave you here to meditate on them as you have time. Thanks for sticking with me this far.

Joshua 1:8 (NIV, emphasis mine)

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; 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.

Psalm 1:1-2 (NIV, emphasis mine)

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.

Psalm 48:9 (NIV, emphasis mine)

Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.
Psalm 77:12
I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

Asaph, one of the psalmists, wrote of his meditation in Psalm 77. That might make a great prayer for when you’re meditating.

I also like the rich Psalms 23; 51; and 139.

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