Many believers in the Western church neither understand nor practice biblical meditation. Donald Whitney laments, “Even among believers, the practice of meditation is often more closely associated with yoga, transcendental meditation, relaxation therapy, or some New Age practice than with Christian spirituality.”[i] Wary of these potential abuses, many Christians have chosen to avoid meditation altogether. But the reality is that meditation is a biblically mandated practice that focuses on God’s truth as revealed in His Word. It should, therefore, be practiced regularly as a means of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
According to the Old Testament, meditation is an ongoing process whereby we fill our heads with, and focus our hearts upon, God’s character, ways, works, and wonders (see Pss. 1 & 119). David Weber explains, “It is a careful pondering and chewing over matters of the soul. Meditation in the Old Testament is presented as the spiritual activity of heart and mind that characterizes a God-fearing saint.”[ii] This emphasis continues in the New Testament, where the truths of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection take center stage. We’re to set our minds on Him (Col. 3:1–4; 2 Tim. 2:8) and upon all that’s true, just, pure, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8).
While the focus of meditation might extend beyond the content of Scripture to include the wonder of God’s creation or the marvel of God’s providence (e.g., life experiences), it’s always informed and governed by Scripture. The goal is to fill (not empty) the mind with God’s truth. This is fundamental to the life of the believer, because it impresses upon the heart the true nature of the world, humanity, and God. It, therefore, is an important practice for growing and maturing in the faith. Both “directive and devotional” meditation enflames the heart toward greater faithfulness while also strengthening the mind.[iii]
One reason why it’s important for the church to recapture the biblical practice of meditation is related to the harried and restless age in which we live. The “cult of speed, efficiency, and production”[iv] constantly vies for our attention, distracting our feeble minds and hearts. Rather than slowing down to give attention to God’s glory as revealed in His Word, we tend to focus on our numerous “screens,” losing ourselves in a never-ending cycle of email, texts, calls, messages, while mindlessly scrolling through social media. This constant diversion is an impediment to the cultivation of biblical meditation. This “profitable and heavenly a work”[v] stands in marked contrast to the pursuit of instant gratification in this digital age.
Thomas Manton warns, “A man who is a stranger to meditation is a stranger to himself.”[vi] We must learn to meditate biblically because we desperately need it. This need is compounded by the numerous counterfeit forms of spirituality so prevalent in our day. As Campbell McAlpine states, “The call to meditate is not a polite evangelical request to adopt a useful technique that will brighten up the quiet time. Rather it is a command to be disciplined; to think clearly; to be prepared; to be watchful; and above all, to know God and His Son, Jesus Christ.”[vii] Meditation isn’t some trendy practice to be adopted in response to other forms of spirituality. It’s a divine directive, which the saints have practiced from ancient times. We need to reclaim it and restore it to its rightful place in the life of the believer and the church. Growth won’t occur without meditation, and we have for too long neglected it.
In this new year, may we give ourselves to biblical meditation – to reflecting upon God’s character, works, ways, and wonders.[viii] And may we learn something of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared decades ago: “Why do I meditate? Because I am a Christian.”[ix]
* Eunice Chung is a PhD student in biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.
[i] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 46.
[ii] David A. Weber, “Christian Meditation in the Twenty-First Century: Toward a Reformed Model” (PhD diss., Reformed Theological Seminary, 2017), 14.
[iii] Edmund C. Clowney, Christian Meditation (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1979; 2002), 31.
[iv] John Jefferson Davis, Meditation and Communion with God: Contemplating Scripture in an Age of Distraction (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012), 24.
[v] Joseph Hall, The Works of the Right Reverend Joseph Hall, vol 6 (Oxford: Philip Wynter, 1864), 79.
[vi] Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, 22 vols. (Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2008), 17:271.
[vii] Campbell McAlpine, Alone with God: A Manual of Biblical Meditation (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1981), 175.
[viii] See Matt. 14:23; Mk. 1:35, 6:46; Lk. 5:16; 6:12; 9:18; Jn. 6:15.
[ix] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditating on the Word (Cambridge, Mass: Cowley Publications, 2000), 22.