Worship with Meditation
by Ricky Spears
When you think of meditation, what do you usually think of? You probably envision someone sitting cross-legged on the floor. Her back is straight and her eyes are closed. Her hands are resting on her knees, palms up, with her thumb and middle finger gently touching. As she attempts to clear her mind of all thought, she is slowly and softly uttering something like, "Omm... Omm... Omm..."
When you see the picture of this woman meditating, you may also think meditation is something done by people in Eastern religions like Buddhism or Hinduism; or maybe even some kind of cult. It certainly isn't something that Christians can use to worship God—is it? You may be surprised to discover that meditation is mentioned several times in the Bible.
Meditation in the Book of Genesis
The first time meditation is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 24. Abraham's servant is bringing home Rebekah, who will become Isaac's wife. It says, "He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching." We aren't told anything about the techniques or methods Isaac used during this time of meditation, but we are told that it was something Isaac did.
The Hebrew word that is translated as 'meditate' here is the word, 'suach' which means, to muse. Some common definitions of this include: to think in silence, as on some subject; to gaze on wonderingly; to comment thoughtfully; and to ruminate on. From this we can determine that essentially, Isaac went out to the field to think. In our modern world, we all probably recognize the need to take some time away from televisions and radios, computers and cell phones, friends and family, and just get alone with God to think.
Meditation in the Book of Joshua
The second time we see the word meditate in the Bible is in the first chapter of Joshua. When the children of Israel first entered the Promised Land, God instructed them, "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; 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."
The word translated 'meditate' in this passage is the Hebrew word, ‘hagah’. It means to muse, but also means to moan, growl, utter, and speak. So, God instructed them to speak His word and to contemplate or ponder it. They were to do this daily. God recognized that if they didn't speak His word and contemplate how it applied to their lives, then they likewise would not obey His word. And if they didn't obey His word then they would not be prosperous and successful.
So, here we begin to see a little bit of technique and method in God's instruction on meditation. Like the Israelites, we also should meditate on (or thoughtfully ponder) God's word, contemplate how we should apply it to our lives, and then do what God reveals to us through that process. We will then receive great blessing in our life.
Meditation in the Psalms
Meditation is mentioned many times in the Psalms. Here are just a few:
- Psalm 48:9 - "Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love."
- Psalm 77:12 - "I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds."
- Psalm 119:15 - "I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways."
- Psalm 119:97 - "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long."
- Psalm 143:5 - "I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done."
The book of Psalms is a guide to Hebrew worship. Some of the psalms were meant to be used to worship God with music and singing. Some of the psalms were written as people worshipped God by writing poetry, and we worship Him today by reading that poetry. The psalms talk about worshipping God with dance. They are a guide to worshipping God with prayer. Now we can see that they are a guide to worshipping our Lord with meditation too.
Meditation in the New Testament
We first see someone meditating in the New Testament when the shepherds come to meet baby Jesus. They shared what they had been told about by the Angel about the child, "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." The word ponder here means to discuss and consider. So, Mary meditated on those words.
While none of the recorded words of Jesus directly mention meditating, He likely continued in the Jewish tradition of contemplating that scriptures. We often see him escaping to be by himself where He can pray and worship. These times of prayer and worship likely included much time meditating on God's word.
Paul wrote to the church at Philippi about what they should think about, "Finally, brothers, 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." Here, Paul is instructing the church what they are to do with their minds and thoughts; they are to continue in the practice of contemplative thinking on these areas he mentions.
Christian Meditation Today
So, we can see that through the history of the Bible, our image of meditation is not one as we saw in our opening example of a woman sitting cross legged on the floor, emptying her mind. The image of Biblical meditation is one of filling our minds by carefully thinking about the scriptures, asking the Holy Spirit—our Teacher—to guide us, and then applying what we learn to our life.
Just as you have found methods and styles of prayer, music, studying, and sharing that work well for you, you will also discover your own methods and techniques that work for you in the area of meditating on the scriptures as well. Here is a method that usually works well for me:
Preparing to Mediate:
I find that I can better focus on God and His word when I put away as many other distractions as I can. If I don’t do this first, I find it’s more difficult to stay focused. You may choose to eliminate these steps, but I think most people will find them helpful:
Get Alone: I find someplace where I won't be disturbed. This might be as simple as closing my office or bedroom door, or even going to the bathroom. It can also be nice to go someplace out in nature.
Don't Allow Others to Disturb You: I'll turn off the cell phone and ask others around me not to disturb me for a while. If I'm in my office, I might post a note on the door letting others know that I should not be disturbed until a certain time.
Eliminate Things You Hear: Many distractions come from things I hear, so I will turn off radios, televisions, and anything else I can hear; sometimes I will use headphones to listen to ambient music without lyrics or even white noise.
Eliminate Things You See: This is an easy one—I simply close my eyes.
Still Your Body: Anything my body feels or experiences has the potential of distracting me. I'll try to find a comfortable position and then consciously relax different muscle groups. I'll also try to breath a little slower.
Quiet Your Mind: As with most people, I have a lot going on in my life. It's easy for my mind to get side tracked with any number of thoughts. I'll take a minute or so to just notice what sorts of things my mind wants to think about then I will consciously decide that I'm not going to think about those things for a while. Sometimes I'll imagine that I'm giving those thoughts and concerns to Jesus to hold for me during this time. I know that I can always think about them later.
Some people will call these previous steps mediation. This is not what I call meditating, at least not in the scriptural sense. However, I think it's an excellent way of getting ready to meditate. By eliminating as many distractions as I can, I find that I'm able to better focus on God and His word, which is what Christian mediation is all about.
Meditating on God's Word
This is the main event!
Come to God in Prayer: Meditation is not a pathway to God just as music or any other type of worship is a path to God. We can only come to God through the shed blood of His son Jesus Christ. It is wonderful to begin my time of meditation by acknowledging Him and thanking Him. When I recognize Him as my Provider I can better calm worries in my mind. By recognizing Him as my Teacher I am more prepared to receive from Him. I will maintain this attitude of prayer as I perform the following mental activities:
Read His Word: Unless I am following a Christian guided meditation I will need to read a passage from the Bible. Sometimes I've already committed a passage to memory and I can meditate on that.
Repeat the Passage: I will usually repeat the passage several times, silently in my mind. As I silently repeat it, I'll stress different words. As I do this, I listen for God to speak to my heart about how I should apply this passage in my life.
Break Down the Passage: As I repeat the passage, I'll pause and think about each individual phrase. Then I'll spend time thinking about individual words and what they mean. I'll ask myself, what other word, or words, could God have used, and why didn't He choose to use those words.
Make Connections with Other Scriptures: I will ask God to bring back to my memory other passages that are related to the one I'm meditating on. I'll look for connections between them and look for meaning in those connections. All the while, I'm consciously expecting the Holy Spirit to show me things I haven't seen before, and to remind me of things I've forgotten. The more you mediate on God’s word, the more of it you will hide in your heart and have it ready to make connections. If you’re a new Christian don’t worry if you haven’t yet memorized enough passages to make many connections.
Repent: We are all sinners saved by God's wonderful grace. We continue to sin and fall short of His righteousness. As I meditate, I look for areas where my life doesn't line up with His Word and what the Holy Spirit is revealing to me. As He reveals these areas to me, I consciously repent and purpose to improve with His help.
Imagination: The Bible is filled with rich imagery. Many times I will try to vividly imagine myself in the passage. If Jesus is speaking, I'll imagine that I was there. If I'm mediating on another story, I'll imagine that I'm living in that time. Sometimes, I'll imagine that story was updated to modern times.
There are limitless ways to mentally engage your mind with God's word. The more you meditate on His word, and ask the Holy Spirit to teach you through that practice, the more ways you will discover of contemplating His word. This list was just a few to get you started. Remember throughout this process that the purpose is so you will do what He commands—so always be listening for instruction from Him.
How Is Just Meditating on the Scriptures Worship?
Paul wrote to the church at Rome, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
Part of worship is presenting our minds to God so they can be transformed from the patterns of this world and renewed to His way of thinking. Doesn't this sound like what I've just described in my steps of Biblical meditation?
I urge you, dear reader, rather than reading the Bible like you would a newspaper or magazine article, share some quality time with God carefully meditating on it. You'll find that it becomes a wonderful time of worship that draws you closer to Him and matures you more into the image of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Ricky Spears runs the popular Mindful Worship web site where you will find many Christian guided mediations and articles on Christian mediation. (This article is Copyright ©2009 by Ricky Spears. Used by permission.)
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