In popular culture meditation is a relaxation technique. You usually close your eyes and attempt to slow down your breathing and breathe more deeply. Then you may imagine the parts of your body relaxing one by one starting with your feet and going up to your head. Such methods do help a person to relax, although I would provide two cautions. Our minds are not meant to be empty for long. The old adage — idle hands are the devil’s workshop — is applicable to our thoughts as well. Further, relaxation doesn’t dispense with our need to pray and so “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, ESV).This relaxation technique may at times be helpful, but it is not biblical meditation.
Biblical meditation is a reflection or contemplation on something and not an emptying of our minds of thoughts. The noun or verb occurs 30 times in the New King James Version. Other translations may have fewer occurrences but may use synonyms like muse, ponder, and think.
The righteous meditate on the law day and night (Psalm 1:2). Psalm 4:4 instructs: “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still” (Psalms 4:4, NKJV). Although the psalm is not explicit, it would seem that we are to ponder our relationships and how we will handle them in the light of God’s will. Meditation may be on God’s character (Psalm 63:6) or his dealings with his people. Paul instructs us to meditate on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, or are of good report (Philippians 4:8).
Meditation in Eastern religions has to do with their world-views. In Hinduism, the world is an illusion. Buddhism views desire as the problem to be extinguished. The following chart provides a helpful comparison.
|Biblical Meditation||Eastern Meditation|
|The goal is to fill the mind with good things.||The goal is to empty the mind.|
|The goal is personal responsibility before God.||The goal is the loss of the individual self (which is viewed as an illusion in Hinduism) or the loss of desire (Buddhism).|
|The goal is to draw near to the personal God.||The goal is merging with impersonal cosmic oneness (Hinduism) or the extinction of desire (reach Nirvana in Buddhism).|
|The goal is withdrawal for reflection so that we might act properly in life.||The goal is detachment from life.|
Biblical meditation is closely related to prayer and scripture reading. It is the filling of our minds with thoughts on God and his will for us.