It seems like every expert today is recommending meditation as part of your daily routine if you want to have a happy, successful life. But does a Christian have any business playing around with meditation? Be sure to stick with me throughout the entire blog as we look at this from several angles.
If we look at the origin of meditation, we find the earliest mentions of it by the Buddhist and Hindu religions. Positive Psychology Today says, “The major split between Hindu and Buddhist meditation occurred when Buddhist followers no longer believed that meditation should be used to reach a closer understanding with a higher being, which is what Hindu meditation was for, but rather as a means of realizing one’s interrelatedness with all things.” This eastern religious type of meditation became popular in the US in the 1960s for non-religious reasons as a form of relaxation. There is no one formal, accepted definition of meditation but most techniques (what I’ll just generalize as traditional meditation going forward) will involve at least some of the following items:
We as Christians want NOTHING to do with the practices of other religions. We must not mix a little Christianity with a little Buddhist teaching, for example. Keep in mind though that Satan is not a creator. He has never created a thing. He has only taken the good things that God has created and twisted them to create wicked and evil things. So, any good that we see in the above list of items or any good results that are achieved from Christians doing their own form of meditation is from God. Just like any quote that you liked from a Buddhist monk might have some truth in it. We don’t throw out the truth in the statement just because it came from a Buddhist.
All the items in this list are not exclusive to eastern religion either. For instance, when we walk into a library, we expect a quiet environment because it makes sense if you are trying to read or concentrate. But we don’t say libraries are doing Buddhist monk practices by requiring a quiet environment so let’s not go to any libraries.
Let’s take a look at this list again in more details and see what can stay and what should go and what Christian meditation should look like.
Controlled Breathing - Breathing is God’s thing, right? He breathed life into us and it is a scientific fact that we can reduce our stress by slowing our breathing. I share breathing techniques with my clients that basically says to their brain, “We must be okay because when we are getting chased by a bear we don’t breathe this slow and steady. I guess it’s okay for us to calm down and relax.”
Even spending some time closing out other thoughts and concentrating on your breathing is a great idea because it causes your mind to have a focus instead of bouncing all around or continuing to think about that worrisome car payment coming up. It is a distraction technique for your mind. Better yet: as you slow your breathing start praising God in your mind for creating you and for giving you breath. Start with concentrating on your breathing and quickly turn the focus onto God.
Quiet Area/Environment - I highly recommend you have 15 minutes of quiet time each day at a minimum. Your senses have so much stimulation every day coming into your body that you need the quiet to unwind. You need to turn off the TV, the radio, the social media, the conversations with others and get away with your God. Sometimes some quiet anointed music (God created music!) or sounds of nature such as birds chirping and water can really help too.
Self-Induced State - Christian meditation is not about trying to self-induce ourselves into any state. It is about slowing our lives down to not only give our minds and bodies the rest they need but also about having a defined time to become more aware of God’s presence and let Him minister to us.
Self-Focus - I’m all for knowing who we are in Christ and having a healthy self-image, but I’ve always discovered that the order of things has to be a focus on Jesus, then others, then me for the most joy out of life. Yes, I’m in the mix. I need some self-care from time to time. Too much focus on me is unhealthy though. Besides I've just spent the entire day with me. If I could have reduced my stress myself I would have by now. :) What I need is a focus on God.
Mental Silence - This one is about quieting the mind and trying to tap into your higher self in traditional meditation. The Bible does teach us that we should take all thoughts captive. We should not allow any old thought to keep roaming around in our mind. If it is not a God thought it has to go. We do need to silence the toxic thinking that I call non-God thoughts (thoughts that go against what God has already said) but instead of leaving our minds empty, we need to replace those toxic thoughts with the Word of God. We are designed to be thinking all the time. We aren’t going to hurt our brains by thinking too much if the thoughts are God’s thoughts of love.
Non-Reaction to Thoughts - Traditional meditation teaches that if a thought enters into your head while you are concentrating on your breathing, don’t react to it, don’t judge it, just let it go as easy as it came and return to your breathing. There is a lot of good in that. Just because we had a thought doesn’t make it a truth. Just because you had the thought that maybe you’ll lose your job, doesn’t mean it is true and doesn’t deserve your attention nor should it cause you to react in a worried way. Don’t take the thought.
Saying a Mantra - A mantra can be one word or a phrase, usually said over and over. The Bible does teach us the importance of our words and that the power of life is in the tongue. We should be speaking God’s words (what He has already said about us or the situation) over ourselves.
During meditation, this is a good time to retrain your mind. So much of life is about your perception of things, your choice of what you’re focused on, your expectations, etc. So, in the traditional meditation practice of saying something like, “I have no stress. I am at peace,” over and over, it does have some validity to it. We start to believe what we hear ourselves say. Better yet: Add to that what God has said about the situation and you add in some super to your natural and gain long-term results.
You can cause some chaos in your brain when you say things that are obviously not true or evident in the natural. For instance, instead of saying I have no stress, you might want to say, "I'm moving towards less stress every day. The Prince of Peace, Jesus, gives me His peace."
Seeking Enlightenment - Traditional meditation would teach you that if you can get yourself into the correct state you’ll find all the answers you need for life within yourself. Well, if you have been hanging out with the Holy Spirit long enough and feeding on the word of God, your reborn spirit inside is to be trusted and does have some answers for you. Recognize, however, that on your own, you know nothing of significance and that everything you know that is good and right has been given to you by God. How cool is it that we have the Holy Helper to teach us all things?! Christian meditation looks to God for enlightenment (for the Light of the World) to give us revelation on what we need to know.
In summary, I highly recommend that Christians take 15 minutes a day to get in a quiet place, slow their breathing, quiet their mind, and turn inward to God. Focus on Him, focus on Scriptures, focus on a name or attribute of God. I call this meditation. This is different than what some may call having devotions where you are reading a devotional, listening to a podcast or studying your Bible. This is just you and God. It purposefully builds in a relaxation piece that quiets your mind and body and has God as your focus. It incorporates your entire being - spirit, soul and body.
I don't believe we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. We can keep the good stuff that God created and get rid of the rest.
I do NOT recommend that Christians do traditional meditation where they are guided by non-Christians to focus on themselves, seeking a state of enlightenment as this is giving an open door to the enemy.
The Biblical meaning of the word meditate also has another meaning when it comes to specifically meditating on the word of God. I’ll talk about that kind of meditation next time.