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Meditation, is It Biblical?
Yes, meditation is Biblical. We are commanded by scripture to meditate on God's word. BUT, there are two approaches to meditation. One is true Christian meditation based on scripture. The other is the meditation taught in churches today which comes from Eastern (non-Christian) religions. What's the difference? Basically Christian meditation is active, filling your mind with scripture and thoughts of God. Eastern meditation is passive, focusing on a word or phrase, or even on just on breathing. Instead of filling your mind you are emptying your mind.
Practitioners of today's "Christian" meditation claim it is different from Eastern meditation. It's not. How can we tell? A good approach is to look at the "how to do" instructions for each form of meditation. I've listed them below. One describes "Christian" meditation and is based on the how-to instructions on the GuidedChridstianMeditation.com web site. The other describes a Buddhist form of Eastern meditation based on instructions on the TheWayOfMeditation.com.au web site. Can you tell which is Eastern meditation and which is "Christian" meditation?
Meditation Method A
- Find a quiet place free from noise or interruption.
- Plan to devote 10-30 minutes to the meditation.
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Choose a word (or phrase) to use for your meditation.
- Close your eyes.
- Start focusing on your word (or phrase)
- When other thoughts come into your mind, gently think of the word and let all other thoughts go.
Meditation Method B
- Find a quiet place to meditate.
- As a start, devote 5 to 10 minutes to meditation (then work up to longer times)
- Your posture should be comfortable and relaxed.
- Choose a word (or phrase).
- Your eyes can be closed, slightly open or completely open, but they should always remain fixed and not be moving around, even when closed.
- Repeat the word (or phrase) silently, over and over, focusing on that word.
- Repetition of the word helps you to clear other thoughts that come into your mind
I have changed some of the words so as not to reveal which is which. For example, Eastern meditation calls the word you focus on a "manta" and in supposed "Christian" meditation it is called a "spirital word." The change in wording does not in any way change what is described.
So, looking at the above, which is which?
THE ANSWER: Meditation Method A describes "Christian" meditation and "B" describes Eastern meditation. Based on how it is done, Eastern meditation and supposedly "Christian" meditation are exactly the same thing. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it is a duck. This supposed "Christian" meditation is Eastern meditation (Hinduism and Buddhism) under a different name.
“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do." - Matthew 6:7
But, practitioners of "Christian" meditation claim there are differences between what they teach and Eastern meditation. Let's look at some specifics. TheChristianMeditator.com web site compares the two in an attempt to promote "Christian" meditation by showing it is not the same as Eastern meditation. Here is their five point comparison (their claims are displayed in bold):
CHRISTIAN: it's purpose is to draw closer to Jesus Christ and spend time in His abiding presence
EASTERN: the purpose is to become one with the universe or universal energy
I hope you understand that you can assign any purpose you want to a tool, but that does not change what that tool does. If I need to nail a couple of 2x4s together, and I try to use a light bulb to drive in the nails, that does not make the light bulb a hammer. It simply means I've assigned the wrong purpose to the light bulb. A purpose a light bulb cannot accomplish. And although Eastern meditation can result in "spiritual" feelings, it does not draw you closer to Jesus Christ.
Drawing closer to Jesus Christ is an excellent goal. How do we do that? Through traditional prayer, scripture and repentance (turning away from sin). The better you know scripture, the closer you'll be Jesus Christ. The more time you spend in traditional prayer (actually talking to God), and getting your answers through reading your Bible, the closer you'll be to Jesus Christ. The more you grow in righteousness, obeying what you are reading in scripture (turning from sin), the closer you'll be to Jesus Christ.
What about "spending time in His abiding presense?" What does that mean? It's not a Biblical term, it's a term that comes from Christian mysticism. If we want to be in the presense of Jesus Christ, the question we need to ask is: what is it that separates us from Jesus Christ? The answer is sin. To grow closer to Jesus Christ, read God's Word, understand God's word and tremble. Fill your mind and thoughts with God's word. And change your life to conform to God's word.
The healthy Christian is not necessarily the extrovert, ebullient Christian, but the Christian who has a sense of God's presence stamped deep on his soul, who trembles at God's word, who lets it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it, and who tests and reforms his life daily in response to it." – J.I. Packer (http://tiny.cc/zqin5x)
For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit” – Isaiah 57:15
God is with those who have a "contrite and lowly spirit." Those who are poor in spirit (humility that comes from knowing you are spiritually bankrupt), and who mourn over sin.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. - Matthew 5:3-4
In "Christian" (Eastern) meditation being in the presence of Jesus is a feeling. It's a feeling of spirituality. It's a feeling of having moved to a higher, more spiritual plane. That's not Biblical.
Consider this: Jesus is God and God is omnipresent. This means God is present everywhere at all times. That means everyone is always in the presence of God. It is impossible for you to move out of the presence of God. That's a fact. That means everyone is always in the presence of God. But for Christians there is more.
To be in the presence of another person means more than just being physically in the same area. It means you have a relationship with that person. They know who you are and you know them. You recognize each other. You speak with each other. That's what being in the presence of Jesus Christ means. It means you are saved, and thus you are a child of God in a relationship with God. It is the reality of being seated with Christ in heaven the moment you are saved (Ephesians 2:6) It is the reality of having Christ dwell within you the moment you are saved (John 14:23 and 15:4). It is true that at times we will feel distant from God. All Christians have experienced this. For example, after losing his wife to cancer C.S. Lewis wrote:
Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble? – C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, Chapter One, 1961
Peter explains why we have this feeling at times:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 (ESV)
When things are not going well, and you feel God is distant, know that God is in control. You are being tested or refined to help you grow to be more like Christ. So praise God for your trials. Be thankful when things are going wrong and you will know that as a child of God (meaning you are trusting in Jesus Christ alone to save you from the wrath of God) you are in His presence and He is in control.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:6
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." - 2 Corinthians 4:16
Getting back to the original question, what does being in the "abiding presence of Jesus" mean? I wrote about this in my book revealing the dangers of the "Jesus Calling" devotional. To summarize, it means feeling spiritual. It means having an emotional experience that feels good. It's all about feelings, not about actually being in the presence of God. That's why Eastern religions use meditation to get a spiritual feeling, and they interpret those feelings as meaning they are becoming one with the universe (Buddhism). Or a more the common interpretation (Hinduism and New Age) of these feelings is that they are experiencing the presence of the god(s) within them, and hopefully even hearing that god (demon) speak. What does the Bible say about feelings?
“The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick;" - Jeremiah 19:9
CHRISTIAN: meditate on a sacred word or scripture like "Jesus," "peace to still," or the Lord's prayer.
EASTERN: meditate on various mantras (words or phrases) like OM or even your breath
What's the difference? If both cases you are focusing on a word or phrase. What you focus on makes no difference, the object is to drive all other thoughts out of your mind. For example, focusing on the name "krishna" (a Hindu god) works just as well as focusing on the name "Jesus." On this point the claimed difference does not exist.
In true Christian meditation we don't concentrate on the name of Jesus, or a phase about Jesus from scripture. If we are going to meditate about Jesus, we think about scripture describing who Jesus is; His nature and characteristics; and what He has done. We contemplate the serious of sin and what Jesus did on the cross. We FILL our mind with scriptures about Jesus, and think about how our lives should be conformed to the life of Jesus, and where we fail, and how we can change. We consider scriptures about Jesus and how one scripture amplifies and illuminates other scriptures.
True Christian meditation is active thinking and contemplating scripture.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." - Philippians 4:8
CHRISTIAN: is motivated by a desire to fully experience the love and healing power of Christ.
EASTERN: is motivated by a desire to reach higher states of consciousness.
This brings us right back to the first comparison on the list. The answer is the same. Your motivation for using a tool does not change what that tool does. I have a cast iron frying pan. My motivation for using it is my desire to light up my desk so I can read and pay some bills. Does my motivation for using the cast iron frying pan for lighting change what it does? No. This is an obvious example. But it's the same with meditation. Using Eastern meditation techniques, and saying your motivation is to experience the love and power of Jesus Christ, does not change what those techniques actually do... they silence your thoughts, and open your mind to outside (both fleshly and demonic) influence. This type of meditation does not bring you closer to Jesus.
CHRISTIAN: promotes purifying the heart and giving all our cares over to God.
EASTERN: used as a pathway to spiritual enlightenment.
For the third time, this is the same as the previous comparison. Our assigning a desired result to a meditation practice, does not change what that practice does.
"I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." - Psalm 119:11
Something else I should point out. In describing "Eastern religion" TheChristianMeditator.com web site has chosen to use characteristics of Buddhist meditation. Why would they do that? Hinduism has far, far more followers. I'm guessing that it is because Buddhists do not believe that any god or gods exist. Their ultimate goal is to become one with the universe. So by using Buddhist meditation as their example, they make eastern meditation seem as different from "Christian" meditation as they can.
CHRISTIAN: renews the mind by memorizing and meditating on scripture or faith-filled words.
EASTERN: mainly focuses on emptying the mind.
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." - Romans 12:1-2
How are our minds renewed? By repeating (meditating) faith-filled words or short sections of scripture? No. Here is what John MacArthur writes in the MacArthur Study Bible:
renew of your mind. That kind of transformation can only occur as the Holy Spirit changes our thinking through constant study and meditation [actively thinking about scripture, not just repeating a word or phrase it over and over] A renewed mind is one saturated with and controlled by the Word of God." See Psalm 119:11 and Philippians 4:8 above.
"Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." - Colossians 3:2
"Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him... So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you." - Colossians 3:9-10 & 12-13
Renewing your mind does not mean relaxing, giving your mind some rest time. Renewing your mind means to set you mind on things above (through scripture), so that your mind is renewed to true knowledge. Renewing your mind does not mean emptying your mind and having spiritual feelings. It means to be filling your mind with knowledge of God and His Word.
There are other web sites that use different criteria to attempt to prove that today's "Christian" meditation is not the same as Eastern meditation. But when you compare the "how to" of each, as I did at the beginning of this article, they are revealed as being the same. However, it can be confusing because they'll use different terminology and redefine words in ways that make it seem that what they are advocating is Christian. So how can you tell what is Biblical?
Treasury agents are trained to spot counterfeit bills by being thoroughly familiar with real money. If you know what the real thing looks like, then everything else is counterfeit. That is also true for meditation.
Biblical meditation is not focused on having a spiritual experience. It is focused on knowledge and filling your mind with God's Word.... and not just an individual word or section of scripture. Biblical meditation is not about calming your thoughts, it is an active process with the goal being a better understanding of scripture. It involves reading scripture... filling your thoughts with scripture... and then carefully and thoughtfully considering what that scripture means; how it fits in with the rest of the Bible; and how it impacts your life. Biblical meditation is not about waiting to hear from God, it is actively talking to God, bringing Him your questions about scripture; your problems; and thanking Him for everything.
Biblical meditation can take place anywhere and any time. Joshua chapter 1 says, "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. (verses 8 and 9). Reading and thinking about God's Word (meditation) is not something you do for five or ten minutes once a day. Meditate on God's Word day and night... that means be thinking about God's Word all of the time. So fill up your thoughts with scripture so that God's Word is in your thoughts all the time (or at least a lot of the time). Be thinking about what God's Word says. When you don't understand something or have a question, do some research (talk to your pastor, read a different translation, or read a commentary) to get the answer. That's Biblical meditation.
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