There are many spiritual practices on Earth, but meditation is the oldest.
In fact, the Bible often speaks about the importance of meditation and the purposeful placement of it before prayer. Although it's often called by a different name, the meaning is the same.
Meditation warms us up for effective prayer. For many people who've never done it, meditation seems impossible for many reasons. And the circumstances outside our control make our focus erratic as well.
The Holy Spirit, however, is the one who supports us in our weakness. God enlightens us and gives us understanding. He reminds us of His wonderful works, fills us with joy, and leads us into the truth.
When we seek God through meditation, He's our great support and encourages us to pray in response. We learn that we're never alone.
In this article, we'll cover the history of meditation, as well as everything a beginner needs to know about meditation practice.
Meditation and the practice of mindfulness have a very long and rich history.
The word meditation stems from meditatum, a Latin term that means “to ponder.” It's commonly believed that the practice of meditation came from the Hindu religion in India. In Hinduism, meditation as a spiritual exercise and religious practice is first mentioned in the Upanishads, c. 800–200 BC.
The Upanishads are a series of Hindu sacred treatises written in Sanskrit explaining the Vedas in predominantly mystical and monistic terms. Monism meaning oneness or singleness to a concept e.g., our existence. The Vedas are the oldest Hindu scriptures, written in early Sanskrit and containing hymns, philosophy, and guidance about rituals for clergy in the Vedic religion.
There are four collections of Vedas believed to be directly transmitted to seers among the early Aryans in India and preserved via oral tradition: the Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda, and the Atharva Veda.
Meditation, according to the Upanishad, aids in removing ignorance, acquiring knowledge, and being one with the "Absolute," also known as "brahman." However, the origin of this Sanskrit term stays obscure. Although the Upanishads express different views, they all affirm that brahman is eternal, conscious, irreducible, infinite, and omnipresent and that it is the core of a finite and changing universe.
Although the exact origin of Buddhist meditation continues to be debated among scholars, an early record of the multi-stage meditation in India can be found in the sutras of the Pāli Canon, which dates to the 1st century BC.
The Pāli Canon describes how salvation occurs per rules of morality, contemplative concentration, knowledge, and liberation. It places meditation as a necessary step in the process.
By the time Buddhism was spreading in Taoist China, the Vimalakirti Sutra, which dates to 100 AD, included several passages on meditation and enlightened wisdom clearly pointing to Zen. The Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa is a Buddhist text which centers around a Buddhist meditator who has reached a very high degree of enlightenment, considered by some second only to the Buddha himself.
As far as the West was concerned, in 20 BC, Philo of Alexandria wrote about a "spiritual exercise" that required attention and concentration. By the 3rd century, Plotinus had developed meditative techniques, which didn't attract a following among Christian meditators.
This has since changed in the U.S. due to modern practices. Nowadays, mediation is used by many people across a wide variety of religious beliefs to enhance their spiritual practices. By practicing meditation and mindfulness, we can strengthen our connection to our bodies during our everyday activities and become more aware of how emotions affect our behavior.
Although meditation has its origins in Hinduism, we can view prayer as a kind of Christian meditation.
The definition of meditation is, "a practice where an individual uses a technique–such as mindfulness or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity–to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state."
Meditating is, according to this definition, focused mental activity. That is exactly how Christians pray to God. Prayer is the focusing of our minds on what we want to say to the Heavenly Father.
Meditation isn't described in Scripture as many think of it today, heavily influenced by eastern meditation methods. However, meditation in the Bible is connected to prosperity and growth. As a result, meditation is essential for Christian growth.
The first person we see "meditating" in the Bible is Isaac. The Lord brought Rebekah to him while he was meditating in Genesis 24:63.
After Moses died, the Lord gave instructions to Joshua. One instruction was to meditate on the "Book of the Law" in Joshua 1:8.
Amid his overwhelming experience, David meditates in Psalm 143 on his experience with God.
Another Hebrew word for meditation in the Old Testament is siyach. It's the word used in Psalm 119:97: "Oh how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long." The word Siyach means to lovingly rehearse or go over in one's mind and can be either spoken out loud or said silently in one's mind.
Thus, "meditation" could have included repeated vocalization of God's truth, rehearsal of it in the mind, and contemplation of it after it had been heard or read.
Jesus was also a huge proponent of mindfulness. One of the most striking things about the life of Jesus is how mindful He was of His surroundings and the people in His life.
Mindfulness is a way of life. It's a general approach to life in which you strive to be fully aware of your experience in the present moment — without judging it. Mindfulness is paying attention to the little things that most people tend to ignore.
There was never a time when Jesus didn't see others. He never missed an opportunity to help others, even when He was busy. Life didn't happen on autopilot for Him, either. To practice a more mindful way of living like Jesus, we need to start by focusing on the things we tend to do on autopilot.
All of us are meditating on something throughout the day, regardless of whether we do it consciously or not.
Our thoughts can often be agitated and painful, such as when we're stressed out at work or fighting with a loved one. We can think about things we're excited about, like a trip we are planning or a special celebration. Regardless of what our thoughts are, we can better control them through meditation.
We can avoid letting our thoughts control us when we're deliberate about what we think so that they can improve our devotion to God as well as our own mental health. Rather than getting lost in pain and suffering, we can focus on God's promises.
Although the word meditation isn't used often in the New Testament, it contains numerous instructions on how to direct our minds.
Considering the Latin definition of meditation is "to ponder," Biblical meditation represents the act of "pondering."
If you meditate on the Bible, you're doing something different than merely reading it. This doesn't mean that reading and studying the Bible are unimportant. Studying helps us better understand the context of each verse or phrase, which then allows us to meditate properly.
In contrast, to ponder is "to weigh in the mind," or reflect on something. According to its definition, it implies attention to detail and attentive consideration of its subject. Put simply, following the Bible's teaching on meditation means meditating on God and His Word, not just on ourselves or our worldly possessions.
While eastern meditation often advocates emptying the mind, Christian meditation encourages us to fill our minds with God and His truth.
The Bible doesn't describe the mind itself as evil or unworthy. However, the mind is how God communicates with us. Intellectual pride, not intellect itself, is what the Bible denounces.
Also, we're encouraged to use the mind God has given us, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit and instruction from Scripture, to evaluate, discern, and critically evaluate what's happening in both the church and our world.
Now that we have a better understanding of meditation, how do we practice it?
Studying the Bible is all about getting to know and understand God's Word. Scripture meditation goes a step farther since it helps us absorb and apply God's Word to our lives, transforming us as a result.
In our meditation on the Word of God, we are seeking to apply the Scriptures to our own lives and circumstances. The result is more than just absorbing information. The individual's life is transformed from developing a deep relationship with God through the experience of worship.
So, meditation means thinking deeply about what God has revealed to us in the Bible, and it prepares us for prayer. Meditating helps us focus, understand, remember, worship, and apply the Bible, which is the foundation of our prayers.
In light of all that, here's a complete beginner's guide to meditation.
Finding a quiet area to meditate is key to having a successful meditation experience.
Compared to other forms of meditation, contemplating God's Word requires setting oneself apart from the world's distractions for a time to focus. Even though you can meditate on Scripture anywhere, it helps to have a place where you can completely concentrate on the passage or your own prayers.
Today, multitasking might seem handy, but you can't give anything your full attention while doing something else at the same time. You can improve your ability to focus on God's Word by decreasing distractions while you meditate on it.
Try to set aside at least 15-30 minutes for your meditation. If you need time to set yourself apart from family or roommates, explain to them that you need a quiet, empty room in which to meditate. You should keep yourself comfortable, but not so comfortable that you can't focus or you fall asleep.
After all, it's hard to contemplate God's word when your mind is asleep.
One of the hardest parts of meditation is quieting your mind. However, this isn't to be confused with emptying your mind, which is a completely different practice.
You may have a busy mind if you're constantly juggling work issues, family schedules, and general life demands. You may want to shut all that out, but often it's hard to do.
Make sure that you're able to meditate for at least a few minutes in a position that isn't distracting or painful. If any thoughts come to your mind, you shouldn't try to push them away. Watching your thoughts without judgment can sometimes be the best way to keep your mind quiet.
Try to find a room or area that's devoid of distractions, which can mean turning off your phone and decreasing outside noise as much as possible.
A powerful way to focus the mind is to say a prayer or mantra through mindfulness. The mind wanders very easily, so it's important to use mindfulness practices to record your thoughts and well-being. You can use a personal prayer or one that you've previously recited at church, as long as it helps you focus on the task at hand.
The practice of focusing your attention on your breath is one of the most important practices you'll learn through meditation.
Deep breathing promotes relaxation in our minds. By taking slow deep breaths, your body and mind become relaxed. It can even lower your blood pressure, calming your nervous system.
Breathing has a natural cadence that allows you to calm down and relax, thus priming your body for meditation. If you want to focus, make sure you breathe slowly, clear your mind, and follow your breath. As you breathe deeply and exhale, you can even think of "in" and "out" to help you focus more.
Try taking diaphragmatic breaths if you have trouble focusing on your breathing. Put one hand on your upper chest and the other under your rib cage while sitting or lying comfortably.
Then breathe slowly out of your mouth and in through your nose. You can also breathe in for a number of counts and out for the same. For example, try four counts and then eight counts. Pay attention to how your body feels throughout.
Remember, there is no right or wrong here. Meditation can be practiced in any way that feels comfortable to you.
Getting the full benefits of meditation can be challenging at first. It requires a lot of patience and practice. Practicing meditation regularly, however, can make it feel more natural over time.
There are many different types of meditation, so it's important to find what works best for you. Some people use meditation apps for daily meditation practice. Others require a meditation teacher or meditation exercises.
Choosing a Scripture verse or phrase is a good place to start. If you haven't read the surrounding verses, be sure you understand what the verse or phrase means in its context. Write down or highlight the chosen verse on your phone or electronic device, or write it down on a 3" x 5" card.
Try to memorize it as best you can by reading it several times. As you read the verse, slowly reflect on its meaning, especially what it says about God, His work, and His plan for you.
To get you started, here are some meditation techniques to try out during your next meditation session.
In our meditations on God's Word, we seek to understand how the God of the universe speaks about Himself, about our world, and about our own hearts.
We can begin reading the Bible by asking God to help us understand His way, as the Psalmist asked. This is a prayer that God delights in answering.
Some questions to ask during meditation include:
Our main goal of meditation is to understand what God is communicating through His Word.
Scriptures to meditate on include:
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer" (Psalms 19:14).
"My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding" (Psalms 49:3).
Meditation is a great way to help you remember verses from the Bible.
Throughout scripture, there's one main theme that always points back to Jesus Christ. Our meditation on the Scriptures suggests all that God has accomplished in His great redemption story, in which He sent His only begotten son, Jesus Christ, to redeem people from their sins.
It's humbling to contemplate His work through Christ to save us. During meditation, we can also remember all the things God has achieved in our lives as well. We can ponder the opportunities God gives us to share the Gospel and what we've learned about Him through it.
Meditate to remember all that God has done through the gospel of grace.
Scriptures to meditate on include:
"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).
By focusing, understanding, and remembering, we can inspire our hearts to worship.
As a result, we meditate to acknowledge the excellence of Christ, laying aside the world as we lift our eyes to him in thanksgiving and adoration. As the Holy Spirit enlightens our minds to realize how magnificent God is, meditation fills us with feelings of worship.
Because of our own nature as human beings, there will be times when our hearts don't feel like reading the Bible. It's tempting to stop reading, lose focus, and move on to other activities.
But meditating on God's Word is one of the most important things we can do to focus on worshiping the power and joy of His Scripture.
Here is a piece of Scripture to meditate on:
"O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you've done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful, and sure" (Isaiah 25:1).
Lastly, the more we meditate upon God's Word, the better we understand how it relates to our lives. As we meditate to understand, we ask, “what's required of me?” In this case, we ask ourselves, what should I do with what I've read?
Our next step is to pray — ask God to give us the spiritual strength to obey, forsake sin, humble ourselves, and help others through learning.
Meditate to apply what you've read in the Bible to your daily life and ask for help in prayer.
Meditate on this passage:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (Corinthians 1: 3-4).