Meditation has been around for thousands of years. Early pagan belief systems emphasized the importance of meditation, and many large eastern religions still practice it today. Meditation is a big part of many people’s lives. It can be a way to achieve a higher level of consciousness, have a mystical experience, or it can be just a way to relieve stress and anxiety from a hard day at work. But there is a question raised for Christians in regards to this topic. Should Christians participate in meditation? Or maybe, is it a sin for Christians to participate in this practice. This, like many other topics, deserves a proper understanding of what exactly the subject is and what exactly is being achieved during the process.
What is Meditation?
There are a variety of different forms of meditation. We often picture someone sitting with their legs crossed and their palms facing upward on their knees, sometimes doing a chant or prayer of sorts. Meditation can be defined as simply deep thought on a particular subject, or it can be an ultra-spiritual practice. Either way, there are some careful steps that the Christian must take in order to meditate in a faithful way. There are, of course, better ways to meditate than others. For instance, John Piper’s form of mediation in which every verse in Scripture read ought to be extensively thought out and reflected upon is certainly a powerful, beneficial form of meditation for the Christian to practice. Not only that, but I think Christians SHOULD practice it. Deep thought and contemplation on Scripture will always be beneficial for the personal spiritual walk of the Christian.
What about other forms of meditation that require one to sit in silence, with their eyes closed, and reflect upon other things? Or better yet, what about the forms of meditation that are used to achieve a higher level of consciousness? Not all of these kinds of meditation are hyper-spiritual in nature. In fact, the ancient Buddhist meditation, Vipassana, has been shown to have very positive effects on brain chemistry, reducing anxiety and depression for many people. Even the atheist writer Sam Harris has written that he practices Vipassana himself. This practice has very similar qualities to a common form of Christian meditation known as Centering Prayer. This prayer allows one to sit in silence and focus upon God and essentially find rest in him. It is done by closing your eyes, blocking out all distractions and focusing on a particular word that describes God’s character, such as “Christ”, “Savior”, “Divine Love”, etc.
So, Should Christians Do It?
On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with Centering Prayer or Christians pursuing some kind of meditation to enrich their spiritual lives. Many people who practice these forms of meditation say that they feel much closer to God and have more peace in their lives. It is very difficult to just give a black-and-white answer as to whether meditation is wrong for the Christian or not. There is nothing unbiblical about it, so long as you do not invoke non-Christians spiritual practices into it. If you are a Christian and choose to pursue meditation, I would keep three things in mind:
- Make sure the manner in which you meditate does not clash with Scripture. Matthew 6 gives a model for Christian prayer, and it also gives one specific prohibition in verses 7 and 8: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” The word “babbling” is often translated as “chanting”. This does not mean we cannot pray the same thing over and over again. What it DOES mean is that we cannot chant with the intention of coercing God into meeting our every desire. This leads to my next point.
- Make sure that your meditation is not “you-centered.” We have this problem often enough with normal prayer, and we certainly don’t need it in some other form of meditation. Again, coercing God into meeting your desires is never a good thing. Also, Christians should never meditate in order to achieve some higher degree of consciousness. Make sure that what you are doing is not all about you, and not even primarily driven to relieve you of stress and anxiety (although it is not altogether wrong for this to have some motivation), but strive to honor God and further His Kingdom in everything you do. If you choose to do the Centering Prayer exercise, make sure your intention is to eliminate all distractions so your whole purpose is on God and your communication with Him. Never try to invoke some kind of higher mystical feeling.
- Finally, never allow meditation to replace other forms of prayer. Scripture models a healthy account of prayer that is simply communication with God, just like you would communicate with anyone else. Meditation should not take the place of this traditional form of prayer that Scripture speaks so highly of. Talk to God, ask Him for guidance, ask Him for forgiveness, and ask Him for a clean and pure heart every day.