Meditation has such a simple meaning: “to focus one’s thoughts on; reflect on or ponder over.” And yet, it has such a weighty connotation in our Western society. It can feel foreign, New Age, unknown, wrong. And many of us simply don’t know “how to do it.”
What it is, and isn’t
I encourage you to disregard current concepts of “emptying your mind” or “mindfulness” when exploring meditation for the Christian walk. We are not to empty ourselves for the sake of emptiness, but to be filled with the Spirit. We are not to become mindful of our presence or of ourselves, but of Him. We are to follow the example of the psalmist:
Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. Psalm 1:2
I think of God; I groan; I meditate; my spirit becomes weak. Selah. Psalm 77:3
I will meditate on your precepts and think about your ways. Psalm 119:15
I’ve found (but am still learning!) that meditation is the undercurrent of all spiritual disciplines: prayer, Scripture reading, serving others, worship, and even attending church. It’s the heart of returning to Him, for if you are pondering Him and learning about His nature, the Lord will call to you again and again, and you must return. And it’s the force behind resting in Him, because you have experienced God’s resting presence in every aspect of your life, and you have not divorced your spiritual walk from your earthly walk. We practice thinking about Christ (meditation) so that we may experience Him continually through our day and be changed into His image.
As Paul says, “We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Meditation is the process of looking in a mirror at the glory of the Lord for transformation.
So, that begs the question, “How do we do it?”
The powerful but enigmatic answer is: “through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
We can study meditation, learn all the methods, and discuss what works for each of us, but the truth is, it’s a relationship between you and Jesus, powered by the Holy Spirit. Discipleship in Christ is a lifelong journey of strengthening this relationship. Just like we can discuss the aspects of a good marriage, simply going through those motions will not produce a good marriage without love; without relationship.
So first, pray and ask the Holy Spirit for strength, guidance, and affirmation.
Suggestions that have helped me:
- Slow scripture reading: Allow the Spirit to direct you to a passage as you’re reading scripture. Something short; one verse, or maybe even just a part of a verse. I like to write it down in a small notebook; I only have one verse per page with no other writing to distract me. Then I read the verse very, very slowly, asking the Lord to give me meaning word by word. I stop often and ponder the truths in those words. I allow the Holy Spirit to give me visuals to aid me in understanding the verse and to write it on my heart. I ask God questions about each truth, and ask Him to show me how His nature is revealed in the verse. I ask Him to show me what the verse says about me. I return to the same verse throughout my day and over the course of many days. Stay on the verse until the Spirit prompts you to move on. In this way, the living word of God unfolds deeper and deeper and speaks to you, personally.
- Be quiet with Him: This may be one of the hardest disciplines to practice. Start with a timer set for two minutes and just be quiet in His presence. Listen for Him. Try not to talk back (aka “pray”). Sometimes, it’s helpful to have a visual or a word for your mind to hold onto as you wait for the Lord. Visuals can include living water, the hem of Christ’s robe, loving arms wrapped around you, a tree rooted in Christ, or branches on a vine. Words should be short; something to re-center you on Christ when your brain wonders (it will!): “Jesus,” “Father,” “Lord,” “Rock,” etc. If you’re meditating on a scripture that lends itself to a word or image, you may want to use that. In prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to help guide you in this.
- Become Mindful of His Presence: Revisit your quiet time with Him throughout your day. An easy way to begin is to ponder your verse in the morning, at lunch, and before you go to bed. Set a reminder if you need to. As you get more comfortable returning your mind to Him, you’ll find that your ear is tuned into His voice between these set times, and you’re better able to respond immediately. The idea here isn’t to continually extricate yourself from life, but to be aware of Christ with you in the midst of it.
Additional Resources for Meditation
Every Monday, I publish a suggested verse for meditation and include an example of my conversation with the Holy Spirit. You can find them on my Weekly Meditations page and sign up for my Newsletter to receive them fresh every Monday morning. For a closer look at how to meditate, I have a Guide to Weekly Meditations to get you started.
As fellow disciples of Christ, we’re in this journey together, ever learning and ever encouraging one another. A great beginning resource for meditation is Pete Scazzaro’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and a wonderful resource for discipleship (especially if you’re a leader) is Transformational Discipleship.