Here is what the Bible teaches about a subject vital to Christian development.
"Meditation" — what IS It? Perhaps the mere mention of the word brings to your mind terms such as guru, yoga, cosmic awareness, transcendental, Zen, mantra, and maharishi. To many, meditation means some form of mental gymnastics, often referring to sessions of deep concentration in an eyes-closed, legs-crossed, hands-folded position. To others it represents a dull period of religious contemplation during which there is more than an even chance of falling asleep. Such sporadic occasions of meaningless reflection are not what the Bible speaks of as meditation at all! David wrote that he meditated "day and night" (Ps. 1:2). He did not confine meditation to a 20-minute period or to a once-a-week walk out in the hills somewhere. It was a constant process. He obeyed God's instruction as given in Joshua 1:8: "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night." David exclaimed, "O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day" (Ps. 119:97). In the Bible meditate means "to think about." What fills your mind is what you are meditating about. Whether or not you are going to meditate is not the question. As long as your brain is functioning you are going to meditate! The question is — on what? Because it is so easy to meditate on — to think about — the wrong things, David prayed for help: "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer" (Ps. 19:14). "Search me, a God," he asked, "and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Ps. 139:23-24).
A penny for your thoughts
There are times when any of us would be embarrassed to tears if people next to us could read our exact thoughts. Fortunately, they are unable to do so. But we can't hide our thoughts from God, for whether we ask Him to or not, "the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts" (I Chron. 28:9). What we think about reflects what we really are. As a person "thinketh in his heart, so is he" is the way Solomon expressed it (Prov. 23:7). That's why Jesus, commenting on the same principle, said it is out of the heart that evil thoughts proceed (Matt. 15:19). We all were once totally carnal. And we thought carnally 100 percent of the time, "For they that are after the flesh [that is, everyone who is not converted] do mind the things of the flesh" (Rom. 8:5) — "earthly things" (Phil. 3:19). But conversion is a process — a process during which there is a change of heart and mind. And consequently, a change of what thoughts fill the mind. Speaking of the unconverted state, God says: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts... For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, And my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:7-9). As a Christian becomes more and more converted, he thinks about — meditates on — more of what pleases God and less of what is carnal. He forsakes his own thoughts and fills his mind instead with God's thoughts.
A different mind
Do you know what the difference is between the Old Covenant made with physical Israel and the New Covenant made with the Church? It is important to understand the difference because it has everything to do with making your meditation acceptable to God! The people of physical Israel, without the Holy Spirit, did not have God's laws written in their hearts and minds. God told them, "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart" (Deut. 6:6). But the people quickly turned their attention away from God and His ways and filled their minds with covetousness (Ezek. 33:31). Without the Holy Spirit they were not able to keep God's laws uppermost in their hearts and minds. They were unable to think about — to meditate upon — God's laws, because the carnal mind is enmity against God (Rom. 8:7). With us it is different. We are commanded to "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5). How so? How can we have the same mind, the same thoughts — meditation — Jesus had? The answer is given in I Corinthians 2:11, 16, where we read that "the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.... we have the mind of Christ." By having the Holy Spirit we have the mind of Christ constantly abiding in us. This means our thoughts should be pure regarding all things. We ought to mentally analyze everything — our goals, way of worship, occupation, styles, music, humor, food, entertainment, family and social relations — from God's point of view as expressed in His Word. It requires constant effort. It is a process of "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (II Cor. 10:5). "The thoughts [all of them!] of the righteous are right" (Prov. 12:5). That is the kind of meditation God wants us to develop.
Getting "away from it all"
Though our thinking — our meditation — ought to be centered on God and His ways all day long, as David showed, it is also essential at times to get away from our normal routine and find a quiet place where we can devote ourselves to some especially deep thought about where we are going in life. Satan has designed our modern society to keep people distracted. He does not want us to find an occasion when we can be mentally free from the confused din and clamor of "civilization." And yet such occasions must be found — must be made — in order to keep on the right track. Even in Isaac's day, it was not always easy to "get away from it all." In order to find a little solitude, Isaac "went out to meditate in the field at the eventide" (Gen. 24:63). And what happened? He was interrupted by a group of people riding camels! (In this case, however, he was probably glad for the interruption, since the arriving party included his bride-to-be.) If it was slightly difficult in Isaac's time, today it is nearly impossible in many areas to find a secluded place within a reasonable distance where one can go to just think. At home there are other people in the house. Or there is the jangle of the phone or the gong of the doorbell. Or the neighbor's TV or stereo or dog. The parks are crowded — no privacy there. Maybe by driving many miles outside the city one can find a solitary place. But even there a good part of one's mental effort must be diverted into staying alert for the robbers and murderers who oftentimes victimize people in such places. We often must be really resourceful in order to have a few minutes alone to gather our thoughts. An automobile, windows rolled up, doors locked, parked in the shade on a quiet street, provides perhaps one of the more easily attainable places for a little private contemplation. If you can locate a quiet street. If you can find a parking place. And if someone doesn't report to the police a "suspicious person sitting in a car." David must have had some problems getting away from his officers, royal staff and official duties and activities of the day to find some peace and quiet. Maybe it was only at night that he could find a suitable occasion and, being determined, gladly sacrificed sleep. "I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches," he prayed (Ps. 63:6). "Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still," was his recommendation (Ps. 4:4, see also 119:55, 148). David constantly examined how he was living. He sought to quickly set himself "back on the track" whenever he went astray. "I thought on my ways, and [as a result] turned my feet unto thy testimonies" (Ps. 119:59). The fact that David made time to meditate deeply on God and His laws is one of the reasons God could testify that David was "a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will" (Acts 13:22).
What to think about
"I can't keep the wrong thoughts out of my mind," some complain. They may not be attacking the problem from the right direction. The law of physical science that "nature abhors a vacuum" applies on the mental level too. It is not sufficient to just put the wrong thoughts out. That leaves a vacuum (compare Matt. 12:43-45). The mind must be filled with the right thoughts. As Paul explained, "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil. 4:8, Revised Standard Version). Then there will be no room for wrong thoughts. Meditation is, on the mental level, what digestion of food is on the physical level. If we eat "junk" food, that's what we digest — that's what we become. If we eat good food, we have good food to digest and to become part of us. In order to be able to meditate on God and His ways, we must "eat" His Word — a lot of it — and often. How is it possible throughout the day to "be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour" (II Pet. 3:2) if we don't assimilate and drink them in in the first place? It is not possible. The Bible gives many subjects of meditation, such as: The works of God's hands, His creation (Ps. 8:3, 143:5). (This is an especially appropriate subject whenever you do find a scenic view" or when you observe some amazing thing in nature.) God's past works in your life (Ps. 77:5-6, 10-12). His strength (Isa. 17:10). His covenant with His people and with you personally (I Chron. 16:15). Your Christian calling and duties (I Tim. 4:13-15). Our High Priest, Jesus Christ (Heb. 3:1). God's statutes and laws (Ps. 119:48). His wonders (Neh. 9:17). Can't think of anything to meditate about? This is enough to keep you awake all night!
Meditating brings positive results. Researchers have compiled reports about people in the world who spend a few minutes each day "meditating." By "meditating" they mean only brief periods of relaxing, withdrawing from involvements and pursuits and getting reoriented. Even for these halfway measures, the reports indicate a lessening of stress, blood pressure and oxygen consumption and purport a wide range of beneficial changes in health, personality, intelligence and performance. Meditating on God's way produces any positive results the world's way of meditation can produce, plus a whole lot more! It brings life — eternal life (Rom. 8:6), great blessings (Ps. 1), prosperity and success (Josh. 1:8), gladness (Ps. 104:34), hope (Lam. 3:19-24, RSV), wisdom and understanding (Ps. 119:98-99), endurance and perseverance (Heb. 12:3), strength in the face of persecution (Ps. 119:23-24). Keeping your mind filled with the goal God has set before you will prevent you from slipping back into the world you came out of (Heb. 11:15-16). Isaiah summed up the whole subject of meditation when he exclaimed to God, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee (Isa. 26:3).