“We have some idea, perhaps, what prayer is, but what is meditation? Well may we ask; for meditation is a lost art today, and Christian people suffer grievously from their ignorance of the practice. Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.” J.I. Packer
In personal prayer we speak to God, but in meditative prayer we allow God to speak to us through His word and His Spirit. Never before has there been such a need to rediscover the quiet art of meditative prayer. If we are not careful, the many of distractions of this world will drown out the quiet voice of God within our hearts and make us numb to our spiritual needs. We need to find a quiet place to be with the God and hear His word. In stillness and solitude God speaks to our hearts and fills us with the refreshing presence of his Spirit.
What do we mean by meditative prayer? Is there such thing as Christian meditation? Isn’t meditation non-Christian?
According to Richard Foster, “Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind.” Rather than emptying the mind we fill it with God’s word. We must not neglect a vital part of our Judeo-Christian heritage simply because other traditions use a form of meditation. Christian meditation has its roots in the Hebrew tradition of the Bible.
There are numerous Biblical references to prayerful meditation.
- “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall mediate on it day and night.” (Joshua 1:8)
- “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he mediates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2)
- O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. (Psalm 119:97)
- I will mediate on your precepts and regard your ways. (Psalm 119:15).
- I shall lift up my hands to your commandments, which I love; and I will mediate on your statutes. (Psalm 119:48)
- My eyes anticipate the night watches, that I may mediate on your word. (Psalm 119:148)
- I mediate on all your doings; I muse on the works of your hands. (Psalm 143:5)
In Hebrew thought, to meditate upon scripture is to quietly repeat them, giving oneself entirely to God, and abandoning outside distractions. The two main things that we are told to meditate on, is God’s word and God’s goodness. Paul tells us, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever things are of good report… meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8).
We see the difference between the active and contemplative Christian life illustrated in the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and heard His word, while Martha was distracted with much serving. Jesus said that Mary had chosen the best thing because she sat at His feet and was not distracted. Meditative prayer is exactly this, sitting at the feet of Jesus and hearing His word. This is a wonderful example of the art of meditative prayer. We must allow time to let the Lord speak to us through meditating on Him and His word in prayer.
Steps for Meditative Prayer
- Designate a quiet place. In a world full of distractions, we need a quiet place where we can allow God to speak to us. Businessmen and women are comfortable in their offices for work, in the same way; the most effective place to pray is in your quiet place.
- Give yourself 20-30 minutes. Many people only spend a few minutes each day in prayer. Very few people actually spend time in meditative prayer. It takes time to drown out the cares of the world, sit and prayerfully meditate on God’s word, and then allow Him to speak to us.
- Choose a scripture to prayerfully meditate. Prayerfully select a passage of scripture that means something to you. Let it either focus on the goodness of God, the promises of God, or the worship of God.
- Allow time for God to speak to you. This is the hardest part. Many people never hear the Lord speak to them simply because they don’t allow Him to. We need to allow time to sit and listen for the voice of the Lord. This was the difference between Eli and Samuel (1 Samuel 3). Samuel was open to hearing from the Lord. He said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”
Dr. Winfield is the Director of Church Planting at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He also directs Asbury’s Anglican Formation program. As a seasoned practitioner, he has helped plant several churches and has used his experience to train leaders from around the world. He is the author of several books including his forthcoming book Ever Ancient Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation (Zondervan, 2018). As an author, one of his passions is the intersection of spiritual formation and mission. He and his wife Kay, have three school aged children and live in the Bluegrass state of Kentucky.