The world is a busy, noisy place and there are so many things that vie for our attention. With the advent of social media – perhaps sometimes better named ‘unsocial medial’ – our lives are more public than ever before. It seems that we live in a time of emotional overload and it’s not surprising that many people struggle with this. And then of course, there are the everyday demands we all face that frequently bring their own challenges.
Rather than looking for medication to relieve our stress or, worse still, self-medicating with a variety of toxic substances or unhelpful behaviours, there’s a growing trend towards meditation, mindfulness and the like. And there’s every evidence that these things can help.
I first came across the practice of meditation in very practical terms many years ago when I was working in Radiation Therapy. An Oncology Unit in Bristol (South West England) introduced a series of alternative complementary therapies, including meditation, to help support patients and their families through the stressful treatment process. Such practices weren’t as popular as they are now so, initially, the programme had a mixed reception among health professionals. In fact, over time, it proved to be a great success and now many medical facilities offer such support.
Meditation has been proven to offer a significant number of benefits including; stress relief, anxiety relief, reduced heart rate and blood pressure, improvements in concentration and cognitive thinking. So it’s clear that it can be a very positive thing.
There is, however, a problem in that not all meditation is the same. For some, meditation is all about clearing the mind completely, for others, it’s about communing with the spirit world around us. For example, Transcendental Meditation, reported to be one of the most widely practiced forms of meditation, is derived from classical Hinduism and is designed to induce a state where ‘the ordinary thinking process is transcended and is replaced by a state of pure consciousness. In this state, the meditator achieves perfect stillness, rest, stability, order, and a complete absence of mental boundaries.’ (WebMD – Transcendental Meditation)
As Christians, there are clearly issues about participating in religious practice that are not Scripture based. An even more sinister issue is the idea of emptying our minds to the point of ‘a complete absence of mental boundaries’. The Bible warns us, ‘Above all else, guard your heart for everything you do flows from it.’ (Proverbs 4:23) In Scripture, heart and mind are frequently the same thing. In other words, we are to be very careful of what we think about and what we allow to take hold of our affections and desires.
This warning is repeated and further explained in the New Testament. ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ (1 Peter 5:8)
If we open our mind (heart) to the point of a complete absence of any mental boundaries, we render ourselves extremely and dangerously vulnerable. A common accusation against Christians is that we don’t have open minds. I’m inclined to take that as a compliment because, while it’s helpful to have a curious and enquiring mind, we need to ‘test prove all things [until you can recognise] what is good; [to that] hold fast.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:21 Amplified Version)
In a recent conversation about meditation, I was offered this amusing but very helpful insight. We may wish to be hospitable and open our homes to family, friends and neighbours and maybe even, in certain cases, to strangers, but we’d hardly leave the front door wide open for absolutely anyone and everyone to come in. In effect, we’d be opening ourselves to possible theft, abuse, violence and the like. It’s surely all the more important to guard our hearts and minds.
So then healthy meditation is not passive affair but rather it’s a conscious and active activity; that’s to say we don’t try to empty our minds but instead we concentrate on a positive and specific thing. And in Christian mediation we consciously, actively meditate on God, His works, His wonders and His word.
Meditation is mentioned around 20 times in Scripture 14 of which are found in the Psalms. So it’s clear that this is a fully scriptural practice. While Christian meditation definitely can serve to calm our minds it offers infinitely more. Meditating on God’s word provides an extraordinary array of benefits.
• It’s educational
‘Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.’ (Psalm 119:105)
‘The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.’ (Psalm 119:130)
‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
• It protects
‘You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in Your word.’ (Psalm 119:114)
‘Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.’ (Psalm 30:5)
• It keeps us from sin
‘I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.’ (Psalm 119:11)
• It’s the source of blessing
‘Blessed is the one… whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night.’ (Psalm 1:2)
When we meditate on God’s works (creation), His wonders (miraculous interventions) and His attributes (characteristics), we are, in effect, performing a concentrated act of worship and devotion. And the benefits of that are as far-reaching and all-consuming as they are eternal.