Is Meditation Safe?

I rarely use the term meditation, because there are so many Christians who have been told that it refers to Eastern religiions and New Age practices. A lot of fear surrounds the whole idea, and even mentioning the word can get me into trouble. There are even entire websites dedicated to flaming anyone who suggests Christians can benefit from meditating. But tell me, what do the following verses refer to?

"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of prace, let your mind dwell on these things" (Phil.4:8).

"But his delight is in the law of the Lord. And in His law he meditates day and night" (Ps.1:2).

"Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still" (Ps.4:4).

"I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart, and my spirit ponders" (Ps.77:6).

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord" (Ps.19:14).

"Mary treasured all these things and pondering them in her heart" (Lk.2:19).

The Bible is actually full of this practice, from cover to cover. Spending time in reflection about the goodness of God, or His love for us, or what it means to be a child of God, or any of a thousand other areas can be incredibly life-giving and good for our soul. How we focus our mind on a regular basis can actually form our heart and mind to be more Christ-like! There are even places in the Bible where we are commanded to meditate!

So where does all the fear come from? Why do people think that meditation is evil? I have noticed a few patterns from those who object. For many, anything is suspect that looks like a subjective experience rather than an objective, rational thought. Unfortunately, this perspective lacks even a shred of Biblical support. It comes from our worship of Enlightenment rationalism, and a belief that only a strong will driven by logic can be trusted. Their belief is that unless you are using logic and a very clear set of exegitical methods, your thoughts about the spiritual world are not to be trusted.

Others see similarities between New Age meditation and what people describe and Christian contemplative prayer. Whatever connection they observe concerns them as to whether Christians are going astray. But with this logic, we would have to stop living altogether. We could not look at photographs, because people use cameras for wicked purposes. We could not talk, because people swear and lie. We could not eat food, because some people are gluttons. Therefore we should not think about anything, because our minds can be unruly. This is truly foolish.

What I notice most often in those who rant about meditation is an underlying belief that the emotional functions of our brain are part of our human nature that is fallen. That leads them to the idea that our life should be run by reason and the laws of God. But this is faulty on at least two major counts. First, discernment always has an emotional component involved. Research shows that our emotional brain is heavily involved in all our decisions and choices. To believe otherwise is simply denial, ignorance, or a lack of awareness. The second problem with this perspective is that God's connection with us is fundamentally relational, not legal. And relationships are subjective by their very nature. Our task as Christians is to learn how to live in relationship differently than we lived in the natural. But that is about redeeming our emotional life, not repressing it.

So what we are actually dealing with here is not just a disagreement about whether or not Christians should meditate. This fear is actually a symptom of a much broader problem in which the whole of the Christian life has been distorted by legalism, performance-driven moralism, and a faulty trust in rationalism, all dressed up in theological arguments for "pure doctrine." At some point a person must decide whether they want to develop a relationship with God that is real and experiential, not just legal and propositional. And when we decide that a relationship with God is better than a legal arrangement, we are going to want to spend time with Him reflecting on how much He loves us and how good it is to be with Him. 

That is a good thing!

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