What Is Biblical Meditation?

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In the Book of Acts we see the resurrected and reigning Christ, through the Holy Spirit, teaching and guiding his children: leading Philip to new unreached cultures (Acts 8), revealing his messiahship to Paul (Acts 9), teaching Peter about his racial prejudices (Acts 10), guiding the believing fellowship out of its cultural captivity (Acts 15).

And the wonderful news is that Jesus has not stopped acting and speaking. He is resurrected and at work in our world. He is not idle. He is alive and among us as our Prophet to teach us, our Priest to forgive us, our King to rule us, our Shepherd to guide us, our Friend to come alongside us.

Two Enriching Words

Two Hebrew words deeply inform and enrich our understanding of meditative prayer: haga and si'ach. Our English Bibles most often translate both of these words with the simple word "meditate." Actually these two Hebrew words convey a host of nuances: to mutter, to moan, to whisper, to reflect, to rehearse, to muse, and even to coo like the dove (Isa. 59:11).

Often the emphasis of these words is on silent reflection upon God's works in nature (Ps. 143:5; 145:5) or God's Word (Ps. 119:15, 23, 27, 48, 78, 148). At other times it involves audible murmuring, especially when the object of our meditation is Torah, or the Law of God: "Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it." (Josh. 1:8).

This passage from Joshua underscores a central element of the biblical view of meditation: obedience. This is in marked contrast to the various forms of meditation in many religions around the world. The biblical stress is always on ethical change, character transformation, obedience to the Word of the Lord.

Philosopher Ken Bryson of Nova Scotia observes, "Old Testament meditation moves through silence to dwell on a spirituality of words, namely, the precepts, statutes, words, and commandments of the Torah." So in the biblical witness, we have this dual nature of meditation: stillness and action. This is why I constantly seek to define Christian meditation in terms of "hearing and obeying." Always this double emphasis. On the one hand we are called to silence, to stillness, to quieting "creaturely activity," as the old writers often put it. On the other hand we are called to action, to right behavior, to obedience to the will and ways of God.

Hearing and obeying. Always hearing and obeying.

Beyond Earthquake, Wind, and Fire

Elijah and his shattering experience in the cave at Mount Horeb might become for us something of a paradigm for meditation. A metaphor for listening prayer, if you will. You may remember the story recorded for us in 1 Kings 18 and 19. How Elijah triumphed over the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. How Jezebel sought to kill him. How Elijah ran for his life. How, exhausted and frozen with fear, Elijah asked for death under the broom tree: "I have had enough, Lord, … take my life" (1 Kings 19:4). How the angel of the Lord touched Elijah and gave him a hearty breakfast … twice. How on the strength of those meals he journeyed forty days and forty nights until at last he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And how he entered a cave and spent the night there … desolate, lonely, defeated.

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