Should a Christian meditate? For most of my life, I would have said the answer was no. The answer I had always heard, and probably would have repeated, was this: meditation seeks to empty your mind to achieve enlightenment, whereas the Bible encourages the Christian to fill his mind with the truths of God's word to grow spiritually.
However, more and more lately I have been reading articles about the scientifically proven benefits of “mindfulness meditation”. I was intrigued, because I am a naturally very high-stress person. I've also been reading about how stress predisposes toward all kinds of diseases, and so have been searching for ways to deal with it and become more tranquil.
I am very firmly of the belief that all truth is God's truth. I believe that science, properly interpreted, points us toward the laws of the universe that God put in place and that if something works, it is because it is tapping into God's design. So if meditation genuinely helps people, I believe that it is worth pursuing. (This is a helpful article on what meditation is and how it works.)
When I began investigating meditation, I quickly discovered there is nothing inherently religious about it at all. Practiced the way it is usually prescribed, it is nothing more than sitting upright and relaxed for at least 5 minutes with your hands in your lap and your eyes closed, breathing slowly and deeply and focusing on your breathing. The goal is to focus on nothing more than the present moment, breaking you out of your normal pattern of racing thoughts and feelings which contribute to tension, anxiety and stress. Over time, it actually changes your brain so this becomes more of a default way of operating.
I've only been doing this for a week or so, but I have found it revolutionary. It made me realize just how high-stress I am, and how I get into a frantic pattern of “doing” things to feel like I'm in control. Much of my thinking is negative, fearful, or judgmental, stressing over events from the past or worrying about the future. Meditation allows you to slow down, jump off that mental hamster wheel, and relax into a calm, clear, centered state of thinking.
What could be more biblical than that? We are constantly admonished not to worry. We are told that God is in control. We are told to “be still and know that I am God”. Instead of thoughts polluted by negativity and anxiety, we want to have a clear mind of confident trust and hope.
Although meditation is not inherently religious, it can be practiced in a “Christian” way. I often put worship music on in the background. Choosing songs that add up to the length of time you want to meditate is a good way of keeping yourself on track. I consciously relax in the presence of Jesus and breathe prayers of worship. I surrender myself completely to him, admit my absolute need of him, and instead of trying to “perform” for him or praying out of a position of worry, simply allow myself to be in his presence.
I find it quite ironic, because I was part of a church that encouraged “soaking”: relaxing quietly in the presence of God to soothing worship music, while freeing your mind of thinking about what you had to do. Although I always felt like it was something I “should” do, it took reading about the scientifically-proven benefits to give me the impulse to finally put it into practice.
If you have a problem with the term “meditation”, call it something else. Relaxation. Focus. Time in God's presence (as long as you don't turn it into performance and worry-type striving prayer). There is time to pray for your and others' needs, and to read the Bible. But I believe you will find, as I have, prayer flowing much more naturally and powerfully when it comes from a place of relaxation and trust.