Ask Vince and Jo Vitale - What is the difference between Christian Meditation (contemplative prayer?) and other world views’ ideas of meditation?

Hi, I have been wondering about meditation for a while and what the Bible has to say about it. As far as I know the Bible says to meditate on Gods word. But most of the time the word mediation is used in culture, it means clear your mind and become aware of your surroundings. I’ve heard a lot of Christians, at my church, talk about meditating, and I thought it was the former sense… but recently a guest speaker at our mens group talked about trying meditation as a form of contemplative prayer. He essentially tried to lead us through breathing out negative thoughts and breath in positive thoughts and then ended in a prayer. I was a little unsure about what just happened… I’m seeing more and more indications that this type of thinking is prevalent among church attendees. Am I unsettled for no reason, or does the Bible outline a different way to meditate? Any insight is appreciated! Thanks!!

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@DylanCarr thank you for posting this question. To answer your question in the simplest sense, it is my understanding that the Buddhist view of meditation is emptying the mind whereas the Christian view is filling the mind.

I did a search for the word meditate in hebrew and this is what I found:
הָגָה hâgâh, haw-gaw’; a primitive root; to murmur (in pleasure or anger); by implication, to ponder:—imagine, meditate, mourn, mutter, roar, × sore, speak, study, talk, utter.

Here are some specific uses of the word meditate from the scriptures:

Jos 1:8 - This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate [H1897] therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

Psa 1:2 - But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate [H1897] day and night.

Psa 63:6- When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate [H1897] on thee in the night watches.

Psa 143:5- I remember the days of old; I meditate (H1897) on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.

What I see in the usage of the word hagah is a huge scope for meditation. Everything from muttering God’s word back to him to meditating on who God is. If I felt in my spirit that any form of meditation was not biblical, I would decline from doing it, but I believe meditation to be a very benificial discipline and something I need to do more of. Does this help at at all @DylanCarr?

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@DylanCarr Great question :slight_smile: I think @brianlalor made a great point that in Christianity meditation is more about what we put in our minds rather than emptying our minds. I do not personally like the language of breathing out negative thoughts and breathing in positive thoughts, though I do not know enough about what this gentleman’s goals were to say if his suggestions were Biblical or not.

I prefer the Biblical language of renewing the mind and setting your mind on the things that are above. And the Psalms are a wonderful place to study how we can process our negative emotions. The Psalmist expressed their negative emotions directly to God in prayer and as they pray they are moved by the Spirit to recall God’s goodness and move into a time of worship.

We do not breathe our negative thoughts out into the air. I believe we take them directly to Jesus and ask for His help and remember His Word. We preach to our own hearts and turn our sorrows into times of prayer and worship, even when that sorrow is so deep that all we can do is fall into God’s arms and rest.

In summary, I would say Christian meditation is about preaching to our own hearts and filling our minds with God’s truth. Below are some verses I believe apply.

Christ grant you wisdom :slight_smile:

Colossians 3:2-3 - Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Romans 12:2 - Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Philippians 4:8 - Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Ways to Renew the Mind

  • study Scripture and then practice it in our actions, actively inviting God’s Spirit to use us as we obey
  • memorize Scripture and recite while inviting the Spirit to take it from the head to the heart
  • pray Scripture
  • imagine yourself in the shoes of Bible characters to help the story reach your emotions (the current TV Series “The Chosen” is another way to spark the imagination to help engage with Scripture)
  • sing songs of worship rooted in Biblical truth

Connect Threads

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@SeanO @brianlalor Thank you both! Yes it does help solidify my understanding of meditation, according to scripture. I guess what I’m still trying to sort out is… should a Christian be practicing the emptying of the mind type of meditation?

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@DylanCarr I personally would not practice any other religious practice be it Buddhist meditation, Yoga, a Catholic rosary or Muslim prayer. On the other hand I have no problem with mindfulness or any kind of secular stress relieving breathing techniques. I tend to rely on Holy Spirit and my own consience for direction in this area.

I often find myself in situations in school where a professional development provider asks the group to do some Yoga or breathing technique but I respectfully decline. It seems in your case that something in your spirit is ckecking this form of meditation. If this is the case, I would respectfully decline participating.

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Dylan, this is a great question, And I’m glad you asked again. The simple short answer is NO! You should never try to do something in your faith where you are not sure what you are doing. I believe if you are meditating “in all the sense that you are thinking of now” you would not be aware you are doing it. When I am spending alone time with God I constantly try to make sure I am walking in my faith “if this makes sense.”

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@DylanCarr I do not think so Dylan. We should not empty our minds, but set them upon Christ.

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Hey @DylanCarr,

I have to agree with everything that is said here. There is no similitude between Buddhism and Christian prayer. The former is very works based, whereas the latter depends on being full of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, saturated in the word. Using the scriptures given by others, the mind is emptied of the world when it is saturated with the Lord. If you let in light, it chases out the darkness. The other way around would be like you trying to remove the darkness before you brought the light in. That would be silly! It’s the light that removes darkness, and it’s the Lord that removes worldliness. Knowing that our power comes from abiding in Christ, our call is to fill up.

I’m curious if you have a chance to stir your fellow brethren in a better direction as they take time to seek the Lord. As iron sharpens iron, I hope they are open to some positive steering to Him who should be our focal point.

Blessings and best of luck!

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Are you talking about Buddhism or Christian prayer when you spoke this?

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Thanks everyone for your contributions! Good insights! @brianlalor what is the difference between mindfulness (I’m assuming this is the type of Meditation Sam Harris practices) and eastern meditation focusing on clearing your mind? My understanding is that mindfulness is a very Buddhist concept.

So, yeah, I’m wondering if practicing mindfulness is appropriate for a Christian to practice. I would think everyone can benefit from being aware of their surroundings, but is that the only point of mindfulness?

Again, I really appreciate all your input!

Hi Dylan,
Thanks for introducing this great discussion! You guys are having an epic conversation here. I hope I can jump in.

The current (western) term of mindfulness that is being introduced in a lot of places involves a “de-stress” plan where you get quiet and stop thinking about anything and focus on your heartbeat and your breathing. People are practicing this on their lunch hours, etc. at work and popular weight loss systems are promoting it. Christians seem to fall on both sides, for and against, this technique.

The Buddhist Centre describes meditation as “By engaging with a particular meditation practice you learn the patterns and habits of your mind, and the practice offers a means to cultivate new, more positive ways of being. With regular work and patience these nourishing, focused states of mind can deepen into profoundly peaceful and energised states of mind.”

So the Buddhist meditation would involve a self help, self focused practice also.

I would encourage anyone to go instead to focus on the Source of endless peace and energy.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful. John 14:26-26

I pray that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power in the inner man through His Spirit, and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love,and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us— to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:16-21

I find that my great stress relief comes from focusing on the attributes of God through the Psalms and perhaps reading a favorite passages in the Bible where God is doing yet another amazing thing or even remembering how He has worked in my life in the past through difficult circumstances.

Remembering Who He is and His indescribable power and authority coupled with His great love and compassion for His creation really makes me keep things in perspective. My problems are nothing for Him.

Practicing the peace of God is, I think, one of the greatest witnesses the Christian offers. It takes practice and being mindful of the Great and Mighty One Who remains on His throne no matter how life is going.

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@DylanCarr I think that @BloomHere described what mindfulness is very accurately in her post. She is also spot-on in saying that Christians fall on both sides. It is a secular way to improve your health and destress. There is no doubting the power of prayer and its benefits on your health, in particular, mental health. Mindfulness seems to be an option for secular people to benefit from taking time away from their phones, TV, etc. It should not have a connection to any religion, if it is being implemented properly, however, it seems that practitioners tend to bring in gongs or other Buddhist paraphernalia. This is when it crosses the line in my opinion.

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@BloomHere thanks for this thoughtful response. I really like your encouragement to think on the attributes of God and go to the source of all goodness when times are tough. I think that is key, as you and @SeanO @andrew.bulin @greypilgrim @brianlalor have rightly pointed out (with scriptural backing, thanks for that!). I feel like I have firm footing regarding the Christian concept of meditation.

What I am hearing is that Christians differ on whether secular mediation or mindfulness is appropriate for a Christian to practice. Does anyone know the reasons for and against this?

My primary concern is: How should Church leadership address non biblical forms of meditation (mindfulness) being included in church gatherings?

My secondary concern is: What are the things that an individual Christian need to be aware of when deciding whether or not to engage in secular (de-stressing) mindfulness meditation? Or to phrase it another way, how would you talk to a fellow Christian who practices mindfulness meditation to determine if this is an area of concern or not?

Thank you all for your input and thoughtful responses! You are helping me refine my question and get to the heart of it. Thanks again!

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@DylanCarr Remember that each person and situation is unique. It depends on the position of the Church leadership and on the attitude of the individual who is teaching secular meditation. But a few basic principles:

  1. Teachers should be selected carefully and if a teacher begins heading in an unBiblical direction, Church leaders are responsible to intervene. That probably means starting with a private discussion to understand the teacher’s position and reasons. If the teacher heeds the advice of the Church leaders, then no further action may be needed. But if they do not, it is possible they should be removed from that position.
  2. Any time we raise a concern about someone’s beliefs, we need to be careful. How much influence do we have in their lives? Are they the type of person who takes advice? Might someone else be in a better position to approach them? As far as how we approach them, I believe we ask questions first to better understand their position and then, if we think it wise, we share our concern in love.

1 Timothy 3:2 - Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

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@SeanO thank you! That’s a good reminder to check motives before addressing an issue and to understand each unique individual. I appreciate you taking the time to send your response!

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@DylanCarr Sure thing - glad it helped :slight_smile:

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Hey @greypilgrim,

In reference to your earlier question:

Here is the complete previous statement of mine, broken down and with clarification details added in parenthesis:

Hope that helps! :slight_smile:

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Hi Dylan,
I just saw this article on your topic on RZIM website. I can’t tell when it was posted…but wanted to follow up that your topic was addressed on site.

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@BloomHere Thank you so much! I did see this article and it was very helpful! Thanks again!

My understanding of what the Judaic meaning of meditation is is what some have already said, namely, reciting and focussing on scripture. The reason those verses say to meditate day and night is not to do this literally, but to be constantly thinking about and memorizing scripture so you can know it like the back of your hand and then be able to interpret it correctly in all its implications.

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