What is meditation? Are Christians supposed to meditate? Here’s what Christian meditation is.
Christian meditation is a form of prayer that helps to focus our attention on God through silence and listening to Scripture. The word meditation itself means to think deeply or carefully about something. Meditation is growing in popularity, as more people look for practices to help ease anxiety and improve focus. In popular culture, meditation is most often used as a way to practice mindfulness, the ability to focus on the present moment without distraction or forgetfulness, as a spiritual practice to train the mind, or a psychological tool to combat hurry, worry, or stress, but for Christians, meditation is part of the spiritual practice of prayer.
Old Testament Meditation
Meditation goes as far back as the Old Testament. We see many biblical figures meditating. In Genesis, Isaac first encounters Rebecca during a solitary, contemplative evening. In addition, when God commissions Joshua in Joshua, chapter one, He says the following: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
New Testament Meditation
In the New Testament, we see Paul urging Timothy to meditate on the reading and teaching of Scripture. When Paul was encouraging Timothy and training him in the foundational development of his ministry, he said, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim 4:13-15). Even though the word “meditate” is not specifically used in most translations, Timothy would have been familiar with Paul’s encouragement of the “public reading of scripture” as a reference to the practices of meditating on the Law by the Old Testament fathers like Joshua, which we encountered above. Scripture has fewer details on the mechanics of meditation, but Christian leaders throughout history have offered their practical guidance on it.
The Tradition of Mediation
Meditation has long been a part of church tradition. In the 4th century, early monastic Christian communities, known as Desert Fathers and Mothers, helped develop meditative traditions of prayer. In his book, The Climate of Monastic Prayer, Thomas Merton describes their meditations as “Meditatio Scripturarum,” or meditating on Scripture to make the words of the Bible their own and “with deep and simple concentration, ‘from the heart.”
The Middle Ages
In the middle ages, meditative traditions developed in the Eastern and Western churches. Lectio Divina, a monastic practice developed in Western Christian tradition and it involved listening to a passage of Scripture in four steps which represent reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating. The Jesus Prayer, often said repeatedly throughout the day, became popular in Eastern Orthodox tradition. In the 15th century, forms of prayer became even more clarified with scholars and theologians generally organizing prayer in three areas: vocal prayer, meditation (or inward prayer), and contemplative prayer.
Here’s what a few early and modern church leaders have had to say on the matter:
“By meditation I mean prolonged reasoning with the understanding, in this way. We begin by thinking of the favor which God bestowed upon us by giving us His only Son; and we do not stop there but proceed to consider the mysteries of His whole glorious life.” – Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
“Secondly, you should meditate. This means that not only in your heart but also externally you should constantly handle and compare, read and reread the Word as preached and the very words as written in Scripture, diligently noting and meditating on what the Holy Spirit means” – Martin Luther (prayer, meditation, trial).
“Christian meditation is filling your mind with the Word of God through which we believe God mediates his own presence into our lives.” -Tim Keller
The Bible provides guidance on what Christian meditation should look like. Unlike some forms of meditation that seek to empty the mind, Christian meditation is actually a very focused practice. So what should we focus on? The Bible tells us that when we meditate, we should first and foremost meditate on God’s words. Psalm One begins: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).
Similarly, Scripture teaches Christians to meditate on God’s character and deeds. Meditating on God’s Person and action can be a source of strength when we need it. In the Psalms, King David is frequently in anguish and turmoil. In these moments, instead of losing hope, he meditates on God’s character and his past faithfulness. Psalm 143:5 says, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done.”
How Christians Meditate
As previously mentioned, Christians have been developing practices of biblical meditation for centuries. Included below is a few of the practical steps to getting started with Christian meditation based on historically biblical traditions.
1. Preparing to Meditate
Pick a time, and find a quiet space
Pick verses of scripture to meditate on: If you attend a church regularly, you might use your church bulletin and meditate on the latest verses from your church sermon.
Go through the Book of Psalms, or choose the Beatitudes or another one of Jesus’ teachings.
You can also find scriptures in the Book of Common Prayer or the Divine Office, a daily set of readings used by churches across the globe.
We recommend choosing more than one verse, though not such a long passage that you’ll have trouble remembering key points.
2. Complete Your Meditation
Quiet: Take a few minutes to focus on Lord and shut out distractions. You can try breathing exercises, or maybe singing a hymn to get focused.
Read: Read or listen to your chosen verses 2-3 times.
Meditate: Consider what the Holy Spirit is saying to you through the scripture.
Respond: End by responding to what God has shown you. You can do this with vocal prayer, silence, or maybe even writing reflections in a journal.
Thankfully, Christian meditation doesn’t have to be complicated. You can get started with your Bible, and simply follow the steps above. You can also try a few ancient practices like Lectio Divina or Ignatian Meditation, but for many, having structure and a guided Christian meditation experience can be very beneficial.
Here is some related reading for you: How Do I Meditate on the Word of God? 
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Author’s Bio: Rebecca Toscano is a project manager at Behold Prayer  and she writes from Charlottesville, Virginia.