Self Care: Meditate

Trina Robinson, clad in red, dips her feet into Upper Grinnell Lake, one of the coldest lakes in the United States. Image by Thomas Robinson. See

One of the best ways to care for yourself, to practice “self-care” is to draw near to God and allow God to draw near to you through meditation. As James writes, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).

When we get the focus off our own lives, and onto God and God’s Word, Jesus Christ will keep our lives centered and renewed. When we focus all our attention on our own troubles or stresses, those problems do not easily get resolved, but can even become more entrenched. But when we focus our attention on God’s goodness, love and faithfulness through the ancient practice of meditation, our lives can be healed, refreshed, renewed, and transformed.

Take time today or this week to meditate. Oddly, some followers of Jesus reject the practice of meditation, considering meditation to be a non-Christian practice to be shunned rather than embraced. Such views are often held by the same people who claim to have a high trust in the authority of the Bible. I find this negative view of meditation by some Christians very strange, for the word “meditate” is used many times in Scriptures.

Here’s a sampling of how the Bible uses of this ancient word to describe this ancient Biblical practice of meditation. These Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version of the Bible.

Genesis 24:63

And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening; and he lifted his eyes and looked, and there, the camels were coming.

  • Isaac meditated outdoors in the evening, lifting up his eyes. At that time, God brought Isaac a gift, the gift of a wife.

Joshua 1:8

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe 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.

  • The Lord commands Joshua to meditate on the Book of the Law day and night.

Psalm 1:2

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.

  • Psalm 1, the gateway to the great prayerbook of the Bible invites us to learn to mediate on the law of the Lord day and night.

Psalm 4:4

Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah

  • The Psalms invite us to mediate more than any other book of the Bible. In Psalm 4, we are called to meditate within our hearts while lying on our beds, and learn to be still before the Lord.

Psalm 63:6

When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches.

  • Psalm 63 calls us to meditate on God in the middle of the night, and compares meditation with remembering God, especially while we are lying in our beds at night.  

Psalm 77:6

I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, And my spirit makes diligent search.

  • Psalm 77 also tells us to meditate within our hearts. Too often today, Christian prayer is an activity of the mind, with the use of many words our minds think and our tongues speak. All this is great, and certainly a biblical approach to prayer as well. But meditation is something we do within our heart, with our spirit making diligent search.

Psalm 77:12

I will also meditate on all Your work, And talk of Your deeds.

  • The Bible has three focal points for meditation: we meditate on God, on God’s works, or on God’s Word. Psalm 77 points us to this latter approach to meditation, to meditate on all God’s work, including God’s work in the Bible, in history, in creation, and in our lives at this present time.

Psalm 119:15

I will meditate on Your precepts, And contemplate Your ways.

  • Psalm 119 is not only the longest of the 150 psalms, it is also the longest chapter in the Bible with 176 verses. It is the queen of the Psalms, expressing the fulness of how a person is to engage with God’s Word. Psalm 119 is also the chapter of the Bible that uses the word meditate more often than any other chapter, a total of 6 times.

Psalm 119:23

Princes also sit and speak against me, But Your servant meditates on Your statutes.

  • Verse 23 of Psalm 119 calls us to meditate on God’s statutes.

Psalm 119:27

Make me understand the way of Your precepts; So shall I meditate on Your wonderful works.

  • Verse 27 of  Psalm 119 calls us to meditate on God’s wonderful works.

Psalm 119:48

My hands also I will lift up to Your commandments, Which I love, And I will meditate on Your statutes.

  • Verse 48 of Psalm 119 calls us to lift up our hands to God’s commandments, and meditate on God’s statues, similar to verse 23.

Psalm 119:78

Let the proud be ashamed, For they treated me wrongfully with falsehood; But I will meditate on Your precepts.

  • Verse 78 of Psalm 119 calls us to meditate on God’s precepts.

Psalm 119:148

My eyes are awake through the night watches, That I may meditate on Your word.

  • Verse 148 of Psalm 119 invites us to meditate on God’s word, especially in the middle of the night. The best way to do this is to memorize Scripture, and meditate upon what we’ve memorized in the night, while lying on our bed and awake through the night watches.

Psalm 143:5

I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the work of Your hands.

  • Psalm 143 calls us to meditate on all God’s works, musing on the works of God’s hands.

Psalm 145:5

I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty, And on Your wondrous works.

  • Psalm 145 entreats us to meditate on the glorious splendor of God’s majesty, and on God’s wondrous works.

Malachi 3:16

Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, And the Lord listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the Lord And who meditate on His name.

  • In the Book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we are called to meditate on God’s name.

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

  • Paul calls us to think deeply, to meditate in our hearts on whatever is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good  report, virtuous, praiseworthy.

1 Timothy 4:15

Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.

  • Paul exhorts Timothy to meditate on particular things, including reading of Scriptures, exhortation, doctrine, and the gifts of God that are given to us.

One of my ancient heroes, Benedict picked up the Bible’s exhortation to regularly practice a life of “meditation”. According to Benedict, ancient meditation involved verbal repetition of passages of Scripture until a person had them memorized, internalized and thus began to live according to those passages. Most of the work of meditation in the ancient world, according to the Benedictine tradition involved repeating passages of Scripture over and over on our lips until the passage was known by heart. In essence, meditation was memorization, study, learning Scripture for memory.

This is quite different understanding of meditation than most people think of today, when meditation seems to connotate laying aside the mental activity of the mind and becoming completely still in silence and solitude, an inner reflective quietude. Ancient meditation seems to focus mental activity upon a specific text of Scripture, going over the text again and again until it is known by heart, word for word.

I love what scholar Timothy Fry writes about ancient Christian meditation, in Latin meditatio:

“For the ancients, the term ‘meditatio’ meant something different from what it does for us today. I was not a purely interior activity (“reflecting upon”), but involved the repetition of a text aloud. Associated with reading (which was done aloud), it meant that the reader repeated passages over and over again in order to learn them by heart. Once learned, these texts could then be repeated from memory without a book. This latter activity, which could be carried on during work or other activities, was also called ‘meditatio’. The meditation or ‘rumination’ of scriptural passages while performing other tasks required extensive memorization of Scripture.” Timothy Fry, O.S.B. “RB1980”, p. 446.

Here is what Aquinata Bockmann writes of ancient meditation from Benedictine practice:

“Meditating is mentioned in “The Rule of St. Benedict” as the first activity of the novices, even before eating and sleeping…. The subject of ‘meditation’ is above all, Scripture, and it is furthermore connected with reading. In old texts, ‘meditare’ means to read, learn, repeat, learn by heart, explain, study, to acquire knowledge; and translating what one has read into actual living is also part of such ‘meditating’. The center of all this effort is Sacred Scripture.” Aquinata Bockmann, “Expanding our Hearts in Christ: Perspectives on the Rule of Saint Benedict”, p. 117.