By Ann Hall
Sixteen years ago I moved to Cambodia with high dreams of helping others and starting a life of adventure. I naively assumed that the spiritual walk would come easy for me. I figured that since I was doing a good work for God, He in turn would bless me with a dynamic filling of Him each day.
Being far from my spiritual mentors, other Christians, or church of any kind quickly drained my spirituality to zero. It didn’t take long until I felt empty inside, far from God, culture shocked, hot, and unhappy. Over the next 5 years I participated in Bible studies and attended church in another language. Still, hearing God’s voice was occasional at best. I was doing “good things” but not feeling filled.
All this changed when I learned to pray and meditate: to dwell in God’s love and acceptance and to be filled by being with Him. Christians don’t talk much about meditation, and some may wonder if meditation is even in the Bible. And since the world around us has its own definition of meditation, let me first explain what Christian meditation is not.
Meditation is NOT. . .
- repeating mantras in uncomfortable positions.
- relaxing (it takes work to focus our thoughts on God, but it often results in a relaxed mind).
- a practice for introverts and antisocial people only.
- owned by one religion as if meditation originated from one man (meditation, like breathing, began when man was created by God).
- clearing your mind (good luck with that one).
- dependent on location or environment.
- going to church (but church is better for those who meditate).
- studying the Bible (but meditation will fill you with a fresh desire to study the Bible).
- praying for your needs or others needs (but meditation will turn into a flow of intercession).
- singing worship songs (but your worship will intensify when you deepen your ability to walk in His presence through meditation).
My journey to understand meditation
At Creation, we see that before any religion was conceived, there was meditation. God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. In this garden all provisions were met. Then there was Enoch who walked with God and then just disappeared. The Bible stops here a second and allows us to see how this one man stands out: he learned to listen to an unseen God.
Meditation is explained throughout the Bible, but the words are often overlooked. There are phrases such as presence of God, waiting on God, listening to God, being still, etc. Moses was on that mountain for 40 days. I contemplated what those days looked like. I don’t think he was catching up on Facebook or watching Netflix.
Practically speaking, the Psalms is a book of meditation. I began looking at this book as my guide. Additionally, many people have written about meditation, listening to God, and waiting on God. Brother Lawrence wrote Practicing the Presence of God. Andrew Murray has many resources about meditation, with my favorite being Waiting on God.
Meditation can be seen in I John 2:26-27: “I am writing these things to warn you about those who are trying to lead you astray. But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know and what he teaches is true it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.”
The Psalmist prays, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” (Psalm 25:5). I have read this verse again and again and again. When I was living isolated without a church anywhere near me, I wondered, “Why do I think that all guidance is going to come from a preacher on Sunday? Should I depend on the outside world and church to feed me when God asked me to feed myself? All day long? How do I do that and work, raise kids, and attend to my social schedule?”
With this and many other verses in mind, I had to ask myself if I was balanced spiritually, physically, emotionally, and socially? Was my church activity mainly social, or was it spiritual enough to sustain me daily? (Don’t get me wrong, I love church, but it became even better when I started hearing from God through meditation.)
I used to think of Enoch as an Old Testament figure which could not exist today. And Moses didn’t have a busy schedule of meetings, so of course he had 40 days. David was king, but he must have had plenty of extra time to meditate and write what he heard from God, right? But how many pages can I fill with what I have heard from God personally? Am I busier than these men? Is it possible to “pray without ceasing”? If it is, how many people do I know who do? In my journey to meditate, I had to confront these excuses.
Now that we’ve discussed the Biblical basis for meditation, here’s my personal definition:
Meditation is an act of faith in my absolute need and absolute guidance from God, in harmony with God. Meditation is unity displayed by God, Jesus, and His Holy Spirit in me. It is perfect harmony found from inside of me and not dependent on my outside world. It is found in quiet moments set aside for His purpose.
Meditation is not depending on articles, books, sermons, as my MAIN source of hearing from God but getting quiet with Him and expecting Him to speak to little ole me. Meditation is how we are restored to our original true place as God’s creation. Meditation is being blessedly dependent on the God of all. It is a quiet waiting on the Maker to be made one with Him and learn to dialogue and walk hand in hand again.
How I Meditate
- I set aside my best time of the day for Him. I am human and have the craziest wandering mind ever. So I began this journey by pleading with God for the Holy Spirit’s help to meditate. I want Him to teach me. I tell Him that I want all of Him. I pray that He would take away anything in my life that comes between Him and me.
- After a time of worship and focusing on the Trinity and each of their glorious roles, I open my Bible to Psalms. This book is filled with prayers, meditation, and reflections from meditation. I allow it to guide my thoughts.
- I expect to hear from God. I agree to not move until I do. I know that God, being sovereign, is in control of my day and staying with Him is never a waste of time. I remind myself that many people around the world are joining me. They may live in Syria, China, or America, but they are my brothers and sisters dependent on Him.
- I know that my mind is weak and that keeping my thoughts fixed on Him for long periods of time is hard, takes practice, but is doable. If you find your mind wandering off, just gently bring it back to focusing on Him. I will take a break and sing a few songs, read a few passages, then continue again.
- At times, I clear my schedule and mind for as many days as I can allow at a time (usually one — this is still a journey for me). I live in an epidemic of noisy religion instead of a peaceful one that depends on God for all things. I’ve realized that my culture is a part of me, and the sins of my culture are also in me. So I first spend time repenting. I recognize that I am often lukewarm in my pursuits towards God. I ask for God’s help to find true religion: loving God and loving others. I am incapable of the second command until I figure out meditation first. It is in my waiting on God that I find love and the ability to love.
How Meditation Has Changed My Life
Meditation has given me many blessings, including joy and happiness; knowing I’m loved and washed from guilt; help in preventing depression and anxiety; love for my family, friends, and strangers; a desire to share my faith; a greater desire to read the Bible and sing praise songs; help in overcoming temptation; and being able to forgive others more easily.
The best benefit, however, is actually hearing from God and receiving His guidance for everything small and big in life. I wonder if not learning to meditate could be a reason why so many people feel so messed up in spite of their faith in God. We fill the spiritual part of ourselves with church, prayer, and Bible without the quiet hearing that is necessary to guide us in all of those religious activities.
Without meditation, my own religious activities become habitual empty rituals because, as said in 1 John 2:27, our teaching should be dependent on fellowship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Without this, I become an empty life who has activity but no power, love, or connection to the Source.
I can know with confidence that I will have God’s presence in my life of transition. Often I feel scared not knowing where we will live in a year, what will happen with my kids’ education, or whether I will suffer from depression or anxiety again. But knowing that I will have meditation to sit with God and be guided by Him calms these fears of the future and helps put in perspective His sovereignty and my submission to Him.
For me, meditation frees me from stress for my future, brings clarity of mind, and gives confidence that cannot be gained elsewhere. Meditating on God has been a key to spiritually walking in His power, seeing amazing miracles, and answered prayers. Hearing His voice is more beautiful than a waterfall flowing at its height. His voice is almost musical and touches every sense. It cannot easily be transitioned into words. I would rather live one day in His presence than a thousand days elsewhere, and I can say that without hesitation.
With the next generation dropping out of the church scene faster than they graduate from high school, parents need to decide what we will pass on to our children. We all know that passing on church itself without change in the home is disaster, but I think we need to take it even deeper. Our kids need to know how to receive from God guidance, wisdom, and protection through temptation. They need a hand to carry them through their hurts that will meet them wherever they are spiritually and physically. This it’s a priority to teach meditation to my family.
We all have spiritual needs in ourselves and choose to fill it as we wish. I tend to fill it with what comes easy. For me, meditation is NOT my nature. I am an extrovert, not a closet prayer warrior. I figured I’d stay that way until I hit the nursing home at 90. I did not realize the blessing that I could receive by meeting with God one on one. In fact, meditation makes me a better extrovert.
Our spiritual walk is greatly impacted by our surroundings. We live in a culture where quiet is often seen as lazy and unproductive. There were times I believed that connecting with God could be done if I just go to church, listen to uplifting music, and read my Bible. Check list done. But now I know I need quiet times with Him everyday of my life no matter where I’m at. I am at risk of treating religion like an empty cathedral; beautiful on the outside but irrelevant to a hurting world. I must never forget this. Spirituality must be changing me on the inside constantly if I have any hope of being and doing everything I am passionate about in this life.
If you want to learn to meditate, you can begin with someone who practiced it a lot. Paul was alone in a jail cell for more days than I can count some 2,000 years ago, and his inspired guide for meditation can be found in Philippians: “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.”
What does meditation look like for you?
Ann Hall has spent the last 16 years living and working among the rural poor in Southeast Asia. She and her husband of 20 years have four children together. Ann is a registered nurse and nurse practitioner who has dealt with depression, anxiety, and burnout, and is passionate about helping people overcome them. She blogs about those and other topics at a A Coffee with Friends.