When we think of meditation, a lot of us think of chanting and things affiliated with other religions–but at its core, that’s not what it is. Meditation can simply be calming the mind by disciplined focus on some external stimulus, like your breath, your heart, or the ambient sounds around you… and if your mind is scattered and flitting from topic to topic, there is certainly great physiologic value in this, as it will get you out of “fight or flight” and into the parasympathetic “rest and digest” state. Also, if your mind is too loud, it makes it all but impossible for you to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit–so quieting your mind through this form of meditation is valuable for that reason as well.

Biblically, though, meditation is more than just quieting your “monkey brain.” That just gets you back to neutral. Rather, biblical meditation involves focused thought upon an idea long enough for you to get a picture in your mind of what you’re contemplating. We all do this all the time; it’s just a matter of what we’re thinking about. Andrew Wommack likes to say that if you know how to worry, you know how to meditate. Worry is meditation upon something negative. Paul tells us what we should be meditating on in Philippians 4:8: “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.”

The reason this is so important is because scripture tells us that our thoughts determine what we believe, just like planting seeds will determine what kind of harvest we get. Proverbs 23:7 says, “for as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” We can act contrary to what we truly believe for a short period of time, but what we think in our hearts is who we really are, and it will come out eventually. This is why Jesus said that the most important parable He ever taught was the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:3-23). In the parable, the “seed” is the Word of God, and soil is the hearts of the listeners. It’s the state of the soil which determines how well that seed will grow and produce a harvest. There are other possible seeds besides God’s word, though–in the parable, there were thorns and tares in one type of soil, too. Jesus later defines these for us as “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches” (Matt 13:22), which can choke the Word such that it becomes unfruitful. Those sound like typical sources of worry to me.

Think of thoughts in general–any type of thought–as a potential seed that can eventually bear a harvest if you plant it and cultivate it (or meditate upon it until you can see it in your mind). A stray thought here or there can’t do this any more than a seed can without the right environment for it to grow–which is why we’re told in scripture to take our thoughts captive (2 Cor 10:5). Think of this like weeding the ‘garden’ of your heart. If you don’t want the harvest, then pluck up the plant before it can bear fruit–or, better yet, avoid exposing yourself to the seed in the first place, if you can control it. This isn’t always possible, but we can choose what we watch, what we listen to, what kind of church we go to (one that preaches faith or unbelief), and what kind of people we spend time with. “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33)–so if you surround yourself with people who are negative, complaining, undisciplined, or any other negative character trait, most likely it’ll rub off on you eventually. Those people influence how you think, and unwittingly this plants “seeds” in your heart that will eventually bear a harvest, if they are allowed to do so.

It takes discipline to control our imaginations, of course. Just like the Second Law of Thermodynamics describes entropy in the universe (which means that left to themselves, all systems go from order to disorder), so the tremendous power available in our minds will accomplish nothing if we don’t focus it appropriately. Worse, if we use our imaginations for an actively destructive purpose like worrying, we might end up with exactly what we’re essentially “believing” for. A medical example of this is the placebo versus the nocebo effect: about 30% of people (probably those who are most “suggest-able”) in clinical trials will typically get better even if they’re given a sugar pill rather than the actual medication being tested, because they believe it will help them. Their minds make it work. The nocebo is the same principle in reverse: if you believe something will make you worse, it very well might, even if the substance itself is neutral.

This is the whole concept behind affirmations, or positive confessions: say something long or often enough, and eventually it’ll sink down into your subconscious mind, and you’ll start to believe it–even if you don’t at first. Not what we superficially say, but what we truly believe, determines how we will act. Other religions and spiritual traditions jump onto this too, in books like “The Secret”–because it’s a neutral principle which can work for us or against us. It’s just part of the way God set up the world. In Genesis 11:6, speaking of the Tower of Babel, God says, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, now nothing they imagine to do will be impossible for them.” This was a negative story, but it illustrates the principle as God made it. Jesus said the same thing on the flip side when the disciples were amazed that the fig tree withered when he cursed it: “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe you receive them, and you will have them.” (Mark 11:23-24). When I was a kid, I read this verse, took it at face value, and commanded the mountain outside my bedroom window to be cast into the sea. Nothing happened, of course… but I also didn’t expect anything to happen. That’s the ‘caveat’–you have to actually believe what you’re saying, like Jesus did.

And that’s why it’s so important for you to “guard your heart with all diligence”–because out of it literally “spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:20-23). But not immediately; as with any plant, harvests come “first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head” (Mark 4:28). Gardening is hard work; you have to constantly plant not just what you want, but you have to prepare the soil, water the seed, and pluck up competing weeds that might steal the nutrients from your fledgling little plant and choke it. It’s just like that with our minds. That’s why biblical meditation–using a positive imagination to picture what we want, to visualize God’s promises coming to pass–is so important.

Here’s an overview of some of the Hebrew and Greek words in scripture translated to meditate (or to imagine, speak, ponder, etc), their context, and how they help to back up this idea.

  • HAGAH: meaning to meditate, speak, imagine, study, mutter, utter, muse, devise
    • Joshua 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.”
      • Notice that God didn’t tell Joshua to just read the book of the law. He told him to meditate on it day and night, to the point where it’s coming out of his mouth continually. That’s what was required for him to truly follow what was written. That’s what was necessary for him to prosper and have success.
    • Psalm 1:2-3: “But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate H1897 day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”
      • These are the results of meditating on God’s word… versus:
    • Psalm 2:1: “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine H1897 a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision…”
      • The ungodly use this same principle of meditation to produce evil. This psalm shows that it won’t ultimately work for them, but only because God will step in in the end, just as He did at the flood when the imaginations of men’s hearts were only evil all the time (Genesis 6:5) and then when the men of the repopulated earth tried to build the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:6). Psalm 2 looks ahead to when God will step in again, as described in the book of Revelation.
    • Psalm 35:28: “And my tongue shall speak H1897 of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.”
    • Psalm 63:6: “When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate H1897 on thee in the night watches.”
    • Psalm 71:24: “My tongue also shall talk H1897 of thy righteousness all the day long: for they are confounded, for they are brought unto shame, that seek my hurt.”
    • Psalm 77:12: “I will meditate H1897 also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.”
    • Psalm 143:5: “I remember the days of old; I meditate H1897 on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.”
      • Consider the fact that the man who wrote these psalms started out a shepherd boy, the youngest of his brothers and some speculate that he was even illegitimate–and he became the greatest king Israel ever had, to the point where the Messiah was called by his name, “Son of David” (Luke 18:38). And much of what we know about meditation comes from him.
    • Psalm 38:12: “They also that seek after my life lay snares for me: and they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things, and imagine H1897 deceits all the day long.”
      • And yet, David knew that his enemies were using this same principle against him. He spent some 13-17 years on the run from these enemies (we don’t know how old he was when he was anointed king, so we don’t know exactly how long). It certainly looked to him like they were winning for quite awhile. Fortunately, David persisted in envisioning and trusting and believing in God’s promises coming to pass, even when everything seemed to be against him, and circumstances went from bad to much worse. In 1 Samuel 30:1-6, David had finally fled with his men out of Israel altogether, and was dwelling in the land of his enemies, when their city (Ziklag) was burned to the ground, their wives and children and everything they had stolen, and his men turned on him and spoke of stoning him. The natural human response to this would have been to give in to emotions of despair, but instead David “strengthened himself in the Lord” (1 Sam 30:6). You know that this took incredible discipline on his part, to fix his thoughts on what God said and not his current circumstances. Some believe that David encouraged himself by writing Psalm 61 after Ziklag was burned. The result was that not only did David and his men recover everything that was taken from them, but within days, he was crowned king–at long, long last.
    • Prov 15:28: “The heart of the righteous studieth H1897 to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.”
      • Back to the idea of entropy: cultivating our minds to produce righteousness, wisdom, and a positive imagination doesn’t just happen. We have to study. We have to do this work. This is the process of being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
    • Prov 24:1-2: “Do not be envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them; For their heart studieth H1897 destruction, and their lips talk of mischief.”
      • The point here is that while the righteous studies wisdom and godly principles, the wicked are doing just the opposite. They too will reap what they sow (Gal 6:7).
  • YETSER: imagination, form, framing, purpose, conception.
    • Genesis 6:5: “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination H3336 of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
    • Genesis 8:21: “And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination H3336 of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.”
    • Deut 31:19-21: “Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel. For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant.And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: for I know their imagination H3336 which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I sware.”
      • God knew long before the Israelites ever disobeyed Him that they would disobey. You can argue that this is because God is omniscient and knows the end from the beginning, and that’s certainly true too–but this verse shows that God knew it (at least in part) because he could see what they were imagining. He knew their thoughts would determine their actions. This is exactly what happened in Numbers 13, when the Israelites sent the twelve spies into the Promised Land. God had promised to give them the land, but the spies returned with a “negative report”. It wasn’t an untrue report, mind you–the spies reported that the land was full of giants, and it was. Only Joshua and Caleb recognized that while true, that fact was irrelevant. What they should have been focused upon was God’s promise that He would give the land to them, regardless of its current inhabitants. But the ten spies’ negative report produced fear in the hearts of the people, and that entire generation never got to experience God’s intended blessing for them. They died in the wilderness–all except for Joshua, who became the leader after Moses, and actually led the people in forty years later, and Caleb, who at eighty-five years old, was just as strong as he’d been in his forties (Joshua 14:11). He took the mountain of Hebron where the most intimidating Canaanites lived for his inheritance (Joshua 14:6-15).
    • Psalm 103:14: “For he knoweth our frame; H3336 he remembereth that we are dust.”
      • The word ‘frame’ is also the word elsewhere translated meditation or thoughts, so it’s not speaking just of the physical frame. The context here is speaking of our sins, and God’s compassion upon us for our weakness. In other words, none of this is easy. God knows that. He pities us and has compassion upon us.
    • Isaiah 26:3: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind H3336 is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.”
      • I love this verse. It gives us the recipe for peace. “Perfect peace” in Hebrew is actually shalom shalom shalom: the word for peace written three times. The translators presumably didn’t know how else to translate that but “perfect.” David modeled this for us at Ziklag, intentionally turning his mind to the Lord. Jesus modeled this for us when sleeping on the boat in the middle of the storm (Mark 4:35-41). Abraham modeled this for us when he kept his mind on God’s promise of a child and not the impossibility of his and Sarah’s circumstances (Romans 4:18-22). It’s not easy, but the result is shalom shalom shalom.
  •  SIYACH: meditate, seek, pray, commune, muse, ponder.
    • 1 Chronicles 16:9: “Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk H7878 ye of all his wondrous works.”
    • Psalm 77:6: “I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune H7878 with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.”
    • Psalm77:12: “I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk H7878 of thy doings.”
    • Psalm 105:2: “Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk H7878 ye of all his wondrous works.”
    • Psalm 119:15: “I will meditate H7878 in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.” (and repeatedly throughout Psalm 119)
    • Proverbs 23:7: “for as he thinks in his heart, so is he.”
  • Hope
  • YAHAL: wait, tarry, trust, hope, be patient. Hope can be considered positive imagination. It’s the precursor for faith (Hebrews 11:1).
    • Romans 8:24-25: “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.”
    • Psalm 42:5: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.”

 

  • Greek dianoia = mind, understanding, imagination
    • This is a command. It’s not merely talking about intellectual study, though of course that’s part of it. What starts out as an intellectual exercise eventually becomes the mental picture of what we see on the inside.
    • Matthew 22:37: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
    • Eph 1:18: “The eyes of your understanding G1271 being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints”
    • Eph 4:18: “Having the understanding G1271 darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart”
    • Col 1:21: “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind G1271 by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled.”
    • Heb 8:10: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, G1271 and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people”
    • 1 Peter 1:13: “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, G1271 be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;”
  • Greek logismos: thought, imagination, reasoning, judgment
    • “Casting down imaginations, G3053 and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ”
  • A few more examples of this principle in action:
    • Genesis 13:16: God showed Abram the dust of the earth as a symbol of his descendants, and the land of Canaan that would be filled with them.
    • Genesis 15:5: God showed Abram the stars as a picture of his descendants
    • Mark 6:41: before feeding the 5000 with five loaves and two fish, Jesus looks up (ANABLEPO), seeing into the unseen realm, and gives thanks. (2 Cor 5:7: we walk by faith, not by sight… and this works because that’s where all the spiritual blessings already exist (Eph 1:3).