Do you spend time meditating on God's word?
Meditation is something that is often associated with the occult, but there are biblical ways to do it that are not New Age, argues Sarah Whittleston
As more and more people give themselves to all sorts of weird and wacky spiritual disciplines, Sarah Whittleston believes there is very much a place in the Church for biblical meditation.
“We don’t want to shy away from this word,” she says. “We don’t want to meditate in a New Age way, we don’t want to meditate with yoga, it’s not about freeing our mind or emptying it, it’s about focusing on God’s Word and sometimes kind of just being aware of your breathing, just focusing on the presence of God.”
Sarah, who is part of Elim’s prayer network ‘Lift Up’ and is one of the pastors of Elim Life Church, North Birmingham, adds, “There’s real power in meditating on God’s Word. Sometimes the word ‘meditation’ scares people because they think of it as having connotations that are not necessarily biblical, but actually when you read through the Psalms, often the Psalmist talks about meditating on God’s words.
Psalm 1:2 says, ‘But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law, he meditates day and night.”
Psalm 119:15 says, ‘I will meditate on your precepts and think about your ways.’
“To meditate on God’s Word is to think about it, to dwell on it and to kind of chew it over. I encourage Christians to redeem the word meditation and reclaim it. And as they’re reading their Bibles, not to read it as if it was fast food, but to pause and really think about what it is that you’re reading. What is it that the Holy Spirit wants to show you?
And for me that’s what meditating is; it’s not about clearing your mind of everything, but it’s about pausing and focusing on who God is, and on his presence and on his Word.
“I honestly think that the word has been stolen and misappropriated, which is such a shame because actually there’s a reason why God says for us to meditate. Even Joshua is told, ‘This book of instructions should not leave your heart, you must meditate on it day and night.’
“In a world that hustles, pushes and demands instant gratification, meditation is like medicine for the soul. Simply to be in God’s presence, with no agenda other than knowing him more, is a spiritual discipline that’s well worth investing in.
“There are some great contemplative practices that can help in our often frantic 21st-century world. I’m an activist, a doer. I love to-do lists and working on multiple projects. I love the new… but over the years I’ve learned – and am still learning – the power of the ancient practices of stillness, solitude, reflection and time spent simply listening to whatever the Father wants to say.
It takes time to meditate on God’s Word, to listen in prayer. We must value that above the need to achieve!”
Sarah’s top tips for contemplative prayer
A measured, prayerful reading of the Bible. Choose a text from Scripture to read and pray. Find somewhere without distractions and read aloud. As you read, invite the Holy Spirit to speak, to highlight any words or phrases to you.
Read again, thinking about the words and the story. Ask God to confirm which word or phrase he wants to bring to your attention. Memorise that word or phrase, and that will be the starting point for prayer and conversation with God. What is God showing or affirming? Rest in the embrace of the Father as you dwell in prayer through his Word.
This is a great way to look for and acknowledge God’s presence in your daily life. It is best done at the end of the day. Find some space and quiet. Be still and become aware of God with you. Look back over the events of the day. Ask God to bring you clarity. Review the day with gratitude. Think through where you’ve been, what you’ve done and who you’ve interacted with. Pay attention to the specifics.
Where were the joy and delight?
Where have you most felt God’s presence?
Where have you least felt God’s presence? Be aware of your emotions. Choose one thing from the day to pray about. What is God revealing? Look ahead and commit the next day to God.
A quick and easy way of contemplative prayer throughout the day is being aware of your breathing and using your breath to say a one-word prayer. You can even do this at your workstation or the bus! As you breathe in, you are acknowledging the reality of God, maybe in your mind saying one word like Lord, Father, or Saviour.
As you breathe out, using one word, pray your prayer of thanks, or ask for help or mercy. As you repeat this a few times, you become more aware that Almighty God is right with you. You are intentionally inviting God onto your frontline in a simple way.