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Did Jesus Meditate?

We know that Jesus often went off in private to pray... does that mean that he meditated? If so, does the way Jesus meditated have any connection to the way we meditate today? The answer may not be what you expect.

Contributing Writer
Jul 25, 2022
Did Jesus Meditate?

In an age when stress levels are rising, people are looking for powerful ways to decompress. Many will turn to meditation as one way to achieve a mental and physical peace that “transcends” problems and pain. Others will deliberately think of an issue over and over in hopes of finding some solution—a ruminating type of meditation…

Certainly, Christians are not immune to stress; in fact, the enemy will use every tool in his arsenal to steal our joy. Jesus certainly wasn’t immune to the strain of being human. This begs the question, did our Savior engage in meditation when He was on earth as a means of coping with stress? What technique did He employ to strengthen Himself for His mission? 

Before we tackle these questions, it’s helpful to distinguish between the ideas of Eastern and Christian meditation.

Eastern Meditation vs. Christian Meditation

Every religion incorporates some kind of meditation as a formal group or individual practice. Eastern meditation, in particular, involves non-thinking of a sort. For example, Transcendental Meditation, a type of Eastern meditation, was created by Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 20th century. The official Transcendental Meditation (TM) website touts that this type of meditation requires “no concentrating… no control of the mind…no monitoring of thoughts…no trying to ‘empty the mind.’”

Sometimes, instead of seeking to empty the mind completely, individuals are invited to focus on a singular object or concept, such as being “one with the universe.” Yet this technique does not bring Christians closer to a biblical understanding of self. An article on the Hallow website shares this research: 

“Recent studies conducted out of the University of Mannheim in Germany showed that those who practice Eastern yoga and meditation have higher levels of ‘self-enhancement’ (a measure that includes how participants perceive themselves relative to others and slight narcissism) than those who didn’t.”

On the other hand, Christian meditation is very focused, with the Word of God as the center of one’s attention. Christians are called throughout the Bible to purposely spend time reading, studying, and being changed by the Scriptures. The Holman Bible Dictionary defines meditation as “the act of calling to mind some supposition, pondering upon it, and correlating it to one’s own life.” 

Elsewhere, the Rev. Dr. Peter Toon writes this for the C.S. Lewis Institute: 

“There is. . .a distinct similarity in meditation in Hinduism and Buddhism on the one hand, and in Judaism and Christianity on the other. The simplest way to highlight the difference is to say that for the one, meditation is an inner journey to find the center of one’s being, while for the other it is the concentration of the mind/heart upon an external Revelation.”

 Thus, the idea in Judeo-Christian meditation is to allow the Word and character of God to generate a significant mental and emotional impact on oneself.

J.I. Packer, in his classic work Knowing God, discusses the practice this way:

“Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God. Its purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God….”

In some sense, “the heightened sense of spiritual “awareness” that Transcendental Meditation practitioners are looking for is a search for what Jesus has with God the Father and the spiritual oneness that He offers to those who call on His name.

Where Does the Bible Mention Meditation?

The word “meditation” frequently appears in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms. This is fitting, as most of the Psalms are composed of poetic communication to God or poetic recountings of His deeds. Here are several examples: 

“…but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).

“Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek my hurt speak of ruin and meditate treachery all day long” (Psalm 38:12).

“…when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6).

“I said, ‘Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.’ Then my spirit made a diligent search…” (Psalm 77:6).

“I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:12).

“I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways” (Psalm 119:15).

“Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:23).

Is Prayer Different from Meditation?

Prayer activates a moment of reverence, thanksgiving, supplication, and adoration. It involves coming before God’s throne of grace and initiating a conversation of sorts. In contrast, meditation involves thinking reflectively about the truth of God or His Word. Prayer and meditation often come together to form a beautiful time of worship and receive counsel from the Holy Spirit.

So, Did Jesus Meditate?

Yes and no—or rather, it would perhaps depend on the definition of meditation we decide to use. According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, “meditation is only mentioned twice in the New Testament”—when Jesus instructs Christians and when Paul instructs Timothy to meditate. Thus, technically speaking, the Gospels don’t specifically mention times when Jesus meditated.

But frequent references are made to Jesus’ prayers. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record instances in which Jesus prays “alone” or “in a secluded place.” For instance, Mark 1:35 offers this account: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” 

Jesus’ prayer sessions seem to take place in the early morning or well into the evening. In other words, this is not a time for corporate prayer. Some of these prayers have specific purposes; in the case of Luke 6:12-13, Jesus seeks wisdom from His Father regarding the selection of His disciples.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, after the Last Supper, we get the most prominent glimpse into the actual content of Jesus’ prayers. Here, Jesus pours out His emotions and asks for strength for the horrifying death that awaits Him. Hebrews 5:7 captures this well: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (ESV). Elsewhere, in John 17, Jesus reflects with the Father on His three years of earthly ministry and makes supplications for the spiritual vitality of His followers. Other Gospel passages describe Jesus drawing away to pray alone with His Father “as was His custom.”

As in everything, Jesus was our ultimate model for meditation. His knowledge of Scripture, the time He spent alone with His Father, and the way He taught others to think and pray, all point to His meditating on and being directed by, the Word of God. Jesus used the Word when He prayed because He knew it held the power to move heaven and earth. Talking to His Heavenly Father meant agreeing with the Lord about the truth of His character, and looking for direction for His next steps. With this in mind, Christians need not shy away from the practice of meditation so long as they seek to follow Christ’s example.

5 Questions to Ask If You’re Practicing Christian Meditation

Perhaps you’re still unsure if you’re practicing (or about to practice) meditation in a way that honors Jesus. Here are five guiding questions you can ask yourself:

1. Is God being upheld as the one true God?

This question is somewhat self-explanatory. There are countless meditation websites, apps, articles, and organizations that acknowledge God and false gods from a bevy of other religions. They may aim to cast a wide net to appeal to a larger audience—including you. One common tactic? Referring to “the universe” as an impersonal force that guides, nurtures, or protects. While God created the universe, He did not declare it a substitute for Himself.

2. How is God’s character being portrayed?

God has revealed Himself perfectly in His Word; as such, the Bible is the measuring rod by which we must test any meditation resources. Since meditation is designed to be a calming and uplifting experience, some guided practices may avoid or downplay the more “difficult” aspects of God’s character. Don’t overlook statements that suggest God is never angry or that He just wants you to be happy in whatever course you choose—these are inconsistent with the God of the Scriptures.

3. Who has created, or is offering, this resource?

Is this an individual or organization that you trust? Your research is well worth the effort here. You’ll want to know if this is someone who takes the Word of God seriously, doesn’t dabble in the practices of other religions, and has the best intentions when offering meditation tips and tricks. Beware of anyone who uses their position as an expert to exalt themselves above God Almighty.

4. How much emphasis is on me?

Similar to the first question, many meditation resources will involve an overemphasis on self in an unhealthy way. You may be prompted to meditate on the “divine presence within yourself” or to see yourself as “the true source of _____” (fill in the blank with any wonderful quality). While it’s helpful to remember that your needs are perfectly met in Christ, it’s unwise to meditate on being completely self-sufficient.

5. As you pray through this meditation resource you’ve found, does anything still feel off?

Of course, we can feel “off” for many reasons, including when we try anything new that takes us out of our comfort zones. But the Holy Spirit can also make us feel unsettled—physically or emotionally—when we aren’t on the right track. If this feeling arises throughout your conversations with the Lord, it may be time to look for another meditation resource.

Further Reading:

Are Buddhist Meditation Methods Okay for Christians?

What Does Meditation Mean in the Bible?

Is Meditating on Scripture a Biblical Principle?

Can a Christian Practice Buddhist Meditation Methods?

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Anna Oelerich is a Chicago-area church youth director, freelance writer, and graduate of Taylor University. She received her B.S. in Professional Writing in 2018, but has loved words—reading, storytelling, list-making, and even handwriting—for as long as she can remember. Previously, she served as the marketing and communications coordinator for a community foundation, where she shared powerful stories of generosity, and encouraged others to give. When writing an article, or developing programming for her students, Anna enjoys highlighting the historical and cultural contexts of familiar Bible passages so others feel they are living the stories for themselves.

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