What is meditation?

The Bible exhorts men to meditate. So does Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Kabbalah, the new age religions, yoga, business leadership seminars and life improvement coaches. Meditation is popularly presented as a means of getting in touch with self, controlling emotions, conquering disease, becoming one with the divine or reaching one’s true potential.

Did the Psalmist practice meditation similar to that of Buddha? Did Paul have something like transcendental meditation in mind when he commanded, “Meditate on these things”? Does the Bible present meditation as means of calming the soul?

Meditation comes in many different varieties, some very different from others. Some groups teach meditation as an emptying of all thought and losing oneself in the peacefulness of harmony with the universe. Others teach meditation as a careful attention to one’s breathings and sensations that gives full attention to what is happening at that moment.

Much of the meditation practiced in America today is influenced by Buddhist and Hindu teachings but is stripped of its associated teachings. Despite the lack of overt eastern religious training getting in touch with oneself, paying careful attention to the moment, not reacting to external stimuli and feeling a connectedness to others are all ideas pulled straight out of the Eastern religions.

Meditation in all the eastern religions is a means of achieving the highest spiritual state, usually associated with ending the supposed cycle of reincarnation. For example, the Buddhist is at peace with the world because he is not deeply affected by anything that goes on. He has distanced himself from his passions and longings. Only by disconnecting himself from everything can the Buddhist reach Nirvana. Meditation is the means by which the Buddhist trains himself to remain aloof from deep desire and deep attachment.

Meditation in the Bible is very different from the meditation practiced by mystical, new age and eastern religions. The Biblical practice of meditation is centered on the truth of God. When David says in Psalm 119, “Oh how I love thy law, it is my meditation all the day” he is describing a careful attention to the Word of God. When Paul says, “Meditate on these things” he is instructing Timothy to think deeply about the truths Paul has taught him. Meditation always refers to careful attention to information. Biblical meditation focuses on what God has revealed in His Word so the Christian may better understand and obey it.

Biblical meditation is not a way to disconnect, focus, heal or reach the Divine. Biblical meditation is one part of the study of the Bible. The one meditating remembers truth, considers truth, seeks the best understanding of truth, and works through how truth applies to his life. Biblical meditation does not require a particular pose or measured breathing. Biblical meditation does not require an emptied mind released of conscious thought. It requires an attentive mind directed to and by Scripture. Biblical meditation focuses on God and His Word so the Christian may better live in a way that is pleasing to Him.

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How do I apply the Old Testament to my life today?

The Old Testament is profitable for Christians today. Understanding and applying the Old Testament can at times be challenging because it was written to God’s covenant people, the Jews. Important to understanding the Old Testament is remembering that Christians today are not the same as the Jews of 3,000 years ago.

Israel is not the church and Israel is not America. One cannot immediately apply the Old Testament commands to the New Testament Christian. Old Testament commands must be read with the understanding that Jesus has completed the Mosaic law (Ephesians 2:15) and brought in a new covenant with His people. The Old Testament reader cannot claim the promises given to the Jews as if they are promises to the church. One cannot view the judgments and blessings of the nation Israel as if God is going to do the same to America. Understand the Old Testament by recognizing who it was written to and why.

The Old Testament is not a book of puzzles that can only be figured out once the person has found the hidden key. The Old Testament must not be read as if it contains hidden truths that can only be discovered by modern technology or by interpreting secret codes. The Old Testament does not contain special meanings that were unknown until the church came along. The Old Testament is not the New Testament concealed in allegory, nor does the New Testament reveal the true, undiscovered meanings of the Old Testament.

Some things in the Old Testament are made more clear by the New Testament. Some things not revealed in the Old are made known in the New Testament. The Old Testament is best understood in light of the New Testament, but the meaning of the Old Testament is the same whether it was read before Jesus’ birth or two thousand years after His resurrection.

When reading the Old Testament the kind of book being read shapes how the book is understood. The book of Proverbs is not to be interpreted using the same methods as the book of Obadiah or the book of Genesis. History is different from poetry. Poetry is different from prophecy. Prophecy is different from the Psalms. The Psalms are different from the Law. These differences are very important. A command cannot be interpreted as if it is a promise. A Proverb should not be understood as if it was a prophecy. A detailed a look at how to understand specific kinds of Old Testament literature would take much more time and space than this article allows. Understand the Old Testament one book at a time according to the individual books literary genre.

Read the Old Testament as true history that is intended to teach of the glory of God, the plan of God to redeem a people to Himself, the Sovereignty of God and the holiness of God. The Old Testament is understood by following the normal rules of understanding written language. Look for purpose of the author in writing each book, or in some cases each section of the book. Understanding when the book was written and why it was written. Care must be taken to rightly understand what God said to the Israelites. Just like the New Testament the Old cannot mean something it never meant. Once the original intent and meaning of an Old Testament passage has been understood then principles can be drawn from the intended meaning and applied to New Testament Christians.

Every book of the Old Testament is of great profit to the believer today. Sometimes the Old Testament requires more work to understand how it applies to our lives today. Find good study materials, like commentaries and bible studies, to help. Study of the Bible takes work, but the Old Testament is no less profitable because of the energy required to mine its rich treasures.