For a lot of modern-day Christians, the word “meditation” carries connotations of crystals, chakras, and the cross-legged “lotus position” of Buddhist monks. They’re associations that have come about with the rise of Eastern religions and the flower-power movement.
As a result, many Christians shun the practice. But in centuries gone by, meditation – on God and His word – was a common practice in Christendom. Great Christian writers, like Francis of Assisi and Brother Lawrence, were famous for it. And preachers like Charles Spurgeon recommended it for all believers. So if you’ve moved past the modern-day stigma and want to give God-centred, Biblical meditation a go, here’s a few tips from some contemporary Christian writers.
Tip 1: There Are No Rules
Leah Bulfin, blogger at Godcentredmeditation.com, says that when it comes to meditation there are no formulas, and that it’s simply about being still with God.
“There’s absolutely no power in the method or how you meditate,” she told Hope 103.2 in an interview with Emma Mullings. “There’s no power in whether you sit a certain way or hold your hands a certain way. The power is really just in the act of coming to meet with God and spend time with Him.”
Tip 2: One Simple Goal
It’s best to keep the aim of meditation simple. The Catholic writer Thomas Merton put it this way: “Contemplative prayer has to be always very simple, confined to the simplest of acts.”
Rather than having lofty goals such as changing your character overnight, or trying to gain prophetic insights about the future, Leah says it’s best to simply focus on God and His presence.
“It’s really just about getting out of the ‘head-space’, taking time to stop all the thoughts about the stuff that’s going on and the things I have to do, and becoming still and getting into that ‘spirit-space’ where God lives,” she said.
Tip 3: Meditation Is For Everyone
When Leah Bulfin began daily meditation, she began to notice dramatic changes in her life. It’s encouraging to know that Leah was (and still is) a busy mum raising three children and running a business—indicating that meditation isn’t just for monks on mountain tops.
It’s for everyone.
Christian columnist Phil Fox Rose, of Patheos.com, practices “Centreing Prayer” and writes, “I have no reservations saying everyone should meditate.”
Tip 4: Find A Quiet Place
Although meditation can be done anywhere, Leah Bulfin recommends finding a quiet spot free of distractions—even a car or a wardrobe, War Room style, can work.
“I have a room set aside in my house that I spend time in every morning just meditating and waiting on God,” she says.
Tip 5: Set Aside Enough Time
To get the most out of meditation, it’s best to give it enough time for your mind to really settle.
“I meditate for 40 minutes to an hour,” Leah said. “but if you’re just beginning, it’s good to start with about 20 minutes at least. It takes about that long to really settle your mind and get to that place of stillness and connect with God.”
Phil Fox Rose agrees. “Something often happens to the stillness around 10 to 15 minutes in,” he writes. “If you stop too soon you will miss it.”
It also helps to try and make it a daily habit. Leah Bulfin aims to not skip a day – and she’s a busy mum. “Even when I’m on holiday I make sure I make some time for it,” she said.
Tip 6: Set A Timer
It can be helpful to set an alarm (a gentle one) for the end of your meditation, so that you don’t have to constantly check the time on your phone or watch. “When the ending bell sounds, take a minute or two to gradually return to ordinary awareness,” writes Phil Fox Rose. “Don’t hop right up. Many practitioners say a closing prayer.”
Tip 7: Get Comfy – But Not Too Comfy!
Meditating while curled up in bed under a doona late at night, is very likely to end in sleep and is probably not the best place for meditation.
At the same time, it helps to get comfortable – “so there is no need to adjust while sitting”, writes Phil Fox Rose.
Some recommend a simple chair, others meditate while walking in nature, while still others – such as Leah Bulfin – are content with the wardrobe floor.
For mega-church pastor and writer Rick Warren, being relaxed is crucial for waiting on God. “When your body relaxes, it relaxes your mind,” he writes. “Then you’re more open and able to hear God better.”
Tip 8: Let Your Thoughts Pass
The aim of Christian meditation is not to empty the mind of thoughts, as in Eastern meditation, but rather to simply let those thoughts pass by and return your attention to God.
“When you realize you’re engaged with a thought, you let it go,” writes Phil Fox Rose. Return gently to the stillness… let them float by without giving them attention, and, before you know it, they’re gone. Resist no thought; retain no thought; react to no thought.”
Tip 9: A Simple Word Can Help You Focus On God
Having a short word to say quietly while meditating, can help you keep your attention on God.
Phil Fox Rose suggests trying words like Amen, Abba, Father, Grace, Love, Peace, Let go, Be Still, or Jesus. But he adds, “don’t get hung up on it”. “This is not a sacred mantra that is supposed to have meaning in itself,” he writes.
Others may prefer to focus on a mental image of heaven or Jesus. Even focussing on the sound of your breathing can do the trick.
Tip 10: Have Patience, Don’t Give Up
If you’re a restless person who tends to get bored or distracted during prayer, don’t let that stop you from giving God-centred meditation a go.
“When you encounter God in this deep way, it’s like falling in love with Him, and 30 or 40 minutes passes so quickly,” Leah Bulfin says.
Rick Warren reminds his readers to “wait patiently” as suggested in the Psalms (37:7), and Charles Spurgeon wrote in 1864 that meditation gets better the more you do it.
“We can meditate better after we have addicted ourselves to a meditative frame. When we have mused a little, then the fire begins to burn; and you will perceive that as the fire burns, meditation gets easier, and then the heart gets warm.”
(The Complete Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 10: Sermon 576, Quiet Musing.)