What Is Biblical Meditation? (And How To Do It)

Person Meditating
Meditation is an ancient biblical practice that connects us with “streams of water” that never run dry and allows Scripture to transform us.

Psalm 1 speaks of the person who is blessed. It says this about them:

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law 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.”
—Psalm 1:1-3 (NIV)

Meditation is a practice that connects us with “streams of water” that never run dry and gives us a source of sustenance that does not depend on the changing seasons of life. It is a way to move from a superficial reading of Scripture and allow it to penetrate the deepest areas of our heart.

Meditation has become increasingly popular in modern society, but it is not new. It is an ancient discipline that appears throughout the library of Scripture and has been an important practice during the history of the Christian faith.

In this article I want to talk about what biblical meditation is (and what it is not) and how to practice it. Feel free to continue reading or skip ahead to any of the sections below:


  1. What is Biblical Meditation?
  2. What Biblical Meditation is NOT
  3. The Purpose of Christian Meditation
  4. How To Meditate
  5. Conclusion
Person meditating

Section 1. What is Biblical Meditation?

In this first section we’ll look at the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated to the English “meditate” and come up with a concise definition of meditation based on its biblical context.

A brief warning: this section gets very deep into analysis of the biblical texts, so if you’d rather skip ahead to the concise definition feel free to do so!

So without further ado, let’s get to work!


A Quick Look at the Hebrew and Greek Words Translated as “Meditate” or “Meditation”

There are several Hebrew words (and a Greek one) that are translated as “meditate” in the Bible:

  1. Hagah

    The word that appears in Psalm 1 is the Hebrew “hagah,” which Strong’s Concordance defines as “to murmur (in pleasure or anger); by implication, to ponder: imagine, meditate, mourn, mutter, roar, speak, study, talk, utter.” Gesenius defines hagah this way: “To murmur, to mutter, to growl, used of a lion over his prey. . .”

  2. Higgaion

    Another Hebrew word translated as “meditate” in the Bible is “higgaion,” which is a musical term defined by Strong’s as “a murmuring sound,” by Brown-Driver-Briggs as “resounding music” and by Gesenius’ as “the sound of a harp when struck.”

  3. Siyach

    Another Hebrew word is “siyach,” defined by Strong’s as “a contemplation; by implication, an utterance: babbling, communication, complaint, meditation, prayer, talk.” 

  4. Suach

    Another Hebrew word, “suach,” is the first biblical mention of meditation, and appears only one time in the Bible: in Genesis 24:63, “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. . .” Strong’s defines suach this way: “to muse pensively: meditate.”

  5. Meletao

    There is one Greek word translated “meditate” in the New Testament: “meletao,” defined by Strong’s as “to take care of, i.e. (by implication) revolve in the mind: imagine, (pre-)meditate.”

At first these definitions might seem more confusing than helpful. With so many words translated as “meditate” in the Bible, we might wonder: what does the word “meditation” really mean?

Stick with me: we’re going to go a little deeper and find a central theme that ties all of these Hebrew and Greek words together.

Person with Bible, coffee and notebook

Going Deeper: What Does “Meditation” Actually Mean?

The Hebrew word “hagah” is particularly helpful for getting to the bottom of the meaning of the meditation. It literally means “to murmur,” i.e. to repeat a word or phrase under your breath. For example, you “murmur” when your mind is so consumed by an idea that you just can’t stop thinking about it. You mull over it and repeat it under your breath, you bring it up in conversations, and depending on the power of the idea it can have a major impact on your life.

I find it fascinating that “hagah” is also translated as the growl or roar of a lion in Isaiah 31:4. If you’ve never heard the roar of a lion, check out the recording embedded below (you can also find it here). A lion’s roar can be very loud, but it starts out as a vibrating or rumbling sound deep in its chest (almost like the purr of a cat, although the mechanisms are different). The words “murmur” and “roar” might not seem very similar, but the core idea remains the same: “hagah” refers to the thoughts deeply resonating inside us. That which we simply can’t get out of our mind.

Let’s look at the Hebrew “higgaion.” It is defined as “resounding music,” “a murmuring sound” and “the sound of a harp when struck.” When I hear this definition, I imagine a humming sound, a deeply resounding note. It is translated as “meditation” in Psalm 19:14, which reads, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (ESV, emphasis added). Here the idea of meditation is a sound resonating deep within someone’s heart. Something too deep to express with mere words that resonates throughout one’s whole body like a deep musical note.

And last but not least, let’s look at the word “siyach.” 9 of its 14 appearances in the Bible are translated “complaint,” but if we pay close attention it is not strictly referring to the act of complaining. Let’s look at 1 Samuel 1:16, which reads, “Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint (“siyach”) and grief have I spoken hitherto.” Here we can see that Hannah’s “complaint” was an internal monologue which she later put into words. Something resonating within her, if you will. (If you’re interested in looking at the other eight instances of “siyach” as “complaint,” click here). In my opinion, the basic idea remains the same in all of these cases.

Person with Bible in field

A Concise Definition of Biblical Meditation

So, here’s my definition of biblical meditation:

To meditate is to “murmur” a word or phrase over and over. It is to let an idea “resonate” within our mind. It is something we do when we just can’t get an idea out of our head and we find ourselves repeating it under our breath. 

To meditate on the Bible is to take a short passage, phrase or word and reflect on it over a period of time, repeating it in our mind and letting it resonate within us.

Person in mountains meditating

One More Thing: We All Meditate, Like It Or Not

Now, before moving on to the next section, I want to say one more thing:

The object of our meditation is key.

In reality, we all meditate. 

All of us have ideas that we just can’t shake; thoughts that consume us from time to time.

The question is not, “Do you meditate?” but “What are you meditating about?”

If the fuel of our meditation is fear, resentment, lust and pride, the practice of meditation will be incredibly destructive.

But if we choose to meditate on the Scriptures and let our entire being resonate with the sound of God’s revealed word, we will find that the practice of meditation connects us to fresh waters that never run dry.

In this article I will be talking about that type of meditation: the kind that brings life.

What meditation is not

Section 2: What Biblical Meditation is NOT

Before going into more detail about the practice of Christian meditation, I want to talk about a few things that it is NOT.

1. Biblical Meditation is Not About Emptying the Mind.

Richard Foster, in his masterpiece Celebration of Discipline, debunks several myths about meditation. The first is the idea that Christian meditation is the same as the practice of meditation found in eastern religions and new age philosophies.

Foster says, “In reality the two ideas stand worlds apart. Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind. The two ideas are quite different” (Foster, 20).

A good example of this concept is found in Luke 11:24-26 (NIV): “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, “I will return to the house I left.” When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” 

The implication of this passage is that the impure spirit returned and found the house in order and empty. The unclean spirit had been cast out, but nothing had come to take its place.

Biblically speaking, simply emptying our mind leaves us vulnerable and at the mercy of malign forces out of our control. If we want to connect to the “streams of water” spoken of in Psalm 1, we must meditate on the “law of the Lord.” The word “law” is the Hebrew “Torah,” which means “instruction” and was the Scripture of that time. So in our modern context, to meditate on the “law” is to meditate on the Bible.

An empty mind is not the end goal of Christian meditation, but rather a mind full of and consumed by God’s Word. When the Scriptures are our meditation, we will find that we have tapped into an inexhaustible source of sustenance.

New age meditation implements

2. Biblical Meditation is Not About Detachment.

Another aspect of eastern and new age meditation is its focus on detachment. Foster writes, “Eastern forms of meditation stress the need to become detached from the world. There is an emphasis upon losing personhood and individuality and merging with the Cosmic Mind. There is a longing to be freed from the burdens and pains of this life and to be released into the impersonality of Nirvana. . .There is no God to be attached to or to hear from. Detachment is the final goal of Eastern religion.”

Foster explains that detachment has its place in Christian meditation, but it is not the end goal. Just as we must initially empty our mind of the endless thoughts that would distract us, we need to detach from the ways of this world and the philosophies that guide it. But our mind must not remain empty, and we must not stay detached. As Foster writes, “No, detachment is not enough; we must go on to attachment. The detachment from the confusion all around us is in order to have a richer attachment to God” (Foster, 21).

Foster explains further, “Many people believe that at its very best meditation leads to an unhealthy otherworldliness that keeps us immune to the suffering of humanity. Such evaluations are far from the mark. In fact, meditation is the one thing that can sufficiently redirect our lives so that we can deal with human life successfully.”

Woman in mountains meditating

Section 3: The Purpose of Christian Meditation

As with all of the spiritual disciplines, the purpose of meditation is communion with God. Jesus is knocking at the door of our heart (see Rev. 3:20), and meditation is one of the ways that we open up the door for him to come in and dine with us.

Foster explains this very well. He says, “What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary in the heart” (Foster, 20).

And of course, the end result of meditation (and the other disciplines) is transformation. As Foster puts it, “Inward fellowship of this kind transforms the inner personality. We cannot burn the eternal flame of the inner sanctuary and remain the same, for the Divine Fire will consume everything that is impure” (Foster, 20).

Person sitting on bench

Section 4: How To Meditate

Now that we have explained what meditation is (and what it is not), we can look into practical ways to incorporate biblical meditation into our lives.

One word of caution: my goal in writing this article is not just to teach you about the biblical practice of meditation but to encourage you to practice it. Richard Foster wrote in Celebration of Discipline, “It is impossible to learn how to meditate from a book. We learn to meditate by meditating” (Foster, 26).

So, if you have the time, I encourage you to take 10 minutes to follow along with the steps below and practice the discipline of meditation today.

Open Bible

Method 1: Meditate on a Short Verse or Phrase. 

This is the method that I use most often, and it is perhaps the most simple. Here is how to do it:

  1. Read a passage of the Bible (the Psalms are great for this, but any passage will work).
  2. Choose a word or phrase that resonates with you. Something that catches your attention.
  3. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and ask God to transform you through his Word. Thank him in advance for his presence and his grace in making his Word available to you.
  4. Repeat the word or phrase that you chose over and over in your mind. If you want to, you can breathe it in and out, like in the practice of breath prayer.
  5. Don’t just “hear” the words, but experience them. If you are meditating on the phrase, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1 NIV), you can imagine God next to you as your Shepherd, guiding, protecting and providing for you. Imagine yourself simply enjoying his presence. Contemplate the reality that you lack nothing. Focus on that truth, and let it go deep into your heart.
  6. Stick with it for 10-15 minutes, or as long as you want.
  7. Slowly open up your eyes, thank God for his Word, and move on with your day.
Nature in Israel

Method 2: Imagining the Scene

  1. Read a passage. This method is particularly useful for narrative passages (stories) in the Bible.
  2. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and ask God to transform you through his Word. Thank him in advance for his presence and his grace in making his Word available to you.
  3. Imagine the scene you just read. Try to see it in your mind, hear the sounds, smell the smells. Let yourself experience it. For example, if you are reading about Jesus teaching the multitudes, hear the waves breaking against the shore and the creaking of the boat that Jesus is teaching from. Hear the wind, smell the sea, imagine the muffled conversations of those in the crowd. And hear Jesus’ words not as a reader but as a listener in that very place.
  4. Stick with it for 10-15 minutes, or as long as you want.
  5. Slowly open your eyes and thank God for speaking to you, and move on with your day.
Tranquil mountain scene


Based on the Scriptural context of the words translated as “meditate,” I define biblical meditation this way: to take a short passage, phrase or word in the Scriptures and reflect on it over a period of time, repeating it in our mind like an idea we can’t let go of.

And when we meditate on the Word of God we become like a tree that extends its roots into an abundant and inexhaustible source of life (see Psalm 1).

I hope that this article helped you learn more about biblical meditation, and more importantly, I hope that it has encouraged and equipped you to practice it in your daily life.

Together, let’s go further up and further into all that God has for us!

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