Is Meditation Dangerous (A Christian Response)?

By Archdeacon Fr. Michael McKinnon

Some Christians believe that meditation (the emptying of oneself of negative energies, distractions, even thoughts, etc.) or even meditating prayer (which is somewhat different from a classical definition of “meditation”) can be spiritually dangerous to a person and even to their household.  These Christians believe that such practices are demonic and pagan in origin.  Evil masks itself in something seemingly good in order to gain entrance into the deep recesses of the soul.  Christians concerned with such practices believe the enemy will attempt to use the “quiet time” (one’s attempt not to think, etc) as a means to quietly invade deep within the soul or subconscious of the person.  It is, they believe, as if one has left the mind or heart “unguarded” or open to attack.  They believe the person becomes like a City without walls, i.e., wide open to attack.  “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Other Christians however, believe that meditative prayer, if done correctly (i.e., in the Name of Jesus and/or even contemplating the Holy Name), will prove exceptionally beneficial and edifying, strengthen one’s faith and communion with God (which is the goal of the Christian life).  Some Christians also believe that classical meditation, fasting from thought (i.e., “being still”), can be physically, and therefore spiritually, beneficial to a person if done in the Name of Jesus.  I would like to explore both the spiritual benefits and spiritual dangers of some of these practices (some of which have become quite popular and mixed with New Age or pseudo meditative practices) from a Biblical Christian perspective.  Can prayerful meditation offered in the Name of Jesus help us to attain theosis?  [Note on Theosis: The goal of the Christian life is TheosisTheosis is communion (Gr., koinonia) with God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit].  Can simply, “being still”, be healing for our spirit as well as our body?

Concerns:  The spiritual world is real and is very much connected to the physical world (like two sides of one coin).  Some people create a false dichotomy between the physical and spiritual worlds for human beings in the sense that they fail to understand the intimate connection between our body and soul, that what we engage in physically has an impact on our spirit and vice versa.  Our world consists of forces that are Godly and others that are demonic.  I always tell my daughters, “Do not open the door to anyone we do expect or do not know”.  God has given us free will and we are free to choose Him (to walk according to His Word) or to reject Him.  We may choose to invite the Lord into our hearts (initially or anew each day) or to invite other spirits in.  When we choose in our free will to open our hearts up to the spiritual world we have literally opened the doors of our inner sanctuary and thus into our homes and into our families as well.  (NOTE: This is not the intent of many persons practicing meditation; i.e., their intent is not to “open themselves up” to the spiritual world per se).  Some warnings from Scripture for those seeking “inner-light”, “inner-truth”, to unite themselves with creation or some other “spiritual high” through meditation:

  • Matthew 12:43-45a (We must not fail to fill ourselves with God’s Presence & Word):  Jesus said, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man [expelled by the power of God], he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none. Then he says, `I will return to my house [the person’s heart] from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it empty [i.e., not filled with God’s Presence and Word], swept, and put in order. Then he goes and brings with him seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.
  • 2 Corinthians 11:14  (Jesus is the Light of the world, but we can be fooled by “other light” when we open ourselves up to spirits apart from His Name): “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
  • Luke 8:11-14  (The Devil attacks those who have received the Word of God in their hearts just as Jesus Himself was attacked by the devil…The devil attempts to instill doubt):  Jesus said, “Now the parable is this: The seed [planted in the heart] is the Word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the Word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the Word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.
  • 1 Peter 5:6-10  (Bring your anxieties to God in prayer and do not open yourself up to the enemy):  “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.
  • Galatians 4:8-9 (Do not turn back by opening yourself up to “spirits” of this world):  Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more?

If Christian persons are going to engage in meditative forms of prayer, we must “put on the whole armor of God” in order to protect ourselves and our families.  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” – Ephesians 6:10-12.  We must be very careful to whom we open the doors of our heart.

When we choose to open our hearts to the spiritual world apart from Christ Jesus we are entering very dangerous territory.  It is my belief that there are no exceptions.  It is a territory that belongs to the devil.  As fallen beings, our relationship with God is skewed, our spiritual insight impaired, and our desires often worldly and fleshly.  We all know the old tale that a vampire cannot enter our house unless invited.  So it is with the enemy.  He seeks an entrance into our heart and into our home.  Do not invite him in!  In doing so, we become what the Bible refers to as a “city without walls”.  That is, we have no protection from the enemy who seeks to attack us.

One question is whether more classical forms of meditation, seeking only “to be still” or “quiet” (i.e., to fast from thought) and to regulate breathing (which some add), is leaving oneself unguarded?  I think one simple guide will help here:  Simply ask Jesus to guard your mind and heart as you seek to be still.  “But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from evil” (2 Thessalonians 3:3).

Remember, the devil led our first parents astray and away from right relationship with God by promising them that they will “be like God”.  The serpent said, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” (Genesis 3:5).  Beware of any voice that tells you are divine or that you are God or that there is no distinction between God and His creation (see previous article on this BLOG).  There is no God, but God!  He is the Lord and there is no other.  However, God, out of His great love for us, does invite us into His heart and divine life and through adoption we become His children and everything that is Christ Jesus’ by nature, becomes ours by grace (i.e., a gift).  As one of the early Church Fathers said, “God became man in order for man to become God [by grace]”.  Thus, meditation that is used to “get in touch with your own divinity” is spiritually dangerous, but prayerful meditation that is used to commune with God is not.

On the Other Hand!

On the other hand, one of the great truths of God’s revelation in His Word is that the God who is infinitely beyond His creation (i.e., altogether or wholly “Other”) desires to make His home intimately within us.  Jesus Christ is “Emmanuel”, that is, God with us.  The transcendent God desires a personal relationship with each one of us.  How can we have a personal relationship with God unless we open the door of our heart to Him and invite Him in.

Psalm 1:1-3  (Meditating on the Word of God): “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…but his delight is in the law [i.e., the Word] of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

  • Psalm 46:10a (Being still in the presence of the Lord):  “Be still, and know that I am God.”
  • Habakkuk 2:20 (Prayerful silence before God):  “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.
  • Luke 11:34-36  (Lord, help me to see as you would have me see): “Your eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but when it is not sound, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.  If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.
  • Luke 24:32 (Meditating on the Scriptures within our hearts):  “They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he [Jesus]talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19-20  (God dwells within you as within a temple):  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
  • John 14:16-17 (The Spirit of God is within you):  “Jesus said, I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.
  • John 15:4-11 (Abide in Him as He abides in us) “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
  • John 14:23 (God has made His home within us): “Jesus answered him, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
  • Revelation 3:20 (Jesus desires to enter within our heart to commune with us):  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
  • 1 Peter 3:15a (The inner man must reverence Christ as Lord): “But in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord.
  • 2 Peter 1:19 (Meditate on God’s Word until the darkness of your heart is expelled):  “And we have the prophetic Word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
  • Romans 8:8b-9:  (The Word of God is within): The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
  • See also:  Romans 10:8; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Ephesians 3:17; 1 John 4:4.

Thus, a Christian may meditate “in the Name of Jesus”.  An example:  Swimming can be very enjoyable.  But one must take certain precautions to avoid getting hurt.  Meditating is like diving into the soul and swimming in the heart.  However, if we are careless or rely simply on ourselves, we can get hurt or worse.  Thus, here are some helpful hints when meditating:

If you are going to empty yourself (what Jesus calls “dying to self” or “denying yourself”…dying to your passions), be sure to ask God to come and fill you with His Holy Spirit.  If you do not ask God to fill you, be sure that the enemy will come and fill that empty place within you.  This can be very detrimental to you and your household.  Remember Matthew 12:43-45 above.

  • Do not invite spiritual light in general within your soul.  Rather, invite the Light of Christ to enter and fill you.  Remember 2 Corinthians 11:14 above.
  • Do not simply open yourself up to the spiritual world.  This is very dangerous.  Offer your time as a prayer to God “in the Name of Jesus”.  It is not about focusing on you, but focusing the heart on God.
  • One of the oldest forms of Christian meditation is known as “The Jesus Prayer”.  While contemplating the union of your mind and heart (or the mind entering into the heart) pray while breathing in, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God,” and pray while breathing out, “Have mercy on me, a sinner”.  Christians throughout the centuries have experienced heightened communion with God through the practice of the Jesus Prayer.  Outside of the Word and Holy Communion, many have found this the most powerful way to experience God.
  • Other suggested prayers:  “Come Holy Spirit/Come Fire and Breath of God”; “Come Lord Jesus and make your home within me”;
  • Perhaps meditate while rehearing a verse of Holy Scripture.  What we receive into the mind, makes its way into the heart.  And what takes root in the heart will bear fruit, for good or for ill, within our life.
  • Seek the guidance of a spiritual director (e.g., a priest).

When persons meditate, they open themselves up to the spiritual world of their own free will.  Thus, it is not meditation that is evil, but entering into the spiritual realm apart from Jesus.  Mediating on His holy Name, or the Word of God, or inviting the Holy Spirit within your heart can be a wonderful thing.  After all, the Kingdom of God is both far away and within your heart.

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