For Christians, meditation and prayer are two different things. Meditation is thinking about God or about something related to God. Prayer is talking to God. In several places in the Bible, God commands Christians to pray to him. The Bible also mentions meditation and encourages it, but in no place does God command Christians to meditate.
Christian meditation can include contemplation on a verse from the Bible or on one of God’s names. This contemplation is generally done in a quiet place, although it could happen anywhere. The purpose of such meditation is to remember the promises of God and to find peace in those promises. A meditating Christian seeks the same benefit that other people seek from meditation, but the Christian focuses on God while meditating (as in all things).
Christian prayer is conversation directed to God. Some Christian prayer involves memorizing certain words (such as “Our Father who art in heaven…”), although Jesus did discourage repetition of formula prayers (Matthew 6:7-8), a practice found in other religions. Prayer can be spontaneous, although believers who advocate only spontaneous prayer often create their own formulas which they repeat (“I just want to thank and praise you…”). In either case, prayer should be sincere. God knows whether or not we mean what we say to him. We cannot fool God by talking to him while our minds are elsewhere. A Christian should mean whatever he or she says to God, for God will not tolerate a liar.
The purpose of prayer is conversation with God. Praying for any other reason defeats its purpose. Imagine a man who says, “Every evening I talk to my wife for ten minutes. I don’t know if she’s listening, and I don’t really care. I just feel so much better every time I can talk about myself for ten minutes.” What wife would tolerate that attitude in her husband, and why should God tolerate such an attitude in one of his people?
Some years ago I read in the newspaper about a park district program which included a meal for children. The leaders of the program had the children say a prayer at the beginning of the meal. Some parents asked the leaders to stop, since the park district belonged to the city government, and government agencies are not supposed to promote any particular religion. The leaders told those parents that the prayer was not intended to promote religion; it merely calmed the children so they would be settled for their meal. I don’t know how the parents felt about that explanation, but in my mind it causes red flags to wave and warning bells to chime. Prayer is not a tool to make children behave; prayer is a conversation with God.
I have prayed aloud in churches, in classrooms, and even with the state legislature. Whenever I prayed, my prayer was directed to God—I did not use the prayer to send a message to anyone else in the room. I prayed on their behalf, as they expected me to do. I spoke to God for them and about them. That is, after all, the reason for praying.
God likes to hear from us. Consider how rude it would be for you to spend an entire day with one of your friends and never say a single word to him or her. Even faithful Christians sometimes act as if they have forgotten that God is always with them. A simple occasional “thank you” for a green light or for a sunny day pleases the Lord. He does, after all, care about us.
I want to learn to meditate as a Christian, but I do not want to stop praying as a Christian. I hope that Christian meditation will provide me some of the same benefits other people have found in various kinds of meditation. Through it all, though, I want to be centered on Christ and his promises, rather than using him as a means to my own happiness.