Meditation is often confused with prayer, but although similar there are differences between the two. I would say the major difference between praying and meditating is, in prayer you are actually talking to God, while in meditation you are just thinking about things.
One scripture that comes to mind is Psalm 5:1-2. In the first verse the writer mentions meditating and in verse two he talks about praying. This could be understood by the fact that meditation is a perfect “segue” into prayer. By thinking about the law and God’s works, we may come up with something we need to talk to God about and that would lead us seamlessly into prayer. I have also heard prayer described as someone communicating to God while meditation is someone listening to God. This would be a good understanding when we look at the scriptures on this topic. Many of the scriptures on meditation address thinking about God’s law and His mighty works. When your mind is focused on God’s law you are in a sense listening to the will of God. Since many of us are more familiar with prayer let’s look at a number of scriptures pertaining to meditation and see what we can learn.
In Hebrew the term for meditate is “Haga.” Haga could mean “growl,” “utter,” “moan,” “meditate,” or “muse.” Another Hebrew word used for meditate is “Sihach” which means to rehearse in one’s mind, contemplate or muse. In Greek the words translated meditate include “Meletao” and “Promelatao.” These words mean “to take care of,” “revolve in one’s mind,” “imagine,” and “premeditate.” The root of both of the Greek words is “Melo,” which means “to be of interest to” or “to concern.” By looking at a number of scriptures that address this subject we can obtain a better grasp of this particular word. In doing so we will be able to determine how meditation differs from praying.
Psalm 77:6 provides us with the idea that meditation is an inwardly focused activity. In verses 11-12 of this same Psalm we have more information that provides us the clue that meditation is thinking about God and His ways. Notice verse 11 states the Psalmist will remember the deeds and miracles of the Lord, then in verse 12 the words meditate and consider seem to be used as synonyms. Notice also Psalm 143:5. Here we read again how the Psalmist remembers and considers things about God when mention is made of meditation. Rather than a conversation with God this seems to be a thinking process that takes place with God in mind. Meditation can take place during the day or in the evening (Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2) like prayer. As in Joshua 1 and Psalm 1 the focus of meditation would appear to be God’s law (Psalm 119:15, 48, 99, and 148).
Another item you need to think about before meditating is you will need to be focused and serious about what you are doing. Meditation cannot take place with a caviler attitude. Notice Psalm 19:14 and Psalm 49:3. In both these scriptures meditation is something that involves your heart (feelings). Therefore there should be some passion or intensity involved in it.
If God wants us to meditate, especially on His law, the question may be asked why? Well, think about it. What you think, you are. If you fill your mind with garbage you will become garbage. If instead you think about God and His law, you will be much more focused on obeying it. When I read the Bible regularly I am more attuned with God’s ways as I function throughout the day. As I meditate on God’s awesome plan the problems or issues I face pale in significance. Worries and concerns of life do not get blown out of proportion because God is with me.
One other form of meditation I’d like to address is Eastern meditation. This is very popular today but it is not the form of meditation that the Bible addresses. In Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism) the focus in meditation is to clear your mind of any thoughts and then to focus on one sound or phrase. Biblical meditation has a firm focus in the God of the Bible and His law and works.
It is probably best to meditate in a quiet place with few distractions. In Genesis 24:63 Isaac went to a field at night to meditate. Psalm 63:6 makes mention of meditating at night. In these ancient cultures night was a much more quiet time than the day. Even though night may be a good time for meditation there is nothing wrong with meditating in the day time.
Regardless of when we meditate, we need to focus on pleasing God in our actions. Along with prayer, fasting, Sabbath observance and Bible study, meditation is another activity that can lead us to a closer relationship with God.