Does “be still” mean to meditate or practice contemplative prayer?


Many people quote the first part of Ps. 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God,” to endorse a form of meditation that involves techniques on “quieting” the mind or going beyond the mind. Is this what this verse is talking about?


As always, one must look at the whole passage and see the context of the statement, especially since the Bible was not written in verses; chapters and verses were added centuries later. In one translation, the phrase is not “Be still” but “Cease striving.” The New American Standard has, “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Young’s Literal renders it, “Desist, and know that I [am] God, I am exalted among nations, I am exalted in the earth.”


The context is a reprimand about submitting to God in the midst of nations warring against God. The 1599 Geneva Study Bible’s comments on verse 10 say that God is warning those “who persecute the Church to cease their cruelty: for also they will feel that God is too strong for them against whom they fight.” This is because the preceding two verses say:


“Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire.”


This is clearly talking about the power and might of God to the pagan nations who have disregarded Him.


Another commentary renders the literal meaning of verse 10 as: “Leave off to oppose Me and vex My people. I am over all for their safety.” This is a warning from God to His enemies (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871).


Matthew Henry’s words on verse 10 are that it means “Let his enemies be still, and threaten no more, but know it, to their terror, that he is God, one infinitely above them, and that will certainly be too hard for them; let them rage no more, for it is all in vain.”


Charles H. Spurgeon’s remarks on verse 10 are “Hold off your hands, ye enemies! Sit down and wait in patience, ye believers! Acknowledge that Jehovah is God, ye who feel the terrors of his wrath! Adore him, and him only, ye who partake in the protection of his grace” (from The Treasury of David).


The earlier verses in chapter 46 tell those who trust in the Lord not to fear:


“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change; And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar {and} foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.”


Why not fear? Because God is there and He is mighty. Therefore, the passage goes on to say, those who fight against God should cease and realize His might, and that He will be exalted over all. Verse 10 is a warning to those warring on God; it is a rebuke.


From the context of the passage, without even consulting commentaries, one can clearly see that verse 10 has nothing to do with meditation, but rather is a reprimand to those who are “striving” against God. They are to stop striving and realize His power, and that their efforts against God are futile.


This verse is not about becoming absolutely still to “listen” to God. There is no Biblical support in this verse or any other for practicing certain breathing techniques, for repeating a phrase over and over, for letting the mind go blank, or for going beyond thinking in order to experience a “merging” with God, as taught in spiritual techniques adapted from Buddhism for Christians, or as taught in mystical teachings usually labeled as contemplative or centered prayer.


In contrast, God’s word teaches us to think and use our mind. Rational thinking and reason flow from the nature of God. We can be still or quiet, of course, in order to contemplate God and His perfect love, justice, and mercy. We can be still and appreciate His might. But we do not need to numb our brains or create a mystical experience to do so; in fact, these techniques will hinder us from practicing true biblical contemplation.


Much confusion today comes from various meanings of the word “meditation.” When we are exhorted to meditate on God’s word, it means to ponder, to deeply reflect, and to contemplate the meaning of a passage. The word translated as “meditation” in several verses in the Psalms means to meditate in the sense of reflecting upon. In fact, the New Living Translation uses the word “thought” for “meditation” in several of these passages, such as in Ps. 19:14: “May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you.” We are to seek to understand God’s word with our minds, not to empty the mind, or to bypass the mind for a merging with God.


Psalm 46:10, far from endorsing a mystical meditative state, is stating to the hearers that they should be in awe of God as the Sovereign Ruler. How ironic that God’s words in this verse are misused to support mystical meditation techniques when the verse itself is a rebuke to pay attention to God’s might!


For more information, see other CANA articles, Contemplating Contemplative Prayer: Is It Really Prayer? and Out of Your Mind: Meditation and Visualization.


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