Meditation is a hot topic nowadays.
So many people swear by its benefits, and maybe you've already discovered some yourself.
Perhaps you've also found solace in prayer — or you know someone who has.
What if you pray and meditate?
As you'll see further on, for all their differences, the two are not mutually exclusive.
Praying and meditation can even complement each other.
So, how are they different?
And what's with the stigma against meditation in Christian circles?
What is the Difference Between Prayer and Meditation?
Before exploring the differences between praying and meditation, let's address a question that often comes up: Can people who pray to God still meditate? More specifically, can Christians meditate?
It's understandable, given the widespread confusion as to what meditation really is.
So, allow us to clear up a few things:
- Nothing about meditation is anti-Christian or anti-monotheism.
- Both prayer and meditation help in cultivating gratitude and peace of heart
- Prayer can deepen your meditation — and vice-versa.
In this post, you'll find no reason to abandon either practice. In fact, we encourage you to try both and to find the methods and approaches that help you most.
Why limit yourself to one when they play together so well?
Can You Pray While Meditating?
While prayer and meditation are different, as you'll see more clearly further on, it is possible to combine the two in a meditation prayer — or praying meditation.
The Christian Bible is full of references to meditation, including this well-known prescription:
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Philippians 4:8
To dwell on words is to meditate on them. Christians, as a rule, don't have a problem with this type of meditation, which is more about chosen thoughts than involuntary ones.
By contrast, mindfulness meditation doesn't impose thoughts on the present; it acknowledges and accepts whatever is already there.
A praying meditation can make room for both.
Meditation vs. Prayer: 11 Key Differences
While meditation and prayer have some benefits in common, here are 11 key differences that set them apart.
1. Prayer goes outward. Meditation goes inward.
With prayer, you're seeking a connection with someone or something outside yourself. This someone is typically a deity or spirit guide of some kind.
With meditation, you connect with yourself — with your intuition or internal guidance system. You don't need words, but if it helps, you can repeat a mantra.
All regrets about the past and worries about the future fall away. You're left with your present self and its present thoughts, sensations, and feelings.
2. Prayer depends on religious faith. Meditation does not.
In prayer, you address external deities or spirit guides. A prerequisite to prayer, then, is a belief in those beings. Take away the belief in any external guide or benefactor, and you take away the reason for prayer.
Meditation doesn't require belief in a personal God or benevolent spiritual entity. You're tapping into your own inner wisdom, not asking other minds for guidance.
3. Prayer is considered a requirement for some religions. Meditation is not.
In many religions, prayer is considered a requirement. It's something expected of religious adherents who take their faith seriously. For a religious person, to be devout is to be prayerful (and vice-versa).
Meditation is not a required practice for anyone, though it brings nothing but benefits to those who make a habit of it.
4. Prayer teaches the duality of God and believer; meditation teaches oneness.
In prayer, two people are interacting with each other. In meditation, there is only one.
With prayers, the duality between God and believer is essential to the relationship you're trying to build.
With meditation, the oneness between you and your inner guide is essential to the attitude of listening, acceptance, and self-love.
In practicing this attitude toward yourself, you become better at listening, accepting, and loving others.
5. Prayer teaches childlike submission toward God; meditation does not.
When you're praying, you assume a submissive role — whether as a child to a parent or a student to a teacher.
Meditation, on the other hand, doesn't require a submissive attitude. If you believe in a spiritual being larger than yourself (but also part of you), you're sitting in their company.
You do this not as a supplicant but as a trusting extension of their love and wisdom.
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6. Prayer is speaking. Meditation is listening.
With prayer, you're speaking to someone. You're using words of your own or prayers formulated by others to address a spiritual being external to and more powerful than yourself.
With meditation, you listen to what's going on in your mind and heart — what you're thinking and feeling. You also pay attention to bodily sensations and impressions from your environment. Words are unnecessary.
7. Prayer involves movement. Meditation is about stillness.
While you might adopt a specific posture for meditation, you're not required to. Meditation is about stillness, not movement.
Prayer often involves specific postures (prostration and kneeling being the most common), gestures with the hands, and an uplifting of the face toward heaven.
Christians believe the way you pray influences what you believe (lex orandi lex credendi). Bodily movement and postures are as much a part of the prayer as the words spoken.
8. Prayer is asking. Meditation is accepting.
With prayer, you're usually asking for something you don't yet have or asking for something to happen (or not happen). You're petitioning for a benefit you seek.
Meditation is more about becoming aware of all that's going on inside you and in your immediate environment.
Like sensations, thoughts come and go without your control; the point of meditation is to accept those transient thoughts and feelings without judgment.
9. Prayer is relational. Meditation is individual.
Prayer involves a relationship between the petitioner and the one being petitioned. The goal is to build on that relationship to encourage honesty, childlike audacity, and trust.
Meditation is an individual experience, independent of any relationship other than the one you have with yourself.
That said, a habit of meditation can benefit every relationship you have.
10. Prayer is easy for youth. Meditation requires some maturity.
Prayer is an easy thing for youth to learn. As soon as children in religious families learn to talk, their parents teach them how to say their prayers.
On the other hand, meditation requires some maturity and is likely beyond the patience of the average toddler.
School-aged children can learn the benefits of meditation as part of their education, without reference to any religion or spiritual practice.
11. Prayer addresses past, present, and future. Meditation is present-focused.
When you pray, you touch the past, present, and future. You might confess a past sin, remark on a present situation, or ask for a future blessing.
Meditation is focused entirely on the present moment and all the thoughts, feelings, and sensations you experience in that moment. It doesn't look to the future or revisit the past. The only reality is the present one.
It doesn't have to be meditation vs. prayer. They can exist together.
Though prayer is directed to someone outside yourself, you don't have to embrace religion to pray. Belief in a loving and present creator doesn't require religion.
If you believe in a god that is part of you, apart from you and filling everything and everyone in the universe all at the same time, you can address this entity in prayer as easily as you connect with them in meditation.
There is no contradiction — or there doesn't have to be.