On Thursdays, we are thinking about the Christian disciplines. You can look below to read previous Thursday posts. Today we turn our attention to a much-maligned and difficult discipline, meditation.
Meditation is often maligned in our circles because we connect meditation with Eastern mystical religions or possibly with Catholicism. But, the truth is meditation is a practice throughout the Old Testament. We will see some passages below that help us understand the use of meditation in the Bible. Meditation also appears in the New Testament in several books. Christian meditation does not seek to empty one’s mind, as Eastern mysticism asks, but to fill our minds with the things of God.
In the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun describes meditation as “a long, ardent gaze at God, his work, and his Word. Slowing down and giving one’s undivided attention to God lies at the core of Christian meditation.” Dallas Willard says meditation is “prayerful rumination upon God, his Word, and his world.” Willard’s idea reminds us of the way a cow chews her cud, over and over, getting out every last nutrient.
I think of meditation as gem-hunting. My family has visited Franklin, NC, looking for rubies, garnets, and other precious stones. One of the ways you learn to tell the difference between regular rocks and raw gemstones is holding them up to the sunlight and rotating them to see the glimmer and sparkle the gemstones have. When you find one, the excitement flows and you look for more and more.
Meditation is difficult in that it requires a focus on God. Turning off the noise in one’s head so thoughts can be focused on the Lord is hard work. Our minds wander quickly because of several reasons:
- Our minds are undisciplined. We jump from one idea to another, seldom thinking intently on any one idea.
- The world around us is a distraction. The phone is ringing. The TV blares at us. The radio is always on in the car. Someone or something is constantly trying to get our attention.
- The enemy does not what us concentrating on the Lord and the things of the Lord.
- We don’t read the Bible in a way that encourages us to think deeply about it.
- We take the natural world, God’s great work of creation where his fingerprints are everywhere, for granted.
If you desire to develop your skills in meditation, start slow. Even a few minutes of concentration on the Lord is worthwhile. Meditation is a practice that accumulates. The more you practice it, the better you will get at it. Here are some ideas:
- As you read your Bible, look for words, phrases, or verses that grab your attention. I listened to the sermon of a close friend Sunday night. As he preached John 14:30-31 spoke to me, especially the phrase, “He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me.” I have thought about it all week. It is an insight into the spiritual battle of the cross.
- Make a note that helps you remember and engage in meditation. Sometimes I copy a stand-out verse from my quiet time and tuck it in my right pocket where I keep my keys. I use my keys a lot every day so every time I reach into my pocket, I feel that note and remember to think about that verse.
- Journal your ideas as you read your Bible. Use a journal or a journaling Bible. Journaling is a discipline by itself, but it often helps us meditate.
- Look for people during the day to tell about your meditation verse. Share.
- Meditate on God’s natural world. I tilled in my garden today and I kept thinking about the parable of the soils. I wondered if the earth would complain about the tilling as painful or if it would be thankful for removing the weeds, letting in oxygen so the seeds sown will bear fruit. Then I thought what kind of “soil” is my heart today. Does it receive the Word with joy or do the cares of life choke out the seedlings?
- Take sermon notes in worship services or as you listen to a sermon online or on the radio. Note-taking can also be a separate discipline, but it helps us meditate on the Word and our pastor’s ideas.
- Meditate on the news. What insights might God give you as you watch the news? How does the Word apply to the news? How might God expect you to respond to what you hear?
- Use time in monotonous tasks, where little thinking is needed, to think about God and his Word. I find mowing the yard such a task and my mind can focus on other things while I am mowing.
- Go outside and watch the landscape. Today, on a break from tilling my garden I listened to and watched a cardinal singing in the cottonwood tree out back. Watching his brilliant red appearance and hearing his cheery notes helped me praise and thank God.
- Regularly ask God to speak to you in all sorts of ways: Bible reading, preaching, study, talking to people, watching entertainment. He will if you will listen and that gives you something to think about. Last week, Mary and I watched the musical Brigadoon. Near the end, the male lead made a statement about how a man can come to think that the things he believes in become more real than the things he sees. Wow. What a thought to examine in light of the Lord’s call to faith?
Scripture: Practice meditation now by looking at these verses from Psalm 119 and consider how the psalmist meditates. Psalm 119:15, 23,27,97,99, and 148.
Dig Deeper: Browse the website www.renovare.org. This organization was developed by Richard Foster to help people living flourishing lives as they become more like Jesus.
Now It’s Your Turn: What are your meditation experiences? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.