Christian Meditation: Stopping & Listening

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Meditation is a multifaceted and religiously loaded term.  There are many Christians today who shy away from practicing  meditation because they aren’t sure that it’s “allowed”.  Let me assure you it is, and it is the key to developing a deep life and focus on God’s priorities for you.

Christian meditation only has two components:  Stopping and Listening.  Other religions have meditation as a religious practice, particularly eastern religions, but for them, meditation is designed to purge all thought, desire and will – it is to empty themselves.  Christian meditation is not an emptying … but a filling of ourselves with God.  In Christian meditation we focus on our obedience and faithfulness to God and the person of Jesus Christ.

First, let’s talk about Stopping.

For some of you that period of silence we just had before I came up was refreshing, for others it was annoying, and maybe even agonizing.  Take a second and think: What was going through your mind?  Godly thoughts?  What was your body doing?  Were you at peace, or were you keyed up?  Some of you are so tired that if there is no sound or activity, you will just fall asleep.  For those of you who are staying awake with me, let me ask you about your feelings about “stopping”.  How do you see stopping?  Is it a sin?  Are stopped people, lazy people?  What emotion does the word “stop” conjure up?

Christian Psychologist Carl Jung said,

“Hurry is not of the devil; it is the devil.”

Why?  Because when we don’t stop, we cannot listen to God, love our neighbour, serve the church, or worship properly.  We must make the time to stop.  It is the first step in meditation.

Hurry Sickness

John Ortburg, in his book “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” talks about  “Hurry Sickness”, and he gives a few symptoms of people who are “hurry sick.”  Let me ask you to identify any of these in your own life, because if you have “hurry sickness”, then you will not stop.  And if you will not stop, you cannot meditate.  And if you cannot meditate, you will not deepen yourself, or hear the voice of God.

The First symptom is “Constantly Speeding up Daily Activities”.  Do you find that everything in your life is a race because you are plagued by the fear that there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done?  Do you read fast, talk fast, and keep nodding so the other person will speed up their talking?  Do you find yourself being anxious about which line to stand in at the store, or what lane to be in when driving?  Do you ever find yourself rushing around, even when there’s no need to?  You’re just so used to going at 110% that you can’t stop.  Do you find yourself making up pretend races with your kids or loved ones so that you can get them out of the way at the end of the day?  People do this.  They tell their kids to race through brushing their teeth, and taking a bath, and then race through reading them a book… because they need to get them to bed.  Married couples race through dates and even sex so they can get through it so they can do something else.  Are you always speeding things up?

The Second symptom Hurry Sickness is “Relentless Multi-Tasking”.  Do you find yourself unsatisfied, or even feel guilty, if you are only doing one thing at a time?  Some people do.  They can’t just read.  They have to read with music, and the news on, with the computer on in the background, while sitting next to someone having a conversation.  Some people can’t just sit outside and have a coffee… they have to bring a crossword puzzle, or a grocery list, or something else… because somehow just sitting there with a coffee is somehow a sin.  Some people can’t let the phone ring… they have to answer it.  Do you always have to multi-task?

 Third, “Clutter”.  A hurry sick person cannot fathom simplicity.  They have every time-saving gadget in the world, and ten things strapped to their belt, and in their backpack.  Their closets and bedrooms are stuffed to the brim with things they never use or wear, but will “get to later when they have time.”  Do you lead a cluttered existence?

 Fourth, “Superficiality”.  Richard Foster calls it “the curse of our age.”  Relationships are superficial because time is not given to deepen them.  Marriages break down because the depths of love are not plunged.  Spiritual life is superficial and unsatisfying, so people go to all kinds of sins and idols to fill their spiritual hunger.  So many people live their life on the surface, and have no idea that there is a depth to existence they will never see unless they stop, wait and listen.

The end result of hurry sickness becomes an inability to love.  This is the most serious danger of hurry sickness.  We race and run and live a superficial lives and we become jaded to love, and unable to love.  Why?  Because love and time are indelibly tied.  We cannot hurry and love.  Love takes time.

When we hurry, we lose our sense of gratitude, and our sense of wonder.  Carleton Place, and the Ottawa Valley are truly beautiful, but you won’t really experience its beauty if you whiz by in a plane or a car.  To really appreciate it you have to get out of the car and take a walk, go on one of the bike-paths, or sit in a park.  You’re spouse is wonderful, but you won’t fully experience that sense of wonder or gratitude to God for them unless you stop and truly experience them for a concentrated period of time.

Jesus knew how to stop.

And He did it often.  He had the most important mission in the history of the universe, and yet He took time to stop.

When Jesus heard about the beheading of His cousin John the Baptist he was in the middle of an itinerant preaching journey.  But he stopped.   Matthew 14:13, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.”  But the crowds were relentlessly following him.  So Jesus teaches them for a time, miraculously feeds them and then dismisses them.  Now many of us would have went for a nap, or went with our friends somewhere, but Jesus sends His disciples away in a boat, and then stops again.   Verse 23 says, “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.”  Why didn’t Jesus get swept up in all the things we get swept into?  Because He stopped regularly to listen to God.

Before Jesus chose the disciples He stopped to listen to what God had to say.  Luke 6:12-13, “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.  When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.”   We get the impression from the Gospels that despite Jesus’ popularity, people coming to Him day and night, dealing with family matters, having to train the disciples, teaching, preaching, miracles, traveling, the Pharisees chasing him down, and all the rest, Jesus took time away to be with God.  If Jesus needed to do this… how much more do we?

Second, let’s talk about Listening

Not many people are good at this.  And it is certainly not something that is encouraged in our culture.   Richard Foster says,

“What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary of the heart.”

Think of your inner life like a building that you have been working on for some time.  God started you with some materials to work with, your parents gave you pieces and tools to build more, hardships and life events added to the design, and so did your schooling and friends.  You have this inner house built up that represents every part of you.  But when you ask Jesus to take over your life, what you are doing is asking Him to rebuild your house.

When we stop and listen, what we are doing is giving God the time and focus to rebuild our house.  During our meditation time, God opens doors that we had locked and stuffed full of anger, bitterness, and pain.  He takes our favourite trophies down off of our shelves.  He points out the structural problems and weak designs we have incorporated into our house.  And He starts the process of rebuilding us.  And in our listening we have time to ask Him, “God, does that have to go?”  And we listen to when He says, “Yes.”  And we ask Him, “What parts of me need to be added?  What needs to be torn out?   What should be kept?”  And in our listening time God begins that work.

So often we love to go to others for this advice.  And there is certainly a place for that.  But if we really believe that we live in a universe created by a personal God who loves us and still speaks to this day, then we must listen to Him.

How to Listen to God

There are many ways that we can listen to God, but let me tell you the two most helpful that I’ve found.

First is listening to scripture.  Open the bible and read it as though it was written to you.  Now, I don’t mean bible study.  I mean just take a bible, without study notes, and meditate on one part.  Maybe one section, or one verse, or even one word, and let God speak to you about it.  Use your imagination to put yourself in the place of Elijah by the stream, or Paul on the road, or become one of the throngs of people listening to Jesus on the mountainside.  What do you hear, see, sense, feel?  Meditate on scripture and let God speak to you through it.

Next, just get quiet.  Take a period of time and just turn everything off and listen.  Indoors, outdoors, wherever.  Don’t pray, or talk, or read, or listen to music, or bring a friend… just listen.  If you’ve never done this, it’s going to be really hard.   Try it for 1 minute.  Then 5 minutes.  Then 15 minutes.  Then half an hour.  Don’t feel guilty if your mind is racing and you can’t focus.

Once you get to the 10 or 15 minute mark, grab a piece of paper and a pen, and then go find someplace to just listen.  If something comes to mind that you need to do… write it down.  I have to do laundry… write it down.  I have to talk to someone… write it down.  I should pick up frozen corn next time I go to the grocery store… write it down.  Get it all out on paper and just listen.  If you don’t write it down then you’re going to keep hearing the same thing over and over.  Eventually your brain will stop coming up with distractions and you will be able to listen for God’s voice.  If and when He speaks… write it down.

And then go check out what you’ve been listening to with the Bible and another Christian friend/Pastor.  Simply say, “This is what I’ve been hearing from God and what I believe He’s saying… what do you think?”  That will help you from being deceived, and will keep you accountable.

What do you need to do this week to get started?

 1. Ask for the desire to listen.  The ability and desire to meditate is a gift from God.  Begin by asking Him for the want to and gumption to actually do it.  This is certainly a prayer He will answer.  God loves to give us gifts that bring us closer to Him.

2. Slow Down and Stop.  Deliberately do things that make you practice waiting.  Drive in the slow lane for a month.  Get in the long line at the grocery store.  And then find ways to stop.  Declare an electronics free day, or week.  No ipod, no tv, no cell phone after work, no computer after work.

3. Make Space.  Set a time in your calendar that will be a meditation day for you.  A couple of hours, or a whole day where you will just go and be alone and listen.  Tell people that you’re going, and set the date.  Then find a spot to be alone.  Not the mall, or the coffee shop, or the gym.  How about the park, or a place by the Ottawa river, or alone in your room?  And don’t take anything!  Nothing.  Nothing.  Nope, not that either!  Ortburg says,

“Solitude is the one place where we can gain freedom from the forces of society that will otherwise relentlessly mould us.”

Who do you want to mould you, society, or God?

Don’t get worked up if this is hard for a while.  No one can do this perfectly.  But God honours those who seek Him… He promises we will find Him.