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.
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.
I spoke on Meditation this week, beginning with a story of a man named Robin. Do you see yourself in his story?
Robin wakes up once again to the beeping of the alarm clock, and hits snooze one more to see if he can squeeze out nine more minutes of sleep from his morning. He didn’t go to bed until well after midnight last night, and hasn’t gotten more than 6 hours of sleep any night in the past week…
As the alarm goes off again he looks at the time. Great, now he’s going to be late. He jumps in the shower, thankful that he has the special 2-in-1 shampoo, so he doesn’t have to take all that important time up having to use two bottles. He runs into his bedroom and tries to find something to wear in the disaster he calls a closet. He finally just grabs the clothes he wore yesterday, gives them a quick sniff, throws them on and bolts out the door, skids into the kitchen, grabs a banana and a granola bar, and prays that God will miraculously open up the traffic the way He did the water for Moses at the Red Sea.
He gets in the car, and hears that familiar “ding!” that reminds him that something is wrong with the car… but he doesn’t have time to worry about that right now. As he’s pulling out of the driveway, there’s another “ding!”, and he sees that he’s out of gas. He doesn’t have time for that either, so he prays that God will miraculously keep his tank full enough so he can get to work.
On the way to work Robin dodges in and out of traffic, weaving from lane to lane, cursing the transport trucks and anyone who gets in his way. His mind flies through every map he’s ever seen of Ottawa, wondering if there is a route to take that would shave valuable minutes off of his commute. He mentally reminds himself to check the map later… he’d write himself a note, but he’d probably crash if he looked down to find a pen.
He pulls into work, and gets through the door with seconds to spare. He throws his banana into his locker and walks straight into doing his job.
When lunch time comes, Robin goes through is daily routine of grabbing a coffee, checking his e-mail, updating his Facebook status, looking at sports scores, and looks over the paper in the break room. Then in walks Phil… or is it Paul… whatever, it doesn’t matter. He starts with “Hey Robin, how’s it goin’?” “Oh, great”, Robin thinks, “he wants to chat.” Robin pretends to be busy doing something, and asks “What do you need… uh, man… I’m right in the middle of something.” “Oh, sorry!” is the reply, “I’ll leave you alone.” And he walks back out the door.
After dodging that bullet, Robin decides he really does need to get back to work. The end of the day comes and Robin wonders if he’s done enough… if not he’ll just put in some overtime later to catch up.
On the way to the car a catastrophic thought strikes Robin’s already very tired mind. “Oh no… it’s Jane’s birthday tonight!” Now he’s torn. He’s tired and doesn’t want to go. He probably should, seeing as it’s his sister, but he didn’t have time to get a gift, and he’s already looking at a list of things to do at home. All he’s had to eat today is a banana, 5 coffees, and some Timbits someone brought into work, so he’s hungry… and no one likes someone comes to a party hungry and eats all the food. His clothes don’t smell right, and if he went home to shower and change, he’d probably be late. Jane probably won’t mind if he misses the party… although he did miss last year’s too. But he sent her a really nice e-card a couple days later.
And Robin is getting upset again… “Jane is always asking for things like this. It’s always about her. Doesn’t she know I have things to do?” And Robin decides there and then not to go. So he quickly texts Jane with an apology and says they’ll catch up later.
When he gets in the car Robin hears “Ding!” and then “Ding!”. And his head hits the steering wheel, when he realizes that he’s going to have to stop for gas. The first “ding!” will have to wait another day.
As Robin pulls into the gas station his phone vibrates with another e-mail. He pulls off the gas cap, shoves the pump into the car, and gets to work replying to the message. But the longer he stands there, the more impatient he gets. “Don’t they have the technology to make gas pumps any faster? They can put a man on the moon, but they need to me to stand here for this long to put gas in my tank?” “Click!” goes the pump, Robin hangs it up, and rushes into the store, still trying to finish the e-mail on his phone.
But there are two lines in the store. Robin quickly sizes up the lines. Who has their wallet out? That guy’s got chips and a pop which will take longer. So he picks his line… but keeps looking up from his phone to see if the other line is moving faster so he could jump into it if need be.
After waiting an agonizing 5 minutes he finally pays for his gas, runs to the car, fires it up, hears the familiar “Ding!” and speeds away… leaving the gas cap on top of the car, and the little gas-door open.
As he’s shoulder checking to see how narrowly he can cut someone off, he notices the open gas door and lets out a couple of swear words. Now he’s going to have to go all the way back to the gas station! Robin is angry again.
On the way back his phone rings. “Hi Robin, it’s Paul.” “Yeah, what?”, Robin barks. “Robin, I think we need to have a chat. Can I come over tonight?”
“Oh, I don’t know Paul… I’ve got a lot do to.” Robin replies.
“Ok, well, give me a call sometime when you’re free.” Paul replies.
Robin goes home, and now it’s getting late. He heats up some leftovers for dinner, leaves the dishes sitting on the counter, checks his e-mail again, updates his Facebook, sits down in his chair and flicks on the TV. A passing thought rolls through his mind… “Maybe I should go to the party.” But he puts it away. Another thought… “Well, maybe I could call Paul.” But he puts that one away too. “I still have to do some grocery shopping.” But he’s too tired. “Maybe I could read some bible before bed.” But he puts that thoughts aside too with the conclusion that he’s too tired to concentrate on it anyway. Now he feels tired and guilty.
After too much time in front of the TV watching nothing-in-particular, it’s late again. Too late. He’s going to pay for this tomorrow. Robin groans and slumps off to bed. Before his eyes close, Robin prays to God in his mind, “God, I sure wish I knew you better. I wish I had some more friends. I’m sorry for getting upset so much today… and yesterday. God, please take care of my mom…” and before he has time to finish that sentence he’s asleep.
Do you see yourself in that story? What would you say to Robin? Would you call him a deep person? A friendly person? A focused person? What will his life look like in 5 years?
I read recently about the importance of eating slowly. Here’s a quote: “Most Americans eat too fast, and, as a result, they take in too many calories before they realize they’ve eaten enough. It takes approximately 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to send out signals of fullness.” (source) Wow! 20 minutes?!? I finish my plate in 20 seconds! I’ve always eaten fast, and it’s hard to remember to slow down.
This revelation has other implications to my life which came up in my prayer time today. I’m working through Psalm 37 and was on verses 7-13 today. This section begins, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him”, and as I continued certain words were jumping off the page: “be still”, “wait patiently”, “fret not”, “refrain”, “turn from”. The Lord was reminding me –again– that I need to slow down and just be with Him.
Many times I treat my spiritual life like I do meal time – I wolf if down and move on. Read Bible – Check! Pray – Check! Listen to see of God has something to say – Check! “Ok Lord, I gave you 5 minutes to say something, now it’s time to get back to work!”
Jesus reminded me this morning that He said “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4). He followed that up with, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) What that means to me today is that I need to take the same advice I’ve been given for meals, and apply it to His Word. So, that’s my advice for you today.
We need to chew longer. The article says, “Not only does eating slowly and mindfully help you eat less, it enhances the pleasure of the dining experience…. Take a bite, eat it slowly, savor it, and do nothing but enjoy the flavor, texture, and experience….” We need to do that with the scripture. Instead of ploughing through 5 chapters at a time, take a small bite of a word or phrase and chew on it for a while. Savor it. Taste it. Explore the texture, meaning and what the Spirit is saying to you. Swallow and sense what God is doing as it gets under your skin. Let it digest through your system and spread it’s life-giving essence to every part of your life.
I’ve always loved watching and playing sports. And anyone who does knows that there is one word phrase that pervades all sportsdom — “We’ve got to get back to the fundamentals.”
If our team is on a losing streak, the answer is always getting “back to the fundamentals.” If you are practicing, you spend time “working on the fundamentals.” If you go to training camp, or a draft, do you know what they look for? “The fundamentals”. They are where everyone starts, and what everyone must master.
That being the case, what are “the fundamentals” of discipleship? Sometimes, just like when I was playing baseball, I start to get too fancy with my Christian walk. Instead of simply trying to learn more about Him, and making space for God to speak, I try to get fancy by reading a lot of books, trying exotic prayer techniques, moving around different locations, or trying to multitask by doing devos while working out, driving, or doing the dishes.
Not that any of that is bad (in fact, my earlier article was all about meeting God in every part of our lives) — it’s just that fancy techniques can be distracting and sometimes cause me can drop the ball.
So my challenge over the next while is to “get back to the fundamentals”. What does that mean?
- To allow God to inhabit every part of my day.
- To read less scripture, but meditate on it more.
- To find a regular place and time to pray.
- To come to church simply to meet God there.
What about you? Do you struggle with the fundamentals? Do you ever get too “fancy” with your spiritual life? What ways can we “get back to the fundamentals”?