Paul warned us that our true enemy is not physical or material, but spiritual. In this battle, we are our own worst enemy. And the most effective tool that our spiritual Adversary uses against us is our own “busyness.” Our own desire to get more done in less time is what kills us spiritually. If we hope to move beyond a superficial faith we must be willing to go down into the inner world of contemplation. This is the field of play for the spiritual discipline of meditation.
Our Spiritual Struggle
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).
Psychiatrist Carl Jung once remarked, “Hurry is not of the Devil; it is the Devil.” Plato said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Both were observing that the person who does not stop long enough to engage in serious contemplation on life is headed for disaster.
The Christian who does not invest time in mediation is always living with some form of spiritual poverty.
Meditation in the Bible
Meditation was very familiar to the people of the Bible. The Bible uses two different Hebrew words to convey the idea of meditation, and together they are used some fifty-eight times. These words have various meanings: listening to God’s word, reflecting on God’s works, rehearsing God’s deeds, ruminating on God’s law, and more. In each case, there is stress upon changed behavior as a result of our encounter with the living God.
Isaac “went out to meditate in the field in the evening” (Gen. 24:63). Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel are all depicted as practicing meditation. The Old Testament Hymn Book (the Psalms) is shocked full of calls to meditation —
“I think of thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the watches of the night” (Ps. 63:6).
“My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate upon thy promise” (Ps. 119:148).
“His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law, he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2).
“Oh, how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day…. I hold my feet from every evil way, in order to keep thy word. I do not turn aside from thy ordinances, for thou hast taught me” (Ps. 119:97, 101, 102).
Just to name a few.
Jesus spent considerable time in meditation (Mark 1:35, 45, Luke 5:16). He taught his disciples to do the same (Acts 10:10; 11:15; 2 Cor. 12:1-4).
Meditation Myths and Misunderstandings
Meditation may be the most misunderstood of the Spiritual Disciplines. The New Age movement in our country did much to hurt Christian meditation. Many Christians are now hesitant to take meditation too seriously for fear of falling into New Age practices.
However, the Bible taught meditation long before the New Age movement hit. Many of the spiritual practices of the Near Eastern religions include some form of meditative practices, including Judaism and Christianity. You must not allow these foreign forms of meditation to ruin one of the most important Christian disciplines in your toolbox.
The truth is: there is a substantive difference between the kind of meditation the Bible teaches and that which is used in much of the Eastern world. In general, Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind. The two ideas are quite different.
What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary in the heart.
The end goal of Christian meditation is to be filled with Jesus. That’s it. It’s very simple. We want to make the physical, emotional, and spiritual space for Jesus to fill us with his spirit. We want to hear no other voice — no other guide — no other spirit — but that of Jesus.
A Place to Start
In order to be sure that happens I would recommend starting your meditation practice with something that the devotional masters called Meditatio Scripturarum, the meditation upon Scripture.
It is in some ways the central reference point by which all other forms of meditation are kept in proper perspective. It is simply a process of meditating on a portion of Scripture (usually a very brief portion that consists of one or two lines).
Whereas the study of Scripture centers on interpreting the Word of God, the meditation of Scripture centers on internalizing and personalizing it. The written Word becomes a living word addressed to you.
There is an important place for the technical study of the Bible — a quest to understand what the original writers were saying to the people they were writing to — but, that is not the end goal of Meditatio Scripturarum.
Foster explains, “This is not a time for technical studies, or analysis, or even the gathering of material to share with others. Set aside all tendencies toward arrogance and with a humble heart receive the word addressed to you” (Celebration of Discipline, p.29).
I think it’s important to get into a physical posture that helps you focus on Jesus. I find that kneeling helps. You can quietly read the Scripture passage you have chosen. Read it over and over again. Ideally, you might memorize it — it helps to focus on one line of Scripture at a time.
Resist the temptation to analyze or categorize the text. Just ask Jesus to speak to you through it. Ask God to throw light on a particular word or idea that comes to your mind. Just live with the Scripture in your time of meditation. The Lord might not give you anything about it. That’s fine. Your greatest desire is simply to meditate on it. That is an end to itself.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “…just as you do not analyze the words of someone you love, but accept them as they are said to you, accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart, as Mary did. That is all. That is meditation.”
This is not the only form of meditation, but it is a great place to start because it keeps you safely tied to Scripture and to the spirit of Jesus.
Meditation is meant to satisfy your longing to hear the living voice of God, to sanctify the imagination as a powerful gift of God, and to fasten you to the heart and spirit of Jesus.