The Lost Art of Christian Meditation
by Rhonda Jones 4/24/2008 / Self Help
"In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: 'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.' (Matthew 13:14)
By Rhonda Jones
Recently on the Oprah show, Dr. Oz, frequent guest and author of "You on a Diet," gave the audience six "must dos" for optimal health; number 3 was to meditate. The word meditate means to ponder, reflect upon, think about, muse over or to ruminate. When we're meditating on something, we're singly focused and giving it our full attention. We block out everything else around us both mental and physically. We allow no other thought or activity to steal us away from that moment. We're 100% present and fully conscious of whatever we're doing.
Whether we realize or not, we all meditate to one degree or another. We may meditate on our careers, our love relationships, our goals in life, or becoming successful. People also meditate on things that are harmful or destructive to them or others. We become what we repetitively think about.(Proverbs 23) What we meditate on will steer the direction of our lives.
In Joshua 1:8, God declared, "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful."
We all want to be successful, happy, fulfilled, loved, and whole. These are basic human needs; and we're all on a quest to obtain them. We believe if only we have the right job, the right spouse, more money, a nicer home, children, better parents, own a home, or have more vacation time, we would be complete. These things can provide joy in our lives, but if we believe they are the source of our fulfillment, we're setting ourselves up for failure. Those who don't have these things are on a constant mission to get them. Those who have obtained them and realized their failure to produce lasting happiness, often become hopeless and despondent.
Many Christians possess beliefs and behaviors similar to the secular world. We're being dragged along like a herd and subdued by the world's philosophies. The weekly sermons or bible studies, though they give us the ideal, often fail to help us embrace God's truth and put it into practice.
Richard Peace in his book Spiritual Journaling: Recording Your Journey Towards God stated that "widespread church studies indicate that there is no distinguishable lifestyle characteristics by which to discern between those who attend church and those who do not. It appears that the teachings of Jesus haven't sunk deeply into his followers," stated the author.
Yet, God in his wisdom and absolute truth gives us a fail proof method of gaining everything we want-- to meditate on Him and his word, always. That doesn't mean we will receive everything on our prayer list of wants. Instead, through the transformative power of meditating on God and his word, we will find a peace and contentment in knowing that God is the source of our success, period. We can stop seeking, we can be still, and we can enter into a deeper relationship of knowing God that will sustain us through the elusions, trials, and inadequacies of life.
How Do We Meditate on the Lord
So how do we mediate on the Lord? This question may produce images of sitting lotus style in a meadow or Buddhist monks chanting in some far away land. Unfortunately for Christians, the practice of meditation has been misunderstood and as a result we have forfeited and shun a practice that is not only encouraged by God for our success, but that will also create deeper intimacy with Christ, improve our mental and physical health, help us maintain our priorities and balance, and live with more peace and joy. If we, through ignorance and deception, relinquished this prized possession, we need it back, and now! Stress, worry, misplaced priorities, depression, restlessness, negative thinking, addictions, and many other harmful behaviors plague the Christian community more than ever before. We've lost the art of meditating on the Lord. God said in Joshua 1:8 that the way to spiritual prosperity and success which will ultimately lead to physical success is to mediate on His word continually.
Why Just Reading God's Word Isn't Enough
Many Christians think they are meditating on God when they read their Bibles. We have made a daily practice to read a chapter or two at the beginning of our day. We can even quote a variety of scriptures, but reading the word is different than meditating upon the word. Reading doesn't always penetrate our heart. Often after listening to an inspiring sermon, we have a difficult time summarizing or remembering much of what was said. "All I know is that it was really a good message today!" we proclaim. Likewise, we can read a whole passage of scripture only to forget the content before even reaching the end of the page. College students frequently have that problem. They read and read but may absorb very little. Reading, without contemplation, may only be skin deep thus limiting our ability take ownership of God's word and measure our life by its standards. James 1:23 says that we can be hearers of but not doers of the word. Just as we look at ourselves in a mirror and then walk away is just how fleeting God's word can be. (James 1:23)
In the parable of the sower, (Mark 4) Jesus said that the seed is sown (the word of God) and then "immediately" the enemy comes to steal the word out of our heart. To further illustrate, it says, he (the enemy) steals the word by getting us to doubt God, by burdening us with many cares and life stresses, and by deceiving us into believing that superficial things will fulfill our heart's desire. And he does it constantly, day by day, and minute by minute. It's built into the fabric of our society. We're going against the grain when we try to live for Jesus.
With all this working against us, it is of great necessity that we put into practice tools that will help us combat the pull to live a less authentic life in Christ.
Although meditating means to ponder, reflect, or think about, the art of meditating on God can take many forms. I would like to elaborate on four ways to meditate on God that will help to fuse the word of God and his life changing principles not only in your head, but in your heart.
Meditating on God Changes Us From Within
Let's begin by looking at several scriptural passages that focus on the principles of meditation. In Exodus, we are told that for 40 days Moses abided with God on Mount Sinai. While on the mountain, Moses communed with God and received the 10 commandments. When he came down from the mountain, it is said that Mose's countenance was so bright and intense that the children of Israel could not look at him. In fact, they made Moses put a cloth over his head. We can't spend time with God and not be affected because God character just spills over and saturates us. The same thing happened when Jesus visited Zachieus. (Luke 19) In the middle of their encounter Zachieus voluntarily told Jesus that if he had cheated anyone he'd pay them back double. When Mary and Martha had invited Jesus over for dinner and Martha became upset because Mary wasn't helping with the preparations, Jesus gently scolded Martha and told her that abiding with him, as Mary had chosen, was the better choice. Scriptures tell us that when we abide with Christ, he abides with us, and without his living and guiding spirit, we can do nothing. (St. John 15) One form of meditating on the Lord is to abide with him; to sit at his feet and to wait in his presence, just like the child who sits in his mother or father's lap to be comforted.
Meditating with a Scriptural Anchor or Mantra
This can be accomplished by carving out time each day to just sit quietly before the Lord where you are free from distractions. The ocean or secluded areas of nature are great places to meditate, but a quiet area in your home works just as well. Initially, meditating on the Lord by abiding may be difficult because our mind tends to be restless and wanders profusely; but with consistency you'll gain more and more control over your thoughts. Many meditators select a scriptural passage, spiritual anchor, or word to focus on and anchor their attention, often called a mantra. Your mantra or scriptural phrase can be "the Lord is my shepherd," "I walk by faith," "The joy of the Lord is my strength", "I cast my cares upon the Lord," or "Peace be Still." The late John Main, one of the most influential spiritual teachers in the Christian meditation tradition encourages believers to use the mantra, "Maranatha" that means, "Come Lord Jesus." This mantra is suggested because of its relevance in scriptures and the lack of an emotional or mental reference, which inhibits our minds from creating a mental attachment to the word. You can also select just one word, like "Jesus" or "Jehovah" to meditate on. Meditate in silence or record music to play in the background. It's best to time the music or use a timer so that you're not worried about being late for work or missing an appointment. As you meditate, become fully present by paying attention to your breathing and your scriptural phrase. You can silently repeat your scriptural phrase in alignment with your breathing or anytime your mind begins to wander off. You can also create a mental picture in your mind to focus on. As you practice being still and calming your thoughts, you'll sense a greater feeling of God's presence and a greater sensitivity to hearing his voice.
Once you clear your mental path to God through regular meditation, you'll sense the yearnings of the Holy Spirit as he drops words or impressions on your heart. One time during a meditation I had a vision of me and all my family members standing in a circle and sharing our desires for the coming year. Several days later I shared my vision and we set aside a time to dedicated the New Year to the Lord and touched and agreed on our heart's desires in prayer. As you practice this form of centering meditation, you'll find old weights and worries seem to disappear. No evil thing can stand in God's presence. I created several guided- meditation titled, Quiet Times, Quieting a Restless Mind, and Mantra Meditation, which guide believers through these steps.
Guided Christian Meditations
Guided meditations are another method that can help you to meditate on Christ. Guided-meditations are usually on a CD or cassette. Guided Christian meditations are great for beginning meditators and are a good transition to learning to meditating by abiding or with a mantra. Some people need the added stability and structure of being guided through their meditation experience. Most guided meditation CDs begin with a relaxation exercises followed by a scriptural narrative. Some are filled with biblical stories; others are more visual or interactive like taking you on a walk through nature or nailing your cares to the cross. Guided Christian meditations can also cover a wide variety of topics that help you trust God for healing, to control negative thoughts, or to release painful memories of the past. I even have meditations on nurturing your vision, attracting love, overcoming anger, and releasing toxic emotions. Christ-centered guided meditations work well when you want to focus on a specific aspect of your Christian walk. The relaxation exercises prepare your mind to absorb God's word and His principles for the greatest effectiveness. The benefits are that you learn to relax and quiet your thoughts while being submerged with the scriptures. The talking throughout the meditation helps you to stay present and focused and diminishes wandering thoughts.
Another popular and more historical way of meditating is what the Christian monks called contemplative prayer. This form of meditating involved selecting a short scripture or biblical passage and then reflecting on it for the entire day. During their reflections, the monks would think about how these particular scriptures were relevant to their lives. They took ownership of the scriptures by making them their own. They measured their behavior by them and contemplated what changes they needed to make so that their life personally reflected the passages. You can add this form of meditating to your daily devotion, by selecting and writing down a particular passage and then ask God to make this passage real to you. Interestingly, the passage will seem to take on a life of its own. Scripture says that God's word is like a two edge sword, it is alive and it quickens us. (Hebrews 4:12) We are changed by the word; but the word has to get into our heart and our spirit and not just our minds. Many years ago as I began to study the word to write my manuscript, "Don't Go Back to Egypt," I was amazed to see the meanings in scriptures that eluded me before. Meditating on the word by taking small bites and then chewy them slowly is transformative and much more effective than just reading whole chapters of scriptures.
Christian Meditation Groups
Lastly, consider joining a Christian Meditation Group. Through the World Community for Christian Meditation Website (WCCM) (www.wccm.org) you may be able to locate a group in your area. If no groups are available, consider starting your own. The organization provides resources on how to start and maintain a Christian Meditation Group. By joining a group you can receive instruction on meditating as well as benefit from the knowledge of some veteran meditators. Just like corporate church worship can be uplifting, energizing, and unifying, meditating on God collectively also ushers in the sweet spirit and presence of God. Groups usually meet once or twice a week and are free of charge. During the meeting, a short teaching relating to meditation or spiritual growth is shared by the facilitator. This is followed by a time of meditation which last for about 20 minutes. Afterwards, there may be a shared discussion or believers may be asked to leave quietly as to not disturb those still waiting on the Lord. Laurence Freeman, Director of the WCCM writes, "the meditation group is the most contemporary expression of and answer to the tremendous spiritual hunger that so characterizes our time."
To conclude, meditating is a spiritual practice that can enhance our relationship with God. It can help us to take on his character by spending time in God's presence. Meditating on a scriptural passage or mantra teaches us to calm our restless thoughts and creates a greater sensitivity to hearing God's voice. And meditating on God's word in the form of contemplative prayer is a way to reflect upon the scripture and ponder its relevancy in our personal life. Joining a Christian meditation group can offer guidance, experience, and a place to share the art of meditation collectively. All four forms of meditation can change us and make our life more fulfilling, Christ-centered, and balanced.