Only to sit and think of God,
Oh what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the Name
Earth has no higher bliss
-Frederick W. Faber
Do you want to be in God’s presence? Do you desire to know him, to hear his voice, to fellowship with him, to listen and obey him? Meditation is listening to God’s word, thinking about his law, and remembering again and again what he has done. “Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” (Psalm 1:2). “Christian meditation is the ability to hear God’s voice and to obey his word.” Hearing God is also a call to obedience. It does us no good to hear if we do not also obey.
Jesus often meditated. He set aside time to be alone with his Father. He listened, communed, and followed the will of his Father. He modeled a relationship for us. “What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary in the heart”.
Christian meditation has little in common with meditation of the eastern religions. “Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind.” Eastern meditation is an attempt to escape from the physical realm and to lose one’s personal identity. Christian meditation is an encounter with the living God who makes us whole. Christian meditation is creating space that allows God to remove confusion around us, and to replace that confusion with a rich relationship with himself.
Deep down it is frightening to talk directly to God. He is holy, and we are not. It’s hard to trust him, it’s intimidating to be in his presence. We usually prefer to hear from God second hand – through a mediator – just like Israel preferred Moses to talk to God on their behalf. We think that by speaking to God “second hand”, we won’t really need to change our lives or who we are. But, “to be in the presence of God is to change.”
Desiring to talk to God requires grace from God in the first place. As we receive his grace, the fire in our heart grows. We increasingly desire to know him, to hear him, to obey him, to be in his presence, and for him to change us.
Learning to meditate requires setting aside some time to do it. At the same time, our whole day matters. Paul says “to pray without ceasing.” We can’t compartmentalize. If most of our day is frantic and without thought of God, it will be difficult to think of him for the few minutes that we do set aside.
What about location and posture? When meditating, try to pick a spot that is free of distraction. Turn off the TV and the cell phone. Focus on God. When the weather is nice, consider going outside. Pick a posture that works for you, that’s comfortable, and that helps you to center your attention on Christ.
Meditate on scripture. Allow God to speak to you through his written work. Scripture meditation is different than exegesis or study. It is ruminating on a scripture passage (reading the passage slowly, several times, thinking deeply about it). Sometimes it might include memorizing the passage. Ask God to personalize his word for you – to show you how he wants to apply it in your life. Pick a passage of scripture and internalize it.
Another kind of meditation is to “center down” (a Quaker term). Be quiet before God. Give your cares to him. Receive from him. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Another kind of meditation is to enjoy God’s world. Be amazed at his creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1). “Give your attention to the created order. Look at the trees, really look at them. Take a flower and allow its beauty and symmetry to sink deep into your mind and heart.”
Another kind of meditation is to think about current events. This could be called “prophetic meditation”. “Hold the events of our time before God and ask for prophetic insight to discern where these things lead. Further, we should ask for guidance for anything we personally should be doing to be salt and light in our decaying and dark world.”
Remember as you meditate that it is a learning process. Don’t get discouraged, don’t give up. God wants you to know him better. He is in the process of drawing you to himself. Let him do it.
[This blog post is part 1 in a series about the Christian disciplines, based on Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline. All quotes in this post (other than the Bible references) are from the book. The series introduction is here.]