Taking God seriously as your friend and counsellor.
Meditation is a particular kind of praying; it is praying with our total person. Instead of speaking words as we usually do in prayer to God, we listen to words and mentally picture our petitions. Meditation is the focusing of our imagination in the presence of God.
Begin meditation by consciously relaxing your body and slowing the pace of our mind. When you are physically relaxed and mentally still, your spirit seems more receptive to the Spirit of God. The Spirit speaks through the Word - the Scriptures.
Choose a favourite Scripture verse that you have memorized and focus on it, letting the Holy Spirit speak to you through it. For example, take Proverbs 3:5-6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." As you listen to these words, picture yourself as trusting in God in regard to your marriage and family relationships - and not relying on your own insights (interpretations). See yourself acknowledging God's presence in the most unlikely situations - such as in moments of irritation or disappointment with yourself, your spouse, or your children. Notice the difference it makes in your behaviour at these times. Then envision your paths straight: your confusion is dispersed and you are letting the Holy Spirit direct your ways in your family concerns.
To reinforce this Biblical directive in your life, select a particular frustration mental tape that you tend to play in an irritated moment, despite your desire not to do so. Actually see yourself in such a moment, but then respond differently. You may even imagine yourself turning off the "tape recorder" or "MP3 player" and speaking the way you really want to speak. In this way you can break fresh ground in your mind by letting the Holy Spirit direct you. At the same time, your mental picture is a prayer to God that you actually will behave in this manner in these circumstances. Inwardly say "amen."
Next, is the need to pray specifically. Walk through the day in prayer with God either in anticipation or reflection. If your main prayer time is a night, reflect the day back to God and anticipate tomorrow. Commit your way to God (Proverbs 3:3-6).
A very personal testimony
The meditation I have in mind involves filling my mind/heart with God and God's truth. This requires constructive mental activity. I rehearse, go over, tease out, ponder, reflect, agonize over its words, being totally absorbed by the text in an endeavour to understand, apply and pray.
The intent is to saturate mind, heart and will (Joshua 1:8) so that I gain insight, knowledge, wisdom (Psalm 119:98-99), love, grace, inspiration, strength, be changed, washed (Ephesians 5:26), have Godly passion and holy resolve (Psalm 39:13; Jeremiah 23:19).
Meditation flows out of hearing, reading, studying and memorizing God's Word. I grew up in a tradition that emphasized reading, studying and memorizing the Bible, but never, as I recall, addressed the need to hear God's Word. All four are prerequisites to purposeful meditation.
1. Hearing the Bible
Jesus stated that those who hear and obey the word of God will be blessed (Luke 11:28). Paul taught that faith resulted from hearing God's Word (Romans 10:17). Writing to Timothy Paul emphasised the need to be devoted to the public reading of Scripture, preaching and teaching. In doing so he would save himself and his hearers (1 Timothy 4:13-16). Hearing is foundational to meditating "Hearing the Word of God is not merely passive listening it is a discipline to be cultivated" (Whitney, 1991, p. 270).
2. Reading the Bible
A second prerequisite to fruitful meditation is reading the Bible. The Bible is our very life source (Matthew 4:4), through which I/we were born again (1 Peter 1:22-25), and which sustains our new life (1 Peter 2:2). Those who heed will be blessed (Revelation 1:3).
3. Memorizing - Psalm 119:97
Then, so that God's Word is "hid in our hearts" (Psalm 119:11) I need to learn by heart, tracts of Scripture. These tracts/passages become my companions in the night hours , in times of silence, in times of adversity, in times of prayer, when tempted (Matthew 4:1-11), lacking counsel (Psalm 119:24), feeling weak (Proverbs 22:17-19), memorization provides fuel for meditation.
4. Studying God's Word
It is studying God's Word that will motivate and give direction to my meditation. Studying the Bible will give us depth (Ezra 7:10), (Bridges, The Practice of Godliness, Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1983, p. 51). Studying will tease our minds about what it is God is saying. Studying will give us problems to wrestle with, truths to try to comprehend, God's ways to seek to understand, principles that need to be given practical expression in our lives.
It was this backdrop that set the stage for my discipline of meditation. What I have found is that the content of my meditation has either been those passages I have been studying in order to preach/teach or selected verses I have chosen to reflect on. For example, one Monday Sabbath - I called Psalm Therapy, centered around Psalm 139. First I prayed the Psalm. Then I meditated on what it is God knows about me.
- Lord you have searched and known me i.e. you know when I sit, relax, stop
- you know when I rise, get up, stand up
- you know what I am thinking
- you discern my going out
- you discern my lying down
- you are familiar with all my habits
- you anticipate what it is I am about to say
- there is no direction that I can take, or go, but you are still there encompassing me
- you have grasped my whole being as a lover would take his /her lover's hand
- I am over joyed, stunned by what you know
- I cannot grasp half of what you know about myself
Then I began to re-write this
- Lord, you know every nook and cranny of my being
- no actions go unnoticed by you
- you read the electric impulses in my brain
- you know the decisions I make in the secret recess of my heart
- you are familiar with all my actions and mannerisms
- even before I open my mouth, you know what it is I will say
- every move I make, you are there encircling me
- you have stretched out your hand to grasp me as a lover grasps a companion's hand
- I am overjoyed, stunned, that you have taken time to gain such intimate knowledge of me
- I cannot grasp why you have concerned yourself with me
This reflection teased my brain. I want to know what the meaning of the Hebrew words for: search (V 1); perceive (v 2); discern (v 3); familiar (v 4); hewn (v 5); laid your hand (v 5); wonderful (v 6); too lofty (v 6); in order to try and imagine what it would be like to possess such knowledge of another person - and love them; redeem them; be their friend, companion, advisor. Amazing.
Then I would move on to verses 7 - 16 thankful, reassured that nothing in my life is hidden from god. Nor can I pretend that God cannot see me when tempted to flirt with temptation, to escape to a fantasy world of illicit pleasure.
Verses 13-16 remind me that God knew my emotional, mental, physical, and heart/soul strengths/weaknesses. these He has assigned to me this place in time, these tasks, these people, this spouse.
Coming to a verse like Psalm 139:23 I would pray
- "Search me:
- 'Know my heart' its whole gamut
- i.e. longings
- malicious thoughts
- plans to revenge
- plans to do good
test me (need to look at "text")
- know my anxiety
- what its about
- what do I fear
- what do I anticipate
- why preoccupied about this
- what is so important to me in this
"see if there is any offensive way in me"
Almost immediately when praying this phrase a host of things flood my mind - things I want to justify, repeat, hang on to. Thoughts of ill will, hatred, evil desires, impure thoughts, lust, fantasies. I find it easy to be overwhelmed by a sense of my utter loathsomeness. The constant battle with sin within. Therefore, if I was to benefit and grow I have found I need to tackle specific wrongs one by one. List what comes to mind - yes. But focus on one. Otherwise energy becomes defused and I really do not change.
What have I learned about myself through meditation in times of silence during my Sabbath, or in the night hours when awake, or throughout the day as I mull over words, verses, phrases? First, it is scary to take God seriously. It is like venturing into an unknown landscape. There is the temptation to draw back and stay with the crowd. Not to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life. Second, godliness demands total attention. It is work. Third, God's grace wrestles with me at every turn, leading, prodding, encouraging etc. Fourth, the Bible taken seriously introduces me to God at every turn.
What have I learned about God? The Bible, its composition, transcends time, cultures, people, so that it speaks poignantly to me today. It corrects my fantasies about God and self. God, through His Spirit, is a wonderfully patient teacher. When I need to be loved - He loves, rebuked - He rebukes, but not in a way that disheartens but in a way that inspires and strengthens me to do right. Through meditation God has become more of a companion who I can chat to, share ideas with, and I feel understood, listened to. As I write this, I feel as though I am still a beginner because the truths I am experiencing about God are at variance with other voices that used to be my tutors, my masters. Some days I am more conscious of this than others. Yet I am conscious that daily there is the need to choose who I will serve, who I will worship, whether or not I will obey the Gospel today? Meditation sharpens these issues and strengthens my desire and my will to serve righteousness.
Today I still purposefully and unconsciously meditate on the Bible, grappling with what it is God is saying to me and then how can I communicate that to others. It would be accurate to say the text tyrannizes me - demanding that I wrestle with it, probe it, in order to understand, God, myself, and the message of those life giving words.
Dr Keith Graham