Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Meditation (spiritual brooding) -- OMEGA

I’m fascinated by the miracle of a chicken’s birth. For a young chick to be born and to grow a mother hen has to sit on her eggs for days or even weeks, a process known as brooding. And when you watch this process the mother hen looks lazy. All she does is sit motionless and she seems to accomplish nothing. But in reality, something crucial is happening beneath the surface. The mother hen is incubating new life. Her brooding is actually breeding – the process through which new life emerges. (Packer)

Meditation, or spiritual brooding, is like that, too. It’s a long drawn-out process. It looks like we’re doing nothing. But in reality meditation is the process through which new spiritual life emerges. The spiritual process of brooding – thinking about Scripture, turning it over in our heads, allowing it to transform us from the inside out – is actually breeding. Spiritual brooding is spiritual breeding.

Tonight we’re going to ask three questions.

• Why is mediation, or spiritual brooding, important?
• What exactly is meditation?
• How do we meditate?

Why do it? What is it? How does it work?


(1) Why meditation is important


Well, the primary purpose of prayer isn’t to change other people or circumstances, though prayer certainly does both. In fact, prayer would be psychologically impossible if we thought it didn’t make a difference. But, the primary purpose of prayer isn’t to change things. It’s to change us. According to Richard Foster, “The primary purpose of prayer is to bring us into such a life of communion with the Father that, by the power of the Spirit, we are increasingly conformed to the image of His Son.” In other words, we pray to become more like Jesus, and that means moving past simple prayer. You see God doesn’t just want to be our Provider. He wants to be our Teacher and He wants to be our Friend. God wants us to learn the joy of obedience and that’s why we pray – to be like Jesus. Meditation, or spiritual brooding, is about sitting on the egg of Scripture – about setting our minds on Scripture – so that new spiritual life hatches and we’re changed from the inside out.


In other words we meditate because conversion is at the heart of Christianity. God may fully love us as we are, but God’s love won’t allow us to remain as we are. Why? Because, in the words of Switchfoot, “we were made to live for so much more.” Our God insists that our hearts be changed and yet we have absolutely no power to change them. And so we engage in spiritual brooding. We put ourselves in the presence of the Divine Physician and we ask Him to come do surgery.


Think of it like this. A sailboat won’t move until the wind comes. But at the same time, the wind won’t have any power until the sails are up and able to catch it. To meditate is to put up our spiritual sails so that when God does send the wind – which in the Bible is a metaphor for His Spirit – it will actually propel us forward.


And so becoming like Jesus, growing in Christ-likeness, this is central to Christianity. And it doesn’t matter how hard we try to change – to be kinder and more loving and less selfish – because if we rely on ourselves our hearts will never be touched. Our behavior might improve but we’ll probably become self-righteous and we definitely won’t feel joy. Real change is from the inside out. It happens when the Spirit moves our hearts. And because only God can change hearts, we need to come before Him and brood. We need to sit on the scriptures and allow new life to hatch.


(2) What is mediation?


Well, all great Christian thinkers for the past 2,000 years tell us that meditation is indispensable to growth; that not meditating on God’s Word is like a child needing vegetables but only eating candy. And so what is Christian meditation? I’ll focus on two things. Meditation is (1) biblical and (2) affective.


Mediation is Biblical


First, Christian meditation is biblical, i.e. it’s rooted in Scripture. I say this because mediation is hot these days. It’s in. No pressure, but everyone who’s anyone – anyone who’s cool, they meditate. But, Christian mediation is distinct. It’s not the same as Eastern and New Age forms of mediation, all of which stress emptying our self and our mind to achieve different goals, like inner peace and finding the real you and “becoming fully aware.” Unlike Eastern forms of mediation, Christians don’t want to empty themselves. We’re not trying to peel off all the layers of that onion we call our soul in the hope that we’ll find a great surprise. Biblical mediation is about emptying ourselves of what is false in order to fill ourselves with what is true. Once again, we empty ourselves of what is false to fill ourselves with what is true.


And so whenever we brood, we take our problems and our choices and our fears and our insecurities and we turn them over and over in our minds in the clear light of Scripture, consciously aware that the Divine Physician is doing surgery. To say that mediation is biblical is to say that it’s Christ-centered. Having our hearts conform to the heart of Jesus – that is the goal. We empty our mind of what is false and we fill it with what is true. Why? Because before we can love God with our whole heart, we first have to love Him with our whole mind. In other words, in order to brood we need to use the old noggin.


Meditation is Affective


Second, meditation is affective – that’s affective with an “a.” Of course Christian mediation is also effective. I wouldn’t teach an ineffective form of prayer. But Christian mediation is also affective. The word affective has to do with the affections of our heart – with the things we set our hearts on because we think that they’ll make us whole. And so a good working definition of affections are “root motivations.” Our affections are what drive us. They’re our root motivations. Our affections are the people or the things that our heart most loves. Our affections are what we build our lives on. They’re our foundation.


Now, God designed us to set our affections on Him and to the extent that they are we experience life, peace and joy. But do we always set our affections on God? No. Far too often our affections are set on relationships and prestige and money and status and image and our body and the bodies of other people and on a million other things. In fact, a great definition of sin is “misplaced affections.” To say that meditation is affective is to say that its purpose is to bring our affections into the light. To say that meditation is affective is to say that it deals with the root motivations of our heart. Remember, prayer’s primary purpose is to change us. But if God’s going to change us He has to go to the root. And that’s what I mean when I say that meditation is affective – it goes all the way to the root.


(3) How do we meditate?


I’m going to answer this question by getting personal and telling you about my own prayer life, but first I want to read a passage from Colossians. I think it perfectly sums up what’s been said so far.

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). (Col 3:1-5)

Why do we meditate? Because we’ve been raised with Christ. Yes there is a future resurrection, but at the same time the Gospel says we’ve already been raised, at least metaphorically. In God’s eyes we are perfect. Jesus’ goodness is our goodness and we’ve been raised to where Jesus is – the right hand of God. And so what should we do? Set our mind on the right things – on things that “are above” as Paul says. Biblical things – things about who God is and what God’s done. Why? Because as Paul says, “our life is hidden with Christ in God.” In other words, you’ll never find yourself until you find God because your life is hidden in Him. If we want to find our self we have to set our mind on God. What does that mean? “Putting to death whatever in us that is earthly.” In other words, it means bringing our misguided affections and our self-centered root motivations into the light – that’s what Paul means by fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed. All those things are nothing more than a bunch of misguided affections.


And so how do we meditate – how does God change our misguided affections? We set our minds on things that are above and ask God for new affections. But if we’re going to do that, we have to learn to read the Bible differently. Rather than asking questions of the Bible we have to brood and let the Bible ask questions of us.

For example, in Bible study we may come across Romans 8:1, which reads “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” and perhaps we start asking questions. What does it mean that I’m not condemned? And what does it mean to be “in Christ Jesus” for that matter – to have faith in Him? To go to church? And what about people not “in Christ” – are they condemned and if so why? Now, asking tough questions, this is good and holy and valuable work. We’ll never grow without asking questions like this. But, God’s Word is living and active and reading the Bible in a one-sided way, picking it apart, will only take us so far. We have to let the Bible ask us questions. We have to let the Bible pick us apart.

Now, there are a million ways to let the Bible speak to us but I’ll give you my method. I try and spend at least one hour praying each morning. I’ve got about a 75% success rate. And for the majority of that hour I brood on Scripture, and there are certain questions I let God ask me. And so what I’m going to do is give you those three questions, read the passage I meditated on the day I wrote this teaching, and then I’ll tell you my answers.

First, the three questions I let God ask me.

1. How does this passage reveal my lack of affection for Christ or my inordinate affection for something else?
2. What bad emotions govern my life when I fail to live into the Gospel being portrayed?
3. How can I begin to live into the change that God is already bringing about in my heart?

Acts 3: 1-10


One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.

1. How does this passage reveal my lack of affection for Christ or my inordinate affection for something else?

I could give many examples but I’ll limit myself to one. Peter and John took the time to stop and look intently at this man that God brought before them. More often than not, I don’t. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a beggar, a friend, a student or a stranger. You see like Peter and John I’m always going to the Temple – it’s what I do for a living. But at times I take my work so seriously that I love the work more than the God who called me into it. I love being obedient to my calendar more than I love being obedient to God – a God who is always asking us to stop, to look intently at others, and to share the Gospel with them in word and deed. This is clearly a misplaced affection on my part – being more committed to my schedule, to “going to the Temple,” than to God.

2. What bad emotions govern my life when I fail to live into the Gospel being portrayed?

I miss the miracle. I miss the joy of seeing God’s healing power and settle for a small, self-absorbed life. And because of that I feel contempt for the people I perceive to be beggars. Rather than seeing interruptions as God’s gifts I see them as distractions. And so whenever I’m interrupted and my schedule gets thrown off I get self-righteous and angry and anxious – all of which are sure signs that my “root motivations” are in the wrong place.

3. How can I begin to live into the change that God is already bringing about in my heart?

I felt God asking me to do a few things. First, I made a list of all the “beggars” I overlooked the previous day and I prayed for each of them by name. And in doing so I experienced a strong desire to see each one of them again. Second, I made a list of all the people in the last week that have stopped, looked intently at me, and have gone out of their way to help me. And this list was much longer than the first one. I thanked God for each one of them and was humbled to discover that I’m a lot more like the beggar than I am like Peter and John. Third, I remembered the Gospel – that Jesus could have overlooked me; that He very well could have passed me by, but that He didn’t. And I praised God for saving me and I recommitted my life to Him.

Now, we’ve got to stop but let me end by saying this. Mediation is like brooding. Not a lot seems to happen when a mother hen sits on her eggs. But in reality, something crucial is happening beneath the surface. Her brooding is bringing about new life. Something new and beautiful is about to hatch.

And that’s the best image I can give you for how God changes our hearts. It’s a long, drawn out process. It happens slowly and over time. But if a hen doesn’t brood, her eggs will never hatch. And so remember that the spiritual process of brooding – thinking about Scripture, turning it over in our heads, allowing it transform us from the inside out – is a process of breeding. Does prayer change things? Of course. But the first thing to change is always us.

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