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Showing posts with label meditation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label meditation. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Christians Practice Spiritual Disciplines. Amen!

The Bible is the Word of God and contains everything necessary and sufficient for our salvation.  The Bible teaches that Jesus Saves us from sin when we have faith.  The Bible also teaches that faith without good deeds is dead. Today, I want to explain some of the spiritual disciplines the Bible teaches Christians to practice.

1 Timothy 4:7-8
Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”

First of all, this Scripture warns Christians: “Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales.”  The Bible is a fascinating book full of intriguing stories.  There are a lot of things that are hard to understand.  There are even many things that have caused people to scratch their head and speculate what the original writers meant.  There are stories about giants and even angels having intercourse with the daughters of the earth.  We wonder:  How did Noah fit all those animals on the Ark? Could Jonah really survive living in the stomach of a giant fish for three days?  These are interesting ideas that capture our imaginations and people love to speculate on them.

However, a quote often attributed to Mark Twain says, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”  It may be “fun” to speculate about the intriguing parts of the Bible, but Paul writes to Timothy (and us), “Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales.  Instead, train yourself to be godly.”

Living a godly life takes work.  It’s hard enough work that we don’t need to waste our time on unfruitful speculations.  Paul writes:  “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”

We all know the benefits of exercise.  In our comfortable and prosperous world, we eat too much and don’t exercise enough.  This leads to all kinds of health problems.  People who exercise regularly, tend to be healthier, happier, more energetic, and productive.  We know the physical benefits of exercise.

But Paul says, “training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”  No matter how much we exercise, our physical bodies are eventually going to wear out and die.  This Ash Wednesday we remembered how our physical bodies will be buried and return to dust: “Remember, you came from dust and to dust you shall return.  Repent and believe in the Gospel!”  We will be given new and perfect bodies for eternal life.   The gains of physical exercise are for this temporary lifetime, but the gains of spiritual exercise are for eternity.

Spiritual Disciplines
Spiritual disciplines are spiritual exercises found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth and health.  Just as physical exercise develops your body and muscles, spiritual disciplines develop your spirit so you become more like Christ.  Spiritual disciplines nurture the growth God wants to give us. 

It is not enough to know about the spiritual disciplines.  We must actually practice them in order to experience the benefits God wants us to have.  There are many spiritual disciplines, but I want to mention just seven for your today, and challenge you to practice them between now and Easter.

First, there is prayer.  Prayer the most basic element of Christian living.  Prayer is like breathing for the Christian.  Some people say, praying is talking to God, but it is even more basic than that.  Last night, Kelly and I went to see the movie “The Jesus Revolution.” It’s a wonderful movie.  Of course, we didn’t talk during the movie.  That would be rude.  We sat and held hands and watched the movie together.  Even though no words were spoken, we chose to be together.

Prayer can be like that. Prayer is spending time with God.  There are many different ways to pray.  You can ask God for help for yourself or people you care about.  Other times, prayer is just sitting quietly with God on purpose.  Sometimes prayer is listening to God while you read Scripture.  Sometimes prayer is writing a prayer or reading someone else’s prayer or even reciting a prayer you have memorized—like the Lord’s Prayer.  Whatever way you pray, you should pray.  It is the most important Spiritual Exercise for Christians.  Prayer is an essential part of all the other spiritual disciplines.

Another spiritual discipline is fasting.  Fasting is voluntarily giving up food (or something else) for a time as a way to humble yourself before God. Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life. Most often, fasting is associated with going without food.  (Jesus fasted for 40 days before he officially began his earthly ministry.)  Many Christians give up something for Lent—like chocolate or coffee.  Fasting could also be giving up TV or social media or something else for a time.  Anything you give up is meant to help you focus more on God and less on yourself.  Fasting and prayer go together.  Fasting amplifies your prayers.  It turns every fiber of your being into a prayer.  As you long for the thing you are without, your longing becomes an unconscious prayer of longing for God.

Next to prayer, study is one of the most essential ways the Holy Spirit changes us.  Our mind is the center of our thoughts and our thoughts lead to our actions.  When we study the Holy Bible, we allow God to transform our minds.  The Bible is the Living Word of God.  If you want to hear God’s voice—the Voice that gives Life—you must study the Bible.  Study can also include reading other books, attending classes, or other forms of study.  All these can be beneficial.  However, studying the Bible is the most essential form of study.

Human beings were designed to worship.  Worship means to show reverence and adoration for God.  It centers on God, not ourselves or our feelings or our own particular preferences.  When we worship God, we point our spirit toward God in worship, we begin to see, hear, feel, and experience God at a deeper level.  We must worship in spirit (heartfelt, intimate closeness, and submission to God) and in truth (based on right understanding).  Worship works best when we prepare properly.  If you expect to get the most out of Sunday morning worship, be sure to get enough seep the night before and prepare for worship on Sunday morning by praying on Sunday morning before worship for God to make worship meaningful.  Come hungry for the Lord and with the expectation that something important will happen.

Christian meditation is listening for God’s voice so we can obey His Word.  In meditation, we use our imagination to spend time with God in the Scripture.  We look for God to come to us and fill our minds with His feelings, His ideas, and His insights and welcome Him to transform our wills.  We are not so much searching for God as letting Him find us as we watch, listen, and wait patiently.  Often it is helpful to read a passage from the Bible, pray for God to speak to you through it, and then just meditate on the passage for a time, letting God speak to you.

One of my favorite spiritual disciplines is solitude.  To practice solitude is to step away from the world for a little while to focus on interacting only with God.  You silence the inner turmoil of your anxious mind and cease striving to control people and situations by your own force of will.  You learn to trust God to work things out according to His plan and His timing.  For introverts like me, it doesn't take much convincing to get us to seek alone time.  We need it!  But when you are alone, make sure to intentionally focus on God's presence with your.  If you are an extrovert who loves to be with people, being alone can be way out of your comfort zone.  But I encourage you to try it regularly.  It may be even more important for you to get away from people occasionally and to only rely on God's presence to to fill you.

Service is helping others.  Jesus said in Matthew 23:11, “The greatest among you must be a servant.”  Service is a spiritual discipline that is good for both you and for others.  Service is really about recognizing we are servants.  We let go of our right to choose who and how we will serve.  Instead, we learn humility as we shift our focus from ourselves and onto others.   This is the main way Jesus taught his Disciples in the Bible.  Instead of sending them off to Bible college to get trained, Jesus gave them on the job training.  And He wants to do the same for you.  You may not feel qualified to serve.  But Jesus may invite you to serve anyway.  He will teach and equip you to serve as you serve.  You have to trust Him and answer the call when He asks you to serve--even if you don't feel ready.

I Challenge You to Practice Spiritual Disciplines
I’ve been giving you challenges throughout this series.  First, I challenged you to read Genesis and Matthew before Easter arrives.  Then, I said focus on one category of good deeds (see the list here).  Today, I challenge you to practice these 7 spiritual disciplines.  There are 42 days until Easter. Let’s get busy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Praying the Scripture (AKA Meditating Prayer)

Joshua 1:8
Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.

Psalm 145:5
I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles.

We have seen there are so many different ways to pray.  We have discussed Examining Prayer, The Lord’s Simple Prayer, Liturgical Prayer, Suffering Prayer, Continual Prayer, and Formation Prayer. [Click here for a list of 21 different types of prayer based on Richard Foster’s book Prayer]

One never need become bored with prayer or get stuck in a rut with their prayers and only pray the same things over and over again.  Today, I want to talk about Praying the Scripture (AKA Meditative Prayer).  By Praying the Scripture, Richard Foster writes in his book, Prayer, “the Bible ceases to be a quotation dictionary and becomes instead ‘wonderful words of life’ that lead us to the Word of life. It differs from the study of Scripture. Whereas the study of Scripture centers on [interpreting Scripture], the meditation upon Scripture centers on internalizing and personalizing the passage. The written word becomes a living word addressed to us.”

Praying Scripture Directly
One way of Praying the Scripture is simply to use the words of Scripture themselves as prayer.  There are many, many prayers recorded in the Bible.  You can use these as your own prayers.  We already do this when we pray the Lord’s prayer, which is found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.  But there are many other Scriptures we can pray.  Much of the Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers that can easily serve as our prayers.  We could pray Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not want…”  We could use Psalm 145, “I will exalt you, my God and King, and praise your name forever and ever…”  When we are in despair, we can use Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?  Why are you so far away when I groan for help?”  Or you could repent and ask for forgiveness with Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.  Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins...”

There are prayers in many other parts of the Bible too.  And you can turn a passage into a prayer.  In Matthew 9:37-38, Jesus “...said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”  You could pray what Jesus asked his disciples to pray:  “Lord, there is so much work to be done, so many souls to harvest for Your Kingdom.  Please send more people to help with all this work!”

Acts 4 records the prayers of the early Christian Church as they faced severe persecution from the Roman Empire.  They prayed “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them…  And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  Acts 4:31 says, “After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.”  If the prayer was so effective for them, why not try praying it for our Church today?

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”  If the Word of God in the Bible is so incredibly powerful, think how effective it could be to use those words themselves as your prayers.

Meditating on Scripture
But praying the actual words of Scripture is not the only way to Pray the Scriptures.  Another way to pray the Scripture is to meditate on it.  Meditation has been integral to God’s people from the very beginning.  Genesis 24:63 tells us Abraham’s son, Isaac, went out into a field to walk around and meditate.  Many of the Psalms were written as David meditated about God and His creation while he watched sheep at night.  The Psalms themselves mention meditation 14 times.  Devout Christians down through the ages have always practiced meditation.  Meditation is a firmly established Christian spiritual practice.  It wasn't until the last century that Christians got lazy about meditation so that it is more associated with the foreign religions of Buddhists and Hindus (or something reserved for the Karate Kid or Jedi Knights in Star Wars).  What would it look like if you and I recaptured the powerful practice of Christian meditation?

Christian meditation is fundamentally different from meditation in the Eastern religions.  In those religions, a person tries to empty their mind and become completely absorbed into impersonal, cosmic consciousness.  That is very different from what Christians believe. We believe God is a Person just as we are.  We believe He is an individual with emotions and a personality.  We believe God also made us as individuals in His image.  So, we believe we can talk with God just as one person talks to another.  Through Christian meditation we don’t seek to empty our minds.   Instead, we try to let God fill our minds with His feelings, His ideas, and His insights as we focus our minds on Scripture and welcome Him to transform our wills.

How Do You Meditate on Scripture?
Studying Scripture is important and we should do it, but meditating on Scripture is something different that we should do too.  When Christians meditate, we don’t analyzing the Scripture in order to merely get more information about it.  We believe the Bible is the living word of God. Therefore, we try to commune with God through the Scripture.

  1. Start by choosing a short passage on which to meditate.  Choose just one passage.  Don’t try rush through many pages of Scripture.  Just pick one episode and meditate only on it.  You might pick only one verse or even just one word to meditate upon.  Spend your entire time meditating on that one passage.  Some have suggested spending a whole week on the same passage, coming back to it again and again.  Sometimes you need time to move beyond just information gathering to where you are really entering into the text.  Each time you return to the passage over a course of days, you may may go deeper and deeper.
  2. Use your imagination.  As you meditate on the passage, use your imagination to consider what it’s like to be in the story.  What do you see, feel, taste, smell?  What emotions does the text bring out in you?  Why?  (God gave us an imagination and He wants us to use it.  So ask God to sanctify your imagination and use it for the work of His Kingdom.  Do not try to impart your own ideas into the meditation, be totally and completely dependant upon God to give you His thoughts and His Truth.)
  3. Try to relate to the story not just as something that happened a long, long time ago.  It is something that still unfolds today.  You are as much a part of God’s story as were the twelve Disciples who walked alongside Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  They were real people--His friends and disciples.  So are you.  Through Christian meditation, you open yourself up to the experience and start to feel the reality of Christ’s tangible presence with you, right now.  Through your intimate, prayerful fellowship with Him, He begins to change your will.  He confronts you, comforts you, challenges you, and inspires you.
  4. Let God change you.
Closing Meditation on Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac
I want to close with a meditation on Genesis 22:1-8, part of the story where God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  As I read the passage, close your eyes and try to imagine you are Abraham.  What do you see, smell, hear, and how do you feel as you talk with God and your son and the other characters in the story?  What is it like to chop wood for an offering that will take your own son’s life?  What is it like to walk for three days trusting God while carrying the burden about what you are about to do all by yourself?  You might be tempted to think, “I’m sure glad I’m not in Abraham’s shoes.”  The Truth is, you are in Abraham’s shoes.  We are all called to a sacrificial faith in God that puts everything on the line.  So, as we meditate, how does it feel?

Genesis 22:1-8
Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.

“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

3 The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

6 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, 7 Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

Take your time and quietly reflect on how this passage makes you feel.  resist the temptation to jump ahead and search for a happy ending.  Remember, Abraham didn't know how the story was gong to end.  And most of the time, we don't know how our troubles will end.  We have to walk as did Abraham, buy faith--trusting God will take care of it, but not knowing when or how.  Use your imagination to be Abraham in the passage through meditation as you commune with God in prayer.

I hope you found this blog helpful and will give Praying the Scripture (AKA Meditating Prayer) more attention.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Hunt

The Hunt
By Chris Mullis – April 14, 2014
He stalks his prey. He is the hunter. He is alive. 
He senses the world around him more deeply.
To most it must seem an incredibly boring exercise—
to walk through the woods searching for game that never appears,
to sit listening in a tree stand shivering from the cold,
to come home empty handed more often than not.
Yet to those who know, it is the way you really hear the birds and the wind,
or sense a quiet that is not really quiet at all.
It is the way the snap of a twig turns on the ancient instincts in your soul,
remembering thousands of years of the hunt
when the next meal depended upon the success of actions took.
It is the way your entire being—every sense, every reflex and intuition—
comes alive the moment your prey reveals itself.
It is failing in the critical moment because you hesitate or
succeeding because you are decisive.
It is hours, days, months, or years of hunting
compressed into the moment of a squeezing trigger or flying arrow.
It is the sacredness of standing over a living creature in the last moments
as life bleeds out because of actions you chose.
It is seeing the blood on your hands and knowing you are innocent.
Those who don’t know may say it is cruel.
Perhaps they romanticize life, unaware of the real sacredness of it.
Perhaps they are unwilling to truly taste.
But those who consciously taste also know.