When it comes to regular consistent biblical meditation, what are the challenges you face that mutate this timeworn, soul refreshing discipline into a soul stressing disappointment...more drudgery than delight?
When it comes to regular consistent biblical meditation, what are the obstacles you encounter? What are the challenges that mutate this timeworn, soul refreshing discipline into a soul stressing disappointment…more drudgery than delight? Why, at times, when we do it, does it seem to be less than worth the effort so that it becomes more something we “gotta do” than something we “get to do”?
When I talk to fellow followers of Christ, and the subject invariably comes around to the quality of our devotional life, I hear (and sometimes personally repeat) the same phrase: “I know…I don’t read the Bible as much as I should!” When I consider the context of my own walk, I would daresay that statement is probably an understatement…things are worse than mentioned. I realize now that it does little good to deluge people with tips and tools to succeed in this area when those very resources fail to deal with the underlying problems that are beyond the scope of these aids designed to…uh…aid!
This is really Part 2 of a previous post I published (“Stop and Consider”) where I referenced a quote cited in a version of Zondervan’s Quest Study Bible that highlighted the difficulty of meditation for Western culture in contrast to the East. Here is a portion of that quote:
“The author of this psalm [Psalm 119] was from another time and culture, one with a tradition that valued meditation. As a result, meditation came more naturally for him and others with his Middle Eastern background. We have to overcome some cultural obstacles to learn to meditate.”
Look at the very last sentence. In that previous post I addressed what we must value if our devotional times in Scripture meditation are to be beneficial and transforming. In this post we will deal with what we must vanquish.
Let’s also clarify what I mean by “scripture meditation”. Again, from that post,
Scripture meditation is focused thinking on and about the Word of God where the intention is for us to understand and apply revealed truths to our lives in humble response to God. The rewards include a greater understanding of Scripture, increased sense of personal well being, a more satisfying communion with God, and a transformed life as it is being conformed to the character and purpose of Jesus Christ.
In this post I will not deal with the personal barriers we need to overcome, but those obstacles that stem from our Western cultural mindset that inhibit our personal pursuit of depth and intimacy with God. Three of the cultural obstacles to meditation I believe need to be overcome are our concepts of time, self and Scripture.
Our Concept of Time: We Westerners are very results oriented. We want results and we want them now and if not now, then soon, but preferably yesterday! We are ingrained with the priority of time stewardship. Our motto: “Don’t just sit there — do something!” We sometimes unconsciously believe that we waste time if we are not “doing” something, making the most of our time with performing industry rather than pursuing intimacy. The problem: intimacy – knowing deeply and being known deeply – can’t be done well in the fast lane. Scripture meditation, knowing God more deeply, requires time in ways that are mutually intentional and beneficial but maybe not in rhythm with a “get it done now” mindset. Scripture meditation may be considered among one of the best investments of time we engage in…if truly knowing God is a life priority.
Our Concept of Self: We have been trained to think pretty highly of ourselves. We’re taught things like “God is our co-pilot” (which would actually make us the pilot…scary!); or “God helps those who help themselves (a very unbiblical concept bordering on spiritual heresy); or the 10 2-letter words that could change a life: “If-it-is-to-be-it-it-up-to-me” (and where exactly is God as Master in that?). Our culture prizes performance, productivity, and power or better…control. Meditating on Scripture is more about being under control than being in control. It is to abandon ourselves to the mastery and mystery of God as we explore His Word allowing It to explore us. In Scripture meditation what God has said is more vital than what we want to see. What we get out of it is not as important as what He put into it. We therefore meditate to discover what he has expressed from His heart with His kingdom being in the center of our pursuit.
Our Concept of Scripture: I say “Scripture” because that word is divinely designated. “Bible” is our term for the collection of these divinely inspired revelations. Our problem: we see the Scripture more like a book and less like the “breath” of God presented in textual form. The Bible is the most significant book ever written, but it is hard for us to see it as transcendently more than any other published manuscript. For many, the Bible is like the auto manual in the glove compartment of our car, the rules and regulations of a game or sport, the bylaws of a corporation. We know they’re important we’ll consult it when we need to fix or resolve an issue. With the way we check newspapers, emails, e-books, twitters and tickers, I am convinced that if we really believed that the truths of Scripture were divinely ‘extra-terrestrial’ in its source, infinitely powerful in its force, and thoroughly pervasive in its application to all of human life beyond the boundaries of time and space, we would no longer go to the Scripture merely for what we could get out of it but for Who is ready to meet us there and What He has already put into it for our ultimate well-being!
I struggled with including notes on “Our Concept of God” but realized…that’s a whole blog-post unto itself!
So what do we do with this awareness and what are ways to move practically over these obstacles? A few ideas come to mind:
- In the same way you might set an appointment with an individual, actually set an appointment with God on your daytimer, Palm Pilot, calendar, etc. Invest intentionally in a period of time to meditate on Scripture. When scheduling it, give yourself a good buffer. I find that few things erode the success of Scripture meditation as effectively as a tight schedule with a pressing appointment on the other end. Focused thinking on divine truth is rendered null when “what I gotta do next” dominates “what I need to do now”. When you make the time, take the time to make it worthwhile. Begin with at least 15-20 minutes and adjust as needed.
- Adopt a different picture of Scripture. Try to move away from seeing it like a rule book. It’s helped me to see the Scripture as field of buried treasure. I have also imagined it as a divine invitation – God beckoning me to explore the depths of His heart and mine. Some have suggested seeing it as a “Love Letter”. I choose to see it more as an “Autobiography of a Dearly Beloved One”.
- Take time prior to meditation to personal confession of any sin. Make your heart sensitive and open to what God may reveal as any spiritual barrier in your relationship with God that may hinder your intimacy.
- Thoughtfully pray Psalm 119:18 and ask God for help to see and understand as you read and meditate.
- Rather than trying to cram an entire chapter in one devotional sitting, consider focusing on a few verses at a time. Consider methods like “Lectio Divina” an ancient contemplative way of prayerfully meditating on Scriptures. (click here to download a brochure on Lectio Divina)
- When selecting Scripture, avoid picking your favorite passages. Meditate through Scripture systematically. Begin at the beginning of any of the books of the Bible and work through it, a few verses at a time. I am currently working slowly through the book of Colossians. I usually begin by reading the entire chapter in one sitting to get an overall picture and context. Then I meditate on as many as 4 verses at a time…with no rush or pressure to do more each day unless directed to do so.
- With your practice, take time to journal your thoughts and reactions in a journal or note pad. Consider taking a 4X6 notecard, writing the focal passage for meditation. Take the card with you and at certain times during the day, write down ideas, insights, and thoughts that come to mind about the passage.
- Without robbing your place of employment from your time at work, schedule 15 minutes during the day to conduct “focused thinking” about a passage of Scripture, no more than 3-4 verses.
These aren’t necessarily guaranteed to give you the results desired but they may get the ball rolling in your pursuit of the kind of truth that transforms. Ultimately, overcoming meditation obstacles remains a project best undertaken with God than for God…and that is precisely the essence of the kind of approach to meditation instrumental in facilitating transformed lives through the catalyst of a transformed mind: it is best done with God.
I love the illustration of our relationship with God seen in the letters of the word “guidance” where the “g” stands for God, the “u” stands for You and the “i” I. The word then reads “God, U [and] I dance”. In this rhythm of intimacy through meditating on Scripture, accept the invitation of God to the dance and then…let Him lead!