“Don’t think!” my mom used to tell me. She intended this curious command as advice to help me fall asleep. Love you, Mom, but … that was never gonna work.
Looking back, I see that the best way to manage my young and restless life would have simply been to let me to read a good book. I could never fall asleep at the early bedtime she prescribed for me. So each night I’d lie there for a couple of hours—an eternity to an 8-year-old boy.
Mom’s well-meaning advice was impossible. How do you stop thinking?
I heard another futile command as a child, this one from preachers: “Never do meditation!” Okay, I thought. After all, you’re the preacher.
But taken at face value, “Don’t meditate” is as foolish as being told not to think.
What these preachers were actually warning us against was the practice of emptying your mind, which is the opposite of biblical meditation. However, they didn’t bother to make this critical distinction from the pulpit. Meditation was bad! Being told what to think by people such as themselves was good. Sit there quietly. Listen to me. Believe what I say uncritically.
That is not a wise approach to anything. Meditation is commanded in the Bible, as is the wisdom of questioning what you’re told to believe. It’s a vital part of spiritual discipline and growth. And for a guy like me—a mercurial, walking definition of Attention Deficit Disorder—meditation plays an especially crucial role. It’s a way to focus and to learn how to direct my will.
Thinking wildly and haphazardly comes easily to me. Focus and intentionality are difficult. The practice of meditation has come in fits and starts. How am I supposed to weave this into the fabric of my life?
This will look different for every person, but for me it has three critical aspects: prayer, reading, and journaling. Prayer especially can be a struggle for me. The other two come much more naturally.
Okay, so what does that all look like? First, I have to build a routine into my life. From this framework I can do the things I need to do. The framework has to become part of my life, as opposed to a to-do list. It’s not a check-the-box kind of thing. Meditation needs to become a part of who I am as a person.
Each morning, once I’m fully awake, I read an online devotional. Right now, it’s Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest utmost.org. (Warning, Chambers can be hard to understand. But for me, that fuels my meditation.) One nice feature of the online version of My Utmost for His Highest is a link to read through the Bible in one year. I click on the link, and it takes me to my favorite version of Scripture. As I read (typically three chapters), I make quick notes on my laptop. Almost invariably (unless my mind is far, far away), questions will come to mind. I write these down. Sometimes the reading prompts me to check out something in another part of the Bible. I’ll make a note of what I learn. Sometimes I see things I never noticed before. Other times, I’m left with questions that I can’t possibly answer. Such questions bother me far less than they used to. As I’ve grown spiritually over the years, I’ve learned that I can trust God with the things I can’t ever learn. He’s got that.
As I read, I need to let the text of Scripture say what it says. I can’t try to explain things away; I can’t dismiss things. I need to think on them. I can’t be reading His words with my agenda in the foreground; that always proves counterproductive. Why does God want us to know the information on these pages? What is going on here? God will comfort me in my doubt and bewilderment, but first He will take me way, way out of my comfort zone. That’s part of growing.
Prayer is a vital part of this framework, and it’s the part I struggle with the most. So I’ve learned to simply ask God to fill me with His Spirit today. I admit to Him where I’m struggling in life. That’s just simple honesty. He already knows anyway. Why not talk to Him about it? Then I try to linger in that moment. For me, I might need to go for a walk to do this meditative prayer, listening for God. Sometimes I meditate while running. It’s a chance for me to be quiet while remaining active.
If you’ve read this far, you might want to know what this may actually look like for me. If so, here’s an example of something in Scripture that really got me to meditate. I was reading in Revelation where John the disciple is talking about his vision of heaven. John is emotional to the point of weeping uncontrollably, but someone—an elder—consoles him by pointing Him to Christ. “Look,” says the elder, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has triumphed” (Revelation 5:5). What John sees next is so counterintuitive it’s difficult to comprehend.
“Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered,” writes John (v. 6). That Lamb, of course, is also the Lion of Judah just referred to.
Here’s what I don’t understand. Are these just metaphors to help us understand various aspects of Christ? I can understand the lion imagery speaking of His fearsome power while the lamb imagery shows us His perfect sacrifice for our sins. But . . . this is a vision of heaven. When we look at Jesus the Messiah, will we always see His wounds from the crucifixion? Is that a part of what this is telling us?
That’s something I could meditate on for the rest of my life and never fully understand.
I could talk a lot more about this—particularly my struggles with prayer—but that’s a topic for another blog. Today, I need to stay focused.
To read about focusing on Scripture, check out https://discoveryseries.org/courses/biblical-meditation/