Quick Guide on Christian Meditation

In a world with constant distractions and clutter, the practice of Christian meditation can have enormous impact on our spiritual lives.  In a more and more connected world, we need to learn to disconnect and re-engage with God and His Scriptures.

For many of us, the centre of our prayer life is requests.  We go to God to tell Him what we need and tell Him what He should do.  Meditation is the practice of listening.  Of filling our mind with the things of God, connecting to Him, and just opening us to let Him speak into our life and hear Him.

Unfortunately, meditation has become synonymous with Eastern Religions and New Age spirituality and as a result, many Christian circles no longer practice it.  But we see the practice throughout the Scriptures and Christian history.

Christian meditation is the act of filling our minds with something of God.  We all meditate in one way or another now – though we often don’t call it meditation, and often it isn’t positive.  In such cases, we would call it, “brooding.”  We fill our minds with negative thoughts and dwell on them for significant periods of time.  “Can you believe what that person at work said?  Can you believe what so and so did to me yesterday?”  These thoughts fill our minds, and they can significantly affect our day to day lives.

Christian meditation is designed to push out the negative and the clutter, and replace them with Christ and the hope and peace of the Gospel.  There is no specific form meditation must take – one person may choose to retreat into the mountains, another reflect while driving, and another watching a busy street.  What is more important than how we meditate is what we meditate on.

Meditate on the Scriptures and their teachings:

Psalm 1:2, “but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night, that person is like a tree planted by streams of water.

Meditate on God’s Deeds:

Psalm 77:12 “I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

Too often we spend much of our time dwelling on what we need God to do, or what we hope He will do, and it can be discouraging.  But taking time to reflect on the past and what He has done can change our discouragement into celebration.  If you read the entirely of Psalm 77, you see this transition take place.

Meditate on God’s Promises:

Psalm 119:148 “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.”

Meditate on God’s Love:

Psalm 48:9 “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.”

 

God’s teachings, God’s deeds, God’s promises, and God’s love.  Need a starting place that encompasses all of these?  Meditate on the cross of Christ.  Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  The cross of Christ is the fulfillment of promise that creates a new promise of salvation and redemption.  It is an act of love that comes with it powerful teachings for hope and reconciliation.

What does the cross mean to you in this moment?  How would your day be different if you spent time meditating on the cross and carrying the thought of the cross with you?  How would your interactions with people be different if between you and each person you saw the cross?  How would your perspective in your relationships and the situations of your life change if you had the cross on your mind when thinking about them?

The wonderful truth of the gospel message is that Jesus lives  and He is active in this world.  Meditating on the things of God is a way for us to open our spirits to His, and look for where He is at work and join Him there.

I encourage you spend some time each day pushing the clutter out of your mind and filling it with the things of God.

Philippians 4:8
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

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Spiritual Disciplines: Quick Guide to Fasting

Fasting is the discipline of intentionally depriving ourselves of something to cause weakness and discomfort in order to make more room in your spirit to rely on God.  It is a ‘controlled’ discomfort we inflict on ourselves so that we can gain the strength to rely on God when real discomfort and struggles come.

Why fast? “If we don’t feel a strong desire for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.” – John Piper

To paraphrase the above quote – we don’t always hunger for God because we feed ourselves too well from the world. Fasting is the opportunity to remove something of this world from ourselves for a period of time so we can learn to drink from the well of the Spirit once again in our lives.

Fasting can:

  • Prepare us for a difficult task ahead.
  • Help us to engage in Spiritual Warfare.
  • Mourn a loss.
  • Simply grow closer to God.
  • Help ground us in the discomfort of life many around us feel all the time.

Readings: Matthew 4:1-4, Matthew 6:16-18

There is no specific form fasting must take. It varies throughout the Scriptures and throughout Christian history. Some times you see a fast from food for a period of time, sometimes from certain types of food (i.e. Daniel), other times the fast isn’t related to food at all. For example, in 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul encourages a fast from sex.

Food Fasts: The most common form of a food fast would be to abstain from food, but still have liquids for a certain period of time. This can be any length of time. If you want to try this out, start out small, only a day at a time, from lunch to lunch or something like that.

Other types of food fasts may include abstaining from a certain type of food. Perhaps going on a temporary vegan diet, or avoiding snacks between meals for a lengthy period.

Always let your unit staff know if you are planning on fasting from food for a period of time. If you have any health concerns, consult medical staff before committing to a food fast.

Habit Fasts: Another type of fast commonly practiced in Christianity is to abstain from a habit or activity in your life that may be affecting you spiritually. This is often done during lent, starting on Ash Wednesday (February 14th this year) for 40 days, ending on Good Friday.

Could you go 40 days without drinking coffee? If your answer to that is no, maybe that’s a sign you should go 40 days without drinking coffee.
Could you go 40 days without watching TV? If your answer to that is no, maybe that’s a sign you should go 40 days without watching TV.

A fast is meant to be hard: If you go through a fast, you will find yourself frustrated quite quickly and rationalize a dozen reasons why its ok to break it. Pushing through these times is how you find those moments where you learn to rely on God.

It must also be remembered that fasting is not simply the absence of something like food or television. You are meant to fill that void with prayer, Scripture readings, confession, worship and other spiritual disciplines. In doing so, you begin to make room in your heart for God.

Fasting gives the most benefit when it is done regularly. Don’t expect a deep revelation from God because you didn’t eat for a day. Like any exercise, it takes time, practice and routine.

Be aware of the weakness fasting will cause you. Being hungry makes you irritable. Not watching will make you bored. You’ll get frustrated and antsy. Temptation will be harder to resist. Be aware of these times, anticipate them, and use them for prayer and worship.

Let somebody know you are fasting to help hold you accountable, but don’t brag about it to everyone. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6, if you fast for glory, that will be your only reward.

Rooted in Christ: The Path to Spiritual Strength

Our mind, body and spirit all have one thing in common:  they are only as strong as our life pushes them to be.  The body displays this in the most tangible ways.  For somebody like me who spends much of their week sitting behind a desk, it’s hard to notice a slow slide into out-of-shape-ed-ness, largely in part because my life style doesn’t demand I’m in better shape.  I recently started exercising again and, while I knew I was out of shape, I was surprised at just how significantly out of shape I was.

I had no idea.  Because my lifestyle made it easy to have no idea. 

So I go for a job, and I hate it so much.  I go for a swim and I tire out so quickly.  I get bored.  I want to go back to junk food and YouTube.  And things I normally used to enjoy now become a burden.  Where I once loved going out for a hike in the mountains around Grande Cache, I now have to really push and force myself to get out and do it.  Sometimes we may invest money in exercise equipment, convinced that if we do, we’re guaranteed to get back into shape.  But dust collects and we rarely, if ever, use it.

The spirit works in the same way.  Its strength will always, over time, begin to match the lifestyle we lead.  For many of us, we have a life that doesn’t demand a strong spirit – we are good at building a life that doesn’t really require us to exert ourselves spiritually, able to build safety around us.  We sit at a spiritual desk, consuming spiritual junk food, and don’t really realize how weak we may have become.  And so we try and exercise our spiritual muscles and we get bored, frustrated tired.  We try and pray for more than 30 seconds and we just want to go back to YouTube and junk food.  And the things we normally used to enjoy now become a burden.  Where once we may have loved reaching out to people in hard times, or spending long periods in worship, or having deep spiritual conversations about ourselves with close friends, we now have to really push and force yourself to get out and do those things.

Have you ever bought Christian exercise equipment? A really nice new Bible, full of notes.  A Bible study or a big book – stuff we buy to help us become more spiritual but never really use so, like the well meaning treadmill, they collect dust in the basement.

Spiritual fitness is really a life changing attribute.  We have to learn to keep it strong in the good times so we have the endurance and joy following us into the bad times.

Over the next few months, we are going to look at a variety of spiritual disciplines together.  These are aspects of the Christian faith – spiritual exercises if you will – that can help us grow closer in our connection to Christ and develop the strength that can give us the abundant life he calls us to live, no matter our circumstances.

One of the important things about growing in the Christian faith is really understanding the spiritual biology of it, to help gives us understanding of what it is we are doing, and why it can have power and meaning in our lives.

In Colossians 2-3, the apostle Paul does a great job of explaining to his readers the need of shifting their mental focus onto the right things.

Colossians was written during a time when people were trying to reconcile the Jewish law and the covenant of the Old Testament with the new spiritual realities that had found fulfillment in Christ.  Paul tries to help them transition from a system of being driven by do’s and don’ts, to a system that is driven by the heart.

Read Colossians 2:6-23 paying special attention to the first few verses and the last few verses:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh[b] was put off when you were circumcised by[c] Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,14 having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”

 

This is a long passage with a lot of different imagery being used, but Paul’s basic point is this:  Our life’s foundation cannot be rooted in rules and traditions – it must be rooted in Christ.

This is not to say that rules and traditions are bad.  They have value.  They can help guide us and give us direction in times of uncertainty.  But they ultimately lack the power to truly help us restrain from the things that are wrong – sensual indulgence as the NIV puts it.

The NLT says, “But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.”

The ESV says, “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

Or the CEV, “But they don’t really have any power over our desires.”

Why is that?  Anyone reading this can probably think of a time in the past year when they broke a rule.  We have cultural rules, societal rules, rules in education, work, clubs, etc…  and people break them all the time.  When we disagree with a rule or don’t understand the purpose of a rule, we play a game in our mind of potential payoff vs potential problems with breaking the rule.  If breaking that rule gets us something we want more than our desire to keep the rule, we’ll almost always break it.

Spending our lives pursing righteousness through “rules” and external appearances is basically building our righteousness on a foundation of sand.  It may look good.  It may look strong.  We can even spend years building it into something remarkable and beautiful to look at.  But one wave and it all gets swept away.

Because of this, Paul is saying that a system of rules will never give us the power to achieve righteousness.  At best it will be a shadow of what is good.  He starts this section off with, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (italics added)

It is important to know that Paul is not arguing for some sort of lawless world where everyone does whatever they feel like.  There is right.  There is wrong.  There are things we do that are good.  There are things we do that are bad.  What Paul is trying to do is bring us into righteousness and faith that goes beyond what we may call a, “checklist morality” and into hearts that are truly righteous in and of themselves.

In chapter three we read, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander,and filthy language from your lips.”

Imagine having a heart free from lust, greed and idolatry?  Imagine having a heart that doesn’t need to spend so much energy resisting temptation, because temptation has almost no hold on it?  “Put to death…” he says!  This is incredibly strong language.  It’s not, “subdue” or “push off to the side.”  Paul is saying we can actually kill off the parts of our hearts that lead us away when our lives are truly rooted in Christ.

A system based only around rules is a system based on will power.  And a system based on will power will always fail.

The new life in Christ creates the death of our sin.

Rules help us know what not do to, but they don’t help us not do them.  Paul himself gives a lot of rules and suggestions for holy living throughout his letters.  But with each one comes a way to connect with Christ so we can not only understand why that is something we should do, but also have the power through the Spirit to carry it out.

Spiritual Disciplines

Over the next three months we are going to look at thirteen separate spiritual disciplines that we have in the Christian faith to help us walk the path.  These are things that can help us connect with Christ, give Him the opportunity to sear the sin from our hearts and give us the strength to pursue the love and devotion He longs for us to see:  fasting, meditation, prayer, study, simplicity, solitude, service, submission, confession, worship, guidance, celebration, and obedience.

But even in these disciplines there are dangers.  These, in and of themselves, can become idols and steer us down the wrong path.  In John chapter 5, Jesus says this to the Pharisee, “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!  Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.”

As we walk this path together, let’s remember that the practices of the Christian faith are not righteousness in and of themselves.  They are tools.  And not tools for us to use.  Tools for God to use in our hearts, to build a foundation.

Like most things in life, we do best when we have accountability.  While trying to get in shape, I have a friend coming out with me, and a wife that knows when to kick me out of my chair and tell me to get going.  I encourage you this week, if you make a choice to get back in spiritual shape, find somebody to either do it with, or at least hold you to account.

I invite you to come with us on this journey, to cast off attitudes of spiritual apathy, and connect with the God who is Living and True.

Spiritual Discipline Series

Over the past little while, we’ve talked a lot about shifting our perspectives and vision toward looking at the world through a “Kingdom” perspective.  But the Christian faith needs more than just an attitude adjustment.

Starting this coming Sunday, we will be looking at different practices in the Christian faith that can strengthen our relationship with God, guard our hearts, and develop the gifts that we have been given.

As our church continues to grow, it is imperative that we allow God to guide and direct us, not just on a community level, but on a personal one as well.  These tools that God has given us are invaluable in building a church.

We’ll also have a blog version of the messages posted each Monday morning in case you weren’t able to make it out Sunday!

February 4:  Introduction to Spiritual Disciplines

February 11: Fasting (Lent begins on the 14th!)
February 18: Meditation
February 25: Prayer
March 4: Study

March: 11 Simplicity
March: 18 Solitude
March 25: Service (Palm Sunday)
April 1Submission (Easter Sunday)

April 8: Confession
April 15: Worship
April 22: Guidance
April 29: Celebration