I Think He Thinks Meditation is Important

Part of my reading for my spiritual transformation class this week is from Donald Whitney‘s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Chapter 3 is about Bible “intake” for the purpose of godliness. I also had to read about “learning” as a purpose toward godliness.

There are 15 pages about learning as a spiritual discipline. There are about 10 pages of why Bible memorization is important. Then there are 40 pages about the benefits and methods of meditating on God‘s word! He gives 17 different methods (!!!) for meditating on God‘s word.

I think Whitney thinks meditation is pretty important. #understatement

I did appreciate his reclaiming the word “meditation” for Christianity, and not just for some New Age yoga transcendental meditation craziness. He says about Biblical meditation

“The kind of meditation encouraged in the Bible differs from other kinds of meditation in several ways. While some advocate a kind of meditation in which you do your best to empty your mind, Christian meditation involves filling your mind with God and his truth. For some, meditation is an attempt to achieve complete mental passivity, but typical meditation requires constructive mental activity.”

The Professor Requests More Journaling

With the COVID 19 virus out there, so many are taking precautions and quarantining. New England Bible College has closed the campus, and requested all professors to make alternate arrangements. My Spiritual Transformation instructor (for whom I’ve been making these recent posts) has advised me to keep up on my weekly readings, to make sure to complete my 10-15 page paper, and to increase the amount of journaling we do. The increased journaling will substitute for class participation. Susan R. and Pastor Q. read here with some regularity. Pastor Q. even sent me a request for fresh postings when I had been silent for four days. Perhaps those two will keep me accountable as well, and encourage me to get stuff up here.

On Sunday, Harmony Bible Church didn’t have our regular services. (See the COVID 19 junk above.) Pastor Q. produced an online video which was very good, and provided a suitable substitute for the morning worship service. But we didn’t have Sunday School, and that meant I had an extra hour and a half in my schedule. And did I use that for slowness and stillness and reflection? Of course not! I filled that hour right up with class reading. And in that reading I found this quote from Pastor Geoffrey Thomas. I emailed it to a friend. This friend has only been a Christian for a short while, maybe a year. We have seen remarkable growth in her, but she sometimes is frustrated about her knowledge. Most of the folks at Harmony have been Christians for years, and have been coming to Sunday School for a long time. They’ve spent a lot of time in the Word, and know a lot from years of reading and hearing. My friend wants to be at that level NOW, and feels odd that she doesn’t know all these Bible/Christian things that everyone else in the congregation just seems to know. I sent her this quote from the class reading from Sunday. I added some emphasis that I thought appropriate for her.

Do not expect to master the Bible in a day, or a month, or a year. Rather expect often to be puzzled by its contents. It is not all equally clear. Great men of God often feel like absolute novices when they read the Word. The apostle Peter said that there were some things hard to be understood in the epistles of Paul [2 Peter 3.16). I am glad he wrote those words because I have felt that often. So do not expect always to get an emotional charge or a feeling of quiet peace when you read the Bible. By the grace of God you may expect that to be a frequent experience, but often you will get no emotional response at all.

Let the Word break over your heart and mind again and again as the years go by, and imperceptibly there will come great changes in your attitude and outlook and conduct. You will probably be the last to recognize these. Often you will feel very, very small, because increasingly the God of the Bible will become to you wonderfully great. So go on reading it until you can read no longer, and then you will not need the Bible any more, because when your eyes close for the last time in death, and never again read the Word of God in Scripture you will open them to the Word of God in the flesh, that same Jesus of the Bible whom you have known for so long, standing before you to take you for ever to His eternal home.”

Scripture Memorization

I’ll admit scripture memorization hasn’t been my thing. In Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life he brings up how Jesus was able to stand the temptations of the devil by quoting Scripture. What he didn’t mention though was all the scripture Jesus quoted was from Deuteronomy. Think Deuteronomy is an old boring book of the Old Testament? Apparently there’s enough there to ward of the devil! Maybe you should reconsider reading it?

Covid 19 & the Church

So much strangeness. Two weeks ago my Spiritual Transformation professor had a family emergency, and couldn’t make class. Last week he was out of town. This week the corona virus has got everything closed down.

I’m having a bit of a struggle internally/spiritually with what should the response of a church (any church really) be in light of what the government and health authorities have asked us to do. “Stay home. Don’t go out. Don’t be around people.” But we’re the church. We’re a community of believers, right? How do we be in community if we can’t be together.

Sure, there are other options. Online sermons. Email. Texts and messages and whatnot. But it’s not the same. And who is this God we get together and talk about each week? Did He say things like “be strong and courageous?” Didn’t he hang out with lepers? Are we doing “super important things” when we get together? If so, how can we toss it aside so easily? Boop. No church this week. No prayer meeting. No Sunday School. Shut it all down because someone might get sick.

Now saying that, I don’t want to minimize those with weakened immunity. Or the aged, or any other at risk group. Those people need to be encouraged to stay home. I get it. But how about smaller groups? How about 10 people at a time get together, sing a hymn, pray, have a devotion, and do church-y stuff–maybe for a smaller number of minutes with a smaller number of people–but still get together in community?

So I’m conflicted. And I will leave this here, a public testimony to not knowing what the right thing to do is. I’ll do know this much–I’m not happy about not being with my church community.

Slowing? With a Labrador?

I’ve decided to write my spiritual transformation paper on my experiences with fasting. I’m going to compare/contrast abstaining from food (something I do somewhat regularly) and abstaining from speaking (something I’ve never done). I’m working on a plan for an 8 hour speaking fast, and trying to work some stillness and solitude in at the same time.

While walking the most perfect dog in the world this morning (that dog being Deuteronomy James Reed Batty), I had some thoughts about how this slowing/no speaking fast is going to work. Concerns is a better word.

How am I going to walk this dog without speaking to him? “Come on” is a word frequently used when walking a Labrador. One thought I had about how to not say “Let’s get going, Deut” is to slow down, and let him sniff for as long as he wants, at all the places he wants. That will cause me to be slow, for sure! I wonder how much time I should plan on adding to my walk if I let him take as much time as he wants.

Modified Silence Fast

Silence and Solitude is an interesting idea to me, and not a spiritual discipline I’ve participated in before. This morning, I’ve tried to do things a little more quietly, and a little more slowly than normal. And yet, I have a day ahead of me that needs my attention. Here are some quick thoughts I need to come back to.

  • Let your yes be yes and your no be no. It’s better to not vow than take a vow and break it.
  • When you fast, don’t let anyone else know about it. When you pray, don’t make a big show of it.
  • How can one participate in silence when one’s livelihood depends on communication? If I were to all of a sudden go silent, surely people would notice.

Perhaps a modified silence? There are modified fasts. I’m thinking a “only speak if spoken to” day of silence.

Silence and Slowing

I wake up at 4:30am. By 4:45 I’m out the door, walking the dog, listening to the previous week’s prayer meeting’s prayers on my phone. When I’m in the shower I’m listening to podcasts, probably RC Sproul or more recently NT Wright. On the way to work I listen to the gospels on the car radio from my phone. Before 8am, I’ve already listened to three different kinds of media, had a walk, a shower, prayer time, Bible reading, and school text book reading. I can pack a morning pretty good.

And so this morning, as I read about the spiritual discipline of slowing down, and of silence, I wonder. This idea isn’t practiced by me. I’m busy. I realize I’m too busy. I’ve tried to say “no” to things over the past few years, but it seems even though I’m saying “no,” the calendar just fills up.

I have to write a paper for my spiritual transformation class. It’s a pretty open ended paper. The professor is very flexible. He’s so open it’s almost scary; how do I write a 15 page paper on “spiritual transformation” in general? I’ve got to whittle it down somehow. And right now I think I’ll try some spiritual disciplines I don’t normally practice, and write about my results. I already have an idea for my first shot at silence/solitude.

Is Love a Spiritual Discipline?

Just a quick thought this morning. Is “love” a spiritual discipline? I think it may be. It’s a spiritual gift, for sure, a fruit of the Spirit. If I don’t have enough of it, do I need to “practice” it? Should I set time aside in my day to love people, just as I set time aside to pray and read my Bible? Is God less pleased with me if I skip my Bible reading time and instead send a card to someone who is dying, or offer some answers to a questioning brother? I know I don’t love like I should (1 Cor. 13:2). Wouldn’t it make sense for me to strengthen myself in areas where I am weak, rather than continuing to work in areas where I’m already fairly gifted? I’m leaving this here for further reflection. I’m now going to send a text to someone who blesses me and give God glory on their behalf, and to answer the message of a friend who is hurting. My school studies will wait.

Some thoughts on Lent

For the past few years I’ve participated in some form of Lenten “fast.” While my church tradition (Baptist) doesn’t usually participate in Lent, I’ve found it a good spiritual discipline. I use it in two ways: 1) I give up something I like in an effort to spark attention towards more spiritually weighty matters, and 2) I try to pick up a good habit by spending the time normally taken up by item 1 with something better. For example, one year I gave up secular music* and podcasts. I didn’t listen to jazz or pop music, only to Christian music. I didn’t listen to Click and Clack or the Modern Drummer podcast or any of my other normal podcasts. I listened only to Christian podcasts. So I let go of something I liked, and replaced it with something more spiritually substantial.

Lent starts this Wednesday, and I’m considering what to do this year. As I contemplate, the following scriptures keep coming to mind.

  1. A sacrifice must cost you something. You can’t give up something you don’t care about, and expect it to bring you a heightened spiritual awareness. I don’t normally drink alcohol. Therefore, abstaining from alcohol isn’t going to cost me anything. No big whoop. There will be no craving, and therefore nothing to trigger my brain; I can’t say “Man I wish I could have a beer, but I can’t so I’ll pray instead” because I’m not going to be wishing for beer. It’s not something I care about, so giving it up will be of no value. “I can’t offer the LORD my God a sacrifice that cost me nothing.” (2 Sam. 24:24)
  2. Make sure your Lenten fast, though sacrificial, is attainable. “It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.” (Ecclesiastes 5:5) Consider carefully what you say to God you will do. I’ve never given up coffee for Lent. Since losing over 100lbs 10 or so years ago, coffee has become my drink of choice: no calories. I can’t imagine not drinking coffee for over a month. I don’t want to make a promise I can’t keep. I shan’t be giving up coffee this year. Perhaps some year I’ll be spiritually strong enough to do it. Until then, I’ll choose to abstain from something that “hurts,” but I won’t pick something that I think is going to cause me to stumble in my vow.
  3. Don’t make a big deal about your fast. See Matthew 6:16 and following verses. Don’t try to impress people with your piety. Don’t make a show of it. When I’m fasting, usually no one knows by me and God. In fact, I don’t even usually tell my wife about what I’m up to. As you consider your Lenten fast, think about doing it in such a way that’s private in an effort to keep your pride in check. Or maybe it’s just me that struggles with pride. 😉

*As a musician, I gave myself a specific out clause on my music fast. If there was a gig I had to play, and I had to learn music I didn’t know, I allowed myself to listen to those particular songs for the sake of my livelihood. Other than that limited example, it was all Christian music and spiritual podcasts.

More “Turning Aside”

When God called Moses from the bush, Moses stopped what he was doing, and paid attention to where God was calling him. He “turned aside” from one thing in order to be present at a better thing.

Yesterday, I was talking with a new believing Christian friend. She admitted she was having a dry spell in her Bible reading, and that she didn’t feel as connected to God as she once did. I asked her where she was reading, and she admitted she was just poking around in the Bible, not really reading anything in particular. I told her maybe she should consider reading John’s gospel, and just meditating on that for a while.

This morning, I had an idea. How about I “turn aside” from my normal Bible reading (which right now is 1st Chronicles), and I read John along with her. I’ve pitched her this idea: I’ll read John, a chapter a day, Monday through Friday. That will get us through John in a little over a month. Each morning, after I’m done reading, I’ll send her an email with some basic thoughts and comments, and she can email me if she has any bigger questions. Let’s see how this goes.

And now, thinking about this, the time I’ll be using to write this email will be time I normally use to study for my Doctrine class. How am I going to make this all fit? Let’s see how God works through this, in her and in me. I’ll report back later.