by Terry Carty
We all know about the holy habits of worship, prayer, giving, reading the Bible, and the sacraments. These habits are, of course, important, but do we find ourselves simply doing these just out of habit? Ask yourself these questions:
Do you worship like you think God notices?
Do you believe that God answers prayer?
Do you give like you believe God calls us to sacrificial giving?
Do you read the Bible as the divine, holy, sacred Word of God?
Do you come to Communion truly desiring to commune with God and community?
Do you think, with all of the noise that is present in your life every day, that you would be able to hear when God answers these questions? If God is responding to our holy habits of prayer, worship, and the rest, how are we making ourselves available to listen for that often quiet voice?
The “Reinvention” of Meditation
Meditation is not new, and it is not exclusive to Eastern religions and New Age faith. The Beatles and other public figures discovered meditation in the 1960s and it was as if it had just been invented. It changed their lives; it changed their music; and it changed culture, because influential people took time away from the noise and busyness of their lives to contemplate that which is greater than themselves.
Yet meditation has been in our Judeo-Christian practice for centuries. After the death of Moses, God called Joshua to meditate on the Book of Law day and night so that he would be careful to act in accordance with it. God promised that then Joshua would make his way prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)
In the very first Psalm,
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…
But their delight is in the law of the LORD
And on his law the meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water
Which yield their fruit in its season and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)
The Hebrew word for “meditate” occurs 25 times in the Old Testament and is clearly associated with discernment of God’s will and a successful life. The New Testament is not as explicit, but we continue to hear it especially in the writings of Paul. In Philippians 4:4-9, for instance, Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi to think about the positive values of life, values that are honorable, just pure, pleasing, and commendable.
Learning to Meditate Like a Child
The Beatles learned to meditate in the pattern of Transcendental Meditation from the Maharishi. I learned meditation from my then 4-year-old daughter. One night as I went in to tuck her in and have prayer at bedtime, she asked why we talk to God and God doesn’t talk back to us. I told her that God talks to us in our heart and mind—God does not need a voice to talk to us. But we must be intentional about listening to God.
That night we started a new pattern for bedtime prayers. We first discussed what we wanted to tell God, a question we wanted to ask God, or something we wanted to ask God for. Then we each said our prayers out loud. We lay there in silence until one or the other of us had the feeling that we might have heard the word of God in our heart or mind. Then we shared what we thought God might have been telling us.
These sessions were far richer for me than they were for her. I found myself getting in touch with God in ways that made my work more fulfilling, my relationships more caring, my service in the community more sincere. It began to help me understand my need for daily time with God when I could get away from the noise and busyness that kept me from hearing God’s Word in my living.
Our Receptive Spirit
Christian meditation, contemplation of God’s will, brings calm in the midst of storm of daily life. It brings order in the chaos. It brings meaning to the unimaginable. Some will always doubt the truth of the peace we find. But we Christians talk about a peace that passes all understanding—that is the product of meditation on the ways of God—the way of Christ.
Doctors have remarked at the positive effect on human health of those who meditate. Recent studies have revealed evidence that supports the connection we make with God in meditation.
Doubters point out that a portion of the brain can be soothed with electrical impulses, but I am convinced that God has actually created us with a receiver of God’s communication in our brain.
Quality Time with God
Do you wonder why you have been a Christian as long as you have and are not becoming more Christ-like? Have you been thinking that you are not getting much out of Sunday School, worship, or Bible reading? Ask yourself if you receiver is turned on to God’s work in bringing success to your life. What is the quality of your meditation time?
People have been meditating for centuries, and there are different ways that can be learned. Essentially, though, it amounts to putting oneself into an environment that creates space to focus and ponder the ways of God. This may be silence, or it may include some dialogue, or it could include some chanting or singing, or it could be journaling one’s thoughts. It takes some practice to find what works best for each person—God welcomes us any way we come.
To get started on your journey toward meditation, try this exercise: Read Paul’s words to the Philippians in chapter four, verses 8 and 9, and choose a word or phrase on which to focus. Read the passage again, and think of how that word or phrase fits your needs. Then read the verses a third time, and shape a prayer for how you will approach your week differently because of the word or phrase in the verse that speaks to you.
Meditation is our receptive spirit to God’s communication. The other holy habits are empty without taking the time and making the effort to receive the gifts and graces that God gives back.
Rev. Terry Carty is the pastor of Kingston Springs United Methodist Church outside Nashville, Tenn. He is a senior consultant with the Center for Youth Ministry Excellence, the former director of the United Methodist YouthWorker Movement, and the former director of Youth Ministry at the General Board of Discipleship.