Meditation: Rooted in the Great Delight

The Allure of Meditation

Over the past decade, there's been a dramatic rise in meditation as a commonplace practice. It's incorporated into skills for managing anxiety as well as simple yoga. And although some are intrigued by the eastern religious expressions, more often than not meditation is simply a stilling of the self, checking in, and moving aside any dark or unpleasant thoughts—the emptying of the self.

Leonard Cohen—the iconic songwriter and musician—notably took 5.5 years in Zen meditation center and claimed it was the best thing he could have done for his self and career. Others—notably those in high-paced silicon valley—have leaned into mindfulness practices in light of the growing research for the health benefits of meditative practices. Who wouldn't want to have less stress, more creativity, and greater productivity?

Perhaps surprisingly, when we come to the Bible, we find meditation all over the place. In fact, it's the distinguishing feature of the person who is blessed by God. So how do we make sense of this? And when we say meditation, are we even talking about the same thing as Leonard Cohen?

Blessed is the man...
[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.‌

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

—From Psalm 1

What Is (Christian) Meditation?

These typical eastern meditation practices of emptying one's self couldn't be further from the Christian practice. Just a quick glance at places like Psalm 1 demonstrate how Christian meditation is not about emptying yourself but more importantly about filling yourself with what is true.

“Meditation is not about emptying the mind so there is nothing there. Christian meditation opens us to the mind of God and to his work and presence in the world.”

Adele Calhoun

The point of meditation isn't to be completely empty or to remove our dark thoughts and feelings, but rather to root them in the reality of the gospel. And the beauty of this is that it's outcome is joy! As Tim Keller rightfully notices, meditation is taking what you know cognitively about God and working it into your heart to the point of delight.

The Focus of Meditation

So where do we turn our attention to in this practice? First, Jesus points us to consider creation. In speaking about managing anxiety, Jesus urges his followers to "consider the lilies" and "look at the birds" (Matthew 6). In calm reflection upon the natural world, we learn about God's care, provision, creativity, and goodness. To simply "be still and know" in the context of environmental beauty can reorient you to God's goodness.

Second, we can consider ourselves. There are numerous Psalms (like 103 or 51) that demonstrate thorough personal reflection. For example, David recognized his hopelessness and distrust in God. And in that context he reminds himself of God's compassion and healing, his redemption for the despairing aspects of life, and his provision of all good things. Christian meditation isn't intended to ignore our selves but rather to bring our full stories to God's story of redemption.

Finally, and most importantly, we consider God's wisdom in his scriptures. There is no greater source for stability, meaning, and unshakable delight than in God's good word (Psalm 19:7-11). It gives wisdom and direction, rooting us into the greatest and only true hope for all things.

But let's be honest: when it comes to considering Bible verses, we have mixed feelings. Some are new to the Bible and curious to know what it says. Others have tasted the delight of knowing scripture and crave more. But others have been harmed by God's word misused and manipulated, or heard it treated legalistically as a law to earn God's favor. In these cases, the Bible doesn't seem "sweeter than honey" but profoundly sour and repugnant. If that's you, I see you and am grateful you're reading this. It'll take time in a safe community to heal and have your taste for God's word restored. I hope Redeemer Longmont can be that community and that someday you'll again taste the unspeakable pleasure of being fixed in God's truth and redemptive story.

"Meditation is holding the word of God in the mind until it has affected every area of one’s life and character."

Andrew Murray

The Trajectory of Meditation

When we step into meditation, the aim is delight (Psalm 1:2). That meditative practice of ruminating on God's truth is meant to reach to the depth of your being, bringing hope to the darkness, comfort to the hurts, rest to the weariness, and direction to bewilderment. Put another way, the goal of meditation isn't checking a box and or memorizing a verse, but rather, pondering on God's goodness until your affections smile and laugh in the comfort Jesus!

Why Pursue Meditation?

Like the famous Robert Frost poem, Psalm 1 lays out two roads diverging. One leads to a life of delight and the other insignificance. If you want a life of rootedness, where the disappointments and sorrows of life don't bring despair, then meditate on God's compassion and provision. If you want to experience God's laughter and smile over you, then meditate on his character. If you want to have hope for oppression, corruption, and institutional wrong, then meditate on God's power and justice.

There's a kind of life prone to hopelessness and despair. Psalm 1 calls chaff—the husk of the grain that is just blown around and away. Although it's so easy to live a life like that, none of us want it. Thankfully there's another way.

The Psalm also describes people who are rooted like a tree next to always flowing water—like an aquifer. Even in scorching heat amid a horrendous drought, this tree is able to stay green and make delicious fruit. Why? Because it's tapped into a stable source of sustenance.

This is the grand benefit when you regularly meditate on God's wisdom: you have a taproot that reaches deep into another source of hope and joy.

When the winds of life and disappointment blow, you rest in knowing that nothing can topple God's good plans for you and the world. Rather than thinking that the universe is out to get you or karma is giving you what you deserve, you take comfort in the God who loves to give what you don't deserve. You are tapped into the joy of Jesus and are watching how every death and distortion are stages for his resurrection new life to break in.

Here's the great comfort: this kind of rootedness is exactly what God is strengthening you to become. Jesus is on the throne of the universe praying for you right now as you read these words. The Holy Spirit is in you and is eager to bear this kind of fruit in you. What a gift of God's grace that there is a rooted and delightful life on offer for anyone willing to walk the path of meditation.

How Can You Meditate?

A Simple Framework

There are many ways to meditate well. If you're looking for a simple framework, here's one.

  1. Calm Yourself. Take a minute or two to still yourself. Slow down, stretch a little, take some slow deep breathes. God gave you a physical body and these physical elements are typically linked to your spiritual experience. So be present in your body. You can even take a posture of rest or receiving.
  2. Consider. Turn your gaze towards God's wisdom. This could be considering the lilies, reading a Bible passage, checking in with your own story, or listening to a song. Bring your still attention on one thing.
  3. Converse. Ask questions of it. What do you notice? What's beautiful? True? Surprising? Challenging? Wrestle with what is difficult to believe. Celebrate what is good. Some find it helpful to journal or to speak out loud. This conversing can include prayer, but it isn't always talking to God. It's wrestling with the idea, talking to yourself, and yes, praying with God as well.
  4. Savor. God's story of redemption is the unspeakable joy of all joys. And there countless nuggets of goodness that we can savor. If you read through a Psalm, what's one sweet phrase from it that can rest on your tongue all day long? It's in this savoring where we learn to delight—and in so doing, the roots grow deeper.

Remember, meditation doesn't just happen. It's a practice and takes effort. Like learning to ski or play an instrument, it takes effort and intention before it comes naturally. So set aside a particular time where you can regularly lean into mediation. An easy way to start is to simply incorporate it into your sabbath.

Practical Tools

Finally, here are some very practical tools.

Meditate on a Bible verse. Perhaps you choose the same one for a couple days or weeks. Here's a list of fantastic verses.

Post a verse where you'll run into it. Is there a verse that has jumped out to you? Put it in a place where you'll bump into it regularly—like a mirror, nightstand, or lock screen of your phone. (Anna Grace generously designed lock screen images of those verses.)

Take a nature hike. Get out in the beauty of creation and pause for 15 min to meditate with a piece of God's creation. Walk around lake McIntosh, consider the dormant trees, the wild birds, or majestic mountains.

Listen a song or album. There's some beautifully creative music that can feed your soul, spark your imagination, and help you hope in God. Try listening through one of these albums:

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