by Patty Morwood
The New Year is an opportune time to revamp spiritual habits, notably the presence or absence of meditation. I usually begin my devotions with a Psalm and then several chapters in whatever portion of Scripture I’m reading at the time. But meditation hasn’t been part of my program.
Things changed this last year. So, I want to ask you: have you read Timothy Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God? I’m in a small group which has been together for several years; we usually read Puritan sermons, but this last year we decided to be modern, so we chose this book.
It’s the richest blessing we have experienced in quite some time. So I’ve chosen one part of Keller’s book to challenge you in this new time of a new year.
Meditation is actually listening to God’s “voice” in Scripture and thinking slow and hard on what’s there. You will ask basic questions of a passage, of God and finally of yourself … in this order.
I was surprised to learn that meditation is hard work, demanding the use of my mind more intensely than I previously thought. Really hard work. I wish deep thinking would burn calories!
To begin right, you need a good rich translation of the Bible – the ESV or the NKJV or the ASV – and a prayer journal to write in … for believe me, you will need to write as you meditate.
First, there are two basic over-all questions to ask of any passage in the Word:
1) What does the original author intend to communicate, and 2) what role does it play in the whole Bible, in other words how does it “move along the main narrative arc of the Bible which climaxes in salvation” through Jesus Christ?
Obviously the answers you find with these two questions lay the ground upon which to build the rest of your understanding. Just these two questions keep you from going off-text into error and being too enamored with your own subjective feelings.
Second, Keller moves his reader to a few teaching points from Martin Luther. With these you analyze the passage for things to praise, to repent of, and to petition (ask).
Therefore to praise, ask: what does this passage show me about the character of God so I can praise the lover of my soul?
To repent, ask: what does this passage show me about myself so I can repent?
To petition, ask: what does this show me to petition Him for?
Can you tell that by now you are in the meditation-world? You’re reasoning from Scripture, one question at a time. You are having to think it out; I hope you are doing this ‘corem deo’, before the face of God. Because oh boy, is this beautiful!
Third, after exhausting your efforts with the two basics and then with Luther’s questions, you can really exhaust yourself with questions that help you evaluate yourself.
Unfortunately, most of us tend to do self-evaluation first, before we really know the passage’s thrust and how it connects with the rest of the Bible. Red light! Error likely happens when you begin your quiet time in this manner, focusing on yourself. Only analyze yourself spiritually after you have done the hard work listed in the paragraphs above.
To evaluate yourself in prayer and meditation, use such questions as these:
What wrong thoughts and habits-of-mind develop when I forget this passage?
If I don’t embrace this passage, what sinful feelings will spring alive in my mind and heart?
What should I quit doing in my daily life? What should/must I begin to do in my daily life?
Am I living inside this truth at all? Do I take the need to change seriously?
And very importantly, consider the timing of evaluating yourself … ask: why is God showing me this right now?
It’s important to use this experience in every waking moment after you have put down your Bible and gone forward with your day. Savor what you learn in meditation; preach the truth to yourself continually. Use what you learn in meditation to encourage other believers.
And in time, you will begin to see yourself being molded to the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is godly, powerful, real, and beautiful.
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