Before we jump into the book, let me lay out my plan. For the next six weeks I plan to blog twice each week. I’ll be using Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, as a jumping off point and hope to add Scripture and other sources to the ideas that Foster shares in each chapter. So today, we’ll look at meditation, and then on Thursday, we’ll jump into prayer. With a Monday/Thursday pace it will take us six weeks to go through the book. The great thing is that these are such discrete topics that I think anyone can truly jump in anywhere. And although I’ve only just begun reading, can I just say that I absolutely love this book. It is timeless. It is brilliant. The writing is simple and anointed. I’m so excited about studying the disciplines, implementing the disciplines and about the transformation I expect God to work in my own life.
The first discipline that Foster addresses is meditation; he devotes seventeen pages to the topic, so a couple of paragraphs can only begin to scratch the surface. Please read the book! But one thing that is clear is that we should meditate. After all, the Bible says to. The Lord told Joshua to meditate day and night. The Psalmist meditated “all day long” and claimed to have “more insights than all [his] teachers” as a result. Paul said we need to renew our minds, that we need to be in control of our thoughts, setting our minds on things that are true, noble, just, pure, and lovely — that we need to meditate on these things. (See Romans 12 and Philippians 4).
Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Yet many people, myself included, have spent years in good, Bible-believing churches without a single mention of meditation. One explanation might be that many people associate meditation with Eastern religions. This association is totally misguided because the two practices are actually opposite. The goal of Eastern meditation is to empty the mind, and despite Elizabeth Gilbert’s great writing in Eat, Love, Pray emptying the mind in this way has no place in the life of a Christ-follower. No, Christian meditation fills the mind with God’s word and God’s truth as revealed in creation. There is also a contemplative and quiet component, but the goal in this phase is to hear from God. This is very unlike Eastern meditation, where detachment is the key and the ultimate desire is not to hear from anyone or anything but to merge with the Cosmic Mind.
So in a sense, Christian meditation is a willingness to listen, and an expectation that something will be said. But listening takes time and “God’s acquaintance is not made hurriedly.” (E.M. Bounds). We need to persevere, even when we are not in the mood, even when we don’t feel edified or renewed. As Bonhoeffer said, “The person who waits upon moods is impoverished.” Meditation takes practice and commitment.
As for the “how” of meditation, Foster has some good ideas for beginners, and I highly recommend Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Meditating on the the Word. Although I’ve meditated before, I’m definitely still a beginner. The means I’ve used in the past are very simple. I have taken my Bible and read the same verses, maybe three to five, over and over again, asking the Holy Spirit to help me understand and apply the passage. The Psalms lend themselves very well to meditation and are a good starting point. I’ve also meditated over a short passage in a group setting, which was very interesting, and aptly proved that God can speak new wisdom to us in the most familiar passages. The other thing that I have done is to use the little notebooks pictured above. I can carry these anywhere, and they are filled with verses and a few quotes I find to be particularly poignant. Bonhoeffer said, “It is often better to read a little in the Scriptures and slowly, waiting until it has penetrated within us, than to know a great deal of God’s Word but not to treasure it in our hearts.”
Obviously there’s a lot more to be unpacked from Foster, and elsewhere. So I’d love to know your thoughts about the book and maybe what spoke to you the most in this first discipline.
At the very least let us walk away emboldened, as Foster said: “We learn to meditate by meditating.”