What is biblical meditation?

“Through meditation we can let the words of Jesus descend from our minds into our hearts and create there a dwelling place for the Spirit. Whatever we do and wherever we go, let us stay close to the words of Jesus. They are words of eternal life.” — Henri J. M. Nouwen

Meditation is used to describe a variety of exercises, behaviors and activities for the person seeking to grow their spiritual or inner life. We hear the extremes when meditation is being described, which go from thinking about nothing and clearing your mind to filling your mind with spiritual words and the writings and quotes from the Bible and other books considered sacred for us. One could say that it is a combination of clearing our minds of the clutter of the mundane messages regarding cleaning products and automobiles so that we can focus on the truths from God that apply to all of life. As Henri Nouwen describes in the quote above, “through meditation we can let the words of Jesus descend from our minds into our hearts.” That is the goal of our times of daily reflection with the scriptures in this book.

It is as if we want to allow God’s words to go from the reading to the transformation of our thinking and acting. For truths to affect our wills, we have to contemplate meaning, truthfulness, applicability and outcomes. We may ask ourselves questions that address all of these topics. Questions like, what does this mean? What happens if I do this? What will be the results if I act on this principle?

Jesus spent time daily in prayer to His Father. Jesus often said that He was only doing what the Father had told Him to do. It was as if Jesus checked in constantly to see how His activities were matching up with what the Father and Spirit wanted Him to teach and do. Observing this daily habit of Jesus, led Nouwen to say that solitude — being alone with God — was the furnace for change. We connect to God through the Bible. We hear His words as we read and think about all that He has done for us as we meditate on His words. All of this leads us to change how we think and act. Otherwise, we have no truth coming into our lives. Jesus needed a daily time alone with the Father. Are we any different? Are we just as needy?

God gives us instruction as far back as Genesis concerning the need to meditate, but the book of Joshua is perhaps the most specific and simple concerning the absolute necessity of meditation.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8 ESV)

If this were the only thing that God ever said about meditating on Scripture, it would be enough. It is quite clear that if we want to experience success in life — according to God’s economy — then we need to meditate on the laws of God. That was Jesus’s pattern and it was the Lord’s clear instruction for Joshua. Of course, the Psalms of David are full of promises regarding meditation. In fact, when David thinks about preparations for war, he chooses meditating on God’s truth instead of developing battle strategies. He says, “Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.” (Psalm 119:23 ESV)

Let us join together, then, daily to listen to God’s wondrous works and allow them to change our minds and hearts as we ponder, answer questions and think about how to go forward in love!

— From my forthcoming book, “Heart Journey: Going Forward in Love” due to be published in December, 2017.

“We want information, God wants a conversation.” – Samuel Williamson

51nbnmeipgl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Over the years, I’ve read many books on prayer and meditation. I’ve been very selective in my choices of books to actually spend time with and apply to my relationship with God and my devotional life. There are only a few books on the topic of prayer and talking with God that I would recommend to anybody. And most of the books with which I’ve resonated were written by monks, priests and ancient contemplatives. So, for me to actually review and recommend a book by a contemporary layperson is a rarity!

Recently, I was asked to review a new book by Samuel C. Williamson (Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere from Kregel Publications, 2016, Grand Rapids, MI) on listening to God and seeing our prayers as a dialogue instead of a monologue. I was skeptical because I don’t know Mr. Williamson and for the reasons I mentioned above, but the book was endorsed by Eugene Peterson someone for whom I have great respect. I decided to take a closer look and what I found was just the kind of book I would write on the subject of developing a deeper relationship with God and learning to listen to God’s voice every day.

Williamson’s book is anecdotal, but it comes from a man whose faith is based on a Biblical and theologically orthodox foundation. So, his experiences are filtered through the doctrines of the historical Christian faith. Therefore, I can heartily recommend the chapters of this book to anyone who wants to grow closer to their Creator and Lord. In fact, chapters 4, 5 and 6 are particularly of value to new or young Christians who want to understand the place of Scripture in their daily lives and how they might structure a devotional life.

But this is not a book about form and structure, but about learning that we are free to follow Jesus to where he wants to take us and that we can be free in what we ask him as we would our closest of friends. Williamson writes, “We are involved in a divine dialogue.” The authenticity of the author’s desire to share his experience of the relational nature of God’s personality and character rang true, as did his desire to help others open their hearts to the divine conversation. The book is very appealing at this level.

Williamson also speaks clearly regarding our motives and how misguided our desire for guidance can be. “If we want to hear God in the storm, let’s first learn to hear his voice in the calm,” he writes. And, again, in chapter 1, he peals back our self-centeredness, “We want information; God wants a conversation.”

I found the writer’s questions regarding our presuppositions to be extremely helpful in plowing the ground of our own hearts concerning prayer. “What if God wants to converse with us more than he wants to direct us?” Williamson asks us.

Does that kind of question scare you? Or does that question point out how valuable you are to God? In my own experience, it was several years ago when I came to God with open and empty hands that I found his presence most welcoming and comforting. Williamson offers us help, “It’s not that God doesn’t want to answer our questions. He does. But our obsession with them deafens us to his message. The restrictive nature of our questions limits our ability to recognize God’s voice;” he writes.

As you can see, there is a lot to recommend about this book. In closing my review I want to mention a couple of other things that I really appreciated in reading it and a suggestion that I would make if you choose to read it. I loved that many of Williamson’s illustrations and stories were from his business, family and church experiences. He didn’t compartmentalize his experience of God to one area of his life. Secondly, he offers a broad range of resources and other voices to reinforce and support his convictions and suggestions. And, finally, my suggestion is that you don’t have to read the whole book before you start implementing some of the truths taught here. In fact, I’d suggest that you put the book down from time to time (or close your Kindle if you read like I do) and put into practice something that has struck you as helpful or interesting. —- Jimmy Locklear

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

 

 

Much ado about Presence! How to be fully present to those you love

One of the most common desires that a growing number of Christians express when talking about family and close relationships is to be “fully present.” We have learned of this interpersonal dynamic through the speaking and writing of spiritual and faith leaders, especially those who combine a bit of psychology with their spirituality and theology. Nationally and internationally, we have heard of this disposition from people like David Benner, Henri Nouwen, John Eldredge, Richard Rohr, Jean Vanier and Thomas Merton. And regionally we have heard presence advocated by folks like Larry Bolden, Basil Pennington and others.

Like many ideals presented to us, we begin to aspire to and share these concepts with others and express them in our conversations. Unfortunately, for many of us, the actual meaning and practice of something like being fully present can become foggy. What exactly am I trying to become? What does this look like? We need a refresher course or cheat sheet for how we want to change and become more attentive in our relationships. So, let us begin!

First, I have to say that this will be a simplification of the process that leads to our ability to be fully present or to have presence. The church reformer John Calvin wrote in The Institutes of the Christian Religion: “There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God.” And even earlier, St. Augustine prayed, “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.” So, we are on a journey in knowing God and knowing ourselves and as we continue on that journey and are diligent in our attempts at being present, we will experience greater freedom in fully being ourselves and fully being open to others. This openness is one of the fundamentals of presence.

Benner wrote, “Presence is a gift, but it is also a practice;” in his book Soulful Spirituality (p. 154). This leads us to ask God for the motivation and understanding to grow in our presence. While, at the same time, consciously putting ourselves into situations where we can develop an inner stillness. We need a stillness of our souls or our hearts in order to be present. God has planted the seeds of stillness in our hearts by giving us grace, forgiveness, the promise of his presence from now to eternity and we have seen the demonstration of his love through the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. How shall we cultivate those seeds?

IMG_0541Times of stillness and quiet are foundational for being able to be fully present. “One of the reasons most of us are limited in our ability to be present to others and ourselves is that we possess so little inner stillness. We are too full to be truly still – full of distractions, preoccupations, plans, worries, regrets, things that need to be rehearsed, and things that need to be reviewed.” (Benner, p. 146) I have found this to be true in my life, too. In fact, almost nothing has served to transform me more than times in stillness with the Holy Spirit. Nouwen called solitude the furnace of transformation. As we come to God with open and empty hands, we are signifying our dependence and desire to remove distractions. I believe this was the practice of Jesus during his years on earth and that he calls us to the same. In Luke 10 we read the story of Jesus visiting again with his good friends and calling Martha to presence, which was the one thing that she was lacking:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (NIV)

Have you ever felt like Martha? There is so much to be done and we feel like we have to do it! Yet, Jesus calls us to just one thing: to be present with him.

So, the first suggestion on cultivating the seeds of presence is to give yourself 20 minutes of stillness a day. I have a place in my home where I can sit down and become still and alone. Initially, a few years ago, this was the place where I would sit and cry and say to God that I didn’t know what was going to happen. I told the Lord that I felt like everything was falling a part and I didn’t know what to do. So, your stillness may start in chaos, but don’t give up. As thoughts come into your mind, respond by giving them to God. You may want to say, “Lord, this is yours. Father, take this away. Jesus, I release this to you.” And this may take some time. Eventually, you may develop a shorthand word as you feel God’s presence and you just say Jesus or Spirit.

We live in a time when multitasking has become the norm. The term first appeared in an IBM document in 1965. It was originally the function of a computer, but more recently has become the expectation for humans. We may talk on the phone while typing an email or drive an automobile while listening to the radio. We become so accustomed to doing more than one thing at a time that our brains accept it as normal. To be fully present with someone, we have to unlearn multitasking. With this in mind, the second suggestion for cultivating seeds of presence is to practice doing just one thing at a time. Try doing this a little each day. One of my biggest challenges is reading while eating or watching TV while eating. Yesterday, I tried eating and just savoring the food. The food tasted better. In his teaching on being fully present, Larry Bolden of Wellspring Group talks about the value of “savoring the moment.” In order to get to that place, we have to take in the whole experience. We have to focus on the words a person is saying or taste the flavor of each fruit or vegetable or spice to savor them. Decide that you are going to get less done instead of more tomorrow and mono-task! You may need to put fewer things on your “To Do List” or put only one thing on your list.

Especially, if we are sitting down to talk with someone, it is important to make sure that we can hear just his/her voice. In time, you may be able to do that in a noisy area, but you may need a quieter place. Consider your surroundings and how the outer noise may affect your inner stillness is the third suggestion. And don’t be timid to ask someone to repeat what they said if your own thoughts got in the way of your hearing them. You know how some folks seem to bring peace with them when they enter a room or approach to greet you? That is what you are aiming to develop. We all can feel that and being conscious of your surroundings can foster a more peaceful and personal presence.

An overarching motivation for our desire to be fully present is that it is a sign of respect and humility. We know that if we are fully present we will have more to give to the people around us. So, our inner and outer posture needs to mimic our respect for the other person who was created in the image of God. We want to respect the sacredness of the encounter. We will turn toward the person and look at them.

Perhaps another tool that we can use in cultivating presence is to imagine that we are sitting across the table from Jesus. How would we respond in that moment? We would want to receive all of the wisdom, knowledge, love and guidance that we could from Jesus. We wouldn’t want to miss a single syllable or gesture in his words and movements. We would want to have the laser focus of all of our senses on Jesus. If we believe in the reality of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in believers and that we are members of the Body of the Messiah, then we are in fact encountering Jesus when we sit across the table from one of God’s children.

Begin the journey of being fully present to those you love. We need all of you.

Your presence is a gift only you can give.

 

“For God’s Glory…”

One of the ways that we often end our prayers or conversations in a church-related meeting is with the phrase that we want to do everything to God’s glory and not our own. It seems like a selfless and humble thing to say. It is an acceptable platitude, but what does it mean? If we examine our intent or search out our motives, how can we ever know if we are succeeding in what we say is one of our deepest desires?

First, let’s remind ourselves that we ARE the glory of God. In Genesis 2:7 we read, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” With that singular act, we were given the very essence of God’s glory, the breath of G5049161418940014od. We live because of God’s actions. This changes the question from, “how do I live for the glory of God?” to “how do I live who I am and who I was created as?”

 

We are told this in our post-gospel readings in the New Testament, too, when we are told that we are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. As such, we are restored to our created state of living as the glory of God. Our calling is to make a space for God to dwell. God has chosen to reside in us and to be the indwelling glory to shine through our lives.

So, what does it mean to live who you are? This should be a cause for meditation and for the reading of God’s Word with a slightly different perspective. Perhaps we can ask God to reveal to us how he means for us to show the glory he has put in us. Can you accept this? You are God’s place (topos tou theou). You are the place where God has chosen to live. You might want to meditate on the thought: I am the glory of God. And see what that does to the concerns of your life. Might this change how we live, what we think about and how we battle against the thoughts that would rob us of this reality.

In his last days on earth before his arrest, Jesus said that he was going to prepare a home for us so that we could be with him forever. In the meantime, he promised us that he would be with us through the Holy Spirit. Using the most basic of metaphors, Jesus assured us of his oneness with us. We are his dwelling place and he is our dwelling place. We can deny this (Peter), but Jesus will come back to us (Peter) and restore us and remind us what we are.

So, I remind you today, brothers and sisters, that You Are the Glory of God.

Letting Go

I’ve promoted the books of Dr. David Benner before. Like many of my favorite writers, David has that great combination of training in psychology and spirituality. Thus, his books often integrate the two disciplines into more fully developed frameworks for our inner lives and how we can apply our beliefs in our daily activities. [David’s website]

From David G. Benner, PhD, in “Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human” on pages 151-152:

Letting go is an important spiritual practice, but it is counterintuitive because the default posture for most of us is to clutch, not to release. If we are to be truly present to ourselves, we must let go of the preoccupations that fill us up and keep us from stillness and presence. To be fully present means that I must be temporarily absent to the things I normally carry with me in consciousness. They are the noises that drawn out inner silence, the distractions that keep me from a deep presence to my self and my world. For when I am caught in the rut of my ordinary inner self-chatter, all I am present to is this background static.

This ties in beautifully with what I’ve been learning over the past few years about “praying without ceasing” and the inner dialogue versus the monologue that I so often have with myself. The “background static” that Dr. Benner refers to is the re-hashing of our past that tends to dominate our thinking. Or, for some, it is the anticipation and rehearsing for our future performances that pre-occupy our minds so that we can’t hear the voice of the Holy Spirit who indwells us and speaks comfort and wisdom into our daily activity.

It also meshes with Jesus’ teaching on “go and sin no more” and the idea of “fast repentance” that I’ve been mulling over for a while. I’ll be posting more on these themes soon.