The Necessity of Meditation – Part 1
I cannot count the number of times I have heard meditation called “the lost art.” It seems unanimously spoken of as a foreign concept to popular Christianity. This is troubling if it is true, and I believe it is. The Western middle class is far too busy and hobby-filled to deliberately contemplate things that are beyond them. This trickles into Christendom. Even church leaders are encouraged not to meditate or blaze their own trail in God’s Word, for we live in an age of well-arranged homiletics and dynamic sermon outlines, but not sanctuary-derived, expository truth. Jeremiah’s words have been fulfilled: “They speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord. . . But who has stood in the council of the Lord, that he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened?” (Jeremiah 23:16b, 18). If this is true of the shepherds, how much more of the sheep.
But grief at surrounding conditions is not enough to drive us into the sanctuary. Sorrow for Christian failure is good, but that alone will simply make us legalists. Our greatest grief must be that we ourselves do not know God as we ought. Then we will pursue His presence. The question remains then: is meditation a necessary Christian discipline? Is it just as important as our service and love? Let us look at some reasons why meditation is necessary for every Christian. And remember, if these reasons are true, they demand a response.
Meditation is necessary because the Word of God is necessary. If we had right views of the Word of God, meditation would not follow far behind. The reason we have insufficient views of quiet thought before God is because we have insufficient views God Himself. People do not object to meditation because they disagree with the method; they object because they are excusing their spiritual malnourishment. The issue isn’t time. The issue is appetite. When we understand that man shall live by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” we will surely appreciate every word and devote deep thought to each page. The following reasons will not persuade us if the inspiration of Scripture does not persuade us to meditate. And if the inspiration of Scripture does persuade us, the following reasons will be mere complements to this supreme motivation. Everything falls into place when we really believe appreciate that Scripture is from God Himself.
Meditation is necessary because of the principle established by the Sabbath. The Lord instituted the Sabbath as a day of rest. It was not merely for refreshment, however; it was set apart unto the Lord. Man was to rest, not so he could be inactive, but so he could devote an entire day to God-consciousness. “But the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God… You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:14-15, emphasis mine). It was not good enough that they should serve God; they had to contemplate Him. They were not only to love Him with their strength, but also with their mind and heart (6:5). So, we find Psalm 92 entitled “a psalm for the Sabbath day” and thus full of praise, we find honouring the Sabbath equivalent to delighting in the Lord in Isaiah 58:13-14, and we find teaching in the New Testament often performed on the Sabbath. The life of the mind was central in the consecration of the nation. So important was this aspect of Israel’s culture that death was the penalty for Sabbath-violators.
The reason we are known as a society of stress is that we have failed to muse upon God. Israel had it right: they associated bodily refreshment with positive mental activity. We have come to associate rest with sleeping beyond necessary hours, watching movies, vegetating, or simply doing nothing. And we wonder why we never feel refreshed to face the dreaded “Monday.” The reason is we are trying to rest our bodies without feeding our minds with joy and eternal perspectives. We run from our problems by complaining and then sleeping, but we do not deal with our problems by meditating and praying. If we associated rest with joy in God, then surely we would be more refreshed. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” We must learn to wait upon the Lord in quiet meditation. We need to stop running constantly. The world does not need us as much as our pride thinks. No one will lose if we take time to do nothing except cultivate a healthy mind. This is necessary to a joyful and strong Christian life.
Meditation is necessary because God is not easy to know, yet He is quite knowable. Ease is not equivalent to possibility. It is certainly not easy to keep a marriage healthy, yet it is quite possible. In fact, it is so possible that it is the strongest of relationships in the human order. We may put it another way: where there is great quality of knowledge, the quantity takes more effort to achieve. Gold is difficult to dig and refine, yet it is most useful once it has been achieved. So with God, to know Him is the most wonderful condition of the human soul, and indeed He desires to be known. But where there is a great object, there must be great commitment to achieve it. Meditation is our effort to attain more quality in our knowledge of God. It takes time. It takes discipline. Yet once we have made meditation our friend, we find God to be quite near, though at a time we took many pains to get even a nugget of truth that would impact our hearts. The reason there is this struggle is because God wants the whole heart and mind; this struggle is the test of our readiness to give our all to knowing Him. Meditation rests upon the promise that God reveals Himself to seekers, yet it knows that there are depths of God which require much contemplation. God is not easy to know, but when we embrace the necessary commitment we find Him very possible to know. Meditation is unique in this regard. It filters the nominal from the sincere. It is the harder spiritual discipline that shows whether one is ready to know God in true intimacy.