by W. Choong
Mention the word “meditation” to many 21st Century Christians, and the likelihood would be that one could receive quizzical expressions on their faces. In our fast-paced and highly-networked societies, the very idea of meditation – retreating into the quiet and beholding the very Word of God – remains a remote concept. As the famed psychiatrist Carl Jung once remarked: “Hurry is not of the Devil, it is the Devil.”
But the fact is that meditation has been the meat and potatoes to sustained growth in a Christian’s walk with the Lord Jesus. From Catholic to Protestant, from Eastern Orthodox to Western Free Church, we are encouraged to “live in His presence in uninterrupted fellowship.” The Russian mystic Theophan the Recluse said: “To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all seeing, within you.” And in more recent times, the Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when asked why he meditated, replied: “Because I am a Christian.”
While the practice of meditation seems to be a difficult concept in theory – and even more formidable in practice – the truth is that meditation is not difficult, and even easy, and enjoyable! As Richard Foster writes in his classic Celebration of Discipline, meditation is the ability to hear God’s voice and to obey it. Moses, for example, learned how to hear His voice and obey it. Exodus 33:11 talks about Moses speaking to the Lord “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”
Another way of understanding meditation is to see it as the activity of calling to mind, thinking over, dwelling on and applying to oneself the various things one knows about the works, ways, personality, purposes and promises of God. As J.I. Packer put it, meditation is the “activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God.” Simply put, meditation enables us to focus our entire being on the very nature of God.
Instances of meditation are littered across the Bible. The first Psalm talks about the man whose “delight is in the law of the Lord.” (Psalm 1:2). The prophet Jeremiah spoke about the word of God being “like a fire” and hammer that breaks the rock into pieces (Jer 23:29). Jesus Himself took time from His busy time on earth to withdraw and contemplate the Father (Matt 14:13)
It is true that meditation helps us to hear His voice and thus obey His Word. But ultimately meditation is about the inner transformation of the Christian’s spiritual walk. Many a times, we feel that we are too weak to fulfil the requirements of God’s standards. But when we meditate on the Word, we interact with and encounter the very Living Word Himself. The Word, after all, is a Living Person with emotions and feelings. Such encounter will, over time, change something in our hearts, such that we’d love Him more, and become more like Jesus.
The change on the inside is imperceptible at times, and gradual, but it happens over time. A key verse is 2 Cor 3:18:
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
The verse here is powerful, focussed as it is about the 9 aspects of beholding God (i.e. “we all,” “with unveiled face,” “beholding God,” “in a mirror,” “glory of the Lord,” “transformed,” “into the same image,” “from glory to glory” and “as by the Spirit.” Our God is a generous God! With a little effort on our part, He gives to us an eternal reward – the promise of being transformed into His very likeness! When the Apostle Paul wrote about mirrors, the mirrors in his time were not the mirrors of today that give a perfect reflection. Rather, the mirrors of his time were made of metal that gave a dim view of one’s own image. As Paul described it, our beholding of the Lord is “dim,” like the images in the mirrors of Paul’s time. We gaze but dimly, lacking clarity and focus in our process of coming before Him in prayer and meditation. Paul elaborates on this theme in 1 Cor 13:12, when he writes about how we see in a mirror “dimly, but then face to face (with God)” Still, such “dim gazes” and a lack of focus enable us – through meditation – to transform ourselves into the very image of the uncreated God!
Granted, meditation sounds hard, but in practice is not so. One way to meditate is to take a truth from the Bible itself and ask the Holy Spirit to breathe living revelation of this truth into our hearts. If we meditate on say, Revelation 4:8 about “holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God almighty,” we might think that God is pure and without sin. As we dwell on this and ask the Holy Spirit for revelation, we would realise that He is transcendent – that is, He is far greater than anything, and above and beyond our imagination. He is the utterly “better than” God (Songs 1:2, Ps 84:10, Ps 63:3)! Such understanding will create a change in our hearts, of eternal impact. This slow but gradual change fuels the hunger in us to seek out the unsearchable riches of Christ even more (Eph 3:8)! The meditation cycle repeats, and before we know it, we are under the Master’s hand, the dull clay of our hearts are being shaped and transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
As the Holy Spirit inspires and expands Houses of Prayer across the earth, meditation is also a powerful practice to employ in such places. The prayer room is not only about worship, interceding the things of His heart and music. It is about encountering God. And meditation in the fiery furnace of intercessory worship will transform our cold hearts into burning and shining lamps (Jn 5:35), ready to receive the Bridegroom when He returns!
Again, meditation in the House of Prayer is not difficult. During a devotional or apostolic set, when a worship leader is leading the people in the prayer room, one simply has to open up the Word, engage our hearts and allow the worship songs being sung to facilitate one’s meditation. As we listen to the prayers being offered in the room, such prayers can also illuminate our meditation.
In the end, meditation is not merely about growing in knowledge about God, but growing in our knowledge of God. The two concepts constitute a world of difference. One might know everything about Barack Obama from what we read or hear about him, but it is a different thing altogether to know him personally as a friend. The same applies to the Lord Jesus.
The Lord Jesus is not boring. He is boring to us because we haven’t pressed in to know Him personally. I keep an electronic notebook that helps me write down the sweet nuggets of His Word that is impressed on me as I meditate in the House of Prayer. In a matter of 3-4 years of meditation and note-taking, I was pleasantly surprised that I had “accumulated” more than 160 notes of His Word to me. Most times, the notes were insights I received from Him about His Word. The sweeter notes were those that indicated His passion and desire for me, and how He sees me. And over time, I realise that I’ve grown to love His Word – and more than that, love the Word who wrote the Word. The lesser things of life are still there, but they have a lesser hold. As the author of the song “Turn your eyes upon Jesus” wrote, as we turn our gaze on Him, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
As C.S. Lewis once said:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
In the new year, let us press in to experience the very pleasure of experiencing Him through meditation!
References  Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1989, p. 23  Ibid, p. 23  Ibid, p. 21  J.I. Packer, Knowing God, InterVarsity Press, 1993, p. 23  C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, New York, Harper Collins, 2001, p. 16