Re-post: Is Meditation a Missing Ingredient?

In North America, Christianity as it is practiced tends to make little difference in people’s lives. There is too little evidence of holy living, and professing Christians often show the same symptoms of enslavement as the population at large: pornography addictions, addictions to over-spending, out-of-control anger, domestic violence, rudeness in primary relationships, and surprisingly high levels of divorce.

Explanations are offered. For example, a fog of skepticism, possibly engendered by the Enlightenment and the rise of science, is said to have hung over the western world for most of two centuries and this tends to choke out a robust faith. The allure of materialism is blamed, or the preoccupation with “stuff.” Even post-modernism with its denial of objective truth comes in for blame.

But believers in China can live out a triumphant faith in Christ while risking severe governmental punishment. Believers in Egypt can thrive knowing they may be roughed up or worse for their faith. Why can there not be an inner life in Christ in our western world that can liberate us from our addictions, sanctify our temperaments, and sustain real faith in a land of freedom and plenty?

In his book, Knowing God, J. I. Packer says there is an explanation. And the fact that this book has sold more than one million copies since it was first published in 1973 gives testimony that there are souls aplenty who want to know the key to that more abundant life.

His book sets forth a Calvinistic doctrine of God.* Packer writes, “There can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge.” But his purpose is not merely to dispense doctrinal truth. His larger goal is to set forth Christian truth on this subject, making it a basis for meditation. It is to take the reader from knowing about God to actually knowing God.

“Meditation,” he writes, “is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.”

Early on, the author explains how this is to be done: “We turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.”

Meditation is done by Christians when they are alone, usually practicing it according to a plan and on a daily basis.

Is this a missing element in Western Christianity? Do Christians on a large scale make it a point to enrich their own experience with God every day? Do they set aside say 30 minutes or so each day to keep daily living in an eternal context? And in how many Christian homes are there family devotions that extend Sunday corporate worship to daily family worship? Furthermore, when believers come to worship on a Sunday, what spiritual energy do they bring with them?

I realize that some who come are like wounded warriors limping in from a hard-fought week. They come for renewal. Others whose faith is little more than an inherited tradition may not have much to bring. After all, a congregation is made up of people in all stages of Christian development.

But every congregation needs a core of believers who are inwardly energized daily by meditation, prayer, and praise, who bring the energy of the Spirit with them when they come to worship. This core may be found in the church board, or a Sunday School staff, or even among a number of fired-up young people, or seniors rich in faith – or all of the above. It’s this category of believers that needs to be expanded everywhere.

Years ago I read a curious story: In a sparsely-wooded area in Africa people walked from great distances to worship together on a Sunday morning. After the service it was their custom to light a large bonfire in the church yard, a sort of celebratory event. A visitor from North America witnessed this and asked how they could light such a fire when there was very little wood in the area. He was told, “All believers bring their own supply of wood with them, and that’s what makes the big fire possible.”

If we are twice-born believers, larger numbers of us need to commit or re-commit ourselves to the daily practice of meditation as a means of knowing God in personal and fresh ways. This would help greatly to deepen the faith of the church in the western world.

*I find great value in the book but I cannot square the author’s double predestination (P. 79) with the Golden Text of the Bible, John 3:16.

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3 thoughts on “Re-post: Is Meditation a Missing Ingredient?

  1. Meditation–an important issue. I have a ritual before dressing each day–I pour a cup of coffee, use the chair at the fireplace and take time with my Portuguese Daily Bread and Bible. It is valuable habit to me–I intend to keep it up till I move on to the next world. Such times of meditation get little emphasis these days. Blessings, Roy

  2. The grass on the other side is always greener. Or so it appears. I often look to North America with great hope, ,noticing the high church attendances there and survey results showing the high proportion of Americans believing in God and accepting Christ as their saviour.I wish it was so in Britain where I live.

    But then I also notice America is one of the very few countries with the most lax abortion laws in the world.. US mothers seem free to exterminate their unborn babies more or less at will,well after they are almost fully developed human beings.

    Divorce levels in North America seem at least as high as anywhere else.

    America seems to be a centre of pornography and drugs,with high levels of addiction

    . We hear of American children angrily shooting dead their classmates and teachers in grotesque acts of rage. We hear of inner city riots with looting ,violence,arson and uncontrolled rage.

    From the UK I have this comforting image of a peaceful downhome Midwest and happy smalltown American churchgouing communities.Contrasting this I shear on the news of American inner city violence where gunlaw rules and crime,gangs and riots are a regular part of daily life.The wild west of Wyatt Earp seems civilized beside this.

    Something’s wrong.There seems a disconnect .Are Christians in America not living the Christian life which they believe in ? If so,what hope is there for European countries like Britain and Holland,formerly Christian strongholds ,now reduced to secular deserts of disbelief.Even if British and Dutch return to Christianity,will we be like so many Americans and fail to live the Christian lifes?

    I’m sure the 18th century so called ‘Enloghtenment thinking’ undermined Western faith ,continuing into the 19th century when more and more of the Bible was questioned and disbelieved ,until our collective faith became a poor tattered shadow of what it was.

    ‘What is truth ? ’ asked cynical Pontius Pilate,in the face of the Son of God.Post modernist sceptics, like Pontious Pilate, like, ask the same cynical question.Where today is the faith of Abraham? Well I have met it in good Christians from time to time and it’s refreshing..And I meet it weekly in ‘Just Call Me Pastor’,which is why I keep reading it every week,looking forward to it each Monday.When we come across a Christian voice of deep faith,we listen carefully to it ,for it is a spiritual oasis in a world of God- ignoring materialism.

    Perhaps Westerners and Americans have had their faith too easy,but this is changing. There is prejudice against Christians in every country in the world,including Britain,USA and Canada..One only has to read Tristan Emmanuel’s recent book ‘Christophobia’,to find an account of prejudice against and persecution of ,Christians globally.Christophobia is even come to Western shores.But for Christians in the middle east and Africa this persecution is apocalyptic.

    Both Justin Welby,Archbishop of Canterbury ,who used to be assistant canon for reconciliation at my church., and Pope Francis ,spoke out agaist persecution of Christians in their Easter addresses,naming this a new age of Martyrs..At the same time a Free Methodist bishop ,on the Free Methodist facebook page, asked for prayers for a Free Methodist missionary pastor abducted in Nigeria..By the grace of God she is released now.

    JustinWelby ,now leader of the Anglican Communion ,a loose worldwide federation- like group of autonomous Anglican churches, used to be assistant pastor for reconciliation at my church.,with responsibility for Africa.So he knew of the persecution of Christians by Boko Haram.

    Even USA is not free from persecution of Christians. Between 1994 and 1998 self proclaimed Satanist Jay Ballinger set fire to up to 50 churches in 11 states ,spraying an inverted cross on one church before burning it in a Satanic ritual.In 2012 ‘American Atheists’ less violently ,but provocatively, ran a billboard campaign at Christmas perversely and absurdly proclaiming ‘Who needs Christ at Christmas ? Nobody’.How ridiculous,laughably illogical and irrational, yet I’m sure it upset many Christians at this season commemorating our Saviours nativity.

    Also,I notice in America,both USA & Canada, there seems a reluctance to call Christmas by name.We British are baffled by the term ‘Happy Holidays’.Yet America is the most Christian place in the world we thought.

    In Nigeria,Iraq , Syria .Egypt,and Libya far far worse is being done to Christians.ISIL has gone from door to door in Iraq beheading every Christian child who refuses to renounce Christ. in front of his or her parents,this in the 2,000 year old Christian community of Mosel.In the Bible Mosel is called Nineveh,where God sent Jonah.He didn’t obey and a whale swallowed then spat him out, facing the direction God wanted him to go,I think..

    Our congregation know of the atrocities in Northern Iraq because the former pastor for reconciliation at our church,Revd Andrew White,to whom Justin Welby was assistant, went to Iraq to become Vicar of Baghdad.His parish is the whole of Iraq.He has faced countless death threats by ISIL and sometimes has to flee to Jerusalem.Always he returns to his parish,where his church,St Georges Baghdad , attracts many well wishing Muslims to it’s Christian services.

    At our non denominational Christian Unity services in our non denominational Chapel of Unity ,before our monthly ecumenical Lord’s Supper,letters from Iraq Christians in Andrew’s parish , are sometimes read to us.They describe the persecution they face which is not always reported in the press.Perhaps violent persecution of Christians in the Holy Lands and Africa have become so comonplacve they’re no longer considered’ newsworthy’.

    The communion leader who read these letters to us apologized for such upsetting accounts.But often the press doesn’t report all the Christian persecution going on daily,if the daily beheadings occur in only one or two villages and don’t happen to European Christians.So we needed to hear.

    Many British schoolchildren run away ,via Turkey ,to join ISIL and one of the chief beheaders and persecutors ,known as’ Jihadi John’,joined ISIL from London where he was a student.

    We hear through the news media,only the tiop of the iceberg as regards persecution of Christians. The schoolgirls kidnapped in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram were reported but the schoolboys murdered were not.Perhaps it was considered less sensational and newsworthy.

    This is an age of rampant Christophobia.Christians are the most persecuted people on earth.Our brother and sister Christians in Africa,Asia and Souh America bear the brunt of this persecution.But it is spreading to Europe and North America.In small ways at first,the banning of crosse and ,the term Happy Christmas replaced by the anaemic Happy Holidays

    In UK, street – preachers have been jostled ,mocked and ridiculed and faced foul verbal abuse..In Birmingham UK ,school nativity plays have been banned in some schools.It’s not Muslims or Hindus or non Christian faiths who object when one looks into it.It seems to be ‘humanists’ ( atheists ) who want to deny our right to religious expression

    I have a lot of time for many atheists.Many are honest questioners who say what they believe and believe what they say.But they are mistaken,blind to the Holy Spirit .I believe that if they are truly open minded and open hearted the Spirit will come upon them and they will wake up one day to the good news ,and there will be rejoicing in Heaven.

    I never met an atheist who undermined my faith. Or any atheist who came up with any logical or reasonable argument for denying God.In the presence of the Holy Spirit ,they appear so sad and forlorn as to cry out to be evangelized from their darkness and into Christ’s Light.

    How can we live a Christian life without the constant support of the Holy Spirit? How do we keep in close constant touch with the Holy Spirit?In Europe we have a long tradition of Silence to achieve this.A kind of silent prayer that is neither casual nor easy.Dotted about the British Isles are retreats where this is still practised and shared.Meditation !

    I’ve heard this silent prayer called contemplation,meditation,unknowing,many things.We in Europe,and many Americans are from Europe originally, have a long tradition of Christian mystics ,people who spent long periods of their lives doing this many hours each day .Hildegard of Bingen of th;Catherine of Sienna;Meister Eckhert born in 13th century Germany

    In 16th century Spain,Teresa of Avilla led a life of meditation and teaches us how.. .In ‘Interior Castle’ she takes us on an inner journey into ourselves through the chambers of our inner being,until we reach the innermost chamber of our interior Castle.Here throned sits Jesus! I long to reach this innermost chamber!

    Our Diocesan bishop,Christopher,Bishop of Coventry,said a strange thing in his Easter Eucharist sermon to us.He said we should be silent and contemplate to find the Lord.No chatter,no busy mind thinking of our daily problems ,no church prayers eve!.He didn’t mean not to go to church.But that we should spend time alone,behind closed doors ,at home,emptying ourselves of everything until there is nothing left but God.To be still and so quiet that at last we hear the still small voice of God.

    In the middle ages ,when mystics like Dame Julian and Catherine of Sienna,Ignatius Loyola and Meister Eckhart meditated,ife was hard ,but there were less distractions ,a less hectic pace of life .Perhaps more space for the inner life existeDominican or Franciscan monks have plenty of space and calm at certain times of day to contemplate.In our busy world it’s not so easy ,but time must be found ,even if only half an hour here or there , on a regular basis.

    Sometimes when one is ill or in hospital ,suddenly one finds the time and space to really make room for the Holy Spirit in one’s life. For periods in the day to shut out everything else.Once found ,it’s something one never wishes to los,couldn’t envisage living without.It puts life into context,energizes one’s day ,makes us realize that without God we are powerless and inoperant.

    I believe these spaces given to meditation of God ,open us to God’s good influence

    ‘Knowing God ‘ sounds a useful book which I will look at.I too cannot understand how the Calvinist doctrine of predestination squares with the Bible or the Gospel of Christ.If at birth we are already destined for either hell or heaven to be saved or damned, then why did Jesus Christ die.This peculiar doctrine undermines Christ and Christianity.So that I suspect I must be missing something and Calvinists believe something different.Or mistaken.Yet I’ve heard illuminating Christian thoughts expressed by many Calvinists.

    I don’t call people heretics but if I did I could imagine no clearer heresy than double predestination which throws salvation,forgiveness , redemption and freedom out the window.I’ve heard Christians who say Jesus wants every soul saved branded as universalists and heretics .Just because they believe Jesus came to save all.Not a chosen or elected few.But all.That’s what my Bible says! If all won’t be saved or turn their back on our Saviour it’s not His design ,not predestination .It’s human blindness and human weakness not to recognize the good news of salvation.

    ‘Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son: — Whom he did predestinate, them he also called. And whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.’ Romans 8:29, 30

    John Wesley exegeted this scripture in a sermon ( 58)

    ‘’. The more frequently and carefully I have considered it, the more I have been inclined to think that the apostle is not here (as many have supposed) describing a chain of causes and effects; (this does not seem to have entered into his heart;) but simply showing the method in which God works; the order in which the several branches of salvation constantly follow each other. And this, I apprehend, will be clear to any serious and impartial inquirer, surveying the work of God either forward or backward; either from the beginning to the end, or from the end to the beginning.’’’ On Predestination’ John Wesley

    And

    ‘’Indeed, if man were not free, he could not be accountable either for his thoughts, word, or actions. If he were not free, he would not be capable either of reward or punishment; he would be incapable either of virtue or vice, of being either morally good or bad. If he had no more freedom than the sun, the moon, or the stars, he would be no more accountable than them. On supposition that he had no more freedom than them, the stones of the earth would be as capable of reward, and as liable to punishment, as man: One would be as accountable as the other. Yea, and it would be as absurd to ascribe either virtue or vice to him as to ascribe it to the stock of a tree.’’ ‘On Predestination’ John Wesley

    Wesley,the most perceptive Bible reader clesarest drawer out and synthesizer of the essential truth of Scripture, I ever read,concludes his sermon outlining the folly of a doctrine of predestination,thus : .

    ‘’ What is it, then, that we learn from this whole account? It is this, and no more: — (1) God knows all believers; (2) wills that they should be saved from sin; (3) to that end, justifies them, (4) sanctifies and (5) takes them to glory.’’ ‘On Predestination’ John Wesley

    Meditation or Christian Silence or Christian Stillness or Contemplation – once experienced it’s known. As you indicate Pastor, it offers a wonderful antidote to that Western materialism that denies the Holy Spirit and loses sight of God.

  3. p.s. Thankyou for recommending J.J.Packer’s ‘Knowing God ‘ 1973. I’ve always sought guidance on the basic act of prayer.One of the first books I found useful was a little book ‘How To Pray’.It’s old .I have it at home but forget the author.

    I found meditation a difficult form of prayer to get started on as it’s so intangible.What do you do? Nothing,really but it’s not rest.You have to be alert,wakeful and focussed.

    Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmontd Tutu says:

    ‘Often they say you learn how to swim by swimming but a good coach or swimming manual is essential.Equally,we could say you learn how to be contemplative by contemplating’and a good guide or mentor is necessary ‘’

    He went on to say

    ‘’’Into The Silent Land’ is just that.I tried it and it works.Try it!.’’

    I believe Desmond Tutu’s church life began as a boy in his local Methodist church.He went on to become an Anglican archbishop and writer.

    I took his advice and read the little book called ‘Into The Silent Land’ by Villanova University theology and religious studies professor Martin Laird,published in New York in 2006.

    In the frontpiece is a Bible verse.

    ‘’By waiting and by calm you shall be saved
    In quiet and in trust your strength lies’’ Isaiah 30:15 .

    It contains eminently practical advice including avoiding distraction and breathing techniques .Also making a regular habit of meditating,like Roy Kenny does each morning before dressing,in the first reply to this ‘Just Call Me Pastor’ blog.

    Just as Teresa of Avilla guides us through our interior chambers of our interior castle until we meet Jesus at the centre,so Martin Laird guides us through doorways – three

    .The first is overcoming fidgetiness,.boredom ,self preoccupation and all the ego distractions.

    The second door is becoming one with the prayer word .I suppose like a rider becomes one with the horse is my image of choice.The author puts it like a weaver becomes one with the loom or a dancer one with the dace.

    The third doorway,achieved by vigilant waiting,is the threshold of the silence of just being.Into the silent land!.Empty for God to fill ,I think.Or indwell is maybe a better word than fill.

    The introduction to ‘Into The Silent Land’ is titled’ God Is Our Homeland’ ,referring to Augustine’s huge book ‘City Of God’, where Augustine of Hippo says

    ‘’We must fly to our beloved homeland’’.

    I think that’s what meditation is – flying to our beloved homeland.Flying to our God !

    Anything which helps me fly to our Lord,I embrace.So I will track down ‘Knowing God’.Thankyou for the reading suggestion Pastor Don.Meditation,flying to God,is one of the greatest adventures life offers.

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