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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Photo credit: khrawlings (via flickr.com)