The Practice: Forms of Meditation

“Whereas the study of Scripture centres on exegesis, the meditation of Scripture centres on internalizing and personalizing the passage.” – Richard Foster

In these first few weeks of The Practice, we’ve been discussing the spiritual discipline of meditation. However, for the most part, we’ve only been discussing one particular form of meditation, namely, meditation through silence.

This is where you sit and attempt to think about God. As Richard Foster puts it, “It is a time to be still, to enter into the recreating silence, to allow the fragmentation of our minds to become centred.”

There are at least two other forms of meditation we can also explore which we will talk about in this post.

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On the Common Core of Christian Belief

It’s no secret that Christians of different denominations often find themselves in disagreement.

Sometimes those disagreements are about minor issues like whether it’s okay to watch movies or drink alcohol. Other times those disagreements are much more major like when someone should be baptized—as an infant or as an adult—or who can participate in communion—is it only people who are members of your church or is anyone who professes Jesus welcome?

In recent years one of the biggest discussions and points of contention for many Christians is around LGBTQ issues. Can someone be both gay-affirming and call themselves a genuine follower of Jesus? Some denominations would say yes while others disagree.

 

Even within any given denomination, you will often find disagreement. Wesleyan churches might internally debate what the Bible really says about sanctification while Reformed churches might discussion whether women should be allowed in ministry.

All of this debate and discussion, while healthy, might lead some to wonder what beliefs are required to consider yourself a Christian. Can you be a Christian and believe dancing is okay? Can you be a Christian and believe the world was created through evolution? Can you be a Christian and believe Jesus didn’t actually come back to life?

Just about everyone would agree there needs to be some minimum standard of belief but what is it? What are the non-negotiables of the Christian faith? The things that all Christians need to believe in order to consider themselves Christian?

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On Jewish-Samaritan Animosity

If you read through the gospels, on a few occasions you’ll come across references to a group of people called the Samaritans.

The fact that Jews and Samaritans didn’t like each other is a common enough fact for a lot of Christian but the reasons for that animosity and the depths to which their hate descends are often unclear.

But like in the rest of Scripture, context is important. During the time of Jesus, there was deep and long-standing hostility between these two groups of people. Understanding why will help bring to life passages like John 4 when Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman or Luke 10 when Jesus tells a parable about a good Samaritan.

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The Practice: Running

There is a progression in the spiritual life, and it is wise to have some experience with lesser peaks before trying to tackle the Mt. Everest of your soul. So be patient with yourself. Besides, you are learning a discipline for which you have received no training. Nor does our culture encourage you to develop these skills. You will be going against the tide, but take heart; your task is of immense worth.

    – Richard Foster

 

Last week I went for a run for the first time this season. It was the first time I ran at all since running a 10km race last fall. I’m not going to lie. It didn’t go well.

I ran slower than I’ve previously been able to and I clearly didn’t have the endurance I used to. It was short and I was clearly out of practice.

But it would be foolish of me to declare myself a failure at running after a single run.

The truth is that endurance is something that needs to be built up. Each subsequent run helps train your body and enables you to run longer and faster and further.

In the same way, I think there can be a temptation to give up practicing the spiritual disciplines too quickly.

 

Maybe you think you should be able to practice the disciplines in the same way as those who have been attempting to practice them for years.

In university, I had a professor share that he knows an old, veteran Christian who reads his Bible through cover-to-cover three times a year. That means reading it through every four months. Maybe some people heard that and were encouraged. It just made me feel terrible.

This man reads his Bible three times a year? I’m lucky if I can read the Bible once in three years.

Seeing how easily others practice the spiritual disciples can be discouraging when you struggle with the smallest and simplest forms.

 

For others, maybe we expected quicker results. Over the last month, we’ve been talking about meditation and I’ve suggested trying to meditate (or reflect) on God and his character for just five minutes a day. Maybe some of us were hoping that in this first month of practicing this first discipline all their issues would be solved. Your anger or selfishness or lust would simply disappear.

But that would be like a farmer planting wheat in a field and deciding after a month with no crops that farming didn’t work either.

 

It takes time to develop the skills necessary to practice the spiritual discipline well. It takes even more time to see the fruit of these disciplines. Furthermore, as we’ve mentioned before, the spiritual disciples don’t change you, they simply put you in a position for God to change you.

So maybe you’ve struggled to spend five minutes a day meditating on God. Don’t get discouraged. Try again tomorrow. Maybe for some of us, we need to start with five minutes a week. Or three minutes.

Honestly, just setting your phone down and pausing instead of immediately going on to the next task can be a great way to start.

On the Sovereignty of God

What does God want?

In some ways, that’s the ultimate question, isn’t it?

A couple weeks ago we talked about Rapture/Tribulation theology and how the underlying message is that God is somehow either unable or unwilling to bring about what he wants. Rapture theology fundamentally suggests God is fighting a losing battle but holds the final trump card in his ability to take Christians away and punish everyone else.

For obvious reasons, I reject that kind of theology. I believe God is sovereign. I believe God is strong enough to accomplish what he sets out to accomplish.

Essentially, I believe God gets what he wants.

Which leads us to the obvious follow-up question. What is it that God wants?

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