Tilling the Soil of The Soul September 18, 2005
1 Timothy 4:7-8, Psalm 119:48
Intro to the Disciplines
I remember when I was a kid, we were living in New Dundee & my dad’s office was not in the church building, it was in the basement of our house. In order to go to work in the morning, he only had to walk downstairs. One time when he was coming upstairs he got winded, just climbing the stairs. He decided there and then that he had to get into shape. So he started walking to get the mail – the post office was about 1 km away, so every day at lunch he would walk 2 km round trip to get the mail. After a while he started to run a bit in his walk and then he began running every day. I think at one point he was up to running 10 km daily. These days he runs about 4 KM 3-4 times a week. When I was 15 I came the embarrassing revelation that my father was in better shape than I was! So I started to run, joined the cross-country team at school and got in shape. Now, I’ve continued to run and bike and swim to stay in shape.
Have you ever had a similar epiphany in your faith walk? Have you ever come up against a spiritual obstacle and got winded? Have you wondered why you still struggle with the same sin hurdles? Have you ever looked at someone who is more mature in the faith and wondered how they got there? One of the answers to “spiritual fitness” is spiritual exercise.
Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7-8
Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next.
Over this next year, we are going to learn how to train ourselves for spiritual fitness. Since we are going to concentrate on the classic spiritual disciplines, we could call the series “Sweat’n to the Oldies,” but I think we might have some copyright problems with Richard Simons
Another metaphor for the Christian walk is gardening, or farming. As we try to progress in the Christian life and become closer to, and more like Jesus, we can find the way difficult. We try to grow the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) and get rid of the weeds (sins) in our life by the power of our will.
When we ask people about getting rid of the sin in our lives or increasing the fruit of the Spirit, we are often told to pray more and try harder. Many of us have experienced failure using this method.
Richard Foster, in the introduction of his book “Celebration of Discipline” says that mere power of the will, will not bring us closer to Jesus in relationship or in character. He says that in order to grow the fruit of the Spirit and get rid of the weeds, we need to “till the soil of the soul.” He says that we till the soul of the soul through the classic Christian spiritual disciplines like meditation, fasting, solitude, service and prayer.
Foster highlights 12 different disciplines in his book, which makes it perfect for concentrating on one discipline each month for the next year, starting in September. Once a month we’ll be highlighting one of the disciplines in the sermon.
I’d also like to invite as many of you as possible to join me in practicing the highlighted discipline for that month. We can join together for a potluck lunch after the service to reflect on our experience of the previous month’s discipline and prepare for the upcoming month. You may want to read Foster’s book through the year. I will try to provide some additional practical material each month. You will most likely find that some of the disciplines impact you more than others & you will want to hold on to those disciplines for the future as we continue to till the soil of our souls together.
The first of the Spiritual disciplines that we are going to look at is Christian Meditation
Is Meditation Christian?
Sadly one of the first questions that pop into a modern Christian’s mind when meditation is mentioned in church is; “Is meditation Christian?”
The answer is yes – it is Christian and it is Biblical.
Meditation in the Bible
Abraham’s son Isaac is recorded as going out to the field to meditate in Genesis 24:63. It is at that time that he meets his wife, Rebecca, so there might be some hidden benefits to meditation!
In Joshua 1:8, Joshua is commissioned by God to lead Israel, as part of that commission, God says
“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
The Psalms are full of accounts of meditation and commands to meditate
(Blessed is the one) whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night
I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decrees.
Jesus calls his disciples to consider the ravens and consider the lilies in Luke 12. The word “consider” means “take a long, feasting look at,” or even “meditate on.”
You may remain unconvinced, especially if the first image that you have that comes to your mind when you think of meditation is that of a Buddha sitting in a lotus position and saying “ohm.”
We don’t through out other acts of our faith just because other faith also practice something similar, like baptism or a symbolic meal, so too we should not through out meditation just because some other religions practice it
Meditation is not the property of eastern religions, Christians have used meditation to draw close to God throughout the ages. Just as there is a difference in the goals of Christianity to eastern religions, there is also a difference in the ways we meditate.
“Eastern Meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to empty the mind in order to fill it.” – Foster p.15
Jesus warns about leaving yourself empty and open to attack. It is actually dangerous to have emptiness as a goal. The goal of Christian meditation is to form our mind to be like the mind of Christ
Is Meditation Helpful?
Meditation may be like running drills to train for a team sport, and like those drills, it can , at times feel unrelated to the game, but ends up being very helpful in the performance on the feild. I can think of no better way to get Scripture down deep into your being than my meditating on it.
How to Meditate
“Meditation is reading scripture and staring out the window” – Guy Chevreaux
“If you know how to worry, you know how to meditate”
Clearing the Clutter
As you prepare to meditate, you need to remove any distraction. Find a quiet room, a comfortable place to sit and some time when you will not be disturbed. Sit comfortably, with nothing crossed or constricted so that you would be distracted by discomfort in your body.
Those are the exterior distraction dealt with, but what about the interior distractions? They can be harder.
Start by giving everything in your mind to God. This might be easier if you use some time-tested exercises.
Palms Down, Palms Up
As you are sitting, hold your hands out with your palms facing down symbolizing release and pray silently over the things that concern you and fill your mind. “Lord, I give you my anger toward John. I release my fear of my dentist appointment this morning. I surrender my anxiety over paying the bills this month. …” Release all your cares to God by saying “palms down.” And then after a few moments of surrender, turn your palms up and receive from God: “Lord I receive your divine love for John, I receive your peace about the dentist, I receive your provision, your peace, your patience, your joy.” What ever you need from God, receive it with your palms up.
You can do the same thing through breathing – you can breath out the worries and clutter to God and breath in his good blessings, praying silently as you breathe
How to meditate on Scripture
Meditate on small passages – a couple of verses, one story, or one Psalm. You may want to read it in context first, and the concentrate on a bite-sized piece. Meditation is not about getting through a book in the fastest way possible, it is about stopping to smell the flowers and letting God speak to you through his word.
There are a number of ways to approach Scripture so that the Word will form us as much as it informs us
Memorizing Scripture forces us to repeat the passage over and over in your mind, or with your lips. Jesus warns against meaningless repetition in our prayers (Matthew 6:7), but the emphasis should be on the “meaningless” part of the warning, not the “repletion.” The key to making memorization into meditation is to focus beyond the mechanics of memorization and focus on the passage itself. Allow the passage to wash over you as you repeat it, (Eph 5:26) allow the words to go deep into your soul as you memorize them.
Read the text slowly, carefully, perhaps several times, with your full attention on each sentence, each phrase, each word, then focus your attention on God, become still, listening for God to speak to you.
Harmony - Dissonance
While you read the piece of scripture, remain alert to those things in the text that strike either a note of harmony or dissonance in your thoughts, attitudes, feelings or perceptions.
We often skip over the parts of scripture that have dissonance with our minds and hearts, but this method teaches us to stay with those places.
When I mountain bike with friends, we will often come across a section of trail with an obstacle that is hard to ride. We will stop and ride over that section as many times as it takes for us to actually get it and be able to ride through it. When you come across an obstacle in scripture, don’t take the easy way out – go over it again and again until you get it and you mind becomes conformed to Christ’s. The difference between mountain biking and meditation is that, on the bike we are trying to master the trail, where as in meditation we are trying to have the text master us.
Sit with the scripture for a time, either repeating it or just allowing it to flow over you. Ask God why this is touching your heart in harmony or in dissonance and wait for the answer.
Recreate the scene from scripture in your own imagination. See the scenes, the people, smell the smells, feel the atmosphere. Then, examine your thoughts and feelings about the scene.
Ask God what he is saying to you in the scene, wait for an answer.
“If You Were There”
This is just like the previous method, but become a participant instead of a spectator. Ask yourself, if I had been there, what would I have done? What would I have said, what would I have felt?
You might be one of the wise men seeking Jesus – what are you feeling and thinking?
It may be that you place yourself at the well as the Samaritan woman – what does Jesus say to you?
You can even ask God “who am I in this story?” when he answers you, you can place yourself in their place and search out why you are that person.
I’ve just begun a relief carving of Psalm 63:3. I see this work as a meditation as I will be taking a long time carving each letter and word into the wood. I have already spent a good deal of time meditating on this verse with my mind, and now I will do it with my hands. I believe that God will take these words even deeper into my soul. Those of you who have different arts that take time can treat them as meditation as you paint or sculpt the word of God.
Can Christians Meditate on what is not Scripture?
Psalm 19 tells us
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
Romans 1:20 says “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”
Psalm 1:3 says that blessed people are “like a tree planted by streams of water;” so Eugene Petterson says, “if you want to know God’s ways, go look at a tree.”
We can meditate on all of God’s works, always remembering that it is he that we worship and it is His face we are seeking in scripture and creation.
Meditating through September/October
I would encourage you to try meditating for this next month. Find a time in your day that you can block off and practice meditating on scripture. Try to meditate between four and seven times each week. Next month, I’ll ask a few of you to share your experiences, and those who are able can stay for a pot-luck lunch can talk about our experiences over lunch.
Some Suggested Scriptures to Start With
John 2:1-12 The wedding at Cana
John 12:1-8 Mary anointing Jesus’ feet
John 10:11-18, 27-28 My sheep hear my voice
James 3:143-18 True wisdom
Ephesians 3:14-21 Prayer for deep wisdom
Psalm 121 God our faithful guardian
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster Ó1978 Harper & Row, ISBN: 0060628316
The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard Ó1988 Harper & Row, ISBN 0060694416
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney Ó1991 Navpress, ISBN1576830276
Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. Ó1985 The Upper Room, ISBN 0835805190