A school teacher who was bypassed for a promotion went to her administrator and complained, “I have twenty years of experience, and you promoted someone who had only been teaching five years.” The administrator replied, “No, you don’t have twenty years of experience. You have one year of experience twenty times. You’re still teaching the same things and in the same way you did your first year. You haven’t grown in your profession.”
People who profess to be Christfollower’s should be growing spiritually. Christ wants us to grow, to develop, to become effective representatives of Himself. It is a continual process and much of our growth as to do with how much we are willing to put into it.
Respected Bible scholar D. A. Carson said this: People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.
I would ask you today to think about your spiritual life and determine which way you are drifting. Are drifting closer to God or are you drifting “out to sea” so to speak?
It is our intention in the three weeks we have set aside to look at the subject of Christian Discipline to examine it in three different arenas. Today we will look at inward disciplines, next week the outward disciplines and the following week we will draw out attention to corporate disciplines that we engage in together as a church or the body of Christ.
The Inward Disciplines: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting and Study
1. The Discipline of Meditation
“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” Psalm 1:1-3
“I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night.” Psalm 63:6
“How I delight in your commands! How I love them! I honor and love your commands. I meditate on your decrees.” Psalm 119:47-48
“I stay awake through the night, thinking about your promise.” Psalm 119:148
You and I share a common enemy when it comes to observing the discipline of mediation or for that matter all of the disciplines we are talking about today.
Our common enemy is: Hurry
It is our intention with this series is to call all of us to slow down and take time to develop our relationship with Christ. Meditation is one way to focus our thoughts and priorities on things that matter most.
You need to know what we are not talking about when we talk about meditation in the context of a Christian life. We are not talking about TM, Zen or even the practice of Yoga. When we think of meditation we often hear about eastern based religions and their meditation practices. Christfollowers have been practicing meditation for centuries yet you hear very little about it.
Detachment verses Attachment
Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to empty the mind in order to fill it. Eastern forms of meditation stress the need to be detached from the world. The final goal is to somehow be detached from the stresses and pressures of this world by separating yourself though meditation.
Christian meditation goes far beyond just detaching although that is certainly a first step. We detach from the confusion and clamor of this world so that we might find inner wholeness and give ourselves completely to God. As we focus on what really is happening inside our heads and minds or our motives and actions we are able to detach from things we don’t need and attach ourselves to God and His continual call to holy living. His call has never changed. We are called to put Him first. To live and love with Him in mind and there is no better way to keep this focus than practicing the discipline of meditation.
How do you meditate? We have a long way to go today so truly you are getting the short version.
You learn to meditate by meditating! You and I must find some time in our very busy lives to practice this discipline. You may not be able to do it every day. You may want to practice what the early church fathers called Otium Sanctum or “holy leisure.” That refers to having a sense of balance in ones life until you are at peace through the activities of your day. No matter how loud the clamor around us we refuse to be controlled by our date books and calendars.
A. Find a place for meditation
B. Find a posture. There really is not right or wrong way. You find whatever posture allows you to focus your mind, body and spirit without being distracted.
C. Find a plan that works for you.
You must find some silence and embrace those moments. Let me give you two quick examples of what it may look like for you.
There is a form of meditating that is called “palms down, palms up.”
You begin by placing your palms down as a symbolic indication of your desire to turn over your concerns to God. Examples might include: “Lord I give you the anger I had toward . . .” or “I surrender my anxiety over going to the dentist today.” Whatever is weighing on your mind you give to God in these silent moments. You release these things palms down but after contemplating them as a gesture of your desire to receive help from the Lord in these areas you turn your palms up. Now you are ready to receive His love and His peace. You are ready to receive His patience and joy.
We are simply breathing calmly and begin to think about your exhaling as getting rid of your fear of something or some sin which you have been tempted by. As you inhale you think about inhaling the grace of Christ into your life.
Example: Lord I exhale my frustration with my family and problems we have been having. Lord I inhale your patience and your ability to change them and me.
Lord I exhale my fear over the future and inhale your assurance that You will never leave me or forsake me.
One can meditate on scripture. Put yourself into a bible story. St. Ignatius of Loyola encouraged people to apply their senses to the task of meditation. “Smell the sea; Hear the lap of the water along the shore. See the crowd. Feel the sun on your head and the hunger in your stomach. Taste the salt in the air. Touch the hem of His garment.” (Foster)
2. The Discipline of Prayer
“God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” – John Wesley
“Prayer – secret, fervent, believing prayer – lies at the root of all personal godliness.”
– William Carey
Foster says that “prayer is the central avenue God uses to change us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic or our lives.”
The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed the Christ.
Don’t make prayer complicated. We are to come to Christ in conversational tones. We are to come as little children to the Father.
Things we need to pray about consistently: Our families, our marriages or relationships, our church, addictions and temptations, our government and world leaders.
When is the last time you prayed for your school system or the teachers who are teaching our children? When is the last time you prayed for the man or woman who waited on you at a restaurant or Wal-mart? Do you ever pray when you see an ambulance or a medical helicopter or a funeral procession?
Prayer is conversing with God as friend with friend. I have preached whole messages on prayer so we are going to move on but let me remind you of this acrostic as a pattern for prayer.
3. The Discipline of Fasting
Fasting is taught in the Bible. There are numerous references and stories which include fasting. Here is a short list of some famous biblical characters that practiced fasting: Moses, David the King, Esther the queen, Elijah the prophet, Daniel, Paul the apostle and even Jesus.
Fasting most generally means refraining from food or drink but that is not always the case. Here are some reasons why we are encouraging you to practice this discipline:
Fasting must be done with an “eye” toward God. This gives us the ability to focus our lives on a regular basis. (Thursday fast days during college)
Fasting reveals the things that control us. Fasting is self denial and many times will reveal the things that we often try to mask by eating away our stress. Fasting allows us to deal with these things.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic work The Cost of Discipleship, rightly observed, "We have to practice strictest daily discipline; only so can the flesh learn the painful lesson that it has no rights of its own."
Fasting provides balance to our lives. The apostle Paul wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.” (1 Cor. 6:12)
Do some research on this and you will find it to be a missing blessing in your life.
4. The Discipline of Study
Remember the purpose of practicing discipline is to allow yourself to be transformed by God. The apostle Paul reminds us that we are transformed by the renewal of our minds in Romans 12; 2.
The classic verse that calls us to study is found in Phil. 4:8:
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
There is an ancient practice or discipline of study that I would like to show you today.
Lectio Divina: Reading the bible for transformation. There is always a place for in-depth Bible study but this is not that. It is allowing the mind to descend into the heart so that both might be drawn into the love and goodness of God. Our goal here is immersion into the deep and timeless of waters of God. We are shaped by the environment in which we live and breathe and interact.
Lectio: Read with a listening spirit Listening
Meditatio: Reflecting on what we are hearing. Reflecting
Oratio: Pray in response to what we are hearing Praying
Contemplatio: Contemplate what we will carry forward into our lives. Obeying
Applying this practice: Take a random scripture from the audience and walk through these steps. Using the white board for this.
Is it possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple? Once someone was talking to a great scholar and teacher about a young man. He said, “So and so tells me that he was one of your students.” The teacher answered, “He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.” There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. It is one of the most supreme handicaps of the church that in the church there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples. There are many that attend the lectures but few that rise to the challenge of being a student of God.
Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken describes two roads discovered during a walk in the woods. Frost knows he can only explore one, and he tells himself that someday he will travel the other. But, realistically, he knows he will never return. And by the time we reach the end of the poem, we realize the poet is talking about something infinitely more important than a simple choice of paths.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
In his book Enjoying Intimacy with God, J. Oswald Sanders makes a piercing observation: "We are at this moment as close to God as we really choose to be. True, there are times when we would like to know a deeper intimacy, but when it comes to the point, we are not prepared to pay the price involved."
Benediction and blessing:
“Now I commit you to God and to this word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Acts 20:32