“Come away, my beloved.” (Song of Solomon 2:10, 13)
“Hurry is not OF the devil; it IS the devil!” (Carl Jung) The great psychiatrist is not known for his theology, but in this quote he walked smack into the wall of truth, or at least, one of its bricks. In 1967 Charles Hummel wrote an excellent pamphlet for InterVarsity Press, The Tyranny of the Urgent, which has since spawned two books and an expanded booklet with an accompanying study guide. Good reading . . . if you can find the time ! Drive for two minutes on any major road and see how few autos you see driving under the speed limit. If you search online for the “history of speed,” you can even find an entry for “An Accelerated History of Internet Speed.” Apparently, one cannot even read about being hurried without feeling like time is being wasted by another activity that just takes too long.
In case you think this is a new 21st century problem, note the instruction of Jesus to His disciples in Mark 6:31: “He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” We feel like time is somehow leaving us behind. Like the old county boy said, “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I gets.” In spite of popular recognition of the pointlessness of the “rat race,” very few seem thoughtful enough to get off the endless treadmill of running as though our lives depended on staying a few seconds ahead of the car next to us.
However, just as Jesus called His disciples to “come away,” He calls us to the same insulated place of rest with Him. This takes more discipline than many can manage. In fact, each of these disciplines: fasting, prayer, purity, and now meditation, is more than anyone can manage with natural abilities. Oh, some may appear to have more inclination to these, especially the slothful, which require a different approach to these disciplines, but most of us need super-natural power to even begin to practice these disciplines of the Spirit-led life.
Coming away with Jesus into a place of meditation requires us to detach from the confusion of the world around us, and give attention to His voice. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) Have you ever tried finding a song in your head while a radio was blasting a loud different tune? Try concentrating on a math problem in the middle of a loud party. We only have so much room in our little brains for input, and in a 24/7/365 world, there is not a moment to spare for what we consider unimportant. There are only 1,440 minutes today, and they will be gone sooo soon, at the rate of 86,400 seconds per day!
And there it is! “What we consider important!” Is getting to know Jesus more closely not important? Is spending time with your Creator an insignificant item that can be passed over by rushing to another appointment or keeping up with whoever is popular in media or politics right now? Dwight Eisenhower once said, “The urgent is seldom important and the important is seldom urgent.”
Over and over in the Bible, meditation calls us to “come away” with The God Who Is There. There are 58 times two different Hebrew words (hagah and suach) are used for references to meditation (like a wise friend says, “Don’t be impressed, you can look it up, too.”) In context they deal with listening to His words, thinking about His words, reviewing His actions, and thinking about His law.
As Christ-followers we should be continually in contact with our Master, “praying without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and constantly aware of His presence (Practice the Presence, August 20, 2016). But meditation calls us to a special place of rest and of communion without the distractions of everyday life, without the noise and confusion of the world around us. Here we use a “holy imagination,” fueled by the presence of the Holy Spirit and guided by our understanding of the Bible, to spend time with our Master and speak with Him and listen for His voice. Without the outside noises, even of “worship teams,” I can focus on Him, His word, His actions, His call on my life, and His direction for the day ahead.
Jesus gave us His example doing this. He began His work on earth by retreating to a solitary place, just after a dramatic announcement that He was God’s Son (Matthew 3:16-4:1). Most of us, after such an auspicious beginning would think we should capitalize on the opportunity to gather a crowd and speak our piece, but He withdrew to a wilderness alone!
Again, after a fantastic miracle that would have the crowds crooning for Him, instead of milking His fame, “He went up on the mountain by himself to pray” alone and undistracted by the multitudes and their noise (Matthew 14:23). This was His pattern, against the common reaction, He would withdraw and spend time with Father, alone and away from the popularity and paparazzi of His day (Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, Luke 6:12, Matthew 17:1).
Even in the crucial hours before His death, He made time to meditate on His Father’s plan (Matthew 26:36-44). If you or I knew we were going to die in a few hours, how would we choose to spend our last moments? Organizing papers, cleaning hard drives, sending out letters or emails, contacting lawyers, priests or family? But Jesus’ priority was to spend that time with God, alone and undisturbed. To meditate and pray.
There are no secret mantras to Christ-honoring meditation; no mystical absorption into the infinite; no special language or location or physical position is required. The bottom line is that The God Who Is There, who created us for fellowship with Himself, wants to spend time with us!
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:24-28)
“Finally, brothers (and sisters), . . . think on these things, and the God of Peace will be with you. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)
Next week, February 5, 2017, we’ll look at Bible reading and study, another Discipline of the Spirit-led Life.