Toward a More Meditative Life

Meditative Life

Quiet.

No, that’s not an exclamated command of “Quiet!” at you. Rather, it is an offer, a place noun, hopefully an expression of a desire that you have. You need, and I need, quiet in our lives.

We do not live in a time that encourages quietness and meditation. As Thomas Friedman, columnist for the The New York Times, said, “We have gone from the Iron Age to the Industrial Age to the Information Age to the Age of Interruption.” Indeed, we live with the constant interruptions of beeps, blinks and buzzes. They tell us now the average American spends more than half their days in front of a screen. We are not just interrupted; we are self-interrupted.

As you read the Scriptures, you find that the life of the believer is described typically as one that is peaceful and meditative (see Psalms 1:1-34:885:8 for a few examples). The frantic rush and distraction of the modern age is contrary to the singleminded devotion the Lord encourages in the life of his followers. My youngest daughter actually reminded me of this truth further yesterday as we had a sweet Sabbath discussion. She is reading a book by A.W. Tozer that has a short biography in the beginning. She told me how he loved solitude and personal worship, and how that gave him zeal for God. That’s a lesson we all need to hear.

So how do we create a meditative life? Mark described our Lord’s life during a busy ministry period in this way: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Based on His example, here are five one-word suggestions, whispered quietly into your ear to encourage you in this direction.

Schedule. The Lord made it a point to get up early and start the day speaking with His Father. In the same way, if we want time with the Lord we need to put it on the calendar. Just like advertiser’s know that “white space sells,” so we need “quiet space” in our scheduling.

Many times I have heard Ken Smith speak on prayer. One of the consistent themes he emphasizes in having a prayerful life is to schedule it on your calendar. Matter of fact, I still recall the time I phoned the church he was pastoring during business hours. The secretary told me he could not talk at that time for that hour of the morning he was in the sanctuary praying. Ken later told me that part of the work of the pastor is to pray. Just like in other areas of responsibility such as sermon prep or visitations, he had to schedule it to do it. Whether a pastor or not, anyone who wants the solitude of prayer has to plan and schedule it.

Morning. Certainly we are to meditate “day and night” (Joshua 1:8), and anytime is better than no time. Yet note that Jesus, again after a busy day of ministry that went well into the night (Mark 1:32-34), arose “very early in the morning, while it was still dark.” Giving the early time of your day to the Lord, before other activities, interactions and correspondence, has a way like no other of sensing His Spirit’s presence and getting your sails set in the right direction for that day.

Location. Jesus went to a lonely place. No crowds. No sounds. No distractions. Now eventually His disciples searched for Him, found Him and called Him back to work (Mark 1:36-37). But they had to work at it to do it!

So where is your lonely place where you can go and not be easily found or distracted? You need to identify it. When I was newly married, it was walking in the woods south of our apartment. While a student in seminary, a wooded cemetery down the street provided plenty of silence. As a pastor, various places such as my study, the church sanctuary and times at my in-laws’ home near a lake gave me refuge. Today, the solo commute I make to work, early morning in my office, and especially the woods by our home are places where I still my soul.

I would especially encourage having one place to go that is outside. Being out in the creation can help restore you. Some University of Michigan students even proved this truth in a study by having people spend time in the arboretum near campus. The results of this study rang true with me, as I often walked among those trees as a student there. God used a special time in that arboretum to guide me in a major life decision!

Plan. Jesus went to pray. He had a purpose for his solitude.

Similarly, you need to decide what you are going to do during your time of quiet by planning. Christians are not to practice Transcendental Meditation, where one seeks to transcend thought through repeating a mantra or prayer (Matt. 6:7). Rather, we are to fill our minds with thoughts of God. What will you read? What will you pray? What will you write down?

Minimize. Finally, note again that the place Jesus went to is described as desolate. That means there was not much there to distract Him.

Ever notice how antsy you can become in unanticipated silence? If no one is home, you turn on the TV. If in the car by yourself, the music comes on. If a few moments of inactivity occur while standing in line or waiting somewhere, out comes the smartphone.

Manage your lonely place so it is free of gadgets that distract. In order to truly meditate, put away all the items that can become idols and hinder you. Then listen for the voice of the Lord (see 1 Kings 19:11-13).

This article originally appeared here.

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Barry York
Barry York was a church planter, academy administrator, and pastor for over two decades before recently assuming the role as Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Barry and his wife, Miriam, were married in 1985. They have six children and one grandchild.

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