“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8 ESV).
"Doing is being." That is the default but wrong-headed thinking of people everywhere. The consequences of this philosophical framework bear unambiguous conclusions that something is seriously amiss. The answer to busyness is stillness. Meditation is taking time to be with God. Christian meditation is not the Eastern practice of emptying your mind. To the contrary: Christian meditation is filling your mind, focusing your thoughts, not on self, but on the Lord Jesus Christ as He is revealed in His Word.
Should Christians Focus on "Doing" or "Being?"
In the Bible—not myth, but historical record—we witness the human tendency of “doing” without “being” in Jesus' disciples. Unless the equation is rebalanced from “doing” rather than “being,” to “being” producing “doing,” Jesus’ disciples, like we, would be walking across a faulty theological framework each day, always facing the likelihood of falling through the carelessly crafted, often rotting, planks. We give names to such cave-ins.: burn-out, spin-out, running on empty.
There is a better way. We read,
"The apostles gathered themselves together to Jesus, and they told him all things, whatever they had done, and whatever they had taught. He said to them, “You come apart into a deserted place, and rest awhile.” For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. They went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves" (Mark 6:30-32 WEB).
James Houston of Regent College, Vancouver, BC, pinpointed the presenting issue in this text when he wrote, "The evangelical equivalent of a ‘saint’ is ‘being in ministry.’”
Notice in the passage that the eager disciples were caught up in the euphoria of successful ministry. Jesus doesn't chastise them for working too hard. But neither does he commend them. He responds with an invitation: "Come apart . . ."
Jesus Calls Us to Come Apart for a While
Dr. Houston's analysis is needed in our lives, too. We who believe the Bible is the Word of God may come to think of authentic ministry as only being active and engaged. There is, of course, much to be said for this. “What good is faith without works?” James asks us. Jesus’ Great Commission means nothing if it does not mean to be active and engaged in ministry. But the Jesus who called the disciples taught the disciples and sent the disciples into an active, engaging ministry which, in any age, brings conflict with this present evil age. So, the Lord called the band of would-be leaders to "come apart for a while." For if Jesus needed time alone, time to minister to the wounds of the war, to cultivate love with the Lord and, thus, to be reoriented to the reason we minister, how much more do we? We need time with God alone. We have to see ourselves for who we are, or we will assume false faces. We will live lives out of the shallow reservoirs. We also need to reflect on where we have been before beginning the journey again. Sometimes this is a brief time, as in Mark 6:30-32. Sometimes, as in Paul’s case, it is three years in Arabia between being sent and being deployed. The great Scottish Presbyterian preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne expressed what he felt was the deepest need in his ministry: “The greatest need of my congregation is my own holiness.”
Holiness (accomplished by grace whereby one is increasingly conformed to the image of Jesus Christ as one loves Jesus more than self) is fashioned not in our doing but through our being. We can ostensibly do much for the kingdom of God and yet do so in the flesh, out of sync with God, and without the deep river of the Spirit that alone cultivates power for genuine Gospel ministry. The results will invariably and ultimately reveal the source of motivation. We need to come apart—not all the time—but for a while. Our bodies and our souls, which have invisible pathways linking the two, need intentional times of healthy refreshment. I pray that "coming apart for a while" becomes a theme in the cycle of our lives—in my life. Is this not the role of the Christian Sabbath? So then, my beloved, come apart—and feast! Feast on blessings of the God-ordained one-in-seven: the banquet day for the soul. Drink deeply from upon the divine cup of spiritual verities that replaces the lost fluids of your testimony. Linger in prayers and move slowly through the smallest portion of a Psalm.
"The Lord." "The Lord is." "The Lord is my." "The Lord is my Shepherd."
How to Meditate as a Christian
Speak. Listen for sacred silence. Pray God's word back to Him. Sing His word out loud. Sing His word silently. Be still. Listen for life within you, life granted by a Creator who calls you home to Himself. Rest. Be still. Watch the slow clouds move in the sky. Listen to sounds of life around you. Let the chirping of the finch be the choir that marinates your spirit with good things. Thank God for the finch, for her song, and that all things are made by Him, for Him, and are sustained in Him.
You have eternity in your heart. Let it sing. Laugh heartily with friends in fellowship. Taste the joy of the Lord in a cup of tea or bread with jam. Listen closely to the heartbeat of fellow pilgrims and imitate the heart of the One who is listening to you. When you join in worship, the room you are in becomes a holy place. Every movement and every act of praise is anointed for the Lord. So, worship and give praise Him lavishly as Christ lived and died freely. Sing earnestly, as if you will never sing again. Know Christ more intimately. Experience His love and grace more deeply.
The goal of Christian meditation is to love Jesus more intimately. The consequence is that you come to know yourself more authentically. Such a life brings joy to living. Such a life of spiritual discipline yields unimaginable freedom. This is why the great rabbis called the Sabbath, "the Queen of days." Yet, sometimes "Shabbat" is found on Tuesdays. Sometimes a vacation is not a destination to be planned but a present place to be enjoyed.
Come apart by design. Leave refreshed. Or, else, you will surely come apart by default.
Michael A. Milton, PhD (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary), Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolina.
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