“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” ~King David of Israel~
Once upon a time, there was a caretaker for a cemetery who always took time out of his day to tend a maple tree. It grew on the far backside, and even though there was always plenty to keep him busy, he never forgot to care for his tree. One of his coworkers asked him once why he doted over that particular maple.
The man answered with a smile, “That tree is the only shade in that area. When I’m out there digging or mowing I need to rest in some shade for awhile. That maple is the best place I know to go. We got a deal: I take care of it and it takes care of me.” When the word meditation is used that story illustrates the kind of thing we ought to consider—Biblical meditation is about taking time out of our fast-paced lives to rest and relax in the comfort and shelter of God. This is nowhere near the same as Eastern religion, mystical philosophy or any New Age malarkey which attempts to empty the mind. Biblical meditation is about filling one’s mind with majesty and grace. Biblical meditation means dealing with hardships, challenges, and life itself by focusing on the promises of God and the history of his works. It feeds our souls with the fodder of God’s holiness and sovereignty.
When we engage in Biblical meditation, we’re putting into practice the Apostle Paul’s admonition to his friends at Philippi, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
The activities and stress-points of life will wear us down. In those times we need a source of shade and solitude. God’s goodness is just that, and Biblical meditation is where we recline beneath the refreshing canopy of God—it’s a vital element that needs to be structured into the routines of our lives.
With all those thoughts in mind, read anew Psalm 77.
Psalm 77 – NIV
I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.
I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint. Selah
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” Selah
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.
Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
The Psalmist was Asaph, one of King David’s chief musicians. He was an ancestor of an official in Hezekiah’s court. In this gripping poem-prayer, Asaph describes a time of sleepless nights waiting for God to help with a problem. He pulls no punches—he has the audacity to question whether God has forgotten him. We should be moved and impressed by the honesty and integrity of the words and emotions expressed. Too often we live in denial or pretend life doesn’t disappoint, but that is a ludicrous approach.
Sometimes life hurts. Sometimes friends betray us. Sometimes all our best efforts fall short and we fail or we come up against hard walls that won’t budge. Sometimes we wrestle with God and feel that he has abandoned us—we feel alone and empty and frightened.
Those icky emotions can overwhelm us. We get to the point where we sense our thoughts about God are just empty sounding words—we get the notion that our prayers bounce off the ceiling to mock us.
The Psalms are powerful lessons for us—they teach us to be genuine and authentic in our dialogs with God. The Psalms are quite often gut-level reflections that cover the full range of human emotions. “Will the Lord reject forever?” “Will he never show his favor again?” “Has his unfailing love vanished forever?” “Has his promise failed for all time?” “Has God forgotten to be merciful?” “Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
Forthright humanity is demonstrated by Asaph. It’d be healthy for us to embrace it, but we routinely only affirm that kind of venting outloud. In the quietness of our hearts we cringe away from it. We cop-out, tap-dance or adjust the definition of words—we do whatever is necessary to avoid confronting those heart-wrenching emotions.
If we were truly straightforward with God then we might get pressed into action—we could be compelled to do something to narrow the gap between what we say we believe and our actions, attitudes, and lifestyles. We affirm the truths of God’s Word in our heads, then answer each one with a well-practiced, “Yes, but . . .”
God loves you: “Yes, but . . .”
God can change your perspective: “Yes, but . . .”
Reality is too ghostly to attempt to touch, but here goes: We actually like to wallow where we are rather than reaching for the stars because getting stretched could be risky and life-altering. Over the years we fine-tune all our ifs and buts, and in the process get blinded to callus growing within. When head-nodding affirmation is continually connected to closed hearts, we are conditioned to remain untouched by the transformational power of grace manifested in God’s Word.
Input & Output
“A garment that is double dyed, dipped again and again, will retain the color a great while; so a truth which is the subject of meditation.” ~Phillip Henry~
It is fundamentally clear that there is a direct relationship between input and output. If a sponge soaks up gasoline, when it gets squeezed out, it won’t magically become sweet water—it’ll be gasoline. Our minds are sponges, getting saturated by the ideas and thoughts we choose to think. We fill our heads with negative rubbish and then are surprised when the crud of negativity plays itself out in our lives.
We plant poisonous seeds like, “Yes, but . . .” “If only . . .” “Can’t change . . .”, and then have the gall to be surprised by a harvest of toxic weeds. We daydream about a secret sin, and then get bent out of shape with God because we keep spinning our wheels and revisiting the same issues over and over again in our lives. If we input garbage and negativity, that’s exactly what will be the output of our lives, but we need not remain whipped. The cycle of defeat can be broken. Hear Paul’s words to the church at Rome: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Renewed, rejuvenated, transformed, changed. Changed? We can change? Our behavior and thought patterns can be transformed by renewing our mind?
How? What about practically applying Paul’s words written from a jailhouse, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
We need to get our minds right, which means angling our perspective in a beneficial direction. Instead of focusing on our problems and selfish ambitions, we are to invest energy and concentration on God’s goodness, graciousness, holiness, and sovereignty.
Like the Psalmist Asaph, we must endeavor to remember how God has provided for, cared for, and blessed us. It’s essential for us to understand that God’s mercy is forever available to us—we are renewed, rejuvenated, and transformed by God and God alone.
Does that mean we can do nothing except sit around and wait for God to work his mystical wonders? No, we are to work at it—that’s where the discipline of meditation comes in.
When we deliberately fill our hearts, minds, and souls with thoughts of the goodness, graciousness, holiness, and sovereignty of God, we will be changed.
Negativity breeds negativity—defeat births defeat.
To rise above the trappings of negative and defeatist patterns of thinking we must believe in the basic goodness of God. It is no surprise that Satan—that serpent of old—had a strategy based on questioning God’s Word: “Did God really say?”
Humanity’s mortal Enemy’s first move in the Garden of Eden was to stir up doubt in Eve, causing her to be skeptical about the goodness of God. Once he had Eve wondering whether God had her best interests at heart, the father of lies had a foothold.
Satan is not much of an original thinker—he still uses the same tactics to deceive, derail, and keep us shackled and weighted down. Positive truth has the power to smash the heavy chains of defeat. To sustain that sweet spot where renewal happens, we must determinedly keep our mind properly aligned. Sitting in the shade is crucial to maintaining balance—it’s how we nurture our spiritual lives. Making time to input excellent and praiseworthy data will result in life-affirming, God-honoring output.
Here’s a simple ditty that we should intentionally play on an endless loop inside our brain: God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.