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Anger and Outrage Quote

No plague has cost the human race more dear.
~ Seneca the Younger (Romans Philosopher, 4BC-65AD), De Ira (On Anger)


I offer this observation: our world is full of good-hearted people who are pursuing God-honouring goals but doing it in soul-damaging ways. That’s what happens when we pursue justice, righteousness, holiness, and any societal change via today’s zeitgeist of anger and outrage.

Thankfully, Jesus offers us a better way.

BIBLE BASICS

The New Testament has two Greek words that refer to anger and outrage: ORGÉ (sounds like “or-gay”) is the common word for anger or wrath (usually translated “anger” when referring to humans and “wrath” when referring to God); and THUMOS (sounds like “thoo-mos”) which is an intensified outburst of anger or rage, literally referring to the snorting of an upset animal.

[Fun Fact: the New Testament writers combined this second word, THUMOS, with HOMO, meaning sameness or oneness, to create the word HOMOTHUMADON, meaning a passionate rage for unity or oneness, and they used this word to describe the early church! May Christians today manifest a fighting, snorting, passionate rage for unity!]

Now, as we study the Bible on the topic of anger, we see something fascinating. A clear pattern emerges: in the Bible, anger is always righteous when attributed to God and (almost) always unrighteous when attributed to humans. There are few, if any, exceptions. This is worth unpacking.

Here is an overview of the biblical data on anger and outrage:

FIRST: The Old Testament cautions against the destructive power of anger/wrath. As far as emotions go, anger seems too hot to handle, too bold to hold (unless you’re God).

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
~ King David (Psalm 37:8)

Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit,
for anger resides in the lap of fools.
~ King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 7:9)

SECOND: Jesus intensifies this warning by equating anger with murder (just as he will go on to equate sexual lust with adultery).

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.
~ Jesus (Matthew 5:21)

THIRD: The apostle Paul repeatedly includes anger and outrage as items on his “vice lists” – those lists of sins that Christians should do away with.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
~ The apostle Paul (Ephesians 4:31)

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
~ The apostle Paul (Colossians 3:8; also see 2 Corinthians 12:20-21; Galatians 5:19-21)

FOURTH: “Righteous anger” is a myth.

Doesn’t the Bible talk about “righteous anger” for us? No actually, it doesn’t. This is a strange sub-Christian meme that proves the point: if you hear something repeated often enough in the Church, you will eventually assume it’s in the Bible. But it isn’t in the Bible. And, you should know, adding the word “righteous” in front of something doesn’t make that wrong thing right. So stop it.

There is one verse where the apostle Paul does use a word translated “indignation” as a positive thing for the Church, (The term “righteous indignation”, just like “righteous anger”, isn’t in the Bible, but maybe this s the passage some people are thinking of):

See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.
~ The apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 7:11)

The Greek word behind “indignation” (AGANAKTĔO) is not one of the usual Greek words for anger and outrage. The word means to be upset, but points toward being agitated by grief rather than rage. Literally, this word means “to grieve greatly” and speaks of a kind of grieving that is so strong it motivates action. If you want to practice righteous indignation, learn to lean into your grief. (More about this shortly.)

FIFTH: The apostle James sums it all up.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
~ James the brother of Jesus (James 1:19-20)

It’s true, James says that we should be “slow to become angry” which leaves the possibility open that, as long as we’re slow to get there, anger might be okay in some situations. Maybe. Let’s leave that door open a crack for now. And let us also admit that this way of thinking is more often used as an excuse to justify “righteous anger” as acceptable when that is not the thrust of this passage or any biblical passage on the topic. It just isn’t James’ point (or Paul’s or Jesus’). We’ve been told and now we know: disciples of Jesus should “get rid of all” anger (Paul) because anger is like murder (Jesus) and human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires (James).

WHY THE DOUBLE STANDARD?

Why is anger always appropriate for God and inappropriate for us? Good question. And here’s a good answer: Because anger (wrath) is the emotion that the Bible associates with judgement. And God is the judge; we are not.

God is a righteous judge,
a God who displays his wrath every day.
~ King David (Psalm 7:11)

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
~ The apostle Paul (Romans 12:19)

JESUS & ANGER

“But wait a minute Bruxy, what about Jesus in the temple? Jesus gets angry, so why can’t we?” I can appreciate this mental maneuver our minds make on this topic. We want to take our cues from Jesus. Good. And, although the Bible never says Jesus is angry when he clears the temple (good guess though) it does say he gets angry on another occasion in reaction to religious hypocrisy (Mark 3:5).

So why is it okay for Jesus to get angry and yet Jesus teaches that for everyone else anger is like murder?

Remember we’ve noticed that the Bible consistently teaches that anger is right for God and wrong for us because anger is the emotion associated with judgement. And there it is. Jesus is God, and when we see Jesus we are seeing God.

The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.
~ Jesus (John 12:45)

Yes, most of the time Jesus gives us an example to follow. We are meant to be God-like in how we love. But we are not meant to be God-like in how we judge. (Adam and Eve learned this lesson the hard way when they reached for the wrong tree, and we’ve been paying for it ever since.) Sometimes Jesus shows us God in all his glory, as King and Lord and Judge over all. And on those occasions, we don’t follow his example, we simply stand in awe and worship. For example…

When Jesus was twelve years old, he pulled a “Home Alone” stunt and stayed behind in the big city of Jerusalem, leaving his parents to worry and search for him (see Luke 2:41-50). I don’t know about you, but I never used this episode in the life of Christ as a teaching example for my daughters. “Now girls, as long as your mother and I eventually find you at a local church, feel free to secretly run away any time we’re in a big city, just like Jesus.” Nope.

And when Jesus receives worship from his disciples (as he does in Matthew 28:17), Jesus never turns the event into a lesson about how we too can all receive worship, just like Jesus. Nope.

And when Jesus clears the temple, he doesn’t invite his disciples to join him in the judgement. “Come on boys! Grab a table and give’r a flip! Then you too can be just like Jesus!” Nope.

Yes, Jesus got angry because God gets angry, and that is righteous. Jesus is the judge. God is the judge. And we are not. Let’s not get fuzzy on this point.

HOW TO BE ANGRY AND NOT SIN

There is one passage in the Bible that gives us hope that it may be possible to be angry and yet not sin. The apostle Paul shows us the way.

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
~ The apostle Paul (Ephesians 4:26-27)

Paul quotes a common (mis)interpretation of Psalm 4:4 which in the Hebrew original reads “Tremble [i.e., in the fear and awe of God] and do not sin.” The Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew text) translated this trembling as anger, which became the popular understanding in Paul’s day.

So Paul goes with that and says “Okay friends, here is how you can be angry and yet not sin. (Everyone leans in.) Are you ready? (Heads are nodding.) Here it is… (Long pause. Building anticipation.)… In order to be angry and not sin… (Wait for it)… In order to be angry and yet not sin… (Deep Breath)… Get rid of it. Yup. Right away. Don’t even let the sun set before you get rid of your anger.” And as if that isn’t motivation enough, Paul adds, “Because let me tell you, if you hold onto your anger, you are welcoming in the Devil.”

Recap! The best (only?) way to be angry and not sin is to get rid of your anger ASAP. And if you don’t, you are inviting Satan into your life.

And this, friends, is the most positive teaching on the topic human anger in the entire Bible. That’s it. That’s all. There ain’t no more. It is possible to be angry and not sin, as long as we are working to rid ourselves of it rather than embracing it. And just in case there is any ambiguity, only a few verses later in the same chapter, Paul puts anger and outrage right back on another of his sin lists.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
~ The apostle Paul (Ephesians 4:31)

In light of the consistent and clear teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus himself, and the early church leaders, you can understand the importance for Christians to take a counter-cultural stand on this issue. We live in a world where anger and outrage are the emotions du jour in the pursuit of social justice and societal change. As Christ-followers, we care about being salt and light for our world around us (Matthew 5:13-16). We care about being change agents for the better. And so for us who are justice-minded, the Devil has one more trick up his sleeve. Satan will tempt us to take our cues from others in the world around us who are working for that same positive change. But we have something different to bring to the movement. We bring not only a desire for things being put right, but also a commitment to the way we pursue that justice. We practice practical love of neighbour, love of enemy, love of all. And, at least for humans, this means we relinquish our right to anger as motivation for action.

BUT ISN’T ANGER A NORMAL HUMAN EMOTION?

Yes. Absolutely. Anger is a natural and normal human emotion. Anger will arise naturally within us in a variety of difficult, frustrating, and painful situations. And this initial experience of anger is not the real problem. We learn from the writers of Scripture that when anger does arise naturally, we can overcome it supernaturally. As we are filled with the Spirit and walk with the Spirit, we will experience more or the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Note: anger is not on the list. But it is on the contrasting vice list, the “deeds of the flesh”, that are listed a couple of verses earlier to contrast the Spirit’s work in our lives.

Perhaps anger (which Jesus says is internalized murder) is similar to lust (which Jesus says is internalized adultery). There may be a transferable lesson here. Both are natural human emotional experiences. The initial impulses of being upset with someone or being sexually attracted to someone are not the sin of anger or lust, but the temptation to sin. So, when we admit “I’m so angry” we might not be confessing sin as much as admitting an internal experience which may or may not turn into sin, depending on where we go from there.

What matters to God is what we do with what we feel in those moments.

Do we fan into flame our sexual attraction to another and thereby dehumanize them, using them to feed our lust? That is sin. Likewise, do we justify our growing anger as godly motivation for our pursuit of justice, pouring fuel on the fire of our judgementalism? That is also sin.

Experiencing anger welling up within us is not sin but temptation to sin. Now notice the danger that surrounds us: we live in a world that continually encourages us to nurture and cultivate that anger in order to motivate us to fight for justice. I understand this and it makes sense from the perspective of the kingdoms of this world. But this is not the way of the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of heaven on earth. Let’s be clear minded about where our citizenship truly lies.

RELIGION & ANGER

When the apostle Paul warns the Colossian Christians about sin in Colossians 3, he breaks his vice list into two sub-lists. The first includes more universally human sins (sexual impurity, greed, etc). Then he addresses a second sub-list of sins that will especially tempt believers, and that’s the list that includes anger and outrage. Religious people will be more tempted to play the role of angry judges.

It was a religious frustration that led to Cain’s anger and the first murder (Genesis 4:6). And ever since, religion has enflamed rather than calmed the anger of its adherents. I used to see this most clearly in the more conservative expressions of Christianity. Angry preaching and outraged moral pontificating were something I left behind for the gentleness of the Spirit. But now I’m seeing the same addiction to anger in more progressive forms of Christianity as well. It is fascinating how much conservative fundamentalism and progressive fundamentalism have in common. Legalism, judgementalism, and outraged outcry have become commonplace and even expected if we want our fight against injustice to be taken seriously. And I want no part of that.

We are not ultimately helping human society get healthy if we are simultaneously doing damage to the human soul.

PAY ATTENTION

I said earlier that initial anger welling up within is not necessarily sin but merely the temptation to sin. True. And anger might also be something more: a signal that something needs attention.

Psychologists tell us that anger and grief are closely linked emotions. (Notice that anger is usually listed as one of the stages of grief.) Anger can act like a warning light on a car’s dashboard, alerting us to something under the hood that needs attention. Wisdom suggests we pay attention to that light and address the undealt with sorrow and mourning that might be at the root. In this regard, anger is a gift and we should pay attention to what it is telling us. What would be unwise (and will lead to sin) would be joining a cultural trend to celebrate and sacralise these warning signals as important attributes to a healthy automobile. Anger is not that. Anger must never be treated like the fuel that runs the church, our lives, our movement, or our ministry.

The issue is, in part, a matter of where we focus our attention. Sorrow, sadness, and grief are similar to anger and outrage, but without the infusion of judgement (see Romans 12:15; 1 Corinthians 12:15; 2 Corinthians 7:11). If you are chronically angry, ask God to help you transmute your anger into grieving. Sorrow places our attention on the victims; anger fixates our attention on the victimizer. Sorrow empathizes with the oppressed; anger judges the oppressor. Sorrow and anguish allow us to bear the burdens of our brethren (Galatians 6:2); anger and outrage obsess with the source of the burden. (Yes, we should work to alleviate these burdens, but not via the way of anger, which will shift our primary focus away from empathizing with people in pain. More about that in a moment.)

If you have experienced significant pain in your life which has led you to anger and outrage, do not be shamed by the teaching of Jesus. Leaving you feeling guilty and helpless is not his goal, nor mine. Rather, see what Jesus and the other early church leaders are saying as a kind of diagnosis that gives you the opportunity to move toward the cure. If we’re honest, most of us don’t want to stay angry. We sense its corrosive effects in our hearts. We want to move past this. And Jesus’ way of love, compassion, and forgiveness will help you do that. Yes, full blown anger is sin and corrosive to our souls. And the good news is, Jesus is in the sin-forgiving, soul-saving, heart-curing business. You’ve come to the right place.

My guess is, if anger and outrage have been your go-to emotion for motivation to act in this world, it will take time and the support of fellow followers of Jesus to retrain our hearts. Don’t go underground with it. Don’t suppress, repress, or bury it in order to appear spiritual. Be open and honest with at least some mature members of your spiritual family about your most difficult struggles. I think the apostle James is getting at this when he tells believers not to supress but to confess:

So confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
~ The apostle James (James 5:16)

Healing is the goal. Loving, honest, praying community is the way. This is good news for our spiritual family – there is healing ahead.

GOOD NEWS: LOVE IS ENOUGH

Sometimes when I point out these Jesusy truths to fellow Christians, their reaction is telling. I hear things like, “But Bruxy, if you’re saying anger is not appropriate, then what’s going to motivate us to work for change?” First of all, this isn’t my idea. I’m just the message boy. I’m trying to faithfully share what Jesus taught, which I believe will always leave us better off, if we have ears to hear. Even more telling, the very question itself reveals how much we have bonded with the way of the world.

What is going to motivate us? The answer is simple – it is simply love.

Love is the will to work for the wellbeing of a person. Love is the experience and expression of an attitude of awe and honour. Love is the awesome energy that created this universe. And love entered our world in the form of Jesus. Love is not an emotional reaction, but a willful and wonderful decision to initiate and express good. Love is the strongest force in this universe, because love is the DNA of the Divine, the very guts of God. Love is the way of Jesus. And so, love is enough.

So I say it again loudly, to my brothers and sisters at the back – Whatever it is that anger and outrage are helping you accomplish, love will do a better job.

Peace,

Bruxy

FOR FURTHER STUDY…

  • Dan White Jr., Love Over Fear: Facing Monsters, Befriending Enemies, & Healing Our Polarized World
  • Jared Byas, Love Matters More: How Fighting To Be Right Keeps Us From Loving Like Jesus
  • Brant Hansen, Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better

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DiscipleshipPolitics

providence, politics, & peace

Jesus and Pilate

Here are some thoughts on how Christ-followers can experience inner peace even when living under unjust, ungodly, or even just unstable political powers. (Not that I’m thinking of any particular nation’s political situation at the moment.) 🙂

Jesus embedded something in his earliest disciples that we need to recapture today – a desire to work for justice and compassion that coincided beautifully with a sense of peace and calm even when things didn’t seem to be going the way they hoped. Their missionary work, compassion ministry, and inclusion of the marginalized was never born out of panic or outrage or any sense of desperation, but out of a heart that was filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The earliest Christ-followers loved their neighbours and their enemies, and everything they did was born out of this all-embracing unconditional love.

Moving toward this inner peace under power always begins by remembering WHO we are and WHOSE we are.

We are CHRIST-IAN more than we are CANAD-IAN.

If Jesus is our Lord, our King, then we are his (and no one else’s)…

  • CITIZENS (Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 2:9)
  • SOLDIERS (Luke 22:36-38; John 18:36; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Timothy 2:3-4)
  • AMBASSADORS (2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 6:20)

The apostle Peter calls Christians “exiles” and “foreigners” in our own countries (1 Peter 2:9-11). We are diaspora. We are fully here, fully present, but we are not fully home. And while we are here, we have a job to do:

Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.

~ God (Jeremiah 29:7)

From God’s perspective, we are not citizens of Canada (or whatever country we find ourselves living in), but we are ambassadors to that country on behalf of the kingdom of Christ.

Let’s look at some of the earliest Christian writings on this topic of finding peace under power, including a political power that we question. First, notice Jesus’ peaceful trust in God when arrested and questioned by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate:

“Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”

(John 19:10-11)

Pilate was a terrible leader, but Jesus had complete calm that Pilate would have no power if God was not able and active in this situation, using even Pilate’s poor leadership to accomplish something far greater.

This very Jesusy way of looking at the world has a name in Christian theology: Providence. God is providentially at work through all of history – the good, the bad, and the ugly. This never led the early church to passivity, but to peace, believing God would partner with our loving lives to bring about even better things.

This example of Jesus before Pilate, along with Jesus’ teachings, led his followers to become remarkably brave and bold, knowing God was working even through corrupt, violent, pagan political systems. When the apostle Paul is preaching to the Greeks, he says:

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

~ The apostle Paul (Acts 17:26-27)

This is amazing. In our fallen world, the history of nations is fraught with war, oppression, and slavery, and yet Paul says God has been working for our benefit at all times through the rise and fall of nations. This doesn’t mean that God causes the human sin behind war, oppression, and slavery (we are completely responsible and accountable for our human failures), but it does mean that God is at work, even through the terrible things humans do, to bring about more light and love in some way. Jesus calls all people to denounce and step away from those horrors of human history that denigrate and deface the image of God in humanity, while at the same time promising us that not one drop of human history will go to waste. God is always at work through political history to maximize human opportunity to hear his good news message and reach out for the God who is always close at hand. This is mind-blowingly beautiful.

So the apostle Paul can say with confident peace that God is at work through even corrupt governments like Nero’s Rome, when he writes:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 

~ The apostle Paul (Romans 13:1-2)

Of course our minds can race to all of the apparent exceptions to the rule, where poor governments lead their citizenry, not toward the experience of God’s justice, but toward the apparent lack of it. This was certainly the case for Paul’s experience at the time of writing the above passage. Yet, Paul knew that the alternative to earthly government, even bad government, would be absolute anarchy, the law of the jungle. In that kind of world it would be even harder for people to experience, expand, and extend the kingdom of Christ. And experiencing, expanding, and extending the kingdom of Christ was the most important thing for the early disciples of Jesus. So God gives us government to bring about a measure of peace. The goal for Christ-followers is never to simply get secular governments to act more Christian (though it may include this), but to be agents and ambassadors on behalf of Christ’s kingdom in any way we can, given the current state of governmental affairs, whatever they may be.

The call of Christ is a radical refocusing of our priorities.

Lastly, the apostle Paul invites us to keep our eyes open to God’s providence and be ready to partner with it when he writes:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

~ The apostle Paul (Romans 8:28)


In ALL things God is at work for our good. And more than that, God wants to work with us to bring about that good. The verb “works” in this verse translates the Greek word sunergeo, which means to work together in cooperative partnership. A more literal translation of this verse would read:

And we know that in all things God works together with us for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

~ The apostle Paul (Romans 8:28, Literal translation)

Two things are true:

  1. Christians can always be at peace, looking for God at work in everything to draw out some good.
  2. Christians can also look for ways to partner with what God is doing, to be actively involved in birthing goodness into this world.

Citizens, soldiers, and ambassadors of the Jesus Nation are invited by God to be active agents of goodness. And we can do this work out of love and gratitude, rather than out of fear or desperation.

REST IN PEACE!

PS: For more on this, order The End of Religion, on sale now wherever you buy books!

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DiscipleshipSpiritual Practice

still. here. (2 of 3): how to get started

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Are you “STILL. HERE.”?

Through study and inquiry, we type a lot of data into our minds.
Through meditation, we hit the “enter” key.

Picking up where we left off in our last post, some of us have never consistently meditated, often because as Christians we have assumed meditation was the practice associated with some other religion. Even worse, some of us were told that to meditate meant to empty our minds which would inadvertently make room for the Devil to enter us. I think this why the word “hogwash” was invented.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t leave a child of God when we meditate, any more than all the clutter and noise and nonsense we pollute our minds with throughout the day can push him out. Meditation allows our minds to practice the art of focus, which by itself is already a needed skill for people who want to love others well. We could be focusing on nothing more than the flame of a candle, a star in the sky, or a single word or phrase and it would already be a helpful mental exercise. Now, make your focus Jesus and his teaching, and we are growing in more ways than one.

Have you ever noticed a disconnect within yourself between what you believe from Scripture to be true, and how you feel or how you act or how you genuinely relate to others based on that truth? For many of us, it is easier to know something intellectually than it is to really know the same truth intimately and experientially, in how we feel and how we live and how we relate to strangers, friends, and family. I’ve seen this during seasons of my life, when I am going through the motions but living like a functional atheist, ignoring God at every turn. This doesn’t happen on purpose, but as the result of spiritual drift, slowly and imperceptibly, until I notice something decidedly un-Christ-like in me and realize that I’ve been ignoring my best friend for far too long. When that happens, I realize that I need to invest in the flow of the living water of the Holy Spirit in my life before I become any more out of tune with the mind of Christ, the character of God, and the fruit of the Spirit. How sad that we should ever become comfortable in the rut of routine, studying Scripture without enough time given to allow the Lord who gave us Scripture to actually shape our souls.

Speaking about the Holy Spirit, Jesus said:

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
~ Jesus (John 7:37-38)

For those of us who have trusted Christ, we have his promise of the Holy Spirit within. Jesus centred meditation can help us integrate God’s presence, heart, and fruit into every area of our lives.

For a Christ-follower, meditation has many potential benefits:

a. MENTAL: Meditation helps declutter our mind, strengthening our ability to focus on what’s most important in any given moment, and lessening our tendency to fall into distraction throughout our day. This will help us be open to the presence of God and the peace of Christ. Meditation can also help improve our experience of empathy, compassion, and self-control while reducing stress, worry, and most importantly anger, the emotion that the Bible most closely associates with judgment.
b. SPIRITUAL: For a Christ-follower, everything is, in a sense, spiritual. So the above “mental” benefits could be in the “spiritual” category as well. To this, we can add that the internal “decluttering” and slowing down of meditation can deepen our ability to hear the “gentle whisper” of God’s voice (1 Kings 19:12) among the cacophony of distracting voices in our heads and in our world. Hearing what Jesus is really saying is an ongoing theme in his teaching.
c. DISCIPLESHIP: Meditation will help us work with rather than against the Holy Spirit as he cultivates the fruit of the Spirit within us (Galatians 5:22-23). This happens as we allow our thoughts and feelings to be increasingly influenced by and partnered with the mind of Christ.

Meditation is not the be-all-end-all of spiritual practice, but it is one very helpful and often neglected tool in our discipleship toolbelt to help us grow in the ongoing process of conformity to Christ.

That is my introduction. (I have a problem with brevity.) If you missed the last post, head back here to read it. If you’re ready to move on, here is a list of some “how to” tips to help you get started.

STILL. HERE. Meditation Tips:

  1. Decide on a consistent time, duration, place, and posture. Set aside a consistent time (usually first thing in the morning is best) each day and a consistent place. Sit comfortably, with your Bible close at hand. At times when you are meditating, you will be holding your Bible, while at other times you might want to rest your hands on your lap with your palms upward. This allows you to use your body to remind your mind that you are not trying to fight to achieve something, but are simply making space to be with and receive what God wants to give you. Set a timer for the amount of time you want to meditate (somewhere between 5-15 minutes should be good for beginners). Setting the alarm can help your mind let go of having to wonder how long you’ve been meditating. (If you’re looking for a peaceful sounding, meditation friendly timer, try the app “Insight Timer”.)
  2. Begin with prayer. Take a few deep breaths. In the Bible, breath or wind is a sign or symbol of the Holy Spirit (ruach in Hebrew, or pneuma in Greek). Breathing consciously (which we can do by taking control of our breathing for a few slow, deep breaths) can be a way of using our bodies to remind our souls of the presence of the God’s Spirit. We are reminding ourselves of the promise of Jesus, that through the Holy Spirit he will always be with us and we pray we might have ears to hear what he has to say to us. As you breathe slowly, ask Jesus to open your mind to his presence and share with him your anticipation and excitement to encounter him now. Whenever possible, pray out loud, even if you mumble or whisper. That too can help our minds focus.
  3. Read the Scripture passage for study. I’ve offered some suggestions near the end of this post. The passage should be short enough so that all your meditation time isn’t taken up with intellectual study. Sometimes we read broadly to intake lots of information for the purpose of topical study. That is a good thing, but a different thing than biblical meditation. At least at first, it could be helpful to lay down a foundation by focusing on the teaching of Jesus found in the gospels (again, see suggestions below). You can bite off a new verse or few to chew on each day or linger for a few days at a time on the same small passage. When it’s the first day on any new passage you may need to spend more of your time in study, processing the context, the background, and the meaning of different aspects, thoughts, or words of the passage. Do as much study as is necessary for you so that your analytical mind can be satisfied and at rest. As you sit with this same passage for numerous days, your study time can decrease and your meditation time increase.
  4. Now, take another few deep breaths and read through the Bible passage again. This time, read the words slowly, allowing yourself to stop and pause on any word or phrase that God seems to be highlighting for you. The Holy Spirit can use Scripture, not only to teach you truths about there and then, but about here and now, to show you realities you may be missing at this moment, about God and/or about you. If there is a phrase or word that stands out, pause there, focus there, wait there. Repeat the word or phrase that seems significant to you a few times. At first, you may want to whisper or mumble, remembering that being vocal in some way can help us focus. (This act of verbally repeating or muttering to yourself is the literal meaning of the original Hebrew word for meditation.)
  5. When your mind wanders, as it will and does with everyone, simply bring it back. Once you notice that your mind has wandered, simply return to your focus. That process of wandering and returning is part of the practice; it is part of what makes meditation good for you. Every time you notice your mind has wandered and you pull it back to your chosen word or words of Jesus, you are building up mental muscle. This regular practice of returning your thoughts to centre will help you focus on others and on the presence of Jesus throughout your day when you notice you have been distracted. So, don’t be discouraged if you have a meandering mind – it’s giving you lots of opportunities to exercise your focus muscles!
  6. Engage your imagination. We usually think of our imagination as something that helps us engage with fantasy (e.g., children sometimes have “imaginary” friends). That’s not what I mean here. Imagination can also help us tune in to, rather than away from, reality. There are many things we know to be true that are beyond our five senses, like the reality of God’s presence and love for us in any given moment. Move beyond the words of the text to imagining, sensing, and feeling what you believe to be true. Does the text record Jesus say “I am with you always” as he does at the close of Matthew’s gospel? Then take him at his word, trust that this is true, and simply focus on the fact that Jesus is with you at this moment. Sit with that. Feel its truth. Does the text say “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”? Then envision yourself being an agent of peace in your day ahead. What might that look like in the first conversation you will have after meditating? What will you feel, knowing you are acting as God’s child, imitating the unconditional and lavish love of your heavenly Father?
  7. Move between thinking and praying if that is helpful. God is with you and happy to talk with you, or to simply be with you in a time of stillness and silence. We do not need to compartmentalize our spiritual practices but can flow freely between them.
  8. If you fall asleep, good. You needed it.
  9. If you get bored, no problem. Pushing through the boredom is part of learning any new skill.
  10. Remember the pressure is off. Don’t pressure yourself to manufacture a big revelation or mystical experience. Sometimes meditation can become emotional, especially when a realization of how much God loves us begins to sink in. Sometimes we might even go through a process of first being filled with an emotional rush of reverent awe (akin to “fear”) knowing that we are in the presence of the personal power that created the universe and who is now engaging directly with us. And then we might hear Jesus saying, “fear not”. We may wish to cry out “Holy, Holy, Holy!” to this God who is wholly other, wholly light, wholly love. But having said that, most of the time, meditation is simple, plain, and restful. Meditation is a quiet labour of love. We are training our mind to focus better on Jesus and his will for our lives. Meditation takes practice, and the practice itself is healthy.
  11. Close with another deep breath and a brief prayer of thanksgiving. Now, where did the time go?
  12. Process what you are experiencing and learning with others who are on the same journey. We need to learn from others – what helps them meditate well, and also what they are learning about Jesus and about themselves through it all. At The Meeting House, this happens in Home Church, and especially our Home Church Huddles.

In our “STILL. HERE.” series at The Meeting House we worked through three passages of the teaching of Jesus that could be helpful places to start, focusing on one per week. Go here to hear that series. Now we are expanding our focus through our follow up series “STILL. HEAR.” to learn from the parables of Jesus. Beyond this, you might want to study and meditate your way through all of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 or the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:17-49 or all of the Lord’s last night teaching in John 14-17. Of course, you don’t need to stick to the “red letters” (the recorded words of Jesus) for Jesus-centred meditation, since we can hear from Jesus throughout all of Scripture, but for those of us who are new to Jesus-centred meditation, the direct teaching of Jesus seems like a good place to start.

I’d love to hear from you. What has been your experience of meditation in the past? What about now? What has been helpful for you in this spiritual practice? What lingering questions are you still left with? I’m looking forward to learning together.

Peace,

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