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Disciplines That Grow Godliness

The Discipline Of Meditation

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 8, 1995

Selected highlights from this sermon

The world may be filled with chaos and difficulty, but a heart stayed on God’s Word can overcome any obstacle. Joshua meditated on the Law as he prepared to lead the nation of Israel into Canaan. His mind was cleansed, calmed, and committed through the Word of God. 

How can we have inner peace? By filling our minds with what is good and holy. When we analyze, memorize, and personalize the words of God, we can stay the course in any storm. 

During the next few moments I want you to visualize and to think about what the greatest obstacle might be that stands between you and really walking with God. What river is it in your life that you always seem to come to and the bridge is blown out, and you can never quite get across it? What is it that hinders you and me?

In order to jog your memory or to help you I may list some possibilities that could be in your life or mine. It might be a painful relationship either within your family, or within your marriage, or in your upbringing, and it has brought you a lot of pain, and you are struggling with forgiveness, and bitterness seems to have clouded your soul. Maybe it is a health problem. It may be an addiction, a sin of the flesh that you keep going back to, and it has you bound, and try as you might, you can’t seem to be free. Maybe it is a sin of the past. Maybe it is an abortion that you had many years ago but you can’t get over it. You can’t seem to accept it. You can’t relish in the good knowledge that God has forgiven you, and it is ever before you. Maybe it’s an immoral relationship, or having hurt someone very deeply, and you know that you can’t rectify it. Any one of these things or a combination thereof can stand in the way between us and walking with God. And what I want you to do today is to think about that because in a few moments I hope to share with you a plan whereby I believe that your world can be changed. Not your outer world! Maybe all of the problems that I have listed – at least some of them – might still be there, but your inner world would be so at peace that you can walk with God despite the fact that your outer world maybe has not changed a whole lot. What if I were to share a plan like that with you? And in a few moments I hope to.

You know that this is the second in a series of messages entitled Disciplines that Grow Godliness. Last time we spoke on the discipline of worship, and this time the discipline of meditation. And if there would be one verse of Scripture that would epitomize what we are trying to get at, it would be 1 Timothy 4:7, which says, “Be disciplined for godliness.” We don’t like that word discipline do we? We think that it belongs in the same category as martyrdom. We’d prefer to be holy in a hurry, to have some injection of spirituality that will change us, and we don’t like that word discipline, yet Paul says we should be disciplined for godliness and holiness.

What I want you to do is to take your Bible and to turn to the book of Joshua – Joshua chapter 1 – and I will spell out a program by which I believe God can change us deeply on the inside. And after I’ve done that you tell me after the message whether or not I have overpromised. Sometimes we as pastors do that, and it will be up to you to decide.

Joshua is about to enter into the land. Moses is dead and now the responsibility falls on this young man, and we pick up the text in chapter 1, verse 6. The Lord is speaking to him: “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Let’s paint the context that Joshua faced. Here he was up against a tremendous enemy – all of the cities that were in the land of Canaan, Jericho being first on the map geographically. He was up against people and he knew that he was outclassed. He was outmatched, and he was outnumbered. Just think of the contrast for a moment. On the one hand, the Canaanites had much better equipment. Israel had the staves that they had for some of their animals, and that was about all, whereas the Canaanites actually had iron, and they had weapons of warfare that Israel had never used, much less had in their possession.

Think also of the fact that they were better fortified. The Canaanites had walled cities that went up to heaven. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but perhaps 10 or 30 feet high and 10 or 15 feet across. They were strong fortifications, and if you know anything about battles you know that really the ratio is that it takes one in ten to hold a fortification. It takes ten to wrest it from the person who is holding it. It is much easier to be on the top of a hill with a few people and to stave off an entire army. It can be done. Here the Israelites are in tents. Here are the giants in the land in these walled fortifications and these cities. And of course, that is the other contrast. The Canaanites were bigger physically. The Bible says there were giants in the land in those days. It was so lopsided.

It was like B. J. Armstrong trying to take on a whole army of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s. I mean it was so ridiculous that in a sense there’s no use even trying to exaggerate the contrast because the contrast in itself is mighty and great. That’s what Joshua faced.

Now think of what some of his options might have been, having been put into this predicament. He could have decided that what we should do is to have a town meeting and decide to go back into the desert. There is something safe about the desert. The desert didn’t have a whole lot of battles. The desert had its own lifestyle, yes, but at least you were not up against the fortifications of the Canaanites. It was better to be thirsty in the desert, they could have reasoned, than to be dead in Canaan. “Let’s go back.”

You know, I may be speaking to some people who are in a desert today. You may feel as if you are a Christian but you are wandering around in that desert. Maybe it’s because you’ve been hurt by other people. You have been betrayed, you feel, by God, and so you’re in a healing process. You are in a recovery process, and because we are a large church, we oftentimes have people who come, and oftentimes they slip in for the services, and they say, “We just need to be healed before we are drawn into the congregation.” And that’s fine, but we hope that eventually the centrifugal force of our ministry will draw you in. But that would have been an option. “Let’s go back to the desert.”

The other possibility might have been partial obedience. He could have said to himself, “Let’s try to live in Canaan along with the Jericho’s, and simply try to coexist. Let’s make an agreement with them. We won’t bother them too much if they don’t bother us too much.” I don’t know about you but I’ve lived like that. I’ve lived in that experience where we enjoy Jesus Christ and we enjoy the Word, but there may be a Jericho in my life that I don’t want to really deal with. I want to just keep it there and just say that it is too strong for me to tackle. I’ll simply live with it. That would have been a possibility.

The third option was to say, “Let’s trust God and go for broke. Let us believe His promises. Let us do whatever is necessary to see the power of God that we might be able to overcome the enemy.”

Now the chief text today, as you may know, is verse 8: “You shall meditate in the Law of God day and night.” Day and night in the Word of God! Now let me ask this question: What would meditation do for Joshua anyway? What is the great benefit that would come to him? Well, first of all, meditation would cleanse his mind. In other passages of Scripture we find that out. The Psalmist said, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” You think of all the impurities of the world. There is nothing that will keep our hearts as much as meditation and memorization of the Word of God. “Thy Word have I hid in my heart.” And Jesus said to the disciples, “Now you are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” The cleansing – the washing of water by the Word! When you find your mind polluted by the things of this world, you can take the Word of God and read it chapter by chapter and it will cleanse, and it will take out all the pollutants, and it will renew the mind. “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” That’s what the Word of God does. It will cleanse Joshua’s mind and yours and mine.

It will cleanse his mind. It would calm his mind. Notice that the text uses that word courage a number of different times. It says in verse 7, “Only be strong and very courageous,” and then it goes on to say in verse 9, “Have not I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not tremble or be dismayed.” In other words, let your inner world be calm. Be an island of tranquility. Even if you are in the midst of an ocean of turbulence, be tranquil. “Thou will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusts in Thee.” Rivet your mind on God so that no matter what happens to your ship, you know that your heart is always at port.

Calmness! How does the Word of God do that? Well, one of the things that the Word of God does is that it stimulates faith. It causes faith to grow. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, and our great need – my great need and your great need – is always faith. Always faith!

One day Peter decided to walk and to go to Jesus, you remember, in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus was walking on the water, so he said, “I want to walk on the water.” And Jesus said, “Come.” It was a very blessed request that Peter gave. He said, “May I come?” and Jesus said yes, an invitation that was very beautiful. And Peter walks on the water to go to Jesus, and then the Bible says that he saw the wind and the waves that were boisterous, and beginning to look at them he began to sink saying, “Lord, save me. I perish.” And Jesus scooped him up out of the water and said, “Now why is it that you were doubting?”

Now I can imagine that there would be somebody there with a scientific mind who would say to himself, “You know what we need to do? We need to analyze the predicament that Peter was in. What we should do is to try to estimate the speed of the wind and do a study of the relationship between the speed of the wind and the height of the waves.”

I want to tell you today that the real problem that Peter faced was not the height of the waves or the speed of the wind. The wind could have even been greater. The waves could have been higher, and that was not the issue. The issue ultimately was faith - whether he was believing Christ when he was walking. And that always is your problem and mine because you and I can go down under the slightest wind, and under the smallest wave unless we look at Christ. And if we look at Him we can endure the biggest wind and the highest wave. Our problem is always faith. And if Joshua wanted to be able to walk around Jericho without being overcome and have the courage that the Word of God says that he can have – be courageous – he needed to focus on God. And the Word of God - the Law of God - would generate faith in his heart.

It would also give him that sense of perspective. It would help him to see the big picture, because you and I oftentimes become so preoccupied with the present pain, we can’t see what God is doing throughout the whole spectrum and the differences between a Polaroid and a movie. The Bible allows us to see the bigger picture as to what God is doing.

So the Word of God was going to cleanse Joshua’s mind. It would calm his mind, and you might now expect another “C” here. It would commit his mind. Notice that the text says, “that thou may observe to do according to everything that is written herein.” “Joshua, if you are going to have the strength to do the Word of God, you’re going to have to meditate in the Word of God.” This cannot be an on and off idea. There must be a commitment to meditation in the Word to do because he had lots to do.

God says, “Joshua, I want you to rise up.” And then He says, “I want you to walk throughout the land. And I want you to stand against the enemy. And you’re not going to do that unless you’ve got a lot of courage, and a lot of strength, and unless your inner man is taken care of and is secure in the midst of all of these problems that are so much bigger than you are.” And so the Lord says, “Joshua, even if the giants don’t become smaller, and even if the walls don’t become shorter, then what you can do is to recognize that you will still have your heart fixed on God.” And so that’s what Joshua was supposed to do.

Well you say, “Pastor Lutzer, if meditation really does bring this about, what is meditation?” I hoped that you would ask that. I was kind of wishing that you would, and I appreciate the fact that you’ve done that, so let’s spend a moment meditating on the word meditation.

Now meditation is not eastern meditation where they give you a word and then they ask you to blank out your mind and think about nothing. You know, it’s difficult to think about nothing, and yet in transcendental meditation that’s what they want you to do. They will even give you a word that maybe doesn’t make sense to you so that you think about nothing. The ultimate purpose is, by the way, the destruction of the mind that you might not think about anything concrete, but only that your mind might become open. And it is then that you have that transformation, that contact with spirits – evil spirits - that bring about that transformation of consciousness. That’s not what we’re talking about.

Biblical meditation says, “I am going to think about the content of God and His Word. I’m going to think very specific thoughts. I’m going to fill my mind with God’s thoughts.” That’s what biblical meditation is all about. In the Old Testament, where meditation is referred to most often, there are two different Hebrew words. One is siach, which means to go over in one’s mind. For example, Psalm 119:15: “I will meditate on Thy precepts,” and Psalm 119:97: “Oh how I love Thy law. It is my meditation.” That’s the word that is used. You go over the Law of God in your mind, and if you go over the Law of God in your mind and heart, that is meditation.

But there’s a second Hebrew word for meditation and that is hagah and that’s the word that is used here. It means to go over in one’s mind, but to do so even with a sense of passion. It means that there is a longing in the mind, that there is a thirst in the mind. And it is also the same word that is used in Psalm 1, that the person who meditates in the Law of God day and night shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth His fruit in His season. His leaf also shall not wither, and whatever he does prospers.

Interestingly, this word for meditation is oftentimes associated with speaking. Notice that the text says: “This book of the law shall not depart out of my mouth.” It’s the same word for meditation that is used in Psalm 19: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight.” The words that come out of our mouths should be God’s Word. It should be the Word of God in harmony with what is happening within our hearts as people, as we meditate on the Law of God.

All that, by the way, is preliminary to what I have to say now, and that is how do you meditate? Is it really true, as some of us grew up learning in Sunday school, that a chapter a day keeps the devil away? Is it really true that all that you need to do is to take your Bible and read it? Now that would be an improvement. I read this past week that some wag said the greatest dust storm in America would take place if all Christians dusted off their Bible simultaneously because only about nine percent of all Christians actually read the Word of God every day.

If I were the devil, which is another way of saying, “If I were Lucifer instead of Lutzer,” what I would do is I would create such roadblocks toward meditation in the Word that nobody would do it. I would cause the mind to be so filled with anxiety because of the concerns of the day. I would cause there to be such a sense of stress, a wandering of the mind, a struggle of the mind. I would try to make people bored with God’s Holy Word. I would try to do everything that I possibly could to keep people from this book, particularly those who may be in real satanic conflict. I would do all that I possibly could to make the Word of God uninviting. And that’s what the devil does. And that’s where discipline comes in. And that’s where you begin to say, “My life is going to be different because I’m going to give 15 minutes to meditation in the Word of God every single day, considering it as important as eating or drinking or anything else because what I want to do is to see the transformation of the Word. And look at what the text says. It says, “Then thou shall have success.” Then you will find the transformation of heart that is brought about so that you can endure all the trials of life, and to do so despite the hurt and the pain with a sense of confidence. Then you can look at your Jericho without wilting, without thinking that there’s no way that I can overcome it because Jerichos become smaller when they are compared with God.

How do I meditate? Three words! And I want you to write them down. Don’t ever forget them. If I meet you in the summer and ask you what the three words are I expect you to tell me. In fact, that could be kind of a password. We could have all the ushers stand next week and say, “Do you remember the three words? If not, you can’t come to church today.” Wouldn’t that go over well? But are you ready for the three words? Thank you for telling me the answer is yes.

Number one, analyze. What do I mean by analyze? If all that you do is read the Bible, and you get to the end of the chapter and you put it away, you come back the next day and you have no idea whether you read this chapter or not. You’re halfway through it and something catches you that says, “Yeah, I read this yesterday, come to think of it.” Now that’s better than nothing because when water goes through a sieve, even though the water doesn’t stay in the sieve it cleans the sieve. It does something. But that’s not meditation in the Word.

What do I mean by analyze? You come and you ask the text three questions. The first question is, what does it teach me about God? What new insight do I glean about God? Secondly, what does it tell me to do? And thirdly, is there a promise here that I have to believe and hang on to? That’s so important, you see, because unless the Word of God is being absorbed in your mind, it is not going to stay with you throughout the day. Analyze! It involves those three questions. What does it teach me about God? What does it tell me to do? Is there a promise there that I need to hang on to? What one phrase, what one insight have I gleaned from the Word today that is going to carry me through the day?

First is analyze. The second is memorize. Memorize! Now you can do this differently. You can memorize a whole section of Scripture. I’m trying to work through 1 John 1. But you can do that, or what you can do is to memorize even that verse that you have chosen in that chapter, or at least a fragment of that verse so that it will carry with you.

This week I began my devotions in the morning in 2 Corinthians so I read a chapter. I asked the text questions, but I did not leave it until God had spoken to me or unless I had something for the day because if you leave it before that time, of what value is it when you close the Word of God and then go somewhere else and begin your responsibilities?

So what you do is you memorize. Oh, you say, “That’s not possible for me to memorize.” You know, I wish I had enough money to do something. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had enough money here in the church (and we could arrange that if some of you gave us enough money to pull this off) and we told the congregation some Sunday that for every new verse that you memorize this week from this Sunday to next Sunday we give you a hundred bucks per verse – for every new verse that you memorized? Now, I venture to say that people who have not memorized the Word of God ever (they have not learned a single verse) would suddenly find that God had given them the gift of memory. (laughter) And they would say, “Just on Sunday we noticed that God gave me this ability.” You know, the fact is that we can remember anything that we want to remember. I’m even remembering yesterday’s score, even though I’ve tried to forget it. (laughter) I mean it’s amazing how there are things that lurch in your mind if you want them to lurch in your mind, and sometimes when you don’t want them to lurch in your mind.

The first is analyze. The second is memorize. And that is not enough because there are people who know the Word of God. They have been schooled in the Scriptures and they are harsh and uncaring. They are not filled with the Spirit. You look into their life. There’s no love, peace, joy, long-suffering or gentleness. They are filled with criticism, and the Word of God has had no effect in their lives. The Bible says in the book of Hebrews that even to the Israelites the Word of God was preached but it did not profit them – not being mixed with faith, it says, in them that heard it.

So what is the third word? The third word is personalize. And how to you personalize the Scripture? You personalize it by submitting yourself to its authority. In the midst of that devotional time God is always pointing out in my life things that have to come under the umbrella of God’s sovereignty, and if I’m going to read the Word and absorb the Word, I have to come under its authority. And that’s when we are doing our repentance in the sight of God and our yieldedness, and so we are submitting ourselves to God, and submitting ourselves also to one another. You know, God uses the Holy Spirit of God to reveal sin in our hearts. But He also uses other people too. It’s amazing. I would never know how selfish I was were I not married and have some kids. It’s amazing how being a part of the family helps you to be reminded of your weaknesses.

I was at a pastor’s conference this summer where a pastor said, “You know, many people ask how I remain humble when I have so many people telling me how wonderful I am after I preach.” He said, “For me it’s no problem at all.” He said, “All that I have to do is go home and that takes care of it.” (laughter) And he said, “You know, my family has had a very difficult time accepting my godhood.” And I listened to that and I thought, “You know, I can really identify.” My wife and children have had a very difficult time accepting my divinity. And they have helped me a great deal in pointing out things in my life that need to change. Now that’s what happens when you personalize the Scripture. You begin to say, “This is for me.” And God uses other people.

And sometimes He’ll use other people to give a word of encouragement, and that word of encouragement will just change everything. Martin Niemöller was one of the pastors who stood against Hitler, and in his biography there’s a very interesting story. Just imagine this now. Niemöller is being marched to his trial. It was a total kangaroo court. It was a complete set-up, and everybody knew how it was going to end. And he knew that he’d be imprisoned or maybe be put to death. Here he is. He’s being taken from his cell to the courtroom with a guard who marched with him step by step all the way along the line with his bright Nazi uniform. And as they were going up the final set of stairs, Niemöller said that he overheard some words and he didn’t even know where the words were coming from because the expression on the guard’s face was totally without emotion. But as he was going up the stairs he discovered that the guard was the one who was speaking, and he was whispering to Niemöller, “The name of the Lord is a righteous tower. The righteous run into it and they are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10) Niemöller said, “That guard,” who he never saw again except at a distance, “will never know what he did for me at that moment because,” he said, “the moment I came into the courtroom the first thing I saw was a picture of Adolph Hitler.” And he said the reminder of the fact that the name of the Lord is a strong tower and those who run into it are safe totally transformed that trial. And even though he was found guilty and imprisoned, he was victorious because of a verse of Scripture given at a moment of time. And you and I need to encourage one another in that way.

So what do you do? First of all, you analyze, you memorize and you personalize. And the Word of God does the transformation.

Now, what was this going to do in Joshua’s life? He was going to go around Jericho, and as you know the rest of the story, he did. If he had not been memorizing the Word of God and meditating on the Word of God, he’d have become a wall watcher. What he would have done is he would have said, “Now look you guys, we’re up against these folks. What I want to do is to do an analysis of the weight of the walls. I want you to find out how deep the foundation is. I want you to estimate the number of tons of concrete of mortar that are in these walls. I want you to see their heights. Let’s figure out exactly what we are up against.” That’s what a wall watcher would do.

But Joshua said to himself, “I don’t really need to know even the height of the wall or the depth of the foundation. If I am meditating in the Law of God day and night, God will take care of the wall. What I need to do is to take care of my heart. And if I take care of my heart, God will take care of the wall.” And it was with that confidence that he was able to march.

You know, because I was born and reared in a rather remote part of the world, I was quite old before I saw my first lion. Do you know that old joke that says that there was a zoo in our town and they had to shut it down because the chicken died? There was some truth to that. Only when I grew up did I realize that that was supposed to be funny. But I went to this town and my parents took me to the zoo, and I saw a lion for the first time. And I won’t tell you the name of the town because you won’t believe the name of the town. But on the other hand, if I was being interviewed today by a commentator, she might say to me, “Just whisper it. It’s just between us.” (laughter) So I’ll tell you. Just between us, the name of the town was Moose Jaw. Seriously, I’m not making it up.

But I remember, as a child, seeing the lion, and being scared. But my parents weren’t scared. And the difference was because as a child I was seeing the lion and my parents were seeing the bars on the cage. And when it comes to seeing Satan, if we look at him directly we can become terrified. We can say, “My Jericho is too big. The walls are too high. They can’t be scaled. There’s nothing that can be done about it.” And we become convinced about that if we look at the lion. But when we look at the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and when we look, as it were, at the bars and when we see that the lion, for all of his roaring, is toothless because Jesus Christ has won a victory over him, then through faith we can cast down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ because we meditate in the Law of God during the day and during the night. We analyze, we memorize and we personalize, and God begins to do the transformation.

If you are here today without Jesus Christ as your Savior, let me give you a verse to meditate on: “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life. He that believes not on the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Meditate on that.

Here’s another one for you. “For by grace we are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.” Meditate on those words and let the Word of God do its work in your heart. May it latch like a fishhook in your soul until you say, “Lord Jesus, I believe on You. I receive the free gift of eternal life. I trust You wholly and completely.” And I urge you to do that, and if you will, let us pray.

Our Father, we thank You today for Your Word. What Your Word says is You have magnified it according to Your name. We thank You that it is a complete meal. The Scripture says that your Word is meat. It is bread. It is milk. And it is honey. Thank You that it includes all the food groups that we need spiritually speaking. And we pray today that in this congregation there shall be a mighty transformation as all of us spend at least minimally 15 minutes a day fastening our minds on Your promises, letting the Word of God wash us and cleanse us and purify us and change us. Do that, Father, we pray, that we might be a mighty congregation like Joshua, where it says, “Be courageous,” that we might be able to withstand the enemy, that we might be able to stare him down because we know who we are in Christ.

And for those who have never savingly believed on Him, at this moment we pray, oh Father, that You might cause them to believe. May even the Word that they have heard today germinate in their hearts and lead to eternal life. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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