The Discipline Of MeditationErwin W. Lutzer | January 5, 2003
Selected highlights from this sermon
It’s impossible to be transformed by doing nothing. We must be disciplined in our walk with God, and this begins with meditation.
We must think rightly in order to act rightly. The spiritual stability and prosperity that meditation offers will slowly squeeze evil out of lives.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer will explain why prayer and meditation is important, and provide tips to help us in our walk with God.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all that we had to do was to have good intentions to be like Jesus, and along with those good intentions, attend church once a week, and then God do all the work that needs to be done in our lives while we are asleep? And when we wake up in the morning, we wake up hot for God? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
That might be wonderful, but it’s not the way it is. Salvation is a free gift. There’s no question about that. Salvation is free, but when it comes to real discipleship and transformation of life, which is always what we are after, it needs discipline. Discipline!
You know there are more people who give concern about their houses. They give more concern to their house than they do to their souls, so if the roof leaks they fix it. If the sink is stopped up, they unplug it. And if a wall is beginning to crumble, they rebuild it. But as far as their souls are concerned, and I’m using the word soul almost synonymous with the word mind… As far as their souls are concerned, anything can come in—good thoughts, bad thoughts. Anything can find a home and they do not care for their souls, and yet the Bible says, “Guard you heart. Above all things guard your heart, for out of it is the wellspring of life.” The most important part of you is the part that nobody can see. It is your mind or your soul, and we’re going to be speaking in the messages that lie ahead on soul care, or The Disciplines of the Soul, and remember we’re after transformation of life and heart.
Today we’re going to speak about meditation, and then after that prayer, how you can pray every single day without monotony, without wondering whether or not God is listening. And then we will speak about the discipline of worship, and also, most important, the discipline of silence and solitude that can change our lives, The Disciplines of the Soul.
Jesus told a very interesting story. He said that there was a man who had a demon, and then the demon left the man, and the man’s heart or soul was swept and empty. And so the demon, as he traveled about, seeking rest and finding none, found seven other demons who were worse then he was. I guess even among the demons there are some that are more evil than others, and all of them came and inhabited the man. And Jesus said the state of that man—the end of him—was worse than the beginning. Wow! What Jesus is talking about is the danger of an empty, swept soul with nothing else to replace it but evil that comes in.
Evil always gravitates toward a vacuum, and as a result of that, if we do not fill our souls with what is good, if we do not protect what comes in, and expel what should be expelled, our souls will just be a resting place for all kinds of evil and defeat and discouragement and faithlessness. You see, Paul says, “Be renewed by being transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Today we’re going to speak about that transformation. Today we’re going to speak about how to focus on that which will squeeze out all of the unwanted thoughts and make us different people, because we cannot live differently until we think differently, and we can’t think differently unless we learn to meditate. And the good news is that all of us here can do it. I’m going to be giving you instruction that is so clear, that is so explicit, that no matter who you are, no matter how old you might be, or how young you might be, you’re going to be able to do what I am suggesting from God’s Holy Word that all of us do together. Transformation, finally, for some of you is just around the corner. Aren’t you glad you’re here?
Now, the Bible does talk about the mind, and we’re speaking about that today. Why is this so important—to think right? Well, first of all, because everybody thinks. Everybody thinks! I can imagine there’s some woman here who says, “Well, you know, my husband doesn’t.” (chuckles) Actually he does. He does. He may not be thinking the right thoughts, but he thinks. In fact, there was a philosopher by the name of Descartes who said that he believed that the mind is thinking all the time. And even while we are asleep, he said, we go on thinking. And sometimes we become conscious of it and we call it a dream. Descartes believed that we are thinking all the time. By the way, did you happen to hear about the preacher who dreamt he was preaching? And then he woke up and found out he was. (laughter) Everybody thinks. Even preachers think.
Secondly, your mind has power. It has power. The mind has so much power because it can relate to God. I remember as a boy I used to think to myself, “Well, God doesn’t know what I’m thinking.” If I may preach imprecisely for a moment, he knew my thoughts even better than even the movements of my body because God exists in the realm of spirit, and your mind exists in the realm of matter and can influence matter, which is a huge philosophical problem that has been debated throughout the centuries—how that can be, how something immaterial can actually affect something material. But your mind can connect with that which is material, but it is also your mind that connects with God. Your mind has power.
Another reason is, of course, as I’ve emphasized, your mind shapes your life. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” So I want to look you in the eye today and tell you that “you’re not what you think you are,” but “what you think, you are.” The real you is your thought life, and today we’re going to talk about transforming it.
Psalm 1 is the text, and what I’d like to do, as you turn to that in your Bibles, is to point out, first of all, the benefits of what we’re going to speak about—meditation. The benefits of meditation! You’ll notice (And for this we’re going to go actually to verse 3. We’re going to do verse 3 before we do verses 1 and 2.) it says: “He (that is, the person who delights in the Law of God and meditates day and night) is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruits in season, whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”
There are two blessings that come from meditation. First, stability! He’s like a tree that is planted beside the rivers of water. He has an unseen root system that goes to a stream so he will not wither at a time of drought. He can handle adversity. He can handle false accusations. He can handle the pushes and the pulls of life, the emotional and the spiritual drain of relationships that have gone sour. He can handle them. Why? It’s because he has roots that extend to a stream.
You’ve heard me say this before, but a tree has as much of a root system beneath the ground as that which you can see above the ground. And blessed is that tree that has found a stream, a hidden secret stream, that will keep it from withering—a sense of stability but also a sense of prosperity.
His leaf does not wither. The Bible says he brings forth his fruit in his season. Some people interpret that to mean, “Well, you know there’s a season for grapes and for figs and for bananas and for oranges, and in the same way we have the fruit of the Spirit, and sometimes there’s a season for love and a season for joy and a season for peace.” But then there are people who say, “Today does not happen to be the season for love.” (chuckles) No, that’s not the way it works. What he means is that fruit takes time to develop. And God develops these fruits in us, but notice that whatever he does prospers. There is such a thing as a doctrine of prosperity. Our problem is that as it is preached today, it is often taken out of context, wrenched from the full teaching of the Bible and made to say something that the total Bible teaching would not say.
But listen to the words of Joshua. “Thou shall meditate,” God says, “in the Law of God. Thou shall meditate therein day and night. Then thou shall make thy way prosperous, and then thou shall have good success.” I believe that every time the word success is mentioned in the Bible, it is connected to meditation. If you want to be a success (if anybody here wants to be a success) you must—you must— meditate.
I have a habit, you know, as a pastor, to always say, “You know, this is the most important series I have ever preached.” I said that about the last series, and it was right back then. (laughter) But it’s also true now. This is one of the most important… If I say one of the most, I can say that every time, can’t I? This is one of the most important sermons and series of messages I have ever preached, and you must hear all of them.
Notice now! How do we actually meditate? How do we begin? Well, let me give you this as a preliminary. First of all, what you do is you pray before you open your Bible, and you pray one of the verses of the Psalms: “Oh Lord, open Thou my eyes that I might behold wondrous things out of Thy Law.” The reason that that is so important is because someone has written, “As long as my mind if raging with thoughts, ideas, plans and fears, I cannot listen significantly to God or any other dimension of reality.” That’s why we’re going to preach a message on the gift and the discipline of silence and solitude. I’m in a learning curve on that one, but I’m discovering that there is such a rich relationship with God that can be developed through silence and solitude, and God knows how much we need it.
Now, first of all, a word about discernment before we get to meditation. “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers.” You see the progression there, don’t you? Blessed is the person who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked. He’s walking in the council of the wicked just out of curiosity. He wants to see what the wicked are doing. He wants to… Well, here’s a good one. He wants to understand the wicked a little better so that he can evangelize them, so he’s walking in the counsel of the wicked. And then there’s something that gets his attention, and then he stands in the way of sinners. He is lingering now in the way of sinners. And then, lo and behold, he decides to say, “Well, you know, actually I’m enjoying this.” And all of the others say, “Hey, why don’t you pull up a chair and sit down?” So he ends up sitting in the seat of scoffers and mockers.
Now that doesn’t mean that he’s mocking like the rest, but he feels at home among the mockers, and among the ungodly, and he discovers that he not only feels at home, but he begins to participate in their attitudes, their beliefs, their worldview. You know, there’s a book that has been written that basically says that Christians think essentially like the world. We think like the world regarding child rearing. We think like the world does regarding money, regarding values. We’ve bought into the whole system and we don’t even know about it.
First of all, we walk. Then we stand, and then we sit. Blessed is the person who does not imbibe the values, the attitudes and the beliefs of this world. Do you want to be like that? The text is going to tell us how. Discernment! We could say contemplation at this point, where you ask the Lord, “Lord, what is there in my life that I’ve picked up from the world? What is there within my life that needs to be changed?”
Could you identify your three main problems? Some people can’t, and no wonder. They are not working on them. They don’t even know what their problems are. Why don’t you take a sheet of paper and limit it to three of your main problems? I say limit it because you may not have that much paper with you today. And so what you do is you try to identify those things in your life that God has to change, that you are interested in transformation?
And now notice! If the first is discernment or contemplation, now we get to discipline or meditation. “But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law he meditates whenever he feels like it.” Is that what your Bible says? I must be reading from the reversed vision? “He meditates during the day and during the night,” because he goes to bed meditating, and so he does meditate in the Law of God all night. Blessed is that person, and you and I can be that person, and I’m giving you instruction today on how you and I can be that person. Wow!
So how do we meditate? Now there are two ways to read the Bible, just like there are two ways to take a trip. My wife and I have driven across this country in many different places, sometimes with our children. And oftentimes there is only one goal, and that is to get there—just get there.
You fill the car with gas. If you stop along the way it’s for a hamburger that you eat in the car while you are driving, because remember, there’s one goal. You get there! And the trip is fine, and sometimes you enjoy the scenery, and sometimes you say, “Well, you know, we saw a beautiful mountain, or we saw (depending on where you drive) a beautiful hill, or we saw a tree. And you say to yourself, you know, “We got there.” Now that’s the way some people read the Bible. And this is the danger for some people who want to read the Bible through in a year. They are going to read and read and read, but they are like D. L. Moody, who said that when he was hoeing potatoes he used to have to put a little marker in the soil because he could never tell where he had hoed, and where he had not yet hoed.
And so we’ve all had the experience of needing to put a marker in our Bible because suddenly we’re reading and we get to the end of the chapter and we say, “Hey, I read this chapter yesterday and didn’t know it.” Now there’s nothing wrong with that and we encourage you to read through the Bible. As a Christian if you’ve never done it you should.
But there’s another way to take a trip, and really we need to take a trip in both ways. The other is to say, “You know, if I don’t get there, that’s not so serious. If I don’t make it by nightfall as to where I have decided I’m going to be, I’m going to enjoy this trip.” You know, when you are driving along and it says “historical marker one mile ahead,” we’re actually going to pull off and see what’s there. And when it says, “scenic overlook one mile ahead” we’re going to stop, and we’re going to breathe the air, and if you’re like my wife, we’re actually going to take some pictures. And then when we come home we’ve got all of these pictures that we’ve taken, and we just really have enjoyed this. And we didn’t get quite as far as we wanted to, but who cares? It was just great to drive and to enjoy the trip.
Right now I’m talking about the second way to read the Bible. Some of you may not… You see, if you say you’re going to read the Bible and then you get behind, the Bible becomes a source of guilt. It lies there on the shelf, and instead of blessing you, it is just a means of guilt, and so you leave it there because you know that if you were to touch it, it just would remind you of all the failures and all the times you said you were going to read it, and then you haven’t. And so it lies there. Somebody said that if all of the evangelicals in America blew the dust off their Bibles at the same time, we’d have a dust storm. (laughter) It just lies there condemning you. That’s not why God gave us the Word of God.
So rather than reading it through, if it’s too much for you… That even rhymes—reading it through if it’s too much for you. Wow! Rather than doing it that way, why not choose 12 books and say, “Every month I’m going to study and meditate in one of the books.” Be sure to choose either the Psalms, or Job or a book from the wisdom literature. Maybe begin with a historical book of the Old Testament or the New Testament. Choose 12, and enjoy the ride.
Now here’s what you do. We’re down now to pay dirt. Finally, we’re getting right down to the nitty gritty. Alright, you’ve prayed. You’re opening the Bible because you’ve decided that you’re going to read a certain book. And you read this chapter and you are saying, “Lord, what is there in this chapter for me?”
First of all, you analyze. It’s a big word but it just means you ask the text some questions. In fact, you might like to write these questions down.
• What does this teach me about God?
• What does this passage ask me to do?
• Does this passage have a promise I can cling to today?
And so what you are doing is you are looking at the scenery and you’re taking a picture so that for the rest of the day now you’re going to have this Polaroid in your mind. And so what you are doing is you are simply saying to yourself, “What is here?” If I don’t get the whole chapter read, that’s okay. If I read a few verses, that’s okay, too, because what I’m looking for is some food today for my empty soul.”
This might come as a shock to you, but I do not wake up in the morning, just like that, with a hot heart for God. So what do you do? You just say, “Well, you know, I’ll drift along. Maybe somewhere someplace if I do nothing God will just do it all in me, and just switch me, and I’ll be spiritual.” No!
So what you are doing is you are feeding your soul because what you ate yesterday, spiritually speaking, does not help today. It’s amazing how many people think, “Well, you know, I got blessed at church.” Fine! Why don’t you just eat on Sunday, and then eat the next Sunday? If we need food for our bodies everyday… I’m just looking over the congregation. Some of you I think could skip a meal. (laughter) But anyway, if there’s food that we have for our bodies every single day, we need to feed our souls every single day. So what we do is we read and we say, “Lord, what’s in it for me?” And we’re not reading it as scholars. We’re reading it to analyze, to ask the text that question, and to spend a little bit of time at the scenic overlook to take a picture. We analyze.
Secondly, we personalize. We say, “How should this change me today?” And this is most important. We do not leave this passage until we have something for today. We don’t leave it until there’s something for today.
Let me give you an example of yesterday. Yesterday I happened to go running, and before I went running… I’m reading through the Psalms every month, but I’m also reading other passages of Scripture, so I was in Revelation. And I was just struck by the verse of Scripture that talked about the church at Sardis. It says, “There are some among you who have not defiled their garments.” And I was thinking to myself, “Now what is Jesus talking about there?” And then a little later on, “Those whom I love I chastise.” And then later on in the next paragraph where he’s talking about Laodicea: “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man open the door I will come into him and have fellowship with him.” That’s written to Christians, not the unsaved, as the verse is often used. You begin to think of what fellowship with the Lord really means, and you begin to think about that. And some of these verses just stuck to my mind like a burr on a trench coat. And so as I was running, I was contemplating the whole time why. It’s because I said, “I’m not leaving this passage until there is something here for me.” That’s the key. Now what you need to do is get up earlier in the morning—at least 15 minutes earlier. Some of you just need to prove the power of the mind over mattress. And what you’ll discover is that God will make the time up to you. He really will. Fifteen minutes of sleep in the morning… Some people stay in bed until the very last second when they absolutely, totally have to get out of bed, and not miss a bus or train or whatever. Why not give God 15 of those minutes?
So you analyze and you personalize and you memorize. I’m not saying memorizing a whole verse, though that may be very easy on occasion, but you’re memorizing the phrases and the ideas of Scripture because remember you are not leaving this Word without something for your soul for that day. And so what you do is you memorize. How do you meditate? You analyze, you personalize, you memorize, and every day you come back for something more.
I want to tell you today that if you were to do this for a month, some of you who have not been able to get over anxiety and anger and impurity and all kinds of other things that swirl around in your restless soul, you’d discover the transforming power of God’s Holy Word.
Do you remember that story that I’ve told you before about the people who were in Europe and came back with a jewelry box? And they were told when they bought it in France that it was supposed to glow in the dark. And so they put it in their bedroom, and it did not glow in the dark until a French friend (someone who could read French) looked at the box and read the instructions, and it said, “Put me in the sunlight during the day, and I will glow at night.” So they put it in the sunlight during the day and it glowed at night.
Do you and I want to be able to glow in the dark? Do you and I want to be able to walk with God in the darkness when it seems as if God has turned His face? And when everything just keeps being pelted at us and going the wrong way, do we want to be able to walk with God? You meditate in the Law of God in the sunlight, and you can glow in the dark.
We’ve spoken about such things as contemplation and meditation. End your time with God with celebration. “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God concerning you.” What you want to do is you want to lay hold now of the Scripture. You determine today that you are going to live for God. By the way, I usually do this before I hop out of bed in the morning. As soon as I wake up I say, “Today, God, I give you my day. God, I give you myself. Everything that pertains to me today, God, is yours.” You want to lay everything before God before the day begins, because after it begins it may be too late. And so you go through that time of celebration, a time of thanksgiving to God, a time of affirming what you have learned in the Scriptures.
You see, what will happen is now suddenly your soul is going to be filled with God’s Word, and what is going to happen is God’s Word is going to take all of those other thoughts that you’ve been trying to get rid of for the last ten years and squeeze them out until you begin to meditate in the Law of God during the day and during the night. Oh, for some of you, it’s going to be a tremendous struggle. The Devil is going to say, “Finally they’re on to it. Let’s get ‘em.” You’ll miss one day and you’ll say, “Well, I missed one day. Why bother?” No, I don’t care how many days you miss, you do it again and again and again and again and again and again. I don’t have to say that again, do I? (chuckles and laughter)
How powerful is the Word of God? My wife and I have a friend whose name is Tom. About 25 years ago we got to know him, and his wife had a severe form of cancer. I say severe because it always is severe, but her pain was excruciating, and she died at home. And I remember as we counseled him during this period of time he seemed to be so accepting of it. His wife seemed to be so accepting of it. And one day I said to him, “Tom, how do you do this? Aren’t you angry with God? Aren’t you filled with fear? Aren’t you filled with apprehension?” You know, “What’s going on?” He said, “No, I read the Bible to my wife chapter after chapter.” And then he said, “We bought the New Testament on records.” Those were in the days before cassettes even. He said, “We bought the New Testament on record and,” he said, “we played these in our home hour by hour, and the Word of God squeezed out the fear and the bitterness and the anger.”
That’s the transforming power. That’s meditating in the law of God during the day and during the night. “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that will bring forth its fruit.” And God says today to you and to me, “Are you willing for the good of your soul to discipline yourself?” The discipline of meditation!
How powerful is God’s Word? I want you to know that I have more confidence in God’s Word than I have in human arguments. I have taught apologetics based on philosophy, arguing for the Christian faith, but at the end of the day it doesn’t convince atheists. One day I met an atheist right over here at Mitchell’s, and we had a wonderful conversation. You know if I’d have said to him, “You realize, of course, that atheism doesn’t make sense…” And it doesn’t. It can’t account for human life. It most assuredly can’t account for the human soul, but then out of atheism no morality whatever can arise. You know, the reason atheists are moral is not because they are atheists. They are created in God’s image, and therefore out of atheism you can prove logically and rationally no morality whatever can arise. Atheism is hopelessly—hopelessly—bankrupt intellectually, not to mention the other ways.
Now, if I had said all of that to him, do you think he would have said, “Oh really? I hadn’t thought of that before.” (laughter) “I believe, I believe, I believe. Today I’m going to get saved.” Of course not! Convince a person against his will, and he’ll be of the same opinion still. The issue isn’t atheism. The issue is a dark heart that is determined not to believe.
So what did I do? What should you do if you are here today as a skeptic? What should you tell your skeptic friends? Well, I’ll tell you what I told him. I said, “You know, in light of the fact that this is a rather important issue, are you willing to have a 21-day experiment? A 21-day experiment! Well, of course, he said, “Well, what does it involve?” That was a good question. I said, “What I want you to do is to take John’s Gospel in the New Testament—it’s 21 chapters, and I want you to read a chapter a day. And before you read it just simply say, “God, I don’t believe You are there. I don’t believe in You, but if You are real, show me. Show me who Jesus is.”
You know something? Most atheists don’t take that challenge and I’ll tell you why. There’s something within them that says, “If I get that close to Jesus I might end up believing.” But you know, for those who do, there’s a transformation. They begin to say, “I became intrigued with this man. Who in the world speaks like this person speaks? Who is this person called Jesus who can say these astounding things, who can make these unbelievable claims of deity and power? Wow!”
And what happens is the Word of God begins to grow in their souls and they can’t get away from it until they say, “Who is the Savior of the world?” and “I believe.” It’s the power, the transforming power of God.
The Bible says, “By his own Word he begat us through the Word of Truth.” And some of us think we can live day after day after day with no input from that which God has chosen to bless, and that which God uses to transform us from the inside out.
“On his Law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water that brings forth his fruit in his season. His leaf also shall not wither. Whatsoever he does prospers. But as for the wicked they are not so. They are like the chaff which the wind drives away.” And that’s the difference between those who meditate on the Law of God and those who don’t.
“Above all things (this is the NIV translation) guard your heart, for out of it is the wellspring of life.” Blessed are those who fill their minds with God’s most Holy Word.
Our Father, today we pray that You will give us the grace and the strength to guard our souls, to fill our souls with that which is right and pure and good. We pray that there may be a transformation among all who have listened to this message because from now on daily, consistently, in good times and in bad, may all of us meditate in Your Law, and therefore receive the promises that You give to those who do. Teach us, oh Lord, because for many this is a whole new experience. Amidst all of the opposition, amidst all of the difficulties, we pray, God, make us faithful in that which is most transforming. We ask this in Jesus’ blessed name, Amen.