Meditation

Meditation is not neutral word in today’s culture. A Google search of the word yields websites promising practical tips, eastern religious origins, and local venues to begin practicing. Where I live, at least six different places provide opportunities for meditation. One claims to be Christian, another Buddhist, while another a new-age self-help hypnosis center. Clearly meditation is anything but nonpartisan.

So how does meditation relate to the Christian life? If the concept seems so tainted, why not abandon it to the culture? Though the idea of meditation has more definitions than a Texas oil man has Cadillacs, the properly Christian practice of meditation has an historical pedigree worth exploring. Over the next few posts, its my desire to highlight this oft-misunderstood practice as it relates to the Christian life. A Google search won’t help us here. For this we’ll need to dive deep into the ocean of Christian literature to discover how Christians through the centuries have promoted the necessity of meditation. You may be surprised at how many Christians wrote about, preached about, and practiced meditation in a properly Christian sense.

Reflecting on meditation and Johnathan Edwards, Kyle Strobel notes:

Meditation is necessary because Christianity demands more than just abstract knowledge; it entails affectionate knowledge. Edwards wove these ideas together around the idea of beauty, so that our spiritual life progressed through a clearer and clearer vision of divine things. The Spirit illumines the real world to us, so that the false world of the flesh, sin, and death fade away. Meditation is attending deeply to God’s truth, purposes and revelation, so that the lies of the world are seen as lies, and so the truth of God can pervade every aspect of our lives. (Formed for the Glory of God, 115)

There is a beautiful necessity in the practice of meditation for the Christian. I hope that over the next few posts, you’ll come to understand what it means for a Christian to meditate, why we should, and how generations of Christians before us understood the practice of meditation.

ReligionFruits

Kyle Strobel, professor of theology at Grand Canyon University, has provided readers with a helpful “updated, unabridged, and enlightening version of Jonathan Edwards’s Charity and Its Fruits” (back cover). According to Strobel, Charity and its Fruits provides the “best way to get into Edwards’s thought” (331). Strobel helps to illuminate the heart-warming theology of Edwards and provides a marvelous introduction into the theology and practice of arguably one of American Christianity’s greatest minds. For this great mind, the notion of “religion” was not merely a throwaway expression or abstract concept. Regarding Edwards’s use of the word “religion” Strobel states:

“Religion has come to be seen as synonymous with religiosity. This was far from Edwards’s understanding as you can imagine. Edwards frequently uses the word religion as a synonym for virtue, the Christian life, and even, at times, Christ. There was a false religion and there was true religion, to be sure, but religion was not simply defined by things people do; it was understood as the appropriate response to God….The term, for Edwards, denoted our whole posture, life, and devotion to God in christ. In light of this, religion might be closest to what we might today refer to as the Christian life, Christian spirituality, or spiritual formation, assuming those terms are used with distinctively Christian (and Protestant) content. Even moving beyond heaven, we could say that for Edwards, religion is ultimately God’s life. As the Father and the Son love one another infinitely, so believers are brought into that Father-child loving relationship through the Son by the uniting power of the Spirit.” (30)

Is it possible for Christians to reclaim this understanding of the word religion? Why does it matter? I believe we should reclaim this way of understanding religion. Where religious liberties are consistently threatened and New Age spirituality infiltrates much of (Christian) culture, the proper understanding of religion is necessary for forming basic Christian identity. Christians should reclaim and employ the Edwardsian concept of religion. Let’s take a look at just a few ways in which Edwards uses the word “religion.”

  • “The very notion of religion or worship is the creature’s exercise and expression of respect to the Creator. But if there be no true respect or love, then all his religion is but seeming religion, and there is no real religion in it, and therefore it is vain.” (45)
  • “How much such a spirit unfits persons for the duties of religion. All undue anger indisposes us for the pious exercises and the active duties of religion. It puts the soul far from that sweet and excellent frame of spirit in which we most enjoy communion with God, and which makes truth and ordinances most profitable to us” (191)
  • “The sufferings which are in the way of our duty come of the difficulties which attend religion. This is the cost of being religious. He, therefore, that does not comply with this cost never complies with religion to any effect. As a man who wishes his house to be built, but is not willing to comply with the cost of building, does in effect refuse to build. He who does not receive the gospel with its difficulties does not receive it as it is offered. They who do not receive Christ with his cross as well as crown do not truly receive him.” (230)

Edwards’s use of religion distinguishes between true and false religion, much in the same way Jesus did in the gospels. This is religion which has as its ground in the love of God in Christ. True love, or charity, produces fruits which are pleasing to God, edifying to man, and formative for the individual. This religion is infused with the understanding of “the most perfect and excellent instance of humility that ever was”—namely Christ. Edwards states, “The gospel leads us to Christ, as an humble person. Christ is one who is God-man, and so has not only condescension which is a divine perfection, but also humility which is creaturely excellence” (156). He goes on to say, “The gospel yet further tends to lead us to humble exercises of love as it leads us to love Christ as one that was crucified for our sins. Christ’s being crucified is a great argument for the humility of us who are his followers; but his being crucified for our sins is a much further argument for it” (157). The essence of true religion is identification with the crucified and risen Christ and the fruits which it produces in the life of a believer by faith. This is religion. This is the virtuous life of following Christ, displaying the humility of Christ in the pursuit of being like him.

Should we recover this meaning of religion? I think we must. We should want to let people know that we are religious, and in fact, hold to true religion. Religion implies obligation and submission, which are two postures inherent in Christian faith and living. Religion, as Edwards envisions it, is nothing but the highest life of virtue—the pursuit of Christ-likeness. It is the life of love fully lived. While the Spirit endears our hearts to true fruit which is pleasing to God, He brings about a change which allows us to pursue that which is most worthy to pursue. This is how Edwards conceives of religion, and perhaps its time we recovered this understanding in our own faith and practice.

FruitfulLife

Fruitfulness involves obedience but obedience to Christ is so much more than just following rules—its about living a fruitful, satisfying, God-glorifying life through abiding in Christ. Jesus shares this vision with his disciples in John 15:10-17. When I was in high school, I thought my mom was trying to ruin my life. For a brief moment of time as a teenager, I really want to be involved in a street racing club. What could be cooler than taking a 120 hp Honda Civic and making it look like some kind of shark with four wheels and showing it off amongst other suburbanite teens? My mom put her foot down and (lovingly) forbid me to participate in this culture. Plus at that time, I drove a hand-me-down minivan. Who was I kidding? Of course I thought she was doing all this to spite me and keep me from my dreams. But ultimately her commands were out of love for me and ultimately for my greater joy. I was settling for a mud-pie of fun, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, thinking that this temporary satisfaction would lead to ultimate joy. In the end, my mother was right; those guys were sketchy and a horrible influence. Nothing good came from that and I have my mom to thank for stopping me from getting involved in something which would hurt rather than help me.

God gives us commands to follow not out of spite but out of love. He alone is good, he alone knows whats best, and he alone his wise. He knows what’s best for us! Even though we might not see the outcome or why he is asking us to obey him, we must trust that he has our best interest in mind and ultimately cares for us in a way that we can’t possibly begin to imagine. This is why he gives his people commands to follow. And willful obedience to his commands demonstrates that we are abiding in Christ and his love in us. Jesus shows that a sign of our abiding relationship with him is that we would desire to follow his commandments. Our obedience displays our love to him. This is the same way with earthly parents. When you obey and follow them, it demonstrates that you have love and respect and honor them. This kind of obedience is not a “have-to” kind of obedience. This is a “want-to” obedience. If you are abiding in Christ, if your mind, will and affections are centered on Christ then everything in you desires to obey his word, to live in accordance with Scripture, to be Christ-like in all you do, and when you fail you desire to come back to him and allow him to embrace you and set you back on the path of obedience. This is a loving obedience that gives your life purpose and brings about a fruitful life.

Jesus even tells us why he has commanded these things. Verse 11 says that its all about joy. Do you have true joy this morning? I’m not talking about just smiling and telling everyone you are fine. I’m talking about a restful assurance that knows that you belong to Jesus Christ and the joy that produces in your life and spills out over into everything you do. God doesn’t give us commands to follow not out of guilt or reluctance; he gives us these so that we would have maximum joy. This is another of the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5. Jesus wants to have people who have an infectious joy for life and people. This is the kind of joy that makes other people see that there is something different about you. This is a joy that remains even if life gets hard. This doesn’t mean you are fake-happy all the time, but this is an attitude that shows others no matter what, you have a greater joy than this world can ever offer you. This is why Jesus gives us these loving commands and this is what he’s looking for in those who abide in him. We see here another reason for Jesus giving us commands: love. This is the greatest fruit among all other according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

Jesus calls us to love each other as he has loved us. How has Jesus loved us? The greatest love is to give yourself up on behalf of others. Jesus did this through his obedience to the Father to the point of death on a cross. Paul gives a beautiful description of this in Philippians 2. He says that Jesus counted equality with God as nothing, taking the form of a servant, and being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Our mindset towards one another is to be one of self sacrifice. Giving up ourselves to one another demonstrates an intimate connection to the living vine of Christ as you mirror his acts and life. If we are abiding in Jesus, if we have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, then he calls us our friends. And as a friend, we too receive the benefit of his laying his life down for us. This is the ultimate act of love. Though none of us deserve it, Jesus laid his life down for us so we might have eternal life and friendship with God. This is the essence of justification. We are made right with God because Jesus took the punishment for our sin that we rightly deserve and God transfers the holiness of Christ to us when we believe in him by faith and we are made friends with God. If you have not trusted in Christ by faith, you are not a friend of God and the righteous judgment of God against sin remains on you. Only the righteousness of Christ can make you right with God, and proclaiming faith in Christ that righteousness can be yours today. Only in an abiding relationship with Christ—a relationship wherein you are connected to Christ as the true vine and he is your most greatest treasure and joy—will produce fruit which is pleasing to him and glorifying to God.

Here we see that its God who chooses us to do this task for his glory. His disciples ultimately had nothing to offer Jesus. Though these men did great things for God, there was nothing which God needed that they could offer. Jesus chose them. God chose these men not because of their ability but because of his grace and desire to see them bear fruit. They had nothing to offer God; God had everything to offer them. I know many families who have been adopted children and I have friends who have been adopted. You see, adoption isn’t based on what the child can offer the parent. Adoption is based on what the parent can offer to the child. The parents chose the child in order that the child may be loved and cared for and that the child would grow and become a fruitful person. Parents adopt children because they want to love them and bring them into their family. They choose them. This is how God chooses us. Out of his love and joy he chooses us to come into his family so that we might grow in his love and become fruitful people who ultimately display his glory. The Scriptures say that when we come to Jesus in faith, declaring him to be Lord and asking him to forgive us of sin, that we become adopted children in the kingdom of God. The miracle of faith, according to Scripture, is that it shows that we are chosen by God. And once we realize that we are chosen, that we have been adopted, we are free to experience the love and joy that God has to offer and we are invited into the fruitful life of abiding in Christ.

Out of joy and thankfulness for choosing us, we desire to obey our heavenly father and seek after holy fruit that will grow and display the lovingkindness of our adoptive Father. Only those who abide in Christ will bear fruit for Christ. God desires to see his people be fruitful. An abiding relationship with Jesus Christ, clinging to the true vine, will produce fruit which is pleasing to him. God chooses us out of his love so that we may choose to bear fruit for him.