Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. (Anglican Book of Prayer 1549)
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psalm 119:97)
Brooding may sound like a strange title for a message on praying and I must admit that I was puzzled by the word. But as we seek to develop a relationship with God, with our friend and companion on this hike through life, Packer wants to encourage us to consider what he calls brooding prayer. As much as Packer wants to focus us on who-to in our praying, he recognizes that there will always be a need to mention some of the how-tos.
What he calls Christian brooding could also be called meditating. But he wants us to understand that what he is thinking of when he uses the word meditation is not an exercise similar to Eastern or New Age religion. Brooding or meditating is a spiritual discipline that is intended to ripen, stabilize and strengthen our renewed and renewing hearts. He sees it as a vital, energizing element in our communion with God. It is about directing our thinking and bringing discipline to our living and our praying.
So often the term brooding can have a negative connotation. But Packer wants us to focus on the positive side of brooding. Self-indulgent forms of brooding can lead to moodiness and be destructive to us. But he wants us to see brooding in a new light, as an activity that can help us control our random thoughts and help us to focus our thoughts in a clear, orderly, vivid and nourishing way. He wants us to really reclaim the word meditation and use it in the most constructive way possible. But to keep us from letting ourselves get distracted and take a by-path, he chooses to use the word brooding.
So what is the nature of this Christian brooding or meditating? First it is to be described as thinking in God’s presence, thinking before the Lord, thinking about the Lord and our life in his world, by his grace and under his sway. He then brings to mind the picture of a cow chewing its cud. Cows don’t eat their food once but more than once. In a somewhat similar way, Packer says we are to chew over the lessons we learn from God’s word and so gain a depth of wisdom, motivation in our life and nourishment. We may even speak out loud in our meditating but it is not a sign that we are crazy.
Now for some rules to help direct us in Christian brooding or meditation. The first rule is: meditate on God with God. Remember that we are coming to God as a friend and seeking to speak with God. So we come with a humble spirit to show our love for God. The second rule is: meditate on the word in the Word. Remember that we can learn much from meditating on the words contained in passages of Scripture. As we do so, we will be looking to God for help, guidance and direction as we seek to discover his mind and will and then seek to have our lives affected by what we learn. The third rule is: Don’t get discouraged by the unevenness of your focus. God is a patient listener and teacher. When you find your thoughts wandering, gently bring yourself back to the subject or word or words that you have chosen for your time of brooding or meditating.
Another term you may have heard for what we are talking about is contemplation or contemplative prayer. Whether we choose to talk about meditation, brooding or contemplation, we need to be thinking about our relationship to God, thinking about God’s purposes, God’s greatness, achievements and blessings. And then what it means to respond to God. Thinking in the presence of God becomes talking to the Lord directly, and talking to God leads back to further thinking in his presence. When this discipline becomes a habit for our inner being, we will find God inhabiting both our hearts and our minds, enabling us to truly think and feel and move in a sustained attitude of prayer.
And so we are encouraged to meditate on God’s Word. The practice of meditating on the word of God is as old as the earliest times of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament. Every leader of the people was encouraged to meditate on the law of God both day and night and so find and keep direction in life. To help us use the Bible more effectively in our meditation, Packer suggest seven images for us to consider: 1) we need to see the Bible as a library of different books written in different times; 2) explore the Bible as a landscape of human life; 3) read it as a letter written by God for you; 4) value the Bible as your listening post listening for the Spirit of God; 5) explore the law of God not in a legalistic sense but as instructions given by a loving friend; 6) think of the Bible as your light in the darkness of life; and 7) cling to it as a lifeline taking note of the assurances God gives to people as you read the Scriptures. We are also encouraged to meditate on the works of God. We are to read the ways in which God has been actively involved in the lives of people in the past and so begin to see where God is actively involved in our lives. We can meditate on the promises of God, on the grace God has shown us, on the forgiveness we have received and the hope that Christ’s victory over sin and death has given us.
And so we have come to learn that as Christians it is a good thing to be brooding or meditating or contemplating our life with God. We have also come to understand that God has ever encouraged people to meditate or to brood or to contemplate and that it is a way of connecting with God and coming to a deeper understanding of his words and his intentions for us and for the world. But is there one right way to meditate?
Well let’s be clear about one thing, meditation is not an end in itself; it is to be seen as a prelude to prayer. Meditation allows us to put ourselves in a place where we can be more open to developing a relationship with God that leads to a who-to in praying. So how do people meditate?
All I can do today is to briefly outline some techniques. You can follow the practice of Benedict called Lectio Divina in which a single passage or part of a passage is meditated on. A second technique is to take one of the Gospel narratives and imagine you in the scene as an observer. A third technique is to focus on a theme or a topic. A fourth path is to pray a prayer from the Bible. You can take the prayer itself and then begin to see yourself or someone else in the prayer and then meditate on that.
Have we found ourselves spiritually anorexic, half-starved in our relationship with God or our growth in Christ seeming to be stunted or have we found difficulty moving ahead in our faith? Perhaps one of the great drawbacks of our Protestant approach to God and faith is that we tend to live our faith on the surface and may have allowed ourselves to be more concerned with rules than with the spirit. Bringing back into the practice of our faith the freedom to embrace meditation will do much to encourage us to grow in faith and will allow us to explore a depth of relationship with God on a more personal note than perhaps we have allowed ourselves to explore.
As I close this today, remember that our faith is to be more than a matter of external observance, that is to become a matter of internal life, a life lived in and with the One who calls us his children, the friend we are to come to know more intimately – the Lord!