I’m discovering that meditation is the most powerful way to hear God. Actually, “powerful” isn’t a strong enough word. Meditation may be the most profound, deep, life-changing, heart-enriching way to hear God I’ve ever experienced.
But there is a problem. I picture meditation—maybe you do too— as something kind of weird. It’s someone dressed in leotards, sitting in an awkward position, humming nonsensical syllables, emptying the mind, and thinking of “one hand clapping.” It’s the mystic monk escaping the world. It seems totally disconnected from real life.
But everyone is a meditation expert. We meditate all the time. We don’t know it because we call it something else, and we slip into it accidentally.
Transforming our everyday meditations into prayerful imagination will change your life.
A few weeks ago, I wearily dragged myself home from a retreat. Exhausted. The retreat was terrific, but I had slept abysmally and felt utterly spent. Empty. Pathetically useless.
I despise that feeling of uselessness: I want to accomplish something, to make a contribution, to feel I did my part. I didn’t feel completely worthless, but I somehow sensed the sorrow of barrenness.
This morning I read the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. More than ever, I sympathized with Peter. His reaction seemed honest. Think of your best friends. If you could choose between washing their feet and letting them wash your feet, which would you prefer?
I would choose washing the feet of my friends ten times out of ten. A thousand out of a thousand. It’s not that my feet are especially disgusting (I do bath occasionally); it’s just that I can’t stand the idea of my friend bending before me and doing something so menial for me.
Ask me to climb Mt. Everest or to steal the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West. Some great deed. Even washing their feet would be tolerable; just don’t let them wash my feet. That would be unbearable. Far worse to let Jesus wash my feet. Let me wash his.
I would far rather be helpful to God than be helped by him.
Four weeks ago, I dropped my Smartphone. The screen cracked, and with it, my heart. For the first time in eighteen years, I walked this earth without my constant companion.
I’ve had a Personal Digital Assistant since my first Palm Pilot. I loved it. I called it my PDA. I didn’t mean Public Display of Affection, though the way I waxed lyrical led friends to believe I was in love. It supplanted my long friendship with Day-Timer.
It organized contacts, to-do lists, and schedules. It played MP3s, electronic books, and Bible software. In 2003, when Palm integrated my PDA with a phone, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
I felt great affection for my lovely new assistant, Ms. Smartphone. We were inseparable.
Then, in a heart-stopping crash, she died. I felt alone and confused. Her absence was too unsettling, her death too tragic. I realized something was terribly wrong. So I decided to extend my mourning. For the past four weeks, I’ve lived back in the dark ages. Without a PDA or Smartphone. Not even a Day-Timer.
I publicly apologize for my three missed lunch appointments, all the commitments I neglected, and the texts and calls I failed to return.
My personal assistant was cracked.
My twelve year old self had a violent temper. My fuse was short, and my blasts of anger detonated at insults as unexpectedly as bursts of laughter explode at well-timed jokes. Without the mutually pleasant consequences.
I remember once chasing my older brother Andy around the house with a knife. I don’t remember what he had done (probably something HEINOUS), but I do remember him chuckling as he easily evaded my thrusts. His laughter did nothing to calm my storm.
I hated my uncontrollable anger, and I memorized over fifty verses about the angry man:
- A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
- A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
- Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty.
- But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.
When I felt an outburst rising, I tried to calm myself by repeating those memorized verses. It even worked a few times, but not for long. I soon boiled over again.
When I was thirteen, a friend offered to pray for anything I wanted. I asked him to pray for my temper. Six months later, he asked how I was doing, and I realized I hadn’t once lost my temper since his prayer. I hadn’t even had to fight it. My explosive temper had been defused.
It was a miracle.
Since then, I’ve asked God to take away other bad habits, and he’s never acted again so instantly. He usually works slower, a little less dramatically, and (it seems) less miraculously.
I like hero movies. My grandsons love them. Hollywood adores them.
In the last decade, about sixty superhero movies have been released, roughly one every eight weeks: Spider-man, Iron Man, Batman, X-Men, Thor, etc. Not to mention their sequels. (Forget that I mentioned them.)
I probably love normal hero movies even more, the ordinary civilian with a boatload of ordinary problems, facing unbeatable odds. Their stories stir something in me, a desire to go down swinging or to throw myself on a grenade. I see myself sacrificing everything for a greater cause, living a life of significance, having a life that matters.
But I wonder, sometimes, if hero movies insidiously stir the wrong thing. I once asked a hugely successful pastor for the key to his success. He said he just wants to be like his hero Jesus, and then he quoted St. Augustine,
Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.
Three years later he was exhausted, disillusioned, frustrated, and embittered. He dropped out of all service, divorced his wife, and—the last I heard—he was installing Invisible Fencing. He was a Super-Saint Burnout.
He had said he wanted to be like his hero Jesus, but he later admitted he just wanted to be a hero himself.
I often wonder if the greatest problem facing the modern world is the loss of wonder.
When we were kids, every day brought awe and wonder.
- Our first trip to the zoo thrilled us with the marvelous, long-necked giraffe, the barrel-shaped hippopotamus (even the name hippopotamus was enchanting), and the shuffling, tuxedo-clad penguin.
- Our first treehouse (make of cast-off two by fours and a shipping pallet) filled us with delight.
- Our first bike trip around the block without a parent was an unparalleled adventure.
As teenagers, we grew jaded. We’d already been to the zoo. “Big deal!” We’d already taken our bike on a weekend camping trip. “Who cares!”
We’ve lost our wonder.
The clouds peal with thunder, that the house of God will be established throughout the world; and yet these frogs sit in their marsh and croak, “We are the only true Christians.” (Augustine)
Like silly past fashions, many stupid, past actions of Christians are embarrassing for us today:
- The marginalization of women
- The coercion of the crusades
- The ill treatment of Galileo, Joan of Arc, John Wycliffe, and more
- The hysteria (and brutality) of the Salem witch trials
- The dehumanization and cruelty of the slave trade
If we examine our own personal Christian histories honestly, we will also find embarrassing excesses in some of the mistakes of our own spiritual influences.
As a kid, I was involved with Basic Youth Conflicts (now its leader has resigned amidst scandal). I was involved in the early Charismatic renewal (but now many of its leaders are obsessed with the spectacular over the gospel). I was involved in an excellent, influential Christian community (but many accused us of being elitist).
Hundreds of Christian movements have helped millions of believers. Yet many—maybe even most—of these movements grew imbalanced over time, exuding a sense of elitism, a touch of arrogance, a croaking, “We are the only true Christians.”
Do you love the Christian movement (or circles) that you are now involved in? How do we protect them from becoming just another embarrassing haircut from our yearbooks?