In week 1, we practiced a ‘Re-centring Prayer’, which is an exercise in settling down with God and preparing the way for prayer. This week we want to build on that preparedness by beginning to fill our minds with God and his truth. Our most direct pathway to doing this is via the Scriptures. God has reliably and faithfully revealed himself to us in the bible so we dare not ignore that opportunity. Because the scriptures declare the character of God and the works of God, the more we read, re-read and absorb the scriptures, the richer our grasp of God. So many of the apostles’ prayers recorded in the New Testament letters reflect that richness:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:3-6)
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. (1 Peter 1:3-4)
If we are to fill our minds in this way then we are not mentally passive. Christian meditation calls on us to actively exert our mental energy. This is nowhere better stated than in Philippians 4:8–
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
So there are some things that are to be the targets of our mental aim. It isn’t enough merely to acknowledge that things and ideas of moral and mental excellence are important. Merely affirming such truths and virtues will not change us. We must energetically reckon, take into account, and give deliberative weight to these things. Our minds must be captivated by them in such a way that the fanciful fluff of the world loses its appeal.
Christian Meditation may also be used by reflecting on God’s character and person as has he reveals it in nature.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. Ps 19: 1-2
Jonathan Edwards describes the impact of one particular encounter with the power and wonder of creation:
“And as I walking there [in his father’s pasture], and looked up on the sky and clouds; there came into my mind, a sweet sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, that I know not how to express. . . . The appearance of everything was altered: there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost everything. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon, for a long time; and so in the day time, spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things: in the mean time, singing forth with a low voice, my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer. And scarce any thing, among all the works of nature, was so sweet to me as thunder and lightning. Formerly, nothing had been so terrible to me. I used to be a person uncommonly terrified with thunder: and it used to strike me with terror, when I saw a thunder-storm rising. But now, on the contrary, it rejoiced me. I felt God at the first appearance of a thunder-storm. And used to take the opportunity at such times to fix myself to view the clouds, and see the lightnings play, and hear the majestic and awful voice of God’s thunder: which often times was exceeding entertaining, leading me to sweet contemplations of my great and glorious God. And while I viewed, used to spend my time, as it always seemed natural to me, to sing or chant forth my meditations; to speak my thoughts in soliloquies, and speak with a singing voice” (Extractions from his Private Diary, 27-28).
So there is much that we might intentionally call to mind — and fill our minds with– such that we are strengthened and enriched. This is meditation. This is another form of prayer, particularly helpful for times of solitary prayer.