A One-Verse Blueprint for Meditation: Part II

Two weeks ago, we began looking at Philippians 4:8. In one verse, the Apostle Paul gives us seven tests through which to put our thoughts. Last week we looked at four of them:

1.   “Whatsoever things are true…”
2.   “Whatsoever things are honest…”
3.   “Whatsoever things are just…”
4.   “Whatsoever things are pure…”

Even with only those four qualifications, we can significantly narrow down the field of acceptable subjects on which we should meditate. There are many things in the world about us that are true, but are they honest? Have all the facts been presented justly? More importantly, is this a topic which is pure and should be the focus of large amounts of our thoughts and our time?

In this culture in which we live, there is no way that we can possibly avoid everything that would perhaps give offense to us or violate the terms of this list. However, while we may not be able to keep ourselves from incidental, momentary exposure to such things, it is a huge leap from admitting this to stating that we cannot possibly control our thoughts. If you cannot control your thoughts, as a pastor I know used to say, then someone needs to lock you in a padded room and take your shoelaces and any sharp objects away from you! In fact, we can control our thoughts, and we can choose on what subjects we will think (or meditate, if you will). Here in this verse Paul gives us a blueprint…a one-verse blueprint for meditation.

We’ve examined the first four qualities in detail. Now we turn to the latter half of the verse, and see three more characteristics of the things on which we should think:

5.   “Whatsoever things are lovely…”

The word “beautiful” is often used in today’s culture, and so is “appealing,” but “lovely” has been trivialized, it would seem. This is a pity, because this word denotes much more than an external beauty, although that is certainly included. “Lovely” also carries the idea of a “beauty that appeals to the heart or mind, as well as the eye; [something that is] charmingly or exquisitely beautiful; of a great spiritual or moral beauty…” The Old English root from which this word derives is luffic, which means “amiable.” Perhaps this is how the custom of describing an amiable person as possessed of a “lovely” temperament. How much meaning can be wrapped up in a single word! How instructive to the man seeking to order his thoughts according to the template for meditation! Whatsoever things are possessed of a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind, as well as the eye, of great spiritual and moral value, toward these subjects ought our thoughts to tend! How often do our thoughts (I include myself) tend in exactly the opposite direction? This is powerful; it is revolutionary for our thinking.

6.   “Whatsoever things are of good report…”

Ah, this qualification changes the dynamic in a new and powerful way. Previous requirements state truth, honesty, and justice as tests through which our thoughts should pass; but, here is “of good report” standing behind them to halt still more traffic, as it were. An even better picture is of stringent standards in a quality assurance lab at a manufacturing plant. If a product doesn’t meet all of the requirements, it doesn’t make it out to the consumer. Is it true? Is it honest? Is it just? Is it pure and lovely? Yes? Good…but now, is it of good report? The word translated as good report is the Greek word euphemos, from which we derive our English word, euphemism.  This word also carries the idea of something that is well-spoken of, and therefore reputable.  To break it down still further, the prefix eu-, to speak or speaking, is attached to a derivative of pheme, (fay-may–from whence we get the English word “fame”), a saying, or a rumor. So this means to think on those things which are well-spoken of.

Why would it be necessary to include an instruction to think on things of good report in this list? Let’s pause for a moment to evaluate this. Does this just mean that we should only speak of those things that are “happy ,” or “positive?” To adopt such a position may seem logical at first, but in fact an examination of other verses from the Paul’s writings will show us that truth is the preeminent concern.

“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;” (Ephesians 4:14)

Two quick thoughts here. One, I’m breaking into the middle of a paragraph, so I beg your indulgence there. Paul is speaking of the goal of unifying and perfecting the body of believers, and states that this is one of the end results of the maturing process through which that goal will be accomplished. Two, notice the ways in which men seek to use words to lead others astray. This passage is rich in parallels to be drawn, but we’ll continue to the next verse, which illustrates the importance of truth:

“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:” (4:15)

There is power here. Paul tells the Ephesians, and by extension us, that our words should be truthful and loving. In other words, we should be willing to say those things that may be hard to hear because they are necessary, but we should always do so out of a heart that desires the best for the other person. With how much grief and strife and hateful speech would following this simple command do away? Furthermore, how much gossip, slander, and backbiting would vanish overnight if we simply followed this blueprint?

Just a few verses later, Paul clarifies,

“Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor…” (Ephesians 4:25)

If I obey the command of Christ to love my neighbor as myself, this will follow as a natural result of that obedience, because I desire that people be truthful in their dealings with me. Even so, telling the truth can be painful at times, and Paul urges us to remember to speak the truth, but to do so lovingly.

There are many other verses in the writings of Paul that speak of the preeminence of truth, and this is a word-study to which we shall perhaps return in future. For now, let us return to our text, Philippians 4.

Paul wraps up this incredible list of qualifications for our thoughts with two more tests, stated almost as one:

“…if there be any virtue…” “…and if there be any praise…”

Virtue: Moral excellence; goodness; righteousness. Conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles. Uprightness. These are high standards to which to hold one’s thoughts! Indeed, as I have learned, it is impossible for a man to do this, and it is only by dependence on Christ in me that I can claim the victory and live in obedience to these principles.

Praise: extolling (by others) of the worth of one’s actions or character, the act of giving due credit to someone for a worthy action or virtue of character. These are things on which I should think, according to this verse.

Paul ends this verse with the simplest of commands:

“…think on these things.” <—— This is the emphasis I have often seen and heard put on this last phrase (and there is no doubt that such emphasis is proper), but stop for a moment and consider ——> “….think on these things.” Paul is not just recommending a five-minute session of thinking on such things–in the morning as you drink your coffee, perhaps. No, Paul is advocating a fundamental transformation of your thought life to include only those things that pass these tests. He’s talking about a consistent pattern of thoughtful, intensive contemplation on these subjects that will revolutionize your thinking, your speech, and your way of life. The truth here is powerful, for those who will believe and accept it.

There is much here to ponder. It is indeed

Something to think about,

David

The Southern Voice Writer

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A One-Verse Blueprint for Meditation: Part I

Regular visitors to this blog can tell you that the guiding principle behind everything I write is the non-negotiable fact that the Bible is true from beginning to end. While I understand that many do not agree with me, this is the position from which I write.

Our ongoing series, A Refreshing Pause, deals with meditation and has been based since the first post on Biblical principles, which I have sought to draw out of various passages contained in the Scriptures. For some time now, I have hinted at an upcoming post dealing with the content of meditation, but put it off until completion of the posts dealing with specific examples of those who learned the power of a pause to think and rest.

Recent events, however, have caused me to change my plan and revisit this matter of content. Just a little over a month ago, the Newtown, Connecticut shooting rocked the nation as another man with a gun burst in on helpless children and school employees, killing 26 before taking his own life. There are hundreds of articles on the Net concerning the man’s mental state, etc., so I will not revisit that here. What I would like to point out is the fact that many–if not all–of the reports state that he spent hours in front of a television screen playing exceedingly violent video games. While this cannot be cited as the only cause of what he did, I propound that it most likely contributed.

I mentioned in an earlier post that my definition of meditation was not the transcendental, “clear-your-mind-of-conscious-thought” variety espoused by so many Eastern religions. I most definitely believe that there are certain things one should think about while meditating. However (and I shall prove this point in this post), that does not mean there are not things that should be purged from our minds as we meditate. By necessity, the things about which one thinks mandate that there are other things about which one should not think.

Nearly two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Philippi. As with his other epistles, the letter contains a variety of information, advice, and sound doctrine to encourage the church to stand fast in the good work begun. Even a casual reading will reveal “rejoicing,” to be the key theme of the book. A concurrent theme is “pressing toward the mark.” So Paul is encouraging these believers to rejoice, stand firm, and press forward.

In the midst of the fourth chapter, Paul includes a verse that holds an important truth for us in our current study. In verse 8 of chapter 4, Paul writes:

 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (1)

Paul lays it out in plain and simple language: here’s the types of things that should dominate your thinking.

“…whatsoever things are true…” There are so many things this condition rules out. Gossip, slander, backbiting, libel, fallacious reports circulated as truth, lying, shading the truth…all these things are to be purged from our thinking.

Imagine how much pain and suffering would be avoided if people really grasped the importance of sticking with just the truth, just the facts, in their daily conversations. What a difference it would make!

Paul’s list continues:

“…whatsoever things are honest…” Ok, so he just mentioned truth…why throw honesty in there as well? A good definition of honest is as follows:

honorable in principles, intentions, and actions; upright and fair: an honest person. Showing uprightness and fairness: honest dealings. Gained or obtained fairly: honest wealth. S

incere; frank: an honest face. G
enuine or unadulterated: honest commodities. (2)

This definition shows us that there is a lot more to honesty than we might at first think. Even the first sentence, “honorable in principles, intentions, and actions…” can help us narrow down significantly the scope of  things to ponder.

Paul’s list goes on.

“..whatsoever things are just…” To be just is to be guided by truth, reason, principle and fairness; or, in keeping with truth or fact: that is, true or correct. So, not only are we to evaluate our thoughts based on truth and honor, but now factual reality is brought into the equation!

Wow…that’s a lot to think about, isn’t it?

Paul’s list goes on, but we’ll hold off on further enumeration until next time. Here’s a challenge for you: for the next two weeks, strive to consciously evaluate your thoughts based on the three principles outlined above. Ask yourself: Is it true? Is it honest–does it pass a smell test for genuineness? Is it just–is this guided by reason, truth, principle and fairness?

I imagine you’ll be surprised at the results.

Something to think about,

David

The Southern Voice Writer

Meditation Is Necessary: What Can We Learn from Joshua?

In the first post of this series, we asked the question, “Is Meditation Necessary?” Through subsequent posts, we have showed several benefits of taking a moment to pause and reflect. But are there any examples of people who suffered adverse consequences because they refused to stop and think? In other words, is meditation necessary, or just a good idea?

History is replete with examples of the painful consequences of neglecting this important discipline, but one of the more amazing accounts takes place in the early days of national Israel’s existence. In the book of Deuteronomy, we read Moses’ farewell charge to the children of Israel as they stand—for the second time—at Kadesh-Barnea on the border of the Promised Land. Having spent forty years in the wilderness because of their refusal to believe God’s promise the first time they arrived at this spot, the people are a little more inclined to obey and believe this time around. However, because of a sin committed in anger, Moses will not be allowed to lead the nation into the Promised Land. Instead, he reminds them of the commandments and statutes of the Lord their God, and transfers the leadership of the host to his protégé, Joshua, the son of Nun.

Joshua was a very unique individual. He had been Moses’ right-hand man for nearly fifty years; he was one of the original twelve spies sent into Canaan; and he was one of only two people over the age of twenty to survive the forty years of wilderness wandering. In spite of this, Joshua was discouraged and probably a bit frightened by being given the responsibility of leading such a large group of people. (Conservative estimates have placed the number of the children of Israel more than a million.)

Knowing that Joshua was struggling, the Lord God of Israel speaks to Joshua, reminding him to be strong, and of a good courage. The words of God to this man comprise the first nine verses of the book that bears his name, and some of the most encouraging promises to believers are to be found here.

“…as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” (v. 5)

“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but that shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” (v. 8, emphasis mine)

“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” (v.9)

The promise in verse 5 must have been especially powerful to Joshua. He had seen firsthand how God had been with Moses, enabling him to lead the discontented, often fractious Israelites through the wilderness for forty years. Throughout this time, God was showing Joshua what He could do with one man who was surrendered to Him.

But now, on the eve of entering the Promised Land, Joshua’s human nature asserted itself, and he seemed to have forgotten how the Lord had blessed the ministry of Moses. He probably felt alone and exposed. The Scripture records that by this point Moses, Aaron, and Miriam had all passed away, together with all of the Israelites that had been over the age of twenty when they first came to Kadesh-Barnea. So Joshua was one of two people of his generation to survive the wilderness.

It is easy, in the midst of discouraging circumstances, to forget the blessings and direction that God has given in the past. It can happen to anyone—indeed, it has often happened to this author. However, God in His mercy knew that Joshua was suffering from temporary amnesia, and came alongside him and offered some encouraging words that reminded him that while Moses was dead, the God Moses had served was not.

Flip ahead several chapters, and Joshua and the people of Israel have seen the Lord work miraculous victories at Jericho and Ai. At Ai, even after suffering a defeat because of unconfessed sin in the camp, Israel had won the victory by dealing with the sin and the sinner. One would think that Joshua would have learned to consult the Lord before going ahead with a plan of action, but verse 9 records a striking relapse on his part.

In chapter 9 we read about the Gibeonites, a sub-group of the Canaanites, who decided to use trickery rather than force to defeat the Israelites. The Gibeonites knew from the events at Jericho and Ai that Joshua and the Israelites would destroy them without mercy, according to the commands of God. So they undertook to deceivers, and the Scriptural account reads like a modern cloak-and-dagger novel. We pick up the Scripture’s wording in verse 3 of chapter 9:

“And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai, They did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors, and took old sacks upon their asses (donkeys), and wine bottles, old, and rent, and bound up; And old shoes and clouted (caked with dried mud) upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and mouldy.” (verses 3-5, parentheses mine)

Wow! These guys were so bent on deceit that they spared no expense, as it were, to ensure that their façade was unblemished. Although it was only a three-day journey from where they were to the Israelite camp, they outfitted themselves with the oldest, roughest equipage available. For all their intensive preparation, the Gibeonites’ plan had one weakness: God was on Joshua’s side, and nothing gets by Him.

Joshua was suspicious at first. Picking up in verse 6:

“And they (the Gibeonites) went to Joshua unto the camp at Gilgal, and said unto him, We be come from a far country: now therefore make ye a league (treaty/alliance) with us. And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites (Gibeonites), Peradventure ye dwell among us; and how shall we make a league with you? And they said unto Joshua, We are thy servants. And Joshua said unto them, Who are ye? and from whence come ye?

“And they said unto him, From a very far country thy servants are come because of the name of the Lord thy God: for we have heard the fame of him, and all that he did in Egypt, And all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites, that were beyond Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, which was at Ashtaroth. Wherefore our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spake to us, saying, Take victuals with you…go to meet them, and say unto them, We are your servants: therefore now make ye a league with us.” (verses 7-11)

To reinforce their shabby accoutrements, they brought the most convincing of wheedling tales about their incredibly long journey, and how these provisions and clothing had been newly purchased especially for this journey. While it was true, perhaps, that these items had been acquired solely for this deception, it was not true that they had been new at the time of purchase. Thus, we see illustrated—yet again—that old aphorism that the most tent lie contains some truth. In accordance with our cloak-and-dagger simile, their cover story was impeccable.

The amazing part of this story is that Joshua disregarded the superior intelligence that was available to him. Verse 14 is the amazing part of this story, because it states that “…the men [of Israel]…asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord.”

Astounding! Joshua had the opportunity to ask the One who knows everything about the wisdom of this agreement, but instead he went ahead and made an alliance with these men.

Imagine his surprise when he discovered, three days later, that the Gibeonites were his neighbors! They had tricked him into believing that they lived months away, when in fact they lived right across the street, as it were. No one likes being taken in, so it is not difficult to place oneself in Joshua’s shoes, nor to imagine his chagrin.

As infuriated as he was by the deceit of the Gibeonites, Joshua honored the pact he had made with them, and refused to kill them. However, he (upon the advice of the princes of Israel) bound them as servants (in the Scripture the terms are “hewers of wood,” and “drawers of water.”) For their deceit, these men earned a lifetime of servitude not only for themselves, but for their entire tribe. The Scripture records succinctly, “And Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the altar of the Lord, even unto this day, in the place which he should choose.” (Joshua 9:27, emphasis mine)

This account is rich in application. A surface examination yields two important truths:

  1. It is better to act with caution and take counsel first, than to act rashly and repent later. Joshua learned this when he took the men’s word at face value and acted upon his feelings. This is always dangerous.
  2. The Gibeonites’ actions demonstrate that succinct declaration by Satan—many years earlier—that is recorded in Job 2:4. “…Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.” These men were so afraid of death that they were willing to go to any lengths—even selling their entire tribe into bondage—to avoid dying at the hands of the Israelites.

As I have said, this account is brimming with lessons for us. Do you see others? What else can we learn from this event?

 

Something to think about,

David

Taking Time to Collect One’s Thoughts: A Lesson from King David’s Life

One of the most amazing things about the modern world is the ability that we have to accomplish tasks in a fraction of the time that it would have taken a hundred, or even fifty years ago. Now more than ever, we have devices innumerable available to us that help us vanquish formidable tasks quickly, pick apart knotty problems rapidly, and travel great distances speedily. The truth is, that there are many advantages and disadvantages to these devices. It is this author’s contention, however, that through undisciplined and unbridled use, the most formidable danger is the destruction of time spent in quiet, reflective thought. Over the past several weeks, we have embarked on a new series exploring the subject of meditative thought, under the title, “A Refreshing Pause.”

The first part of this series tackled the weighty question, “Is Meditation Necessary?” An objective evaluation of almost any walk of life will reveal that those who spend time reflecting on methods, principles, and information pertaining thereto will usually wind up being the more successful pursuers of that vocation, provided they balance time spent thinking with time spent working, of course.

The second post explored the life of Elijah, and how a pause for refreshment (and the supernatural empowerment of God) allowed him to make an incredible, forty-day journey into the wilderness, where he met with God in the holy mountain (most likely Sinai) and received encouragement and reassurance of his calling to God’s prophetic ministry.

Another man who understood the power of a pause to meditate was David, the man who succeeded Saul as king over Israel. Years before he was finally appointed king over the entire nation of Israel, David encountered a grave situation that was most discouraging. Returning from a battle, he discovered that the city where he had been dwelling was burned with fire, and his two wives, the wives of the men under his command, and all the children, had been carried off by the Philistines. Distressed, tired, sore, and–I would imagine–hungry from their efforts and the battles behind them, the men under David’s charge became restless, disgruntled, and mutinous. In fact, Scripture records that they were ready to stone him.

I don’t know about you, but to me, this would be a discouraging and very

stressful situation in which to find oneself. Here is a man who has marched the same distance his men have, fought the same battles, carried the same load, and endured the same hardships. Under such circumstances, I’m pretty sure most people would find it perfectly understandable and natural if the man in charge had a meltdown. At the very least, he should have been shouting at everybody to calm down.

…quite natural if he had had a meltdown…
Photo Credit: everymanawarrior.com

But he didn’t, did he? Immediately after this turbulent account of men growing angry and frustrated, to the point of wanting to stone the man in charge, the Sacred Writ records this antithetically peaceful phrase: “…but David encouraged himself in the Lord.”

Wow. That’s a powerful concept, is it not? Look at this phrase against the larger context of the preceding chapters. David, although not fully right with God at this time in his life, was spiritual enough that–even after heavily contested battles that cost him much time and effort to win–he could take a few moments and meditate on what he knew about the Lord, draw strength from it, and be encouraged and strengthened to the point that he could regain control of his fractious army and rally them around a single cause: overtaking the enemy and reuniting the troubled soldiers with their families. There are several principles that stand out as I meditate on this phrase.

Of immediate evidence is the principle of leading by example. Rather than succumbing to the enormous pressure bearing upon him, David remained calm. The military has given us a phrase that we now use to describe this person in any high-pressure situation: “cool under fire.” Instead of joining in the general melee, running around and screaming at his men to get a hold on themselves, David decided to do the sensible thing and give them an example of a calm, controlled person. While this should be the goal of anyone, it is vital for successful leadership in any organization.

…remaining cool during stressful situations is almost guaranteed to infuse your followers with confidence…

Another readily evident benefit of remaining calm is that it immediately requires you to do the most important thing: stop and think. Being a lover of the outdoors, I have read and heard countless times that one must be prepared for anything that could go wrong to go wrong at any time. The keys to survival, experts agree, are being prepared for accidents/incidents, and then to remain calm when things do go wrong. Over and over they pound home their favorite saying (which, incidentally, is extremely true): “Your most important survival tool is your brain.” This illustrates yet again the power of–and the pretext for–a pause to reflect on the situation. It also illustrates the fact that mastering the act of reflective thinking is a skill that will not only improve the quality of your life, but may also save it.

Still another benefit of pausing to gather one’s wits is the fact that remaining calm and thinking things through has the potential to diffuse a potentially explosive situation. Had David chosen to join with the mob (they could hardly be called an army at this point) and gone running around tearing out his hair and succumbing to the stress, it would have seriously undermined his authority over these hard-bitten men, and could have destroyed his reputation with them. Through diligent searching of the preceding chapters, one finds that the men following David were not decent, law-abiding, well-educated citizens. Some were criminals. Others were vigilantes. Many of the men were there to avoid being thrown into debtors’ prison. These were rough fellows, and such men will only follow a strong leader who can roll with the punches, so to speak.

Another principle to consider is the lack of self in David’s behavior. Instead of relying on his own strength, his skill, or his reputation, David turned to God, freely admitting by doing so that he was incapable of solving this dilemma on his own. By taking these few quiet moments to encourage himself, he was admitting that even the strength for what must now be done would have to come from the Lord, because David’s resources were gone.

Of great importance is another brief phrase in this passage, conspicuous by its absence in the accounts of previous movements. After drawing strength and encouragement from a few moments’ meditation, David calls for Abiathar, the high priest, and asks, “…I pray thee, bring me hither the ephod.” (Part of the attire that the priests wore while in the service of the Tabernacle, the ephod was

…the ephod was a linen breastplate studded with twelve unique and beautiful gemstones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel.

a linen breastplate ornamented richly with twelve unique gemstones, each representing a tribe of Israel. At this point in Israel’s history, it was also a method God used to make known His will for His people.) The Bible then records that David “enquired of the Lord,” and this is what makes this account different from those battles preceding it. Here we see David’s heart begin to change, to become more sensitive to the Lord’s leading, and to submit once again to that leading.

This account illustrates an important truth, and–I believe–a reason why many people are afraid to still themselves and engage in meaningful thought and meditation on spiritual things. It is for this purpose that the Lord designed us with reflective mental capacity, so that we would be able to thoroughly contemplate our actions and beliefs and establish whether or not they hew to the line of our chosen paradigm of life and practice. While there are those who would argue that it does not matter what one believes, this is another method of excusing and sidestepping inconsistencies in one’s life and habits, and is also another form of mental laziness.

From the first post, we took away the principle that meditation is indispensable to the Christian who desires to live a life full of meaning and purpose. From the incident in the life of Elijah, we learned that a brief pause to tend to the needs of the body can be encouraging to the soul as well.

So, what can we take away from this event in the life of David? Simply this: we should realize our own fallibility, the fact that we can indeed make mistakes. One of the mistakes we often make is failing to follow the leading of God in our lives. Any time we fail to heed his guidance, we will end up on the wrong path. In a world adrift on a sea of relativism, it is reassuring to have an absolute point of reference on which to focus, an immovable standard against which we measure our every action. More on this in another post outside the scope of this series.

Be Encouraged,

David

–The Southern Voice Writer

From Bold Proclaimer to Bashful Prophet: Elijah’s Story

After Elijah withstood the 850 prophets of the temples of Baal and of the groves (altars dedicated to idolatrous worship, surrounded by small copses of trees sacred to the pagan deity) on Mount Carmel, Elijah had all those false prophets slain. Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, returned home and told his evil wife Jezebel what had happened. Infuriated by the slaughter of her prophets (the Scripture reveals that they ate at her table), she sent a message to Elijah, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time.”

Hearing this, Elijah immediately arose, the account continues, and went “for his life.” Hastily, he journeyed from Mount Carmel to Beersheba, some  miles to the south. Leaving his servant there, he went into the wilderness about a day’s journey and sat down under a juniper tree, asking the Lord to just let him die. “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. ”

Juniper tree in Israel

Elijah is very discouraged at this point. Even though he had been used of God just a few hours prior to overcome a seemingly unbeatable united front of pagan priests and an ungodly king. He was not just taking on the government; he was taking on the religious establishment as well! If ever there was a time for a man to feel inadequate, this would have been it. Yet Elijah never faltered. There is no record in the text of any hesitation, any fear, any doubt on his part. The righteous indignation of this man of God was kindled, and he was as bold as a lion in declaring the truth of God before the corrupt priests, the dissolute king, and the confused and wavering populace. Elijah stood tall and declared that the time for halting between two opinions was over, and the time to decide once and for all who was God in Israel was now. In a stunning display of the might of God the Creator, fire fell from Heaven and devoured Elijah’s sacrifice, the wood, the stones of which his altar was constructed, and the water in the trench round the base of it. The account is amazing because after hours of listening to the false prophets wail, call, and beg their god to send fire (uttering no doubt thousands of words in the process), Elijah stills them, repairs the altar, drenches it with twelve barrels of water, and prays a short prayer of 63 words which brings immediate results: the fire of God, the text emphasizes, falls.

Image credit: believersjourney.blogspot.com

Just a few hours later, Elijah is sitting under a juniper tree, wishing he could die, and even praying to God–who sent fire at his last request–to take his life, because there’s nothing more he can do on Earth. Why the sudden swing in outlook? Why the gloomy outlook? It would seem that there are two reasons for Elijah’s sudden mood change:

  1. He was convinced that he was all alone, and that Jezebel’s men would have no trouble finding him, effectively cutting off the means God had in place of communicating His messages to the people.
  2. Elijah focused on himself. Even though God had just used him in a mighty way, Elijah still managed to get his focus off God and what He could do through a man surrendered to Him, and started focusing on himself and his problems. He refused to trust the Lord, but instead tried to figure things out in his own strength.

Despite being frustrated, lonely, and frightened, Elijah managed to fall into a sleep, which I would imagine was fitful at best. Let us continue by looking into the text, for the words there recorded cannot be improved upon:

And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again.
And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.  And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.

— 1 Kings 19:5-8

At the Bible college I attended for three years, the faculty ate their meals in the same dining common as the students. One day–it was a Wednesday or Thursday–I was standing in line to get my meal when one of my professors, Pastor Deatrick, walked up to the counter as well. He greeted me, and then asked how I was. When I answered that I was a bit weary, and was planning to take a short nap that afternoon, he nodded approvingly. Then he said something that I’ve never forgotten. Smiling, he pointed out, “You know, David, sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is go take a nap. Make sure you eat a good meal, and then go take a nap.” Then I only saw that statement as an odd departure from the party line; now, I realize that he was pointing out this important principle to me. Incidentally, that was also the day he became my favorite teacher!

As Elijah learned, real spiritual refreshment can come from a brief pause to tend to the needs of the body. Even the Lord Jesus, seeing his disciples returning from being sent out in His name to heal and cast out demons, told them, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while…” Jesus saw that these men, fresh from a circuit of itinerant ministry, were weary, and had no time for themselves, as the text declares, “…for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” (above quotes from Luke 6:31) Have you ever felt that busy? The Lord was illustrating to these men, and through them to us, the importance of the principle: make time to come apart (away from others), or you will come apart (fall to pieces). More on this in a future post. 🙂

From Elijah to the Lord Jesus, the historical precedent is clear: time apart is a necessary part of a balanced life, and it will aid your spiritual production in the long run.

How about you? Have you “sat under a juniper tree” lately? Give it a try sometime…you might find it to be a refreshing pause. 🙂

Something to think about,

David

Is Meditation Necessary?

In a world that is locked in on reaching the pinnacle of perfection in the race toward the trifecta of Bigger, Better, and Faster, we have all too soon forgotten the necessary, three-leaf clover of Restoration, Refreshment, and Meditation. Contrary to what those of other mental persuasions sometimes preach, motion does not equal productivity, nor does stillness equal laziness or uselessness. Yet to say that all motion is useless–and all stillness productive–is equally false, and adapting either extreme is a sign of either ignorance or mental slackness.

Since the 1850’s, technology has become an increasingly large part of our daily lives. In the present, it would be a challenge to make it through even one day without using some sort of technology. Many different tech devices claim to help their users make better use of time and accomplish more than before. But do these claims hold up, or does technology just provide another layer of things about which to worry? More on that later.

For now, let’s focus on the time-saving aspect of these claims. As an additional focus for our discussion, let’s limit our observations to cell phones, computer and television, and automobiles. is true with most other man-made items, technological devices have tremendous potential for good (in this case, saving time) and evil (wasting time). How the user utilizes the device will determine whether the effect is good or ill.

The benefit of time-saving devices is that they can free up more time to do other, more important tasks. One danger lies in the potential for these devices to become a time-sink, an end in themselves, rather than a means to an end, as designed. Then again, one must ask, what exactly is the end being sought? Diversion? Distraction? Knowledge? Information? Another danger is in mistaking time spent glued to the screen or behind the wheel as relaxation, restoration, or (worst of all) meditation. Let’s not seek to put a good face on it: meditation is as unlikely to take place while the user is glued to a screen flashing constantly changing images, as it is if the subject is hurtling down the road at 70 miles per hour. Am I saying that one cannot have productive and useful thoughts while driving? On the contrary, I have found that some of my more profound “Aha!” moments have come while driving. What I am stating here is that such time is not sufficient of itself.

A fair question at this point would be, “What do you consider meditation?” By using the above term, I do not refer to the so-called “transcendental” variation practiced by various Far Eastern religions, and which involves the clearing of all thoughts from the mind. “Meditation” is a time set apart to lay aside all distractions, to sit down and be still,  and to focus the mind on a given line of thought. It is possible to meditate while walking, but the central idea is mental concentration on a single subject. This is what I mean when I use the word “meditation.”

History is replete with accounts of people who learned the power of a pause to rest and recuperate, but one of the more amazing (indeed, miraculous) examples is found in the Bible, in the book of First Kings. Do you know the story to which I refer? If not, we will look into it next week as we begin to study the lives of people from the past who learned the power of a refreshing pause.

Until then, feel free to share. What are some of your favorite places for contemplative thinking? Do you prefer a perfectly quiet atmosphere? If not, what is your chosen “background noise”?

Something to think about,

David

Hurry Up and…Slow Down

In the money-crazed, frenetic world in which we live, does anyone understand the power of a pause that, in the words of a famous slogan, refreshes? In the next few weeks, along with other posts keeping you abreast of the news from Ellenboro, we’ll embark on a series of studies that demonstrate that taking a slower pace for a time can be the best thing you’ve ever done. Look for these posts to appear soon, under the category of A Refreshing Pause.

Thanks again for reading!

— David