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|Meditating Upon the Word of
(This is part two of "Working out with the Word of God." Part one asked the question: "Do You Need Spiritual Exercise?")
A good physical exercise session demands time. If you are lifting weights or working out on an exercise machine, some of the most effective exercises are the ones done slowly. It's the last muscle-straining lift or the final difficult sit-up in the series which are the most effective. If you are serious about physical exercise, you don't simply race through the session. You have to sweat. You have to work at it.
A spiritual exercise program is no different. When you work out with the Word of God, you simply can not sit down, race through a chapter or two of the Bible and say, "There, I've done my workout." You may have read two chapters of the Bible, but you certainly did not get a great deal out of it.
When you take into consideration the nature of the Word of God and what you are trying to accomplish, your workout with the Word will produce beneficial results only if you take the time to ponder God's Word and meditate upon his many promises. This is not hard to understand.
For one thing, you are not working out alone. The Holy Spirit is also involved. He desires to open your eyes, teach you, and strengthen your faith. So you must wait on the Spirit to give you understanding. Martin Luther wrote that we should meditate on the Gospel of Jesus Christ "until the Spirit comes."
Secondly, you want the Word of God to get into your heart and renew your mind. You are not looking for the mere superficial information you might receive by reading a newspaper or magazine. The content of God's words and promises has to "get into you," so to speak, in order to make a difference. The Bible speaks of the solid food or "meat" of the Word of God. (Hebrews 5:12-14) Meat has to be chewed awhile in order to be digested.
Therefore, one of the necessary techniques to learn in order to work out with the Word of God is meditation. By this I mean to reflect upon, think about, or ponder the content of a section of Scripture, or perhaps one or two verses.
How does a Christian Meditate?
The word meditation has different, sometimes confusing meanings. Transcendental Meditation or TM, as it is called, involves the emptying of the mind of all thoughts and repeating a "mantra," which is a Hindu prayer or invocation in the Sanskrit language. The person repeating the mantra over and over again has no idea what he is saying. Buddhism and some forms of mysticism also promote an empty-headed form of meditation.
Empty-headed meditation can be a very dangerous practice. It is an open invitation for demonic spirits to influence the mind. Most occult practices such as seeking to contact the dead or inviting the presence of an inner spirit guide begin by emptying the mind of all thoughts. These practices are strictly forbidden in the Word of God.
In contrast, when Christians meditate upon the Word of God, this does not involve maintaining a blank mind. Rather it means filling the mind with the Word of God.
In order for the Holy Spirit to effectively open your eyes, strengthen your faith and affect your heart and mind, you must prayerfully focus your conscious, undivided attention upon the words you are reading or studying. Working out with the Word of God means taking the time to think about the Word and promises of God. This is what it means to meditate. We give the Holy Spirit time to work with us.
Personalize the Promises
My youngest son Dan played football and ran track in high school. In order to get into good physical condition, he joined a local gym which offered the use of a variety of workout equipment.
The director of the gym sat down with him and asked him what he wanted to accomplish in working out. Dan told him that he wanted to strengthen his muscles for football and track. The director proceeded to personalize his workout program, designing it for his size and goals.
When you work out with the Word of God, you should also personalize the content of the Word, read and apply it as if it is written just for you.
Let's use the theme verses of the Book of Romans, chapter 1: verses 16 and 17. As we consider the verses, I will ask you questions about the verses. You think about the questions, and provide the answers. Read carefully the verses:
I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. For in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous shall live by faith."
We first pray, "Lord, by your Holy Spirit, help me to understand your Word. Open my eyes that I might see. Make your Word a personal, life-changing word written specifically to me."
The verse begins, "I am not ashamed of the gospel." Of course, the "I" is the Apostle Paul, but is it not also you? Put your name in place of the "I" and boldly confess: "(Your name) is not ashamed of the gospel."
Further, take out the word "everyone" and replace it with your name. The verse would then read: "(Your name) is not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of (your name) who believes."
The Gospel is God's power! Think about that. If you want God's power at work in your life, where do you go? Where do you look? The Gospel is the power to save you. Save you from what?
You are included in the "everyone." Are you a believer? Of course you are. Therefore, you are saved.
The Apostle says that the Gospel reveals a righteousness from God that is totally by faith. To whom does the Gospel reveal this "righteousness from God" which is by faith? Obviously, it is revealed to you. Confess that fact. "The Gospel tells me that I am righteous! Do you believe it?"
The verse ends, "The righteous shall live by faith." God has declared you righteous. Put your name in there. You live by faith! Faith in what? What is the alternative to living by faith?
Consider the well-known verse from John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him, will not perish but have everlasting life."
There are two inclusive words in that text: world and whosoever. Personalizing the text would cause it to read like this: "For God so loved me that he gave his only-begotten Son, that since I believe in him, I will not perish, but I will have everlasting life."
Think of the simple verse from Romans 6:23: "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Consider the following personal thoughts gleaned from that verse.
The first part of the verse tells me that my sin pays a wage. What does that mean? This is a specific cause and effect reality. My sin produces death. My death will demonstrate that I am a sinner. Hmmm? That's interesting. The thought that comes to mind is this: the one true fact you can declare about me at my funeral is: "He was a sinner!" Do you agree?
But God has given me the free gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. This is a gift! How do I respond to a free gift? Can I earn it? Pay for it? Or do I simply receive it? Obviously, I can only receive it since it is free. Have I received the free gift? Yes! Definitely! The Holy Spirit has given me faith. How do I respond? Thank you, Lord!
So while it is true that my sin pays off the wage of death, my God gives to me a free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.
In your spiritual exercise, when you meditate upon the Word of God, make it your own personal word, because it is intended to be personal. It's for you! It applies to you. It speaks about your situation. By personalizing these simple verses you not only hear a word spoken to you, but you also hear yourself confessing your faith and claiming the promises as your very own.
When you workout with the Word of God, you will discover many great "chunky" promises that God has made to you. Chew upon those promises. Personalize them. Meditate upon them. Read the verses as if the Apostle were writing his letter directly to you. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the Word.
As you read and meditate upon God's Word and the Holy Spirit opens your eyes, you will discover many changes taking place in your life. Your attitude toward life will change. Your bitterness or resentment will dissipate. Your worries and fears will be replaced with faith. Joy will be stirred within your life. You will be spiritually exercised by the living and active Word of God.
Hearing the Word
You also are in a workout session when you go to church on a Sunday morning and hear the Word of God. When you sit in church, if you want to get anything out of what is happening, you have to put something into it. You can not listen to the sermon, sing the words of the Hymns and hear the reading of the Scripture lessons as you would, for example, listen to your car radio. While your conscious thoughts may be directed elsewhere and you are driving along, the words from the radio are simply going in one ear and out the other.
Effective listening in church demands meditating upon and pondering the words that are being spoken. If the words go in one ear and out the other, we are the ones who are losing the benefit of those words.
Hearing the Word of God means that you are consciously focused so that you meditate upon and ponder the words that are being spoken and sung. In other words, don't just sit there as a "pew-potato" who is merely fulfilling a religious duty by going to church. Be actively engaged in hearing the Word of God.
The most important time in the Sunday morning service is when the clear message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed. It is the time for you to put away all other thoughts and concerns and attentively listen, breathe a prayer for enlightenment and allow the Holy Spirit to graciously work in your mind and heart.
If you have difficulty concentrating upon the Word of God and there are empty pews in the front of the church, which there usually are, move up so that nothing will come between you and what is being proclaimed. I realize that many of you have been sitting in the same pew for years. Perhaps a change would be a good so that you might more effectively develop the practice of prayerfully and attentively listening.
Some of the most beautiful explanations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are found in our hymnody. Don't look around at the other people or be self-conscious of your singing voice. Concentrate upon the words. For example, think deeply about the following hymn verse:
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. No merit of my own I claim but wholly lean on Jesus name. On Christ, the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.
This is a magnificent explanation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Much of our hymnody is rich in meaning. Think deeply about the words as you sing the hymns.
In Romans 10:17 the Apostle Paul tells us that faith is produced as a result of hearing the "word" or "message" of Christ. Our faith does not increase as the result of having words thrown at us. It is not automatic. Faith is strengthened and increased by hearing the message. Therefore, carefully listen!
Many do not understand and cling to the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because they do not prayerfully and attentively listen to what is being preached. There are many distractions. The devil is continually at work to fill the mind of the hearer with other thoughts and concerns. If he can not stop you from going to church on a Sunday morning, he will try to stop you from listening. The Word of God can be resisted by simply turning it off.
I have heard people say, "I didn't get anything out of that church service." It is because they didn't listen! They didn't put anything into it.
Facts, Not Feelings
As you workout with the Word of God, your life and experience is going to be affected. Your faith will grow. As a result, joy and peace will fill your heart. It is the effect of God's Word. The Holy Spirit guarantees such results. The Word of God will produce positive, life-changing spiritual experiences. After all, having our lives changed is the purpose of engaging in spiritual exercise.
There are different terms Christians use to define their life-changing experiences with the Lord Jesus. This results in much confusion. Some speak of a "salvation" experience. Others talk about being "born-again" or "filled with the Holy Spirit." Some say their lives were changed when they "prayed to accept Christ," or "made a decision for Jesus," or "let Jesus into their heart," or "asked Jesus to rule on the throne of their heart." Some talk about letting Jesus be "Lord of their life." I have heard people claim to have experienced "the joy of the Lord," or being filled with "the peace that passes all understanding," or having a "cleansed conscience."
The fact is, we experience God's life-changing grace as the result of the Holy Spirit opening our eyes to the truth that is found in God's Word, the Bible. There is no other way that God changes lives! No matter what you call it, the dynamic is still the same. You did not accept Christ. It was Christ who died and rose again for you. Your life was not changed because you prayed a prayer to let Jesus into your heart. The Holy Spirit changed your life when you heard the Word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and you believed. (Ephesians 1:13) Be sure to properly place your focus. It is very important.
For this reason, I believe that renewed involvement with the Word of God is the dynamic behind all awakenings, revivals, renewal and reformations in the Church. The Holy Spirit gives light. He opens our eyes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and creates faith. Our lives are transformed. As a result, spiritual revival breaks out among God's people. There is no revival in the church without changed lives. There are no changed lives without the Holy Spirit. And there is no working of the Holy Spirit apart from the Word of God.
Facts, Faith and Experience
Understanding the relationship between the Word of God and personal life-changing experience is very important. For example, we previously meditated upon Romans 6:23: "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." When my eyes are opened to the truth that heaven is a gift, I am filled with peace and joy. I know that I have eternal life.
If you would ask me the question: "How do you know that you are going to heaven?", I would not say, "I know because I am filled with peace and joy." I know that I am going to heaven because the Bible says that heaven is a free gift. In case I lose my assurance, peace and joy, I simply go back to the Word and promises of God regarding eternal life and the Holy Spirit does his work again.
I once asked a person the question: "How can you be sure that your sins are forgiven?"
He responded, "because my conscience is clear."
This is a wrong understanding. A clear conscience is the result of knowing that Jesus died for you. While the condition of the conscience may change, the benefits that come through the cross of Jesus Christ remain the same. Therefore, if our conscience bothers us, we go back to the cross. The Word and promises of God never change.
I heard it put this way: fact, faith, and experience were walking on top of the wall. As long as faith kept looking at the facts found in the Bible, experience always came running along behind. But as soon as faith looked back to see whether or not experience was coming, both faith and experience fell of the wall. Therefore, keep your eyes on the facts. Focus upon the Word of God, not on your experience.
Looking in the Wrong Place
As the result of using questionable definitions for life-changing Christian experience, the possibility of doubt arising is very real. For example, a few years ago in my book Christ-Esteem I discussed the sufficiency of the person and work of Jesus Christ for life and salvation. I clearly explained that the assurance of the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation was based upon the historical fact of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ recorded in the Bible and not upon personal experience. We know that we are saved, forgiven, and heaven-bound, not because of our faith or experience, but because the Bible tells us that Jesus died and rose again.
One day I received a phone call from a pastor of a large congregation in the South. He had read the book and had some questions. He was a member of a particular denomination that taught people to answer an altar call.
After identifying himself and his reason for calling, he very bluntly asked, "When were you saved?"
"When Jesus died on the cross and rose again," I answered confidently.
"What about your experience? Have you had any experience?"
"Of course I've had experience!" I responded. "My sins are forgiven. My conscience is clear. I am a new creature in Christ, and I know that I am going to heaven."
For a few moments, there was silence. Somehow he was stumped by my response. And then, somewhat more gently, he began to share his problem.
"Twenty-five years ago I had a glorious salvation experience," he began. "I got saved. I was born-again. My life was totally changed. I decided to become a pastor and worked very hard at building a large congregation."
He paused and then continued with some hesitation, "Now.., as a result of some personal problems, ...I am no longer sure that I have ever really been saved or born-again."
His voice reflected a deep sense of discouragement and disappointment. He continued, "what you said in your book about the certainty of salvation being based upon facts and not upon experience was very interesting."
I felt sorry for the man. I knew that it was very difficult for him to make such a confession to another pastor who was not even a part of his denomination.
I responded to him gently, yet with confidence.
"My friend, your problem is that you are looking for the certainty of your salvation in the wrong place," I explained to him. "You are looking at your experience. You didn't get saved when you went forward in response to an altar call. You were saved as a result of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not as a result of your accepting Christ. Keep focused upon what God has done for you in Jesus Christ, not upon how you responded. Keep your eyes on the promises of God, not on your personal experience, be it positive or negative. Confess to yourself the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus died for you. He shed his blood for you. No experience in your life can change that reality."
His response was very interesting. He said, "Why don't you Lutherans write more books?"
We continued to speak at length about the nature of Christian knowledge and certainty. I hope that I had helped him to focus his attention upon the Cross of Jesus Christ rather than upon his experience. Even though his life-changing experience of twenty-five years ago was a legitimate Christian experience, it could not be used as a basis for the certainty of forgiveness and salvation.
Back to the Bible
It is the purpose of God to call us back to his Word so that the Holy Spirit can strengthen and bolster our faith, which always needs bolstering. If we ever doubt any of the promises of God and experience fear, guilt, or worry, we should turn back to the Bible and again read and meditate upon the promises of God. As a result, the Holy Spirit will again enlighten our eyes and rekindle the certainty of God's love, grace, and forgiveness.
For this reason, we preach the same message of Christ crucified, risen, ascended and coming again Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. We always need to be reminded to turn our eyes upon Jesus; the Jesus of the New Testament who died for us and rose again.
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