Revelation vs. speculation
Getting and staying healthy is a major concern for millions of people. In recent years you may have heard a confusing array of advice on how to achieve your health goals. The growing number of health experts making unconventional recommendations may surprise you.
The Mayo Clinic, a leading voice in the health arena, advocates the benefits of meditation. Authors suggest practicing meditation may reduce stress. Improved emotional health, they claim, may assist in alleviating some symptoms of physical ailments.
Looking inside our hearts
Christians might be happy to learn that medical experts consider prayer as one possible way to practice meditation. We might even wonder if there is much of a difference between what Jesus invites us to do and what counselors, doctors, and mental health professionals are advocating. Sounds like a win-win to us: Follow God’s encouragement to pray, and additional health benefits get thrown in as a bonus.
We can leave it to the medical community to continue researching the potential health benefits of prayer. But Christians want to be aware that there can be vast differences between what most people consider meditation and the way the Bible teaches us to pray. Unfortunately, even some resources encouraging Christian spirituality are just as confusing. Some suggest finding inner quietude or emptying our minds of all thoughts and worries. Then we should turn our attention to the voices inside us.
But when Christians pray “in Jesus’ name,” we do it calling to mind the person and work of Jesus. His life and his sacrifice give us the personal relationship of faith to approach our Father. Looking inside our hearts for spiritual peace and direction might actually be counter-productive to healthy spiritual habits. After all, Jesus warns us: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19). Prayers flowing from the natural impulses of our hearts could by default be very self-centered.
Looking inside God’s Word
Do you see the disconnect from the way Christians have taught prayer throughout the ages? Prayer is a response to what God tells us. Prayer begins with God’s revelation to us through his Word.
That’s why it might be a little shocking to hear Martin Luther instructing us to do something we might hear from mental health literature. When he offered advice about personal devotions to his friend Peter, he advised: “If in the midst of such thoughts the Holy Spirit begins to preach in your heart with rich, enlightening thoughts, honor him . . . be still and listen to him who can do better than you can” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 43, p. 201–202).
But do you notice the difference between Luther and the advocates of contemporary meditation? Luther told his friend he should start his devotions by meditating on familiar portions from God’s Word like the Ten Commandments or the Lord’s Prayer. Devotions and meditation begin with God’s Word. Luther was telling Peter that devotions don’t have to focus on obscure or difficult parts of the Bible. Keep it simple, but start with God’s Word.
In fact, this is a major point of emphasis for the Reformer throughout his career: “Therefore, we must constantly maintain this point: God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments” (Smalcald Articles, Part III, Art. VIII:10). So Christian meditation or prayer always finds its starting point in what God is saying to us, not from the voices inside us.
Meditating on God’s Word is definitely good for our souls. Prayer based on Scripture flows from a heart filled with God’s blessings. We can’t promise it will lower our blood pressure, but we know God’s revelation is always good for us.
This is the third article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life.
Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019