feast: The W's and H's of Meditation (Part Two)
David F. Maas
Given 06-Oct-17; Sermon #FT17-05; 34 minutes
Meditating on God's Holy Law produces profound peace and vivid memory. Meditation fosters peace and tranquility, and vastly improves memory consolidation, safeguarding the integrity of our emerging spiritual body. The only part of us that will survive through the grave is our character—our thoughts, the contents of hearts, what we think about all day long. God will access the lifelong file of memories and make a judgment upon how we have lived. Allowing media and entertainment to grab our attention will dangerously distract us from our primary objective—qualifying to be the Bride of Christ. Researchers have scientifically proven that meditation improves memory and memory consolidation, as well as generates profound peace as an antidote to agitation, stress, chaos and confusion. The act of meditating, even if the focus is on our breathing or on an idyllic scene, is beneficial physically or psychologically, but the maximum benefit will accrue if we meditate on the things God has mandated—namely His Law and His Word.
Please turn over to Psalm 119.
We will be turning to several related scriptures upon which I intend to weave a theme. All scriptures for this message will be taken from the Lockman Foundation’s Amplified Bible (AMP Lockman Foundation.)
The longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, the longest Psalm in the Psalms, divided into twenty-two sections, each section titled after one of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet: Aleph, Bet, Gimel, Dalit and so on. Each section contains eight verses. There are many instances of this acrostic pattern used as a mnemonic teaching device in the Old Testament including Psalms 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 114, 119; a portion of Proverbs 31: The virtuous woman, found in verses 10-31; and Lamentations 1 through 4 (which Richard reviewed for us back in September). These acrostic poems, beginning with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, serve as teaching tools, assisting or enabling young people to learn the Psalms by memorizing prodigious quantities of scriptures.
Memory and meditation have always been inextricably linked together. Our cumulative memories, what we have been thinking about all our lives, constitute our character. As Bill Gray pointed out in his July 1996 Forerunner article, the only thing that we will take through the grave is the record of our lives, which God will make a judgment. Meditation is the spiritual tool that God has given us to ensure that the principles and patterns found in His word, His precepts, His statues, and laws all end up permanently in our long-term memory becoming our first nature rather than our second nature.
Let us briefly scan some food for thought and growth that we want to assimilate, and which we want to take through the grave.
Psalm 119:15 I will meditate on your precepts.
Let us scan down to verse twenty-three:
Psalm 119:23 Your servant meditates on your statutes.
Psalm 119:27 Make me to understand the way of your precepts; so that I will meditate, focus my thoughts on your wonderful works.
Psalm 119:48 And I will lift up my hands to your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate upon your statutes.
Psalm 119:78 But I will meditate on your precepts.
Psalm 119:97, one of our hymns:
Psalm 119:97 Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
And verse 148:
Psalm 119:148 My eyes anticipate the night watches, and I awake before the call of the watchman that I may meditate on your word.
The author of Psalm 119 just declared in seven emphatic verses that his continual meditation is on God’s law, for which he used a variety of synonyms such as: precepts; statutes; God’s work; God’s word—all aspects of God’s law, which is David’s meditation day and night.
Now we are going to hover a little bit over verse 165. This happens to be my second favorite verse in the whole Bible.
There is one intriguing tradition. That is, David used this Psalm to teach his son Solomon the alphabet; not only for writing, but for probing the grammar of spiritual life.
Now while the author is not mentioned, scholars assume that either David, Ezra, or Daniel all could have written this Psalm, my vote is with David.
Let us concentrate now and hover over verse 165:
Psalm 119:165 Great peace have they who love Your law, nothing shall offend them or make them stumble.
So please notice that the cumulative effect of meditating on God’s Holy law in all of its multilayered aspects leads to profound peace, tranquility, and contentment.
Please move forward to Hebrews 8, a powerful passage derived from Jeremiah 31:31-34 containing not only a millennial promise for the redeemed outcasts of Israel—to God’s called-out ones, the Israel of God as they are transformed from carnal to spiritual in a rigorous ongoing sanctification process. (This one is my favorite verse of the Bible.)
Hebrews 8:10-11 This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days says the Lord: I will imprint my laws upon their minds even upon their inmost thoughts and understanding, and engrave them upon your hearts, and I will be their God, they will be my people, and it will never more be necessary for each one to teach his neighbor and his fellow citizen, or each one his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for all will know me from the smallest to the greatest of them.
Now let us move back to John 14 where we see several promises that Jesus made to his disciples both then, and now, (for those of you sitting in the audience) as he encouraged them in the anticipation of tumultuous pending trials ahead of them.
John 14:26 But the Comforter, the Counselor, the Helper, the Intercessor, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name to represent me and act on my behalf, will teach you all things, and will cause you to recall everything I have told you.
The late Herbert W. Armstrong many times referred to God’s holy spirit as God’s law in action. Two promises are given to us if we use God’s holy spirit to navigate our spiritual course. These promises are to bring into remembrance everything that Christ has taught us.
I was thinking this constitutes my fiftieth year of teaching; I am semi-retired, but I teach one online class for Living University, and over the years I would hear many times as students would gasp during one of my tests, “Jesus help me,” to which I responded, “He will, if you have put it into your mind to begin with.”
The second promise Jesus gave to us is peace—profound peace, which, as the Apostle Paul declares, “surpasses all understanding.” Let us move down to verse twenty-seven:
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; My [own] peace I now give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful, intimidated, cowardly, and unsettled.]
The profound peace is a commodity which most of the world lacks. And sadly, because our attention is suddenly drawn away to the cares of this world, many of us are also lacking this peace.
Let us go back to Matthew 11. Here is where Jesus offers comforting words to those who have been called to be His disciples:
Matthew 11:28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will relieve and refresh your souls.]
I am reminded of the Apostle Peter’s admonition in Acts 3:19 to repent, that the times of refreshing may come. Continuing with Matthew 11:
Matthew 11:29-30 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest [and blessed quiet] for your souls. For My yoke is wholesome [useful, good—not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant], and My burden is light and easy to be borne.
Now to the carnal mind, the demands of the new covenant seem formidable. But to one imbued with God’s Holy Spirit, having the mind of Christ, the burden is easy. Besides, the alternative is death.
Romans 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of all the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies, presenting all your members and faculties as a living sacrifice, holy, devoted, and consecrated—well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable, rational, and intelligent service. Do not be conformed to this world—this age, fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs—but be transformed by the entire renewal of your mind by its new ideals and new attitude, so that you may prove for yourselves what is that good and acceptable and the perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect in His sight for you.
Because we are born with carnal human nature continually at war with God, sadly, even after our calling and baptism, the renewal of our minds must be accomplished through a grueling sanctification process in which we participate using the tools of prayer, fasting, Bible study, and meditation to have our carnal attitudes and behaviors transformed to spiritual attitudes and behaviors—conformed to the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Now, after that Richard Ritenbaugh-type introduction, I will be going on to the purpose.
I plan to give you the second installment of The W's and H's of Meditation, this time focusing on how meditation fosters peace and tranquility, and vastly improves our memory consolidation, safeguarding the integrity of our emerging spiritual body.
In one of my previous sermons, I focused on Proverbs 4:23. This is the admonition to jealously and protectively guard what goes into our minds, because we will ultimately turn into what we assimilate. The only part of us that will survive through the grave is our character—our thoughts, the content of our hearts, what we think about all day long. God will access the lifelong file and make a judgment on how we have lived.
Satan was described by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:2 as, “the prince of the power of the air,” which, by the way, explains the wall to wall lies, fake news, and satanic hate spun by CNN and MSNBC, as well as other of the mainstream drive by media. If you carelessly allow the extremist media to grab and hold your attention, you become dangerously distracted from your primary objective, namely, using the power of God’s holy spirit to overcome our deadly carnal nature—qualifying to become the bride of Christ.
Now, even scanning the red-letter items on The Drudge Report often tips me off balance, bringing on a profoundly negative and world like carnal attitude. We must, brothers and sisters, handle all incoming media as though we were handling deadly radioactive isotopes, or deadly pathogenic viruses, or bacteria. As my former colleague Gene H. Hogberg once said, “The media may not tell us what to think, but it tells us what to think about,” allowing us to be poisoned by the narrative.
The entertaining media is no different, because it has been brainwashing us with a subtle anti-God message, promoting marital infidelity, perverted homosexual lifestyles, and the warfare state. Even the weather channel, as Richard pointed out in his September 21st sermon, is driven by an insidious political narrative, and a greedy desire for ratings. If we ruminate on the weather channel 24 hours a day, we could become very anxiety ridden, depressed, or dispirited with our minds taken off our central focus—Christian living.
J. R. Morgan in, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes, published by the folks down the road at the Thomas Nelson Bible publishers, quoted in Matthew Kratz’s article, Meditation 101, offered this observation about how entertainment and amusement can militate against meditation and God-mindfulness. “Muse’, a synonym for meditation, once was the name given to an ancient Greek god who spent much time in solitude and thinking. It has become a word, which means to ponder, think, consider, meditate, and reflect.
Now the letter ‘a,’ when used as a prefix renders the word into the negative. For instance, theist becomes atheist; gnostic becomes agnostic. The whole entertainment industry is built on the principle of a-muse-ment—not thinking—and letting the producers, directors, actors, and athletes think for us. When our lives are driven by amusement, it keeps us from thinking, especially from thinking and meditating upon God and His word.
In my July 2017 sermon, The W's and H's of Meditation (Part One), after reiterating the principle that we become what we think about all day long, and that ruminating on carnal thoughts leads to death, I advanced the prospect of Godly meditation as a powerful antidote in combatting negative thinking; a behavior which we are all prone to.
By ruminating on God’s word we can thoroughly purify our thoughts in the nervous system enabling us to ingest, assimilate, and digest the bread of life. Manna from heaven, namely the word of God, which His called-out ones have been given a lifetime to digest.
Meditation has been scientifically proven to improve memory, memory consolidation, and profound peace—the antidote to the agitation, stress, chaos, and confusion that we witness in our culture as it disintegrates before our very eyes, when evil is called good, and good is called evil.
One of the reasons this aspect of memory and rest has grabbed my attention is that four members of my extended family, including a sibling, an aunt, and my aging step mother with whom I have been communicating weekly for the past seven years. After the last several months she does not know who I am, she has called me Charmaine and Kenneth; well she does not know! They are all suffering the ravages of memory loss, dementia and other Alzheimer like things. The incremental loss of contact has been particularly poignant and discouraging for me.
Those of us who are classified as “senior citizens” become alarmed when we forget where we have placed our keys, or parked our car, or break out in cold sweat because we cannot match a name with a familiar face. (That has happened to me several times.) The common street wisdom is that older people should expect memory deterioration.
In studying the role of meditation to convert short term memory into more stable long-term memory, we learn that there is much proactive or preventative maintenance we can do, as Bill Onisick has pointed out, to become far better stewards of our physical and spiritual health’s tending and keeping. If we neglect our daily regimen of prayer, Bible study, and meditation, we all stunt our spiritual growth.
In his massive article, The Scientific Benefits Of Meditation—76 Things You Might Be Missing Out On, Giovanni Dienstmann, provides a clearing house of scientific experiments examining the physiological and psychological benefits of meditation. Dientsmann has provided to the names of scientific journals, the methodology merging the control, and the experimental groups, and the conclusions regarding the relationship between meditation and memory. The results were highly encouraging to me when I found out meditation can improve focus, attention, and the ability to work under stress. Meditation improves information processing and decision making. Meditation increases the ability to keep focused, despite distractions. Meditation improves learning, memory, and self-awareness. Meditation improves rapid memory recall and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementia.
Equally encouraging were the studies showing meditation’s role in reducing stress and anxiety, including the findings that meditation may be effective in treating depression to a similar degree as an anti-depressant drug therapy. Meditation helps regulate mood and anxiety disorders, reduces stress and anxiety in general, prepares one to deal with stressful events, reduces symptoms of panic disorder, manages ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), improves mood and psychological wellbeing, and affects genes that control stress. (This is only six out of the 76 items mentioned in his lengthy study.)
One fascinating study on meditation, carried out at Harvard University, and reported by Sara Lazar, Ph.D., asserts that meditators’ MRI scan can show that the grey matter concentration increases in areas of the brain involved in learning and memory, regulating emotions, the sense of self, and having perspective.
Other similar studies conducted at UCLA revealed that neuro-imaging shows a larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of grey matter for long term meditators. In fact, there is confirmed empirical evidence that meditators have a thicker prefrontal cortex, and right anterior insula to the effect that meditation might offset the loss of cognitive ability in old age.
To be sure, the designers of these scientific tests did not share a uniform definition of meditation. With the experimental groups practicing activities ranging from yoga transcendentalism, Eastern meditation, Christian meditation, Islamic meditation, and the new craze sweeping the business world—a mindfulness—focusing on the here and now upon our breathing or contemplating a visual object. The common denominator in all of these practices was that shutting out the outside distractions, and focusing in a relaxed, reflective, contemplative manner on something deep within the recesses of a consciousness or mind.
As God’s called-out ones, we know that the best food for thought is God’s word; His private revelation; and the entirety of God’s creation—His public revelation. As mentioned earlier, the longest Psalm in the Bible focuses on God’s law, which we are to mull over continually. In one sense, we do have a commonality with some of the Eastern meditation practices, such as to empty their minds. Well, we need to empty our minds of carnal thoughts.
II Corinthians 10:5 We are destroying sophisticated arguments and every exalted and proud thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought and purpose captive to the obedience of Christ.
So in a very real sense we do, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, empty ourselves of our carnal thoughts as we mortify the old man. The active meditation, even if the focus is on our breathing, or an idyllic scene, is beneficial both physically and psychologically, but the maximum benefit will accrue if we meditate on the things God has mandated, namely His law and His word.
Meditation is that quiet, reflective time in which we unhurriedly mull over what we have been studying, letting them drift into our unconscious mind for more secure storage.
The Apostle Paul often compared the Christian life to running a marathon race requiring strict discipline. Part of this strict discipline is to properly warm up and cool down. Meditation could be considered a cooling down exercise preventing the muscles to cramp.
In Psalms 63, David said:
Psalm 63:6 When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches.
Now obviously, he was not running a marathon, but he was profitably using his down time preparing for the next rigorous leg of the race. We can see that he was gently shepherding his conscious thoughts from the corral of the short-term memory to the secure pasture of the long term memory; the venue where character is nourished.
Memory and Godly character are formed over a lifetime, incrementally, repetitiously, with periods of intense mental efforts, in which we can almost fry an egg on our foreheads, to refreshing down time when our thoughts can gently mull over what we have allowed to enter the forebrain.
Meditation, like the Sabbath and the annual Holy days, can be considered a downtime for maintenance when we become not only rested, but rejuvenated.
The late band leader, Ray Conniff, recalled that after the formal sessions of practice with the Mitch Miller band, the musicians on the bus would hum or sing their parts without the music, without their instruments. When we are meditating, we are figuratively humming by ear something we have previously rigorously practiced, sometimes over and over and over and over, and over again until it becomes a part of us.
Whether we practice music, learn a foreign language or study God’s word, the principles are always the same. We need the restful downtime of meditation allowing us to be alone away from all distractions. We desperately must shift gears to a more moderate speed slowing way down, excluding all sense of hurry, mulling over what we have just studied in God’s word; allowing God’s Holy Spirit to bring to remembrance insights for our spiritual growth and development.
As we go through this process on a continual basis, we become enveloped with a profound peace as we affirm the words of David in Psalms 119:65, “Great peace have they who love your law, nothing shall offend them or make them stumble.