Learning to Listen: The Basics, Part II
I grew up in a highly conservative faith tradition, where the church history I learned stretched all the way back to…gasp!…Lottie Moon in the 1960s. Imagine my surprise when I learned about Martin Luther in my freshman world history class! I wondered why my church had not taught me about such a pivotal character in Christian history, while my public high school had – that seemed rather backward to me.
Years later, I learned about people like the early church fathers, the desert fathers and mothers, the mystics, and the Orthodox Church, and discovered that my tiny little corner of the Christian faith was as minuscule as the Earth is in our galaxy. I observed that a lot of “baby” had been thrown out with the doctrinal “bathwater” in an attempt to correct the theological shortcomings of the past.
To our great detriment, we Protestants have left a lot behind that we should have brought along with us from centuries of Christian history. We have spiritually deprived ourselves by abandoning a host of rich and meaningful spiritual practices in the name of rejecting legalism and heresy.
We failed to recognize that time-tested spiritual practices, when done correctly, could free us internally, as well as externally. Categorizing spiritual disciplines as useless, or worse, evil – akin to some kind of Catholic voodoo – is like categorizing sushi as cat food. People do not know what they are missing out on because they have demonized what is unfamiliar to them.
Ultimately, the rejection of the practice of meditation by some Christians is rooted in fear. Like most decisions made out of fear, I would argue it is a poor one. Some have consigned the practice of meditation to the realm of Eastern or New Age religions. Yet, in actuality, the practice of meditation has not only been a treasured one throughout the history of the Christian Church, but as far back as the Old Testament (see Gen. 24.63; Josh. 1.8; Psa. 19.14; Psa. 63.6; et al).
Consider another common spiritual practice that is widely accepted among all flavors of Christians: prayer. It is no secret that you can pray to all kinds of other gods and spirits. Yet why has prayer not suffered from the same stigma that meditation has?
Fortunately for us, these spiritual practices are experiencing quite the renaissance in evangelical Protestant circles lately. I am grateful because they helped me grow in a way that I could not when I merely focused on intellectual or theological understanding.
When introducing the Greatest Commandment in Mk. 12.28-31, the word that Jesus uses for “mind” is recorded in Greek as dianoia, which can be translated literally, as “meditation” or “reflection”. It is different than the word that Paul uses for “mind” in 1 Cor. 14.14, nous, that implies “the intellect” or “rational thought”.
When Jesus says the Greatest Commandment includes loving God with our minds, He does not mean a mere intellectual assent that we love God, nor does it mean only loving God via the pursuit of theological truth. It includes those, but also incorporates an aspect that many of us abandoned–or in my case, were never introduced to–out of an overabundance of caution that we might be led astray.
To love God with our whole selves means to love God with our entirety. I am afraid that we have been loving God with just a sliver of what our minds are capable of. We are capable of not only thinking about God and studying God’s Word, but also worshipping God in and through our imagination, training our thoughts through meditation, and doting on God as a lover would in constant reflection.
As the song goes, “Why should the devil have all the good music?” I would add, why should we let the devil have all the good habits? I propose taking meditation back for what it is: an effective tool for engaging with God and God’s Word in a deeper, more holistic way. When we surrender it to the enemy, we are giving away the privilege and power of meeting God in a profound way.
Join me in taking it back to learn how to love God more completely. To try out this practice with me, visit my YouTube channel!