Most of us have wanted to get fit and healthy at one point in our lives.
We’ve seen an inspirational video or a movie and a surge of energy comes over us and propels us over the barriers that make us want to stay in bed rather than wake up early and go for a ride or a run. But over time, that inspiration tends to slow down and starts to fade.
The inspiration has not been fed well. What started the swelling of inspiration inside of us has been swallowed up by the urgent and important other tasks and responsibilities that poke and pull at our desires until they move elsewhere. We forgot that our inspirations, and indeed, our affections, are a hungry beast that must be fed well.
How are you feeding your affections? This is a question of grave importance for every Christian. Every day, we have an opportunity to feed our affections in a million different little directions by the conversations we have, the books that we read and what we watch on television or on Netflix. Ultimately, our desires will be fed for Christ with Christ or they will be stoked elsewhere by being spent elsewhere. How then, do we feed our affections?
We feed our affections by drawing ourselves closer to the warmth of the gospel and meditating richly and deeply on the gospel.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your heart on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things’ (Colossians 3:1-2)
Warming ourselves by the gospel looks like fixing our eyes upon Jesus and meditating upon Him; thinking on him and dwelling in Him. We sing about him and sing to him and walk with others, where he is at the centre of our relationships until our affections for Him outweigh our desire and affection for anything else.
We were made to meditate. God has designed up with the capacity to pause and ponder. He means for us not just to hear him, but to reflect on what he says. David Mathis writes in Habits of Grace that:
It is a distinctively human trait to stop and consider, to chew on something with the teeth of our minds and hearts, to roll some reality around in our thoughts and press it deeply into our feelings’.
Meditation on the gospel is different to the ways in which many other world religions practice meditation. It doesn’t lead to an emptying of our minds from the everyday thoughts that we have, but rather filling them to the brim with gospel substance and then chewing on that with our minds and our hearts.
For the Christian, meditation means having the ‘word of Christ dwell in us richly’. It is the feasting of our minds on the words of God and digesting them slowly, enjoying the flavour of such rich fare and finding our affections content in Christ.
Biblical Narrative of Meditation
This type of meditation is a constant stream throughout the scriptures, where God’s people would stop to draw near to God in the midst of key moments in redemptive history. Following the death of Moses, God himself speaks to Joshua and three times gives the clear directive, ‘Be strong and courageous’ (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9). How is he to do this? Meditation. ‘This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night’ (Joshua 1:8)
Meditation on the word of God dominates the writing of Psalm 119 and its celebration of God, as the psalmist writes that he ‘meditates on your precepts’ (Psalm 119:15) and ‘on your wondrous works’ (Psalm 119:27). He claims, ‘Your testimonies are my meditation’ (Psalm 119:99). Furthermore, Psalm 1:1-2 echoes the language of Joshua – ‘Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law, he meditates day and night’. The blessed one, the one whose affections are most stirred for Christ and His word, does not settle quickly on the words of life with some quick reading, but is captivated by it and builds his life on the truths within.
In the New Testament, Paul exhorts his fellow Christians to ‘devote themselves to the public reading of scriptures, to exhortation and to teaching’ and to ‘immerse yourself in these things, so that all may see your progress’ (1 Timothy 4:13, 15). Clearly, all throughout the scriptures are exhortations and examples to bring ourselves close to the warmth to the truths of God by meditating richly on them.
Meditation on the scriptures and on the gospel has occupied a deep and enduring place in the history of the church as one of the most powerful means we have of bringing ourselves close to the warmth of the gospel. In particular, the Puritans celebrated the gift of meditation as much as any throughout the years and drew attention to its vital relationship with hearing God’s voice in the word and having his ear in prayer. Don Whitney has catalogued several prominent puritans and their thoughts on meditation on the Gospel:
- “A true meditation is when a man does so meditate of Christ as to get his heart inflamed with the love of Christ; so meditate on the truths of God, as to be transformed into them; and so meditate of sin as to get his heart to hate sin’ (Edmund Calamy)
- ‘Meditation is the bellows of the affections .. we light our affections at this fire of meditation’ (Thomas Watson)
- ‘Remember that it is not hasty reading, but serious meditation on holy and heavenly truths, that makes them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the mere touching of the flower by the bee that gathers honey, but her abiding for a time on the flower that draws out the sweet. It is not he that reads most, but he that meditates most, that will prove to be the choicest, sweetest, wisest, and strongest Christian” (Thomas Brooks)
- ‘The reason we come away so cold from reading the word is, because we do not spend more time warming ourselves at the fire of meditation’ (Thomas Watson)
- ‘Study is the finding out of a truth, meditation is the spiritual improvement of a truth; the one searcheth for the vein of gold, the other digs out the gold. Study is like a winter sun that hath little warmth and influence: meditation . . . melts the heart when it is frozen, and makes it drop into tears of love’ (Thomas Watson)
William Bridge, in his classic, ‘The Work and the Way of Meditation’ counsels us to begin our time of reflection on the gospels ‘with reading or hearing. Go on with meditation; end in prayer‘. This simple three-stage process is a helpful habit to bring us close to the warmth of the gospel and to stoke our affections within its flames. David Mathis powerfully writes that
We begin with reading and/or hearing because we want to start with God’s voice, not mine. He is God; I am not. He should speak first, and I should listen. After just a brief word asking for his help, I start in on my readings for the day, reminding myself that the goal is to find food for my soul.. I’m trying to read the bible to my heart, and I’m on the lookout for a place to pause and go deep in God’s goodness.
When I find a fresh biblical statement of his goodness, I move to meditation and seek to lodge the truth into my mind and heart. Meditation means chewing on some truth, and savoring it, seeking to apply it to the heart, to feel its significance for myself. Meditation has become for me the highpoint of daily devotions, when the real-time of Bible reading goes into slow motion, even into freeze-frame, and I linger over some glimpse of God’s goodness breathed out in his word
Finally, having walked the bridge of meditation, I polish with prayer. Meditation naturally connects hearing God’s voice in the Bible with responding to him in prayer. Over time I’ve found it most helpful not to immediately turn to a prayer list, but to let the content of that day’s meditation set the direction for my prayers that morning in praying for family, friends, church, ministry, and God’s global cause.
For the Christian, the feeding of our affections starts with meditation on the gospel. That which has started the swelling of joy and contentment within us must be fed well, so let us feed it on the rich fares of Christ and Him crucified.