Unfortunately the sermon wasn’t recorded – however slides can be found here. Perhaps we can get Andrew to record it again!

Here is the link to Chrisitian meditations. There is an Ephesians meditation here.

Good morning everyone. A few months ago I can across an article that intrigued me. It seems that one of the big churches in the States, Willow Creek infact, had decided to do an audit of its courses. You see, that’s what Willow Creek, was and is, famous for – its teaching programme. They run courses on all sorts of stuff for all ages, from ‘what is Christianity?’, to ‘how to follow Jesus?’ and ‘to how do I tell my friends?’, to ‘dealing with debt’, ‘bible and theology’ – all sorts of stuff. And it is all well done, of good quality – we’ve used some of it here. But in the article I was reading it was clear that the leaders of church had taken a brave decision. Sure the courses were good, but they wanted to know if they were effective. Did these courses do what the church wanted them to do – which was, to enable those who went on them, to become better disciples of Jesus? And by better disciples, they meant, more in love with God and more in love with self and neighbour. And through their research the church discovered something startling – they didn’t – they found that going on a course didn’t necessarily equate to being a better disciple of Jesus. Instead what they found was that, if you wanted someone to grow in their love of God and love of self and neighbour, what you had to do was to teach them to feed themselves. It is so easy, as a Christian, to want simply to be spoon fed, in a Sunday service or on a course, but it wasn’t until you took responsibility for yourself, during the week, to seek after God, to listen, receive and respond to God yourself, that discipleship, walk with God, really flew – really got going!

And that why I want to start this new course today – which I have rather neatly entitled ‘feeding yourself’ – and over the next few weeks we are going to look at 4 key Spiritual disciplines that help us and train us, to listen and respond to God. And here are the four activities we are going to look at:

1. Meditation
2. Prayer
3. Fasting
4. Study

My own experience of ‘quiet time’ (daily bible study and prayer) has been pretty dire throughout my Christian walk. I think I gave up on bible study notes in the early 80’s. I couldn’t bear their patronizing tone – and the guilt when I missed one – or 7 (and then would try and catch up). But now I have discovered hope.

What if daily time spent with God, could be – well could be like time spent with a lover: intimate and enriching, normal, but touching eternity? What if we, each of us could have a new pattern of relating to God, whereby when God spoke we heard, and could hear for others? What if we could allow God to fill our imaginations – not as a way out of reality, but as a way in? A way to live, be ourselves, whilst receiving the strength and grace and sustenance that God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) longs to give us. Well, this primarily is what these Spiritual disciplines are for.

And to exercise them, to do them, is like going to be a journey. Just like walking, walking with God is something you learn, something you grow in – it takes time and discipline and perseverance. Just like a friendship, it gets better the more you invest of your time and of yourself.

Now I’m sure many of you are seasoned prayer warriors, able meditators, skilled fastors and fluent in scripture – but for the rest of us, well, this could open a new refreshing chapter of our relationship with God. So shall we give it a go?

And here, before we go any further I want a commitment from you – not simply to listen but to do. Because you don’t learn this stuff simply by hearing me talking about it or from a book, you learn by doing it. A friend of mine once heard a Rabbi say that ‘the Bible gets into our hearts primarily through our feet, not our heads.’ It is as we walk, as we do, that the reality of these Spiritual disciplines will impact.

We are looking at these 4 key Spiritual disciplines because, down the ages, these have been acknowledged as effective and important- and also they form the first section of a book I have found very helpful called ‘Celebration of discipline’ by Richard Foster. Sure they’ll overlap – but I think that in looking at mediation, prayer, fasting and study, we should cover the basics. They are a good place to start.

So let’s start shall we? Let’s look a meditation.

A few years ago if I have said, in church, that we are going to look at mediation – well let’s just say that nervous looks would have been exchanged all round. For mediation used to be the sole preserve of Eastern religions, like Buddhism. But over recent year, we Christians have been rediscovering our heritage and we have found mediation.

What is it? The word ‘mediate’ occurs loads of times, particularly in the old Testament, where it has a variety of meanings including: listening to God’s word, reflecting upon God’s works, rehearsing God’s deeds, ruminating on God’s law. Quite simply it’s the ability to hear God’s voice and obey God’s word.
Here’s how it starts. (Turn radio on loud).
This is our everyday experience. Sometimes we choose noise – how many of you like me, always put the radio on when you walk into a room? But this noise also represents our busyness, our anxieties, the demands on our time, our attention. And mediation begins like this… (Switch off radio).

Mediation begins as we switch off the radio, turn off the computer, sit down, by ourselves in a quiet space.

And now, this is where Christian mediation differs radically from ‘Eastern’. As Richard Foster writes: ‘All Eastern forms of mediation stress the need to become detached from the world. There is an emphasis upon losing personhood and individuality and merging with the cosmic mind. There is a longing to be released from the burdens and pains of this life and be caught up into the effortless, suspended bliss of Nirvana. Personal identity is lost in a pool of cosmic consciousness. Detachment is the final goal…’

Now in Christian mediation, there is certainly an emphasis upon stillness and the desire to turn away from noise and everyday distraction. But the aim isn’t emptiness or detachment – in fact quite the opposite, we turn, take time out so that we might, attach – we might engage with the God who longs to engage with us, the God who promised to be with us to the very end of the age (Matt 28).

And that is really about as complex as mediation gets. You don’t need a special room or chair – you just need to be still and quiet – and there’s the rub – because we find just being still and open to God so difficult, don’t we? Just being still seems to open the floodgates of our fears. We are scared that God wouldn’t want to spend time with us (that is one of my own personal favourite). Or we are equally afraid that something will happen or something won’t happen. And it is to help us in our wobbly moments that those who have gone before us in the faith, have left some examples of mediation, which they have found helpful in the past – which we might like to follow. And there are loads!

So there you are in your time of stillness. Quiet before God, seeking to be attentive, seeking to listen. Here’s one exercise you could try and it is called ‘palms down, palms up’: after allowing yourself to be still, you begin by placing your palms down as a symbolic indication of your desire to turn over any concerns you may have to God. Inwardly you may pray – “Lord, I give you my anger towards John. I release my fear of my dentist’s appointment this morning. I surrender my anxiety about the bills this month.” Whatever it is that weighs on your mind or is a concern to you, just say “palms down”. Release it. After several moments of surrender turn your “palms up”, as a symbol of your desire to receive from the Lord. Perhaps you will pray silently “Lord, I receive your divine love for John, your peace about the dentist appointment, your patience, your joy – whatever you need, you say, palms up.” And then you just remain silent, do not ask for anything. Allow the Lord to commune with your spirit, to love you. If impressions or words or directions come fine, if not, fine.

There are loads of exercises just like that one -some involving concentrating upon your breathing, or focusing upon nature, looking closely, giving thanks to God for the beauty and intricacy of his work.

Another rich vein of meditation comes when scripture is your central reference point. You could take a single event like the resurrection, or a parable, or a few verses, or even a single word, and allow it to take root in you. In your imagination seek to live the experience. Smell the sea. Hear the lap of water along the shore. See the crowd. Feel the sun on your head and the hunger in your stomach and hear his words, touch the hem of his garment.

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said: ” just as you do not analyse the words of someone you love, but accept them as they are said to you, accept the words of scripture and ponder it in your heart, as Mary did. That is all. That is meditation.” (p26)

But when you mediate you have to remember that mediation is like friendship. You don’t meet a friend and say, “well today I would like 2 words of encouragement, 3 compliments and a slice of wisdom” – no, being friends together is enough, you don’t, can’t have that control. So it is with your relationship with God, who loves you and loves it when we take time to spend focused time with him. Being with him is enough, and if you receive words, or pictures, or impressions, that is fine – but it is primarily the exercise is about being close.

Meditation – try it this week if you can. Make an appointment in your diary. If God came all that way from heaven to save you, became flesh, died so you could know him – wouldn’t he want to draw close to you this week? So have a go, by yourself, with some friends – persevere, don’t be discouraged. There is loads of help available – all you have to do is ask.