Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Discipline of Meditation. Alive Student Ministry 12/21/14

Philippians 4:4-9 (ESV)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Thinking about the things of God leads to experiencing the peace of God. Many Christians ignore it out of fear and ignorance. However, meditation shouldn’t be defined by any one methodology. To meditate simply means to think, reflect, and contemplate. Christian mediation, therefore, is thinking, contemplating, and reflecting upon God and His Word. Not only is it a good and useful practice, as students will discover in this lesson, but it is also taught in the Bible.

Intro:  Meditation is a discipline that calls followers of Christ into a deeper relationship with Him. It's more than a seemingly mystical exercise performed by monks or strange Eastern religions. Proper, biblically based, meditation calls followers of Christ to a total abandonment of self and a mind set on Him in order to glorify God among the nations.

1. Meditation focuses on the joy of Christ instead of circumstances (Phil. 4:4–6).

Paul commanded the Philippians in three ways in this passage. First, he commanded them to rejoice. He actually said this twice, which emphasizes his point. This joy focuses on the faith that we have in Christ and not the fickle emotions that situations can bring. Second, he instructed them to live a life of selflessness in community with others. Third, he told them not to be anxious but to trust in the peace of Christ above the roar of their circumstances. Together, these three commands instructed the Philippians to center their focus not on themselves or their own circumstances but on the joy and peace of the Lord. In order for us to truly meditate on the Lord and His qualities, we must first obey Him. Our first step of obedience comes through our response to His offer of salvation. After that, it’s a constant commitment to center our lives on His ways. From this passage in Philippians, we realize that obedience is seen in our attitude towards the Lord (REJOICE!), our attitude toward each other (SERVE!), and our trust in the Lord. It’s important for us to know that prayer satisfies our anxieties—how interesting it is that Paul realized that consciously focusing (meditating) on the faithfulness and care of God is a balm for our anxieties!

2. Meditation immerses us in the qualities of God (Phil. 4:8).

Paul communicated to the Philippians that in order to understand and experience a God of peace, they must cultivate a proper environment—one that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. In many ways, this type of environment serves as an “anxiety preventer” discussed in Philippians 4:6. Notice that these qualities deal primarily with the thought life. The thought life of Christ- followers should be completely immersed in these things of God. If we’re going to understand who God is and how our lives are to respond to His grace and redemption, we must fully immerse ourselves in His word and His ways. We cannot compartmentalize God. We must soak in His ways, His truths, and His qualities. Philippians 4:8 gives us a great starting point of how we should order our lives. Write this verse on a card and place it on your computer, mirror, iPod, and television. It will remind you to only put into your mind what is written on the card.

3. Meditation guards our minds with the peace of God (Phil. 4:7, 9).

In both verses (7 and 9), the result of a proper alignment with the call of God is a peace that is both incomprehensible and comforting. In verse 7, peace is an answer to anxiety. Paul said that this peace is a divine peace. It can’t be understood or explained in human terms. It also protects the person it inhabits from becoming consumed with the struggles of the world. The peace in verse 9 is a result of effective Christian living. Paul told the Philippians to practice these truths. In this passage, thinking on things that are honorable (v. 8) and committing to holy disciplines result in a life that has been utterly transformed and is guarded by the peace of God. We can trust Him with all of our difficulties and receive His peace as we intently focus on Him. Proper meditation (thoughts focused on the things of God in wholehearted response to His instructions) results in great dependence upon the Lord. We realize that without the presence of the Lord in our lives there is great disharmony: There is a peace that is lacking. There is great frustration. Conversely, when we realize that our whole existence is dependent on the Lord, we begin to see a transformed life that is centered on God’s Word, His presence, and His call.

CONCLUSION: “Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to empty the mind in order to fill it”—Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
Focusing on Christ helps to fill our mind with Him. When our thoughts are focused on Him, the fruit of the Spirit began to pour out of our lives, and God’s peace takes over our anxiety. Christian meditation comes with a cost. It costs us to remove ourselves from the equation. Once we embrace our redemption, we must follow Him with radical abandonment; we cannot half- heartedly follow Christ. Finally, when we commit our lives to obedience and total immersion in Him, meditation (that complete vulnerability and focused mind before the Lord) transforms the life of the believer. There is a peace that exists between the person and the Lord that becomes the foundation for every possible experience that the person faces in this world.

Paul wrote his letter to the [philippian] church sometime during the early A.D. 60s. The Philippian church was Paul’s first church plant in Europe, and the church was dear to him. He was imprisoned at the time of writing, but the specific location is not known with certainty. His mention of the imperial guard (1:13) and Caesar’s household (4:22) points to Rome as the most likely place of origin. This period of imprisonment began when Paul was arrested in Jerusalem for being at the center of a riot at the Temple and then continued when Paul leveraged his Roman citizenship for an opportunity to share the gospel in Rome with Caesar himself.
Paul maintained an exuberant attitude throughout the letter to the Philippians in an effort to relay his joy in Christ despite his difficult imprisonment. In fact, his context strengthened his many exhortations toward the Philippian Christians to not worry about “anything” but rather pray about “everything” (4:6). Paul encouraged the Philippians to acknowledge the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ and to press on to reach the goal of Christ—no matter what their circumstances. He then closed his letter by directing the church to set their mind’s focus on Christ. Thus, Paul’s directives on the discipline of meditation are set in the context of exhortations to continue living in the truth that Christ truly is above all other things.
Multiple times, Paul mentioned God’s perfection in taking care of His people. In return, His followers are called to rejoice in God and to not be anxious about anything but to be prayerful toward God about everything. In addition, believers are exhorted to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy because God is the ideal of all of these virtues. All of Paul’s exhortations in this lesson’s biblical passage are meant to lead Christians to meditate upon God and how He is the answer to every need and the goal of every pursuit.
Philippians 4:4 Paul encouraged the Philippian Christians to “rejoice.” Paul was adamant that believers practice rejoicing as part of their spiritually disciplined lives, for he immediately repeated the word of encouragement: “Rejoice!”
Paul gave two qualifications and one consideration related to his exhortation to rejoice. The two qualifications deal with the context for rejoicing and the time for rejoicing. As to the context for rejoicing, Paul clearly stated first that the Philippian Christians were to rejoice specifically “in the Lord.” The Lord alone is the supreme God and the one true God who has brought salvation to the spiritually dead world. The second qualification was that the believers were to rejoice “always.” Because God is the Sovereign Lord over all places, times, and circumstances, any and every moment is an appropriate time to rejoice in Him; His perfect, infinite, and holy attributes never change. Rejoicing in Him at all times is entirely proper because He has done great things, He is doing great things, and He will do great things.
Lastly, one must consider the fact that Paul called upon the Philippian Christians to rejoice even as he languished as a prisoner. Understandably so, Paul could have been discouraged by his circumstances, but, as is the case throughout the whole course of his letter to the Philippians, he demonstrated a positive outlook and rejoiced at all times.
Philippians 4:5 Those who rejoice and do so continually in the Lord should also be characterized by a spirit of gentleness that is evident to all people. Commentators often agree that this word translated as “gentleness” or “reasonableness” denotes selflessness. Paul wanted the Philippians to be gentle, patient, and reasonable with one another—looking out for one another’s interests and the good of everyone instead of selfish pursuits. Jesus Christ was the perfect example of gentleness, as He maintained a spirit of gentleness in showing mercy through His sacrifice on the cross.
The phrase “the Lord is near” served several purposes here. First, it admonished the Philippians to be obedient to the Lord’s commands because God would hold them accountable for their deeds. Second, Paul wanted these believers to know that Christ would return in judgment and redemption. The third use of this phrase provided encouragement to the believers because the Holy Spirit would empower believers for living in the likeness of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 4:6 According to verse 6, nothing is worth getting “anxious” about because “everything” is worth submitting to God in prayer. The process of praying to God and making requests of Him (“petition”) negates the occurrence of worry––God is able and willing to address every request and is the only one capable of perfectly answering. It is not only unnecessary for a believer to be anxious about anything, but it is also hypocritical to be anxious, for such a disposition contradicts the believer’s trust in God.
Paul called his readers to present their requests to God “with thanksgiving.” This thanksgiving was to be based upon multiple reasons, including God’s perfect character and the display of His character through His mighty deeds of mercy and grace. The context of this verse, however, addressed requests that had been submitted to God but not yet answered; Paul emphasized that thanksgiving is not just responsive but also anticipatory. He urged believers to thank God as they pray. His answer is always the best answer, no matter what that answer is.
Philippians 4:7 Paul did not say that peace comes only when the answer to prayer arrives. Rather, he indicated that prayer itself should fill believers with a sense of peace because He who has received the prayer promised to be faithful in taking care of His followers. The peace that Paul described is “of God,” meaning that it is from God; because He is beyond full understanding, this peace logically “transcends all understanding.” Therefore, believers can experience a profound calmness and joy in their spirit despite hard circumstance that would otherwise drive a person to despair. In addition, God’s peace is good for “hearts” and “minds,” which is a way of saying that God’s peace covers the whole person.
Philippians 4:8 Paul called upon the Philippian church to think about “whatever” is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy. The idea behind the word think, however, isn’t that of a passing thought. Rather, thinking in this instance relates to meditation—concentrated reflection on something for extended periods of times. All of these characteristics mentioned by Paul ultimately describe the person and character of God. Considering Paul’s previous mention that “the Lord is near,” one can understand that Paul encouraged meditating about all of these characteristics because they will all lead the believer to meditate about God and become conformed to His character.
Philippians 4:9 Paul was not boasting when he told the Philippians to imitate him. When he referred to “whatever” the Philippian Christians have “learned” from him and “whatever” they have “received” or “heard” from him or “seen” in him, he was speaking in the context of his Christian witness. Although Paul was godly in character and zealous in devotion to Christ, he was not without sin. So he was not calling upon the Philippian Christians to copy everything about him, as if everything that he did was perfect. Rather, Paul had in mind the critical example that he was as a faithful preacher, teacher, pastor, and missionary figure.
Paul had called upon the Philippians a chapter earlier to follow not just his example but also “those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (3:17). So Paul was ultimately not pointing to himself or anyone else as a model for morality but to the “pattern” set through the life, death, work, and witness of Jesus Christ. The Philippians were to follow Paul only insomuch as he followed and imitated Christ.
All of us worry about a lot of things. But followers of Christ need to know that being anxious about anything is a contradiction to the new life that has been granted to them by faith and through the grace of Christ’s death and resurrection. Anxiety should not be an identifiable characteristic of the Christian life because Jesus has won a great victory that includes worry among the conquered foes. A key piece to knowing God and experiencing His peace is meditating on His Word and His character. Meditation can seem intimidating if we think of it as some kind of foreign, mystical practice. But adults must model a biblical example of meditation for students so that they can see that a consistent and intentional mind set on God leads us to become more like Him.
By thinking upon things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy, believing students are compelled to think about God, who perfectly demonstrates and inspires all of these virtues. Encourage students by discussing the freedom that they can exercise with how they practice the discipline of meditation. Thinking about God can take a little bit of time or a lengthy bit of time. It can be practiced sitting still or on the move, with friends or alone, at church or away from church. The point is to make it a constant practice—that’s why it’s called a discipline! Remind them that praying is a valuable outgrowth of meditation and that it really serves to complete the practice of this discipline. Finally, challenge your students to practice this important discipline of the Christian life and then marvel at how much less they worry about anything.

Small Group Questions:
  • What are the most common worldly thoughts that students struggle with today?
  • Why is it more difficult to live a Godly life when you consistently think about things that aren’t Godly?
  • What practical things can you do to help you meditate on Scripture during the day when there are so many other things on your mind?
  • How can you consistently keep Godly thoughts in front of you throughout the day?

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