How To Meditate: 3 Steps of Aggressive Mental Engagement

We need insight, not another tsunami of information.

We can gain that insight by using an aggressive three-step process of mental engagement for meditation. Its aggressive because it is targeted and intentional. But it is also simple. And the results are staggering.

The main advantage of this three-step approach is taking things an unusual step further by looking to engage the mind in connecting additional concepts together across the Scriptures and into life. This process lends itself to gaining insight by discovering the connectivity of the Bible instead of reading passages in isolation.

Step #1: Sorting Out the Text

Dr. Kevin Washburn teaches that to learn, it is necessary for our brains to “identify, label, and sort incoming data.” We must process what we’ve read, sorting it all out mentally to gain comprehension.

What does sorting out the text look like?

Sorting out the text is nothing more than quality Bible study. Need ideas for creative ways to process the text? Take a look at Demian Farnworth’s 10 creative steps for right-brained thinkers to study the Bible. Do everything from marking key words with colored pencils to making topical lists. Get a grasp of what the text says.

Step #2: Zero in on Key Concepts

Look for key concepts in what you read. A concept is a bottom-line key point of the text. It is a principle, not a description, summary, or theme. It is a clearly-stated truth that likely appears in more than one place in the Bible.

An example concept is in Philipians 2:1-10: God exalts the humble. A wrong way to state the concept would be to say, “Paul wrote that Jesus was humble.”

Step #3: Connect Concept With Other Concepts & Life

Of the three steps, this one is the most overlooked. Yet it is the most important one.

Remember, real learning happens when new information is connected with previously known information so that the two are blended, which enables the brain to learn and lock it all into long-term memory.

So connect the concepts you find in the text you read with other known concepts in other places in Scripture. Then blend the connected concepts. And then connect them to your life.

– Connect the concepts

For example, we can connect the concept in Philipians 2:1-10 to Daniel 4:28-37 where Nebuchadnezzar is only lifted up once he humbles himself in his heart.

Blend the two connected concepts

Once we see the connection, the two concepts can blend. We can see that if we don’t have the attitude of Christ, God may use physical humiliation to bring about humility in our heart as He did with Nebuchadnezzar.

– Connect it all to your life

Now prayerfully consider specific relationships where you might be bringing hurt by acting more like Nebuchadnezzar than Christ. Apply the concept by intentionally connecting it specifically to your life. Where have you seen this concept proven true in your own life in the past? What would your life look like if you applied this concept going forward?

Try it out. See if the three-step process helps  you engage your mind to discover insights.

Next Up: Modeling this 3-step process in-depth on a passage. [We’ll also eventually discuss the role of the Holy Spirit and focus on the heart]

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Go Hastily to Find the Savior

“And the shepherds went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16).

The shepherds were hurriedly seeking Jesus. Why didn’t they wait until morning? What was the rush?

Because falling at the feet of Jesus was better than anything else they could have been doing that night. “Well that’s easy to say,” one might think, “All they had to do that night was watch a herd of sheep.” Truthfully, we are no better off than the shepherds. The best thing we can do apart from Christ doesn’t compare any more favorably than watching sheep.

If you knew He was your Savior from sin that destroys, you’d run to Him.

If you knew that He offered the joy and peace you seek, you’d run to Him.

We’ll Find Nothing More Worthy of Pursuit

If we are not hurriedly seeking Jesus, it is not because we have found something better. It is because we don’t know who He is to properly value Him. We don’t know how real and immediately needed the gospel is for everyday life.

How Needed is the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Let’s just focus on one area where the gospel is practical: our work.

Apart from Christ,

» You can earn and pay money, but we will all still use it to seek worthless things with no eternal value and remain impoverished in all meaningful accounts.

» You can bring someone healing, but they’ll only use their strength to continue heading to the grave.

» You can give someone legal advice, but they’ll keep breaking the laws of heaven and face legal condemnation before a just and righteous Judge.

» You can build people’s houses and buildings, but that will still leave them homeless in the next world.

» You can offer insight and advice, but all of our earthly wisdom is futile and foolish in light of living unprepared to die and face eternity.

You can bring people a lot of earthly things, but you cannot change the hearts that destine them for hell apart from salvation in Christ.

Apart from Christ, all our greatest efforts are ultimately worthless and futile. We are wandering, destroying ourselves, purposeless, enjoying a moment of pleasure while storing up a harvest of ache and woe.

Unless you intimately know Christ yourself and bring Christ to to the people in the workplace and anyone else you try to serve here on earth.

No surprise the shepherds ran to the One who was called their Savior.

How Close is Close Enough?

Is hearing the angels say Jesus exists enough for you?
Is running to the stable door close enough?
Or is running all the way to the side of the manger where you want to be?

What level of intimacy do you let pass as “finding Christ”?

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Time Out For Comic Relief: Read Some Top-Notch Scientific Research

Ouch. It'll hurt less if you pull it off fastHere is one of the lighter news stories that may have passed you by.

Glad I Know Now: Fast is Best for Band Aid Removal, Scientists Say

Yes, mom was always right.

Pulling the band aid off faster does hurt less.

On top of verifying mom’s age-old medical advice, researchers also found evidence that pain is both cultural and psychological:

Researcher Dr. Carl O’Kane says the research found the cause of pain to be more of a psychological issue.

“It’s fascinating that if you had a preconception that slow was going to be more painful in fact it was, so it also suggests that pain is not just what you perceive but what you think you will perceive when you get the painful stimulus,” he said.

“So there’s a lot of cultural and psychological factors there as well.”

Now that the study is concluded, they’ll have time to finish up their studies on drunk fruit flies. A whole new meaning to “I hear a fly buzzing.”

It’s OK to Add Some Sweets Into Your Diet
Why do you think we usually dwell on the morbid headlines?

We take in a steady diet of apocalyptic news stories, trying to keep our heads above water in flash floods of high-profile disaster. We could use something sweet in our news diet every now and then.

Christians shouldn’t be disengaged from the culture and its horrors. And yes, we have a weighty mission to carry out.

But if Matthew 6:25-33 is true, I think we can afford to lighten up a little on occasion.

So here I am, grinning at band aids, fruit flies, and other modern marvels of science.

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Developing Your Prayer Life: The Ongoing Series

Developing Your Prayer Life

It is time to [re]discover prayer, and this ongoing series is packed with key lessons on prayer.

Below is a list of what we’ve covered in this series. This page will serve as an index and I’ll update it periodically.

1. A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: Responding to the Holy Spirit

2. A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: A Wartime Mentality

3. A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: Discipline and Planning

4. A Prayer-Producing, Sin-Slaughtering Love for God

5. The Need for Collective Prayer

6. The Prayerless Church is a Powerless Church [Weekend Resource]

7. How to Develop a Desperate Prayer Life

8. Prayerfully Coming to Grips with Inadequacy Without Becoming Inactive

9. Driven to Prayer: Our Extremities are the Lord’s Opportunities

10. The Benefits of Reflecting on Answered Prayer

11. Trouble’s Value: Weakness Clarifies Our Need to Go Before God in Prayer

12. Five Tough Quotes on Prayerless Christians

13. Prayer: Laying Hold of God by His Promises [Weekend Resource]

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How to Ask Better Small Group Questions [Weekend Resource]

Now That's a Good Question! by Terry PowellCan you identify with the following prayer?

Dear God, so far today I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped or lost my temper. I haven’t cheated anyone out of money or stared at a beautiful woman with lust. I haven’t been grumpy or selfish, and I’m really glad of that. But in a few minutes, Lord, I’m going to get out of bed, and from then on, I’m going to need all the help I can get. Amen.

Those are the opening lines of Now That’s a Good Question! by Terry Powell.

Who doesn’t want to read a book that starts off like that?

The purpose of this book is to aid the small group leader in leading a discussion.

  • What makes good question?
  • How do you ask effective, discussion-stimulating questions?
  • What is the difference between an interpretation and an application question?

In less than 100 easy-read pages, the book answers those questions, and many others [see table of contents].

You can download [for free] Chapter 1: Creating a Climate for Discussion.

The chapter is about…well, creating an effective discussion climate (like you needed me to tell you that). One of my favorite chapters in the book.

If you like what you see in the free sample, go here to buy Now That’s a Good Question! by Terry Powell.

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Meditation: More Insight, Not More Input

Prayer and Meditation on the WordHave you ever read your Bible for half an hour, walked away, and remembered nothing?

I have.

It’s the same feeling a kid gets when his parent asks, “What did you learn in school today?” and he answers, “Uh…nothing. I don’t remember anything.”

Turns out, both of those incidents are related.

And the goal of the coming posts is to help us move past that struggle.

What’s the Solution?

As Donald Whitney wrote,

“…the problem has more to do with the method of engaging God’s Word than anything else. For if you merely read the Bible, don’t be surprised if you forget most—if not all—of what you’ve read.

What’s the simple solution? …The solution is not only to read the Scriptures, but to meditate on them.”

Whitney defined meditation succinctly in his book, Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life:

“Meditation [is the] deep thinking on truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purpose of understanding, application, and prayer.”

We’ve covered fifteen rock-solid reasons to meditate on God’s Word.

Now let’s start moving toward what it means to meditate and how is it done.

How Does the Brain Learn and Remember?

Real learning only happens when the mind is actively engaged in sorting out, processing, and connecting the new information to previously known information.

How does the mind connect the new and the old?

By seeing patterns (concepts).

According to Dr. Kevin Washburn,

“The brain seeks and sees patterns. Patterns, or concepts, aid both memory storage and retrieval. Patterns empower authentic learning.”

When you take in new information and have an “Ah-ha!” moment after reflecting on the new and connecting it with the rest of the puzzle of previously known information, then you’ve learned something you can retain. You’ve seen a pattern in the new that connects with a pattern in the old. The brain learns by connecting. Your brain latches the two together. It sticks.

The takeaway from Dr. Washburn is that in order to retain more of what you read, the key is spending time engaging your mind to process the information and look for patterns. We’ll get into the specifics of patterns/concepts in another post.

The Bottom Line: Another Tidal Wave of Information Won’t Help You Learn

The need is not for additional information but rather for time spent processing the information so that it is understood and learned.

That’s why we need meditation. We need the intentional reflection on what we’ve read. We need to give our minds time to take hold of what we’ve read.

We do not need another tidal wave of information. We need to give our hearts time to sink roots deep into the river bank and absorb the water.

The Palm 1 Model

Look at Psalm 1:1-3 as an illustration of absorbing the Word by mediating on it:

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The tree can only absorb so much water at a time. We can only absorb so much of the Bible at a time.

Insight is Gained by Meditation, Not More Input

The key is not to find a bigger river. The key is to keep your roots in the water continually. The key is not to flood your brain with more information, but to spend time meditating, absorbing the Word.

Some may object and say, “Christians need to read their Bibles more, not less.” Which is completely true. We can’t get enough.

However, apart from more meditation, more reading has diminishing value.

In order to keep from being a mile wide and an inch deep, we need more insight, not more input. Insight is gained by meditation.

Next up: How to Meditate

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Prayerfully Coming to Grips with Inadequacy Without Becoming Inactive

Inadequate“Waiting on God” is not an excuse to be inactive.

Take a look at Nehemiah 4:7-23 which records part of the story of the Jews rebuilding the walls. Remember, the opposition from angry neighbors was stiff enough that the Jewish guards slept with their clothes on, weapon in hand.

Nehemiah records a pertinent detail.

He wrote, “And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night” (Nehemiah 4:9).

Nehemiah had an understanding of the power of prayer and the role of human effort. In response to the attackers, he and his men prayed AND set a guard.

Inadequate But Not Inactive
Setting a guard did not deny their inadequacy to meet the attackers. But it did keep them from being inactive.

J.R. Miller wrote a golden snippet on this subject of prayer and duty:

We are in danger of making prayer a substitute for duty; or of trying to roll over on God, the burden of caring for us and doing things for us–while we sit still and do nothing! When we pray to be delivered from temptation–we must keep out of the way of temptation, unless duty clearly calls us there. We must also guard against temptation, resist the Devil, and stand firm in obedience and faith. When we ask God for our daily bread, pleading the promise that we shall not lack–we must also labor to earn God’s bread, and thus make it ours honestly.

A lazy man came once and asked for money, saying that he could not find bread for his family. “Neither can I!” replied the industrious mechanic to whom he had applied. “I am obliged to work for it!”

While we pray for health–we must use the means to obtain it.

While we ask for wisdom–we must use our brains and think, searching for wisdom as for hidden treasure.

While we ask God to help us break off a bad habit–we must also strive to overcome the habit.

Prayer is not merely a device for saving people from toil, struggle and responsibility. When there is no human power adequate to the need–we may ask God to work without us, and in some way He will help us. But ordinarily we must do our part, asking God to work in and through us, and to bless us through faithful obedience.

Resources to Accompany Responsibility, Not to Replace It
This is not to lessen the importance of prayer, but to keep prayer in perspective.

As prayer increases in importance to us, we do not escape responsibility but instead run to the One who’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.

The prayer warrior has resources to accompany responsibility, not to replace responsibility.

“For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Colossians 1:29)

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Dug Down Deep: A Review [Weekend Resource]

Dug Down Deep**Guest post by Demian Farnworth at Fallen and Flawed.**

Right here. Right now. I’m coining a new word: “confessional reformed narrative.”

What do I mean by that? Simply this: a “confessional reformed narrative” is a book on reformed doctrine couched in stories–the author’s and others.

Think Unfashionable by Tullian T. Or Why We’re Not Emergent by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a bad thing.

Just a trend I’ve noticed. A trend, I speculate, cropping up to answer Emergent writers emphasis on “narrative.”

“Sure,” these writers seem to be saying, “you can have your narrative. But not without something to stand on.”

It’s that “something to stand on” that makes them reformed.

Josh Harris’ newest book Dug Down Deep–Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters falls into this “confessional reformed narrative” category.

Harris of I Kissed Dating Goodbye fame is all grown up now. He’s entered the early stages of mid-life. And now he’s wondering what in the world he believed in the past–it certainly wasn’t sturdy or even safe.

Page through this highly-readable book and what you discover is that seemingly worn-out words like theology, doctrine and orthodoxy ARE important. Especially if he wants to walk on the “pathway of the mysterious, awe-filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ.”

In essence, Harris argues that theology matters. And he aims to teach you theology. He aims to give your faith something to stand on. But with a slant. His slant.

Like any good theologian, he starts with the character of God. Theology proper…

But you wouldn’t know that from the chapter title “Near but Not in My Pocket” or the chapter sub-title “God is utterly different from me. And that is utterly wonderful.”

Or take the chapter on Christology: “God with a Bellybutton.”

See that? This is his method. And it’s clever. Indeed, once you read the chapter you almost want to lynch him for being so clever.

The great part is he never lets up…from one doctrine to the next.

So what Dug Down Deep ends up being is a great introduction to theology. The structure of our belief. Which, as Harris points out, is significant:

“Many of us are not theologically informed. Truth about God doesn’t define us and shape us.”

What does shape us? Our culture. Is that what you want?

More tantalizingly, though, are the stories–the confessions and narratives threaded throughout his book.

Forgive me, but tales about drunk Amish teenagers, a remarkably-well drawn cartoon to explain our struggle with flesh AND the sneak-peek into Harris’ one-time live-in mentorship with pastor C. J. Maheny–to name just a few–are captivating.

To be serious though, the real gem is the last chapter “Humble Orthodoxy.” A chapter that points out that hostility or arrogance has no place in historical Christian faith because, in the end, there will only be one right person.

You can probably figure out who that person is.

Demian Farnworth is keynote blogger for Fallen and Flawed.

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The Benefits of Reflecting on Answered Prayer

Remembering Answered PrayerIf prayer is the key to chest, then praise is the proper delight in the unlocked treasure.

The Answer is Not The Treasure
We are mistaken if we think the answered prayer is the main treasure. The answer is the treasure we seek.

The answer is but a click of the lock. And we’re so busy trying to figure out if the click sounded like a “yes” or a “no” answer, we forget to open the chest.

The Treasure is…
The treasure is what the answered prayer reveals about God after we have drawn near to Him intimately to behold His character displayed in His workings and gifts.

We’re Free to Take “no” As an Answer With This Mindset
We are free to take “no” for an answer if we know of this treasure, because we are primarily seeking to draw nearer to the Father and see His glory displayed. His glory is displayed when He works His will, not just when His will happens to match our requests and produce a “yes” answer.

Be Accustomed to Gratefully Observing Answered Prayer
If we are unaccustomed to gratefully observing answered prayer, we might listen to ten-thousand locks click open without ever opening a chest. We will neglect to praise Him if we never look to see how our prayers were answered.

3 Reasons to Reflect on Old Prayers and Answers
Just as a man would look more than once into a treasure chest, we must look more than once upon our answered prayers and praise God. There are three reasons why it is fitting to frequently look to God’s past answers to our prayers and turn to praise Him again.

First, God is worthy of continual praise, and the past of full of specific things to fuel such praise.

Second, it does our hearts good to be set straight by delighting again in God’s excellencies displayed in the past.

Third, we see each act of God with eyes limited by space and time. As the story unfolds yet further, we may see a fuller of view of God’s work, leading to richer praise.

Until we have praised God for who He has shown Himself to be, we have seen no treasure. We have only heard the lock click, then scurried on our way.

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2 Questions for Examining Our Spiritual Condition

Light Bulb of ThoughtThis is Part Two in the series, “2 Questions for Examining…” Part One: 2 Questions for Examining Our Affection for Christ.

I can handle answers. It’s the good questions that I have a hard time recovering from. They hit harder.

The following are two quality questions. They are thought provoking. Give them both a serious answer.

1. Why do I read the Bible?

Why do you read the Bible? On his blog, Don Dudley writes,

“Our answer will tell us a lot about who we are. I think the reality is, many of us probably cannot answer the question because we do not know.

Most answers will either be based on the need for knowledge (I want to learn about God, history, doctrine, etc) and emotion (I want to be closer to God because he makes me warm and fuzzy).

What happens beneath the surface is we tend to embrace intellectualism or we embrace an emotional faith with no balance in between.”

2. Is there anything in my life that can be explained only because of God Himself?

In his book, How to Give Away Your Faith, Paul E. Little writes,

“The problem of mere ‘environmental faith’ is plaguing the church of Jesus Christ today. I use this term to describe spiritual life when it’s largely an outgrowth of our surroundings:

Sundays we always go to Bible classes and worship services where we hear the Bible expounded.
During the week we attend prayer meetings and say our little piece.
Much of our time is spent with Christian friends; we speak the same language.

But that’s about the extent of out Christian life. We don’t know what direct, personal, communication between ourselves and the living God is…Result? When the non-Christian looks at us he sees a reflection of our environment (which he does not share) but nothing more. And it doesn’t impress him. He’s not looking for an environment. He’s looking for living faith…

Suddenly we’re faced with the shallow superficiality of our Christian experience…[W]e frequently need to ask ourselves, ‘Is there anything in my life that can be explained only because of God Himself? Or is everything due to my background, surroundings, and present circumstances? What if, a week from now, my environment should be completely different?”

Here are 10 More Questions to Help You Diagnose Your Spiritual Health.

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