This article will look at a trio of spiritual disciplines that are not often talked about in Christian circles. But meditation, solitude, and fasting are worthy disciplines to learn to practice. This article will give a brief overview of these three disciplines.
Meditation is a word that sometimes has a bad image in Christian circles. Too often, it invokes the image of an Eastern guru sitting cross-legged on the floor and chanting. The mediation of Eastern religions focuses on emptying your mind and thoughts. And that is contrary to Christian mediation. Rather than seeking to be emptied, Christian mediation seeks to be filled with the Spirit of God.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is thinking deeply about something. It may be a passage of Scripture or some specific theological topic. Meditation involves both trying to reach a greater understanding of the topic as well as understanding how it should impact your life. In some ways, meditation is similar to a personal in-depth Bible study. But meditation is more than that.
Meditation is a solitary activity. But it does involve one other, the Holy Spirit. Left to our own thoughts, we will have a tendency to go astray. So, as we spend time in meditation, we should involve the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts.
Meditation on a Passage
Meditation on a specific verse, short passage, or even a portion of a verse, is the most common form of meditation. Your goal in meditating on the passage will be to develop a greater understanding of the passage. But this greater understanding may well call for some response in your life.
Read your selected passage several times. Consider memorizing it. Read it in multiple translations. Read the context around the passage. Search for related passages and read them. Take advantage of any commentaries you have available. But don’t be content with what others have said about the passage. Seek the help of the Holy Spirit and the illumination that he can bring to you.
But meditation is more than just an in-depth Bible study. Once you have studied the passage, spend time thinking about it. What is God saying in this passage? What message does he have for you in it? How are you going to respond to that message?
Your meditation may be short or take place over several days. The time involved is not as important as the results of the meditation. What is important is that you grow through this time you have spent dwelling on God’s word.
Meditation on a Topic
There are many theological topics, or doctrines, that are worth spending time meditating on. It could be that you are simply curious about a specific doctrine and want to learn more about it. Or you could feel a real need to develop a better understanding. Either for your own growth or to be able to better discuss it with others.
The major difference between meditation on a topic and a single passage is its scope. Use a concordance or topical Bible dictionary to identify relevant passages. Read through all of these passages, including those that seem at odds with your current understanding of the topic.
Once you have identified and studied all of the relevant passages, spend time meditating on what you have assembled. As always, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your efforts. You will be looking to develop a more complete understanding of the topic. This may take days, weeks, or even years. Don’t be afraid to set it aside for a while and take it back up later. While you may not initially be able to fit all of the passages into a coherent understanding, do the best that you can.
Solitude may seem like a strange topic in the study of spiritual disciplines. But it is a discipline that has great value if we will learn to avail ourselves of it.
Many of us are surrounded by people all day. If not in person, then via social media or other forms of electronic communication. We live in a very connected world that is always demanding our attention. To practice solitude is to get away from all that. To spend time alone, both physically and electronically.
Solitude gives us the opportunity to reflect. To think about your life. To think about God and your walk with him. And to think about whatever is troubling you. Or anything else that the busyness of your life has kept you from thinking deeply about.
As a believer, the primary use of the discipline of solitude is to spend time alone with God. Just the two of you with a minimum of distractions. Being alone for extended periods does not come easy for most people. But when you have learned to spend time alone with God, you will find it to be a very rewarding practice.
How to Practice Solitude
The most obvious step toward practicing the discipline of solitude is to get away from any distractions, whether people, electronics, or anything else that would draw your attention away from being alone with God. What that will look like will vary depending on your personality and situation in life. Just do the best you can to be alone.
There is no specific amount of time that is required. But it should be long enough that you actually have connected with God. Whether you spend a few hours or a few days is not as important as having spent it with God.
You will find it helpful to have a Bible and notebook available. God speaks to us primarily through his word. So having a Bible available will make it easier for him to direct your thoughts. A notebook will be handy to record any impressions from your time. It will also allow you to jot down any thoughts that come to you that are not important to your time of solitude but may need to be addressed later.
Be patient. It may take a long time to be able to clear your mind of all of the clutter and distractions. Eventually, your brain will calm down. Take the time to talk to God. Tell him about your life, dreams, and disappointments. Listen for his response. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand. It may seem awkward and uncomfortable at first. But as you learn to talk with God, you will learn to hear his response to you.
Fasting is a spiritual discipline that we seem not to practice much anymore. While fasting does involve going without eating and, optionally, drinking other than water, it is much more than that.
Fasting involves depriving yourself in order to give yourself more completely to God. Fasting is most commonly thought of as abstaining from physical nourishment. But you could also fast from social media, entertainment, or other activities. Instead of participating in those things, take the time to spend with God.
There is another aspect of fasting found in Isaiah 58:5-6. Rather than just abstaining from eating, give what you would have eaten to those who are hungry. Deprive yourself in order to care for those less fortunate than yourself. That is a particular form of fasting that God finds pleasing.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:Isaiah 58:5-6 NIV
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Tying Them Together
Meditation, solitude, and fasting are all personal spiritual disciplines. And there is an overlap between them. You may fast during your time of solitude. A time of solitude and meditation can go together hand in hand.
Additionally, the disciplines of Bible study and prayer can go hand in hand with these, especially with meditation and solitude. Even though these articles have broken them out into distinct disciplines, it is really hard to practice them effectively in isolation from the others.
Some Questions to Consider
- What is the difference between meditation and Bible study?
- What obstacles do you face in practicing the discipline of solitude?
- What do you think of fasting? Especially the type of fast mentioned in Isaiah 58:5-6.
You are welcome to respond to these questions in the comment section below. If you do, be sure to check the “Notify me” checkbox just above the Post Comment button so you can get any feedback. Note that all comments are moderated. Only respectful comments relevant to the topic will be posted.
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- Spending Time Together – Discipleship 102
- Worshipping Together – Discipleship 103
- Drawing Near in Prayer – Discipleship 104
- Understanding Who God Is – Doctrine 201
- What Is Humanity – Doctrine 202
- What Is Sin? – Doctrine 203
- Jesus: Our Savior – Doctrine 204
- Gifted to Serve: Discipleship 301
- Meditation, Solitude, and Fasting: Discipleship 302
- What Is the Bible? – Doctrine 401
- The Nature and Work of the Holy Spirit: Doctrine 402
- What Is Jesus’ Church?: Doctrine 403
- Creation and Providence – Doctrine 404