Big Idea: Whatever shapes your thinking shapes your life, so make God’s Word your primary shaping influence by meditating on it.
I want to tell you something you already know, but you may have forgotten: your brain is amazing.
It weighs only about three pounds. It’s a spongy mass of water, fat, and protein. And yet it’s more complex than any other known structure in the universe. It contains billions of cells, approximately a hundred billion neurons. And information passes through your brain for everything you think and do at speeds of up to 250 miles per hour. The brain builds “an image of the world from photons and electrons, light and dark, molecules and motion, and to connect it with what … the person, remembers, needs and wants” (New York Times).
Your brain is not just a supercomputer but a collection of computers. It learns, handles all your cognitive processes, stores memories, and is the seat of your emotions.
The human brain is unique. It’s allowed us to invent the wheel, design semiconductors, build the pyramids, paint the Sistine Chapel, compose symphonies, and land on the moon. Despite all the research, there’s still so much we don’t know about the brain.
If we’re going to live well, we’re going to have to look after our brains. And the problem is, that’s getting harder than ever. Cal Newport writes about something called “brain hacking.” We get addicted to social media, for instance, because it releases dopamine, the brain’s feel-good chemical. It’s a chemical so powerful that rats ignore sex and food to keep getting a dopamine boost. They will even walk across an electrified grid, getting painful shocks with each step, to get it. And that’s exactly what we’re getting online. It’s a compulsion, possibly even an addiction. We are, as one person, said, the most distracted generation in human history.
And the results aren’t great. Studies show that “the more addicted you become to your phone, the more prone you are to depression and anxiety, and the less able you are to concentrate at work and sleep at night” (12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You). We’re always connected, and yet the online connections don’t satisfy our hunger for real human connection. And then there’s the effect on our spiritual lives. “The more distracted we are digitally, the more displaced we become spiritually” (12 Ways).
What’s the solution? I’m glad you asked.
A Meditation Rule of Life
We’re in a series on building a Liberty Grace Rule of Life. We’re talking about the communal rhythms, practices, and habits that would help us love God and love others. I would love your help with this. You can visit libertygrace.ca/ruleoflife to find some ideas, and to submit your own ideas as well. We’ll update that page throughout the series.
Last week we started and looked at slowing: about making room for the one thing that matters most: to slow down and sit at Jesus’ feet. Today we’re going to talk about another practice that’s essential for us as followers of Jesus Christ: to curate what’s going on in our mind.
Curation involves a couple of things. It means eliminating some inputs. No, I’m not talking about getting rid of our technology. Technology brings a lot of benefits to our lives. I don’t want to go back to before we had Google Maps or Spotify or podcasts. But we need to use our technology with purpose. We need something like what Cal Newport calls Digital Minimalism: “A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.” His book is very helpful. So are books like Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family.
At the very least, we need a section in our Rule of Life for how and when we handle technology. For instance: taking a digital Sabbath, eliminating notifications, using only one screen at a time, etc. Find what works for you. The idea is that you’re controlling your technology rather than allowing it to control you.
Curation involves eliminating. But it also involves adding. What should we add? Psalm 1 gives us some help here:
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.
This isn’t just another psalm. This is the gateway to the entire collection of psalms. It tells us how to be blessed — how to find a sense of happiness that flows from a sense of rightness and well-being.
How do we do this?
Avoid What’s Opposed to God
Verse 1 gives us a progression. It’s so realistic about how things work. “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.” First we walk, then we stand, and then we sit and take up permanent residence in evil. It includes thinking, behaving, and belonging. That’s the order. It’s gradual. It doesn’t happen all at once. It happens without us even realizing that it’s happened. Be careful!
And it tells us what to avoid: influences that pull us away from God. It talks about the wicked, sinners, and scoffers. Again, it describes three degrees of separation from God.
Here’s the core message of verse 1: Avoid a gradual drift away from God because of influences you let into your life. What you let into your life — media, relationships, and influences — will affect whether you get closer to God or farther from him, so be very careful about the gradual drift that will inevitably happen if you let influences into your life that are opposed to God. You’ll begin to pick up their perspective, see things their way. It will shape your life without you even knowing it.
Let’s pause here. Talk about an important principle! What kinds of inputs are we allowing into our lives that are opposed to God? We tend to think that we can let them in and control the results. This passage warns us against that. We’ll find ourselves moving gradually away. That’s how it works. Some shows, some relationships, are opposed to God and must be eliminated from our lives for the sake of our spiritual lives. Take this seriously. Take action. Your walk with God depends on it.
But that’s not all. Verse 2 gives us the flip side:
Delight in and Meditate on God’s Word
“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
What influences should we allow into our life? The psalmist tells us: pay careful, diligent attention to God’s Word. The law can refer specifically to the Law of Moses, but in this context it refers to Scripture in general, and especially in the Psalms. It’s the antidote to the negative influences he just talked about in verse 1. Delight in and meditate on God’s Word continually.
It’s not just reading it quickly. It’s about Scripture being what your mind thinks about when you let it drift at the stoplight. Your mind just gravitates there.
You wake up in the middle of the night and your mind is so full of it that it revolves around what God has declared. You think in those terms, and when you see squabbles developing in the church, or when you see disputes about how things should be done, you just naturally ask yourself, “What does Scripture say? I wonder what God says on this? Is there some part of the Bible that I need to read again here?” He meditates on it day and night. (D.A. Carson)
Is this hyperbole? Surely we can’t think about God’s law day and night, can we? The technical term for this is a merism. It’s a figure of speech that mentions extremes — like day and night — to include everything in between as well. So what the psalmist means is that our whole lives are to be full of Scripture. I like how the old British preacher Charles Spurgeon put it:
Oh, that you and I might get into the very heart of the Word of God, and get that Word into ourselves! As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it, so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord—not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it till we have taken it into our inmost parts. It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words, or to recollect the poetical expressions, or the historic facts; but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your very style is fashioned upon Scripture models, and, what is better still, your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord.
He then uses the example of a famous preacher and writer and says:
“Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God. I commend his example to you, beloved.
That’s what the psalmist talks about.
And the center of what we think about, of course, is Jesus, because Jesus is the center of Scripture. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” Jesus said in John 5:39. It shouldn’t be hard for us to think about Scripture, because in thinking about Scripture we’re ultimately thinking about Jesus who died for us, who was raised for us, who is praying for us right now. Think about Scripture. Think about him. Let him be the truth that shapes you most.
Live this way, the psalmist says, and we’ll prosper like a tree planted by streams of water. We’ll end up, as verse 6 says, being known, loved, and cared for by God. But if we don’t do this, we’ll experience the opposite result: we’ll be like chaff that the wind blows away. Our lives won’t last.
The results couldn’t be more different. There’s a lot at stake here. Whatever shapes your thinking shapes your life, so make God’s Word your primary shaping influence by meditating on it.
Okay. Let’s get practical here. What does this look like in real life? After all, we’re trying to build a Liberty Grace Rule of Life. We’re trying to figure out a set of communal practices and habits that will allow us to love God and love others.
What would it look like to build habits together that would allow us to make God’s Word the primary shaping influence in our lives?
Again, I want you to help me with this. Go to https://libertygrace.ca/ruleoflife/ for resources and to add your own thoughts. We need you to help out with this.
Here are two ideas to get us started.
Scripture before phone.
In his book The Common Rule, James Earl Whitney suggests that we make a daily practice of reading Scripture before we look at our phones. He writes:
Refusing to check the phone until after reading a passage of Scripture is a way of replacing the question “What do I need to do today?” with a better one, “Who am I and who am I becoming?” We have no stable identity outside of Jesus. Daily immersion in the Scriptures resists the anxiety of emails, the anger of news, and the envy of social media. Instead it forms us daily in our true identity as children of the King, dearly loved.
It’s simple. It’s profound. What if we made this our regular daily habit: Scripture before phone?
Learn and practice biblical meditation.
This one’s a little harder, so I put it second.
Everyone’s big on meditation these days. Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Workweek, says, “Of all the routines and habits, the most consistent among guests is some form of daily meditation or mindfulness practice. More than 80% of the world-class performers I interviewed shared this trait.”
But I’m not just talking about meditation. I’m talking about a particular form of meditation: meditating on the Bible. One person puts it this way:
Many popular forms of meditation incorporate beliefs and practices from Eastern religions. Yet there is also biblical meditation. For centuries Christians have used contemplative prayer (which involves the silent repetition of a sacred word or sentence). Others choose simply to meditate on Scripture, mulling over a short section of the Bible.
Charles Stone, a pastor in London, Ontario, says this:
Mindfulness is a spiritual discipline akin to biblical meditation that I practice as part of my daily devotional time. It’s setting aside a time to be still before God to be in His presence in the present moment. It’s not emptying our mind, but filling our mind with thoughts of Him and His Word. It helps us disengage from automatic thoughts, feelings, memories, and reactions and simply be in God’s presence.
How do we actually do this? It means taking a part of Scripture, carrying it with us, probably memorizing it, and chewing on it for an extended period of time, carrying it in the front burner and even on the back burner of our minds, just sitting down and thinking about what it means for your life.
What if we chose an app — there’s one called Fighter Verses, for instance — that gives you a short verse or passage to memorize every week. And what if we didn’t just memorize it, but we took five minutes each day to chew on it, to roll it around in our minds, to fill our minds with its truth? It’s a start.
One of my friends talks about how the blessings of doing this grow exponentially over time — that “the blessings of hiding God’s Word in my heart ‘snowball’ across decades.” It’s a small action that will produce massive benefits in our lives. A five-minute practice each day could change the course of your entire life.
These are just two ideas. Help me work this out. The big idea of this psalm and this sermon is this: Whatever shapes your thinking shapes your life, so make God’s Word your primary shaping influence by meditating on it.
Lord, we don’t want to be shaped by social media, by news, by emails, by ads, by shows. We want to be shaped by you. We want to get our identity from you.
Please help us meditate. Help us to eat your word, to absorb it, to think about it, so that we become like trees planted by streams of water, producing fruit in season, prospering in all we do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.