Excerpt from Celebration of Discipline

Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word. It is that simple. I wish I could make it more complicated for those who like things difficult. It involves no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics, no esoteric flights into the cosmic consciousness. The truth of the matter is that the great God of the universe, the Creator of all things desires our fellowship. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve talked with God and God talked with them — they were in communion. Then came the Fall, and in an important sense there was a rupture of the sense of perpetual communion, for Adam and Eve hid from God. But God continued to reach out to his rebellious children, and in stories of such persons as Cain, Abel, Noah, and Abraham we see God speaking and acting, teaching and guiding. 

Moses learned, albeit with many vacillations and detours, how to hear God’s voice and obey his word. In fact, Scripture witnesses that God spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exod. 33:11). There was a sense of intimate relationship, of communion. As a people, however, the Israelites were not prepared for such intimacy. Once they learned a little about God, they realized that being in his presence was risky business and told Moses so: You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exod. 20:19). In this way they could maintain religious respectability without the attendant risks. This was the beginning of the great line of the prophets and the judges, Moses being the first. But it was a step away from the sense of immediacy, the sense of the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. 

In the fullness of time Jesus came and taught the reality of the kingdom of God and demonstrated what life could be like in that kingdom. He established a living fellowship that would know him as Redeemer and King, listening to him in all things and obeying him at all times. In his intimate relationship with the Father, Jesus modeled for us the reality of that life of hearing and obeying. The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge” (John 5:30). The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10). When Jesus told his disciples to abide in him, they could understand what he meant for he was abiding in the Father. He declared that he was the good Shepherd and that his sheep know his voice (John 10:4). He told us that the Comforter would come, the Spirit of truth, who would guide us into all truth (John 16:13).

In his second volume Luke clearly implies that following his resurrection and the ascension Jesus continues to do and teach” even if people cannot see him with the naked eye (Acts 1:1). Both Peter and Stephen point to Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15 of the prophet like Moses who is to speak and whom the people are to hear and obey (Acts 3:22, 7:37). In the book of Acts we see the resurrected and reigning Christ, through the Holy Spirit, teaching and guiding his children: leading Philip to new unreached cultures (Act 8), revealing his messiahship to Paul (Acts 9), teaching Peter about his Jewish nationalism (Acts 10), guiding the Church out of its cultural captivity (Acts 15). What we see over and over again is God’s people learning to live on the basis of hearing God’s voice and obeying his word. 

This, in brief, forms the biblical foundation for meditation, and the wonderful news is that Jesus has not stopped acting and speaking. He is resurrected and at work in our world. He is not idle, nor has he developed laryngitis. He is alive and among us as our Priest to forgive us, our Prophet to teach us, our King to rule us, our Shepherd to guide us. 

All the saints throughout the ages have witnessed to this reality. How sad that contemporary Christians are so ignorant of the vast sea of literature on Christian meditation by faithful believers throughout the centuries! And their testimony to the joyful life of perpetual communion is amazingly uniform. From Catholic to Protestant, from Eastern Orthodox to Western Free Church we are urged to live in his presence in uninterrupted fellowship.” The Russian mystic Theophan the Recluse says, To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all seeing, within you.” The Anglican divine Jeremy Taylor declares, Meditation is the duty of all.” And in our day Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when asked why he meditated, replied, Because I am a Christian.” The witness of Scripture and the witness of the devotional masters are so rich, so alive with the presence of God that we would be foolish to neglect such a gracious invitation to experience, in the words of Madame Guyon, the depths of Jesus Christ.”

Excerpted from Celebration of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster. Published by HarperCollins. 

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

Originally published January 1978