The Spiritual Discipline of Meditation - page 5


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From the Fall 2012 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Spiritual Discipline of Meditation:

Reading Scripture with Isaac Ambrose

by Tom Schwanda, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Christian Formation & Ministry,Wheaton College

 

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Benefits of Meditation

  According to Ambrose there are five benefits from the practice of meditation. First, meditation and its close relative contemplation provide a person with new understanding and love of Jesus. Ambrose recognizes a specific difference between meditation and contemplation; simply stated, contemplation is a more prolonged and deeper experience of meditation that is especially dependent on love and gratitude to God. Ambrose maintains that by looking at Jesus we grow in both increased knowledge and deeper appreciation of His mysteries of grace. Clearly this type of meditative knowledge is practical and experiential. Additionally, as someone meditates upon Christ as the Bridegroom of the soul, that person will experience a “flaming, burning love to Christ.”  Jesus reciprocates and offers sincere and inward love of Himself to the hearts of His devoted followers. Ambrose wants his readers to realize that the more they meditate upon the biblical passages on Christ, the more they will know the transformative knowledge of Scripture and the experiential depth of belonging to Christ.

  A second benefit of meditation, especially meditation on the nature and promise of heaven, is strength to combat suffering and protection from temptations. Ambrose alerts his readers that “looking on Jesus will strengthen patience under the cross of Christ.”15 Further, heavenly mindedness has the potential to reduce the fears of worldly anxiety. Third, those who intentionally meditate on Jesus will deepen their intimacy of union with Christ or spiritual marriage with Him. He also offers specific suggestions of how to maintain heavenly conversations, including advantageous reading and meditating on Scripture, prayer, and avoidance of formality when performing spiritual practices. Because the Holy Spirit is the person who primarily guides individuals, Ambrose significantly challenges his listeners to become more attentive to the presence and movement of the Holy Spirit within their lives.
  Fourth, meditation and contemplation have the potential to transform believers into Christ’s likeness. Contemplation is a looking, beholding, and gazing upon an object in a sustained loving and grateful manner. When this is directed toward Jesus, a person is changed more and more into Christ’s likeness. Ambrose frequently quotes Saint Paul’s declaration in 2 Corinthians 3:18 on the transformative nature of God’s glory. The final outcome of gazing on Jesus is that the sight of Jesus’ glory will make us more like Christ.
   Fifth, heavenly meditation yields a growing sense of enjoyment and delight in God and Jesus. Every opportunity for meditation that gazes upon Jesus as our heavenly bridegroom provides an initial foretaste of the heavenly joy as well as an expectation of that consummation with Christ in heaven. Closely connected with this enjoyment of God is the awareness that meditation creates a deepening experience of admiration and adoration of our triune God. Once again we recognize the reciprocal nature of our relationship with Jesus in spiritual marriage; as He communicates His joy and delight to us, we respond with heartfelt worship and celebration.

Conclusion

 Unfortunately some people today view the Puritans as odd curiosities of an earlier century. However, readers who examine the primary sources of the Puritans’ teaching on the spiritual life will typically discover a different perspective that is engaging, offering wise and practical guidance for cultivating our devotion to God and service to our neighbors. Isaac Ambrose clearly challenges us to take Scripture seriously and not to neglect the importance of meditation and contemplation on God’s word. More specifically, I would assert that Ambrose’s greatest insight for us is to integrate and maintain the critical balance between the objective and subjective nature of reading and meditating on Scripture. As previously stated, this requires a balanced interaction between the word and the Holy Spirit. An immediate benefit of this intentional commitment to both the intellect and affective nature is to create a more biblical theology of experience that avoids the all-too-common contemporary expressions of fragmentation and compartmentalization. Therefore, Ambrose reminds readers, “If the Spirit of Christ comes along with the Word, it will rouse hearts, raise spirits, work wonders.”16 

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