NORMAN — The Sochi Winter Olympics are just a couple of weeks away. Athletes are making final preparations to compete for Olympic medals. Years of sacrifice, practice and discipline come down to a few days of fine tuning routines, honing skills, and resting the body for peak performance. Beyond the physical, athletes prepare mentally through study, meditation and strategy that offer the best chance for victory. At this level of competition the slightest mental edge or hesitation means the difference between winning and losing.
The scriptures draw many analogies between athletic training and the spiritual life. The Apostle Paul tells Timothy that while physical training has its benefits, spiritual training is profitable for all things. With this in mind, I wonder if the approaching Games can inspire us to deepen our spiritual training.
Richard Foster’s book, “The Celebration of Discipline,” identifies twelve disciplines or practices for the Christian faith. While Foster warns against the disciplines being twisted into legalistic routines, he describes their intended purpose to deepen our relationship with God, bringing inward transformation and outward change.
Meditation and prayer are two of the inward disciplines. They invite us into the presence of God. They call us to go deep in a world where shallow is the norm and meaninglessness is common. The Psalmist says “be still and know God.” Contemporary society thrives on noise, busyness and hurry. Thus, finding quiet moments for meditation and prayer can be challenging and even fear-filled. In quiet stillness we hear the voice of God, but we also hear the condemning and belittling voices that tear us down. Practicing meditation and prayer, however, enables us to hear and discern the voices inside. With time and practice the loving and forgiving voice of the Lord becomes clearer and the condemning voices grow weaker, losing their destructive power over us.
Meditation is the practice of dwelling on the truths of God’s word and the character of God’s work. Psalm 119 is a beautiful expression of the benefits of meditating on His word. Through meditation we become aware of God’s majesty and our desperate need for His direction and strength for life. Scripture becomes His word to me for healing, guidance and life change. Prayer deepens and enriches our relationship with God. We discover that prayer is more than words directed heavenward. We “pray without ceasing” because prayer is our relationship with God. Prayer is intimacy with God. It is the practice of our thoughts and desires becoming the thoughts and desires of the Lord. And when transformation takes place within, our actions are transformed as well. Regrettably, many are unwilling to commit to the discipline and hard work of being still and quiet. What about you? The invitation to grow deeper remains. Will you be still and know a God who wants to be known?
In the next weeks, we will watch some of the finest athletes in the world compete at their sports. Medals will be awarded. But how much greater will be the awards for those who practice meditation and prayer. Let the practice begin!
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