Ask a Pastor Ep. 30 - Meditation, Thankfulness in Hard Times, Singleness

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This episode our Senior Pastor, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund, talks with Director of Kids' Ministry, Emily Roberts, about mediation, being thankful in hard times, and singleness.

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Message Transcript

Kurt Bjorklund: Hi, welcome to Ask a Pastor. This is a podcast we've doing for about six, seven months now. Simply delivering some content to questions that people have submitted. We're also letting this play on Word FM on Fridays in our regular radio spot. You can get it in some other means as well, via our church app, so you can download the church app if you want to.

Kurt Bjorklund: If you're watching instead of listening, I do want to point out that I have on some KidsFest swag today which is a way of just subtly advertising KidsFest which is a phenomenal camp here in our Wexford Campus, but we'll also be offering in the Strip District, Butler County this year. But here at Wexford, some 1,400 kids will come together for the month of July and create just a great atmosphere to learn about God and have a blast.

Kurt Bjorklund: And one of the reasons I'm wearing it today is I'm joined by Emily Roberts, who is our Director of Kids' Ministry here at our Wexford Campus and also helps kind of make sure we're running in the other places as well. And Emily is one of the people who helps to make KidsFest and all of our Kids' Ministry run.

Kurt Bjorklund: So welcome, Emily.

Emily Roberts: Thank you.

Kurt Bjorklund: Thanks for joining me here today. And today we're going to jump into a couple of questions. The first question is this, it says, "In many devotionals there are instructions to meditate on a passage of scripture. What does this look like? Does the idea of meditation have a similar background to eastern religions? Like yoga from the previous podcast that we had on that subject."

Kurt Bjorklund: So talk to us about meditation. The pros, the biblical use of it, and then kind of the concern about is this an eastern religious practice and where does it get into that.

Emily Roberts: Okay. So it was funny, I had to kind of refresh myself even on the definition of meditation because there's a lot of different definitions. There's a lot of synonyms, there's a lot of different ways that people perceive it. So I was brushing up on that and I did come across something that John Piper wrote, actually ... is it okay to?

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily Roberts: Sorry.

Kurt Bjorklund: This is just you and me having a conversation with several thousand friends listening in.

Emily Roberts: John Piper, hopefully that's okay that I'm naming his name, from a Desiring God article. And I just thought it was really helpful because he said, "Pastorally, the word meditation in Hebrew means basically to speak or to mutter." So correct me if I'm wrong.

Kurt Bjorklund: Nope, that comes right out of Psalm 1 actually where you get that idea.

Emily Roberts: Okay. "And when this is done in the heart, it is called musing or meditation. So meditating on the word of God day and night means to speak to yourself the word of God day and night and to speak to yourself about it." I thought that was a really helpful definition because I was pulled in a lot of different directions about what biblically is meditation.

Emily Roberts: So I love that he talks about speaking to ourselves about the word of God. I think that for Christians the beginning of meditation is the word of God, typically. And so he used the words musing. I found other synonyms that are thinking, pondering. I have heard people call it sitting with, so you're kind of dwelling there for a while. You're sitting and taking your time as you're understanding the word of God.

Emily Roberts: It feels different to me than just studying the word of God. There's a different goal in mind with meditation versus when you're studying and maybe more cerebral and maybe the meditation, not to disconnect the two, maybe there's danger there, but maybe the heart.

Kurt Bjorklund: It's a different practice to get to what you hope will be a similar end. Because I think you're right in the impulse to say I don't want to disconnect heart and head. But the meditative practice is different than the practice of studying or reading or memorizing.

Emily Roberts: Yes. Yes, because I think ... you know, it's funny, he did, now that I'm thinking back, he did quote Psalm 1 there. Talking, is that the same Psalm where he says blessed is the man who delights and meditates on the law of the Lord.

Emily Roberts: So how do we meditate? I think the question again was what does this look like. There's a lot of different ways that we can do this, to get to this end, I think. There's a lot of different people that would say, "Well, set the sort of environment and put away your cell phone." But I think the important thing is that you we're, the heart is desiring, the mind is desiring to experience God and to be transformed in that experience, starting with the word of God, maybe moving into prayer.

Emily Roberts: I'd love to hear more of maybe practically, hash out practically what that looks like, I guess. But I know for me there hasn't really been a formula other than thinking and dwelling and sitting there as I really take in the word of God.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. Well, it seems to me there's a few things that are important to say here. One is that there is a danger in meditating, and I think the question asked this around eastern religion, like isn't this just an eastern religious practice that people are bringing into Christianity. And my emphatic answer would be no, based on Psalm 1. In Psalm 1 we're clearly told meditate on the law of the Lord, and that means to sit and ponder, consider, to speak, to muse, to go over and over again until it sinks in.

Kurt Bjorklund: And that's really the idea of meditation and that's why it's different from studying, different from reading. When you read, like if you've ever been on a Bible reading plan, trying to read through the Bible in a season, what you're trying to do is you're trying to get through the Bible. What you're doing in meditation is you're trying to get the Bible through to you.

Kurt Bjorklund: And I think the danger from the eastern religion side or secular meditation is what secular meditation does is it says empty your mind of everything and go with whatever comes into your mind. And so you really are not being directed or guided in your meditation. That doesn't mean that that's not helpful, like to sit and just say, "I'm just going to empty my mind and have some thoughts. Give myself space to think, put my cell phone down." That, of course, can be helpful.

Kurt Bjorklund: But Christian meditation is where you're intentionally focusing on the word of God to try to get it into your heart, to try to speak to you. A few weeks ago I spoke on Psalm 27 and it was part of our One Thing series and it says, "One thing I ask, that I can seek the Lord, that I can gaze on his beauty over and over." Well, what we naturally do is we gaze at and look at what we find beautiful.

Kurt Bjorklund: And the challenge of meditation, a lot of times, is if we aren't finding what we see in the scripture beautiful, then we won't naturally want to meditate on it or gaze on it. What we'll do instead is we'll look at something else that we find compelling. And what we want to do is sometimes discipline ourselves to think about something until we get to where we start to say, "You know what, I really do believe that."

Kurt Bjorklund: And so back to Psalm 27, it was David expressing some concern because he was being besieged by people. And when he was in that situation, what happened was he said, "The Lord is my stronghold." Well, whenever we find ourselves in a situation where we say, "I'm overwhelmed by fear, by concern, by dread," I can read, "The Lord is my stronghold," I can study the word and try to figure out what it means exactly and ask questions like does stronghold mean he'll never fail me? Does it mean that it's a spiritual ... what does it mean? That's studying.

Kurt Bjorklund: Meditation is, okay, now I need to really sit and say what would it mean for God to be my stronghold? What would it mean for me to live in that reality and to sit with it long enough and mull over the meaning and the images so that it becomes real to us instead of saying, "Oh, yeah, God's my stronghold, but I still got to figure this out." Instead I all of a sudden move into living and experiencing that.

Kurt Bjorklund: I find meditation to be one of the keys to spiritual life. I think without it, our spiritual life will always get stuck at a certain level because we won't internalize and we won't take that step of making it personal. What we'll do instead is we'll say, "I know this in theory," but we won't actually live in the reality of something as simple as God is my stronghold.

Emily Roberts: Yes. And as you're talking, I'm remembering too, I read a book, Ruth Haley Barton, a woman that I love, who writes about spiritual disciplines. And she talks about meditating on scripture being transformational versus informational. I don't know if she borrowed that from somewhere else, if that's her original quote, but I think that's helpful too.

Kurt Bjorklund: Well you need both, but if you get stuck in informational rather than transformational then it will be that just getting through the Bible rather than getting the Bible through to us.

Emily Roberts: Yes. That's great.

Kurt Bjorklund: So good. Well, thank you.

Kurt Bjorklund: Here's another question, Emily, it says, "How can I be thankful in everything," and then they quote 1 Thessalonians 5:18 which is the be thankful in everything verse, "when so many hard things keep happening in my life?"

Kurt Bjorklund: So the question is, how can I be thankful when I feel like I'm just getting pummeled with hard things?

Emily Roberts: Yes. So, when I heard this question, it's one I think we hear a lot in ministry. The idea of suffering obviously comes out here. And I remembered a time when I was meeting with a mentor and that's where so much of my transformation has happened. I was talking, "Oh, this season is so difficult," and how am I going to get through it and this and that. And I remember her asking the question that maybe other folks have asked younger Christians before, are you greater than your master? And that's really biblical, right? I mean, are we greater than Christ who has suffered? And in that suffering was praying, was praying for his enemy, was turning his soul over to God. Perfectly trusting God in his suffering.

Emily Roberts: And so I kept thinking, that quote kept popping back into my mind, are we greater than our master? Now, I never want to minimize suffering either because it's easy I think just say, "Well, trust God, trust God, trust God," when, well guess what? I've been sexually abused as a child or I've ... when someone says something like that, you're like, "Man, that is heavy."

Emily Roberts: Or things I've seen on the news recently, just a woman who had special needs who was raped by one of her caregivers. Terrible things, terrible things. I love, I think just the truth is though that Jesus, our master, knows great suffering. That's what makes Christianity really unique. That our Lord, that our master has gone to very dark places on our behalf and so it makes me get a little teary just because of the beauty of how Christianity is different from other religions.

Emily Roberts: So, getting a little bit off track, my heart breaks for suffering and yet, I also know that we have a great Savior. And so, how do you, you wrestle with those things. But I think too the hope of Christianity, that we know that there is a kingdom that God is developing and growing even now. And that if God is for us, who can be against us?

Emily Roberts: We have all of these scriptures that when push comes to shove, if we don't have hope, what do we have, right? And we do have a hope that is ...

Kurt Bjorklund: I heard somebody once say, so this is not my original idea, if Romans 8:28 is true, which is God causes all things to work together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose, then I need to practice 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which is be thankful in everything.

Kurt Bjorklund: What's hard is obviously when something bad happens, my natural impulse isn't to say God's going to work this together for my good. It's to say this is awful. Or our other impulse can be to minimize, which you talked about, to say, "Oh, just be thankful, trust God." And I don't think either is the ideal. I think the ideal is to be able to say, "This hurts, this is lousy, but there are probably some things I don't understand about this. Some things I can't see. And therefore I'm going to choose to trust that God is at work in a way that I don't understand or see and that's why I can choose to be thankful."

Kurt Bjorklund: And thankful in a situation is not thankful for, that's another important distinction. Sometimes people are like, "Well, I'm thankful that this thing happened." It's like, no, no, no. You're thankful in the midst of it because you know a God who holds this in his hand. That doesn't mean you're thankful that a bad thing or a hard thing happened. Of course not, you're sad, you're devastated, you're upset, you feel like things have been taken from you that are important. But, you're able to say, "But I know there is a God who is not without a horse in this race, so to speak, that he does care, that he is involved in some way, I just can't see it."

Kurt Bjorklund: And so many times what I've seen over the years of being a pastor is that when something hard happens, we think we know what the outcome should be. But we can't see five years down the road and how what feels like a bad thing today might lead us in all kinds of good directions in the future or what it might spare us. And that's the part that we can't see.

Kurt Bjorklund: So I feel less confident in my ability today to judge good and bad as outcomes, to name something good and bad. Not that, again, I'm happy of something that I perceive as bad happens, but to even say ... now obviously the most extreme cases, of course you're going to say that in and of itself is bad. But God may take what's bad and bring good from it. And that's the hope and that's where I think the thankfulness comes from.

Emily Roberts: Absolutely. Yeah.

Kurt Bjorklund: Well here's another question. It says, "I'm single, I'm struggling with not being married. Is God behind this? If so, why?"

Kurt Bjorklund: So talk to us about that.

Emily Roberts: Well, I'm single, I'm struggling with not married. Is God behind this? That's a good question.

Kurt Bjorklund: And you could probably insert anything that you're struggling with, not just this issue. Obviously this is this person's presenting issue, but anything that you say, "This isn't working, is God behind it? If so, why?"

Emily Roberts: Yeah. And this may match well with some of the things we just talked about with suffering and trying to figure some of that out. But, you know, there's a couple of thoughts that I have. So God has set our creation into motion in a lot of ways that we ... I've heard it explained that he's not a puppet master, right? He's not just strings attached and behind every detail. There are a lot of things he set into motion and has given us our free will in our decisions.

Emily Roberts: It's tricky with questions like these because it's really hard to say if God is behind you not being married. I don't think that God is just ... in certain seasons I don't think he just withholds or he just gives, I think we have to be really careful with how we discern some of that.

Emily Roberts: Is God behind you not being married? I would say, well what has your dating life looked like? Have you been a good partner? And not just is God part of the problem, but where is my action coming in to play. And some of the folks that I've chosen to date or to experience, I don't think that God is just standing behind the scenes to keep shutting doors in your face or something.

Emily Roberts: But going back to the struggling purpose as well, I also know from scripture that there are things that he withholds from us because it may not be the right season and he sees down the road as you have kind of hinted at in our earlier conversation.

Kurt Bjorklund: Right. Well, there's probably a couple things that we need to affirm here. One is that being single is good and I think our modern culture has equated being married or having a romantic partner with the highest good. And saying without that you are somehow not worthy. And scripture is very clear in affirming the beauty of singleness and that single is a whole number, one's a whole number.

Kurt Bjorklund: And I think that's important to say because again, to equate singleness and marriedness or coupledness as one's good, one's not good, is not a good understanding of scripture first and foremost. Secondly I would say any struggle, whether it's to have a spouse or to have a job, to have a child, to have a different job, to have a claim, whatever it is, where you say, "I'm not getting this, is God behind this? If so, why?"

Kurt Bjorklund: Well, in one sense, yes, if God's involved in your life then there's a part of it, but God never allows us to abdicate responsibility because he's at work. And what that means is I never get to say, "Well this was just God's thing." I do need to look at my own habits, the kind of situations I'm putting myself in. Am I pursuing this? I have a couple of college aged sons and one of the things I've said to them is don't be bashful at looking when you're in college because it's a time that people look. But I see people all the time who are past college and then they're like, "Oh, I can't meet anybody, there's nobody to meet." Well, you'll never again have a time when there's so many people in one space that are at the same stage of life with some similar experiences.

Kurt Bjorklund: That doesn't mean that God did something or they didn't do something, but just saying sometimes I wouldn't pin it on God if you sat in your dorm room and played video games for four years. Not that they're doing that, but at some point it's like, don't be like-

Emily Roberts: Where's your responsibility?

Kurt Bjorklund: -well God did me wrong because I don't have somebody when I never even tried. Or maybe you've dated people and I think I heard somebody say this once too, while you're looking for that person, be the person that the person you're looking for would want to marry. That's a great line because so many times what we do is we run around living in a way that isn't attractive to the person that we'd actually want to marry and then we wonder why they never want us, or we never find them in our lives.

Kurt Bjorklund: So putting our lives into a place where we can see God work. So I would say, is God in it? Yeah, but I also be cautious of saying, but I'm blaming God for something that I don't want and again, I would really say, back off of the that's bad and that's good. Be a whole person. Be content in that and you'll be a better partner to somebody somewhere down the road.

Kurt Bjorklund: If you need that person, you're going to be too needy and you're going to crush that future marriage with the weight of what you're loading into it. If you can go into it as somebody who comes as a full as possible on your own and in Christ, then you'll be ready to actually be married.

Kurt Bjorklund: So maybe part of why it hasn't happened is God's wanted to foster that even inside you.

Emily Roberts: Yeah, and he sees what's coming and wants to grow that some more.

Emily Roberts: I think too, I liked the word that you said about singleness is not bad. I had seasons where I loved being single and then I had seasons where I really struggled with it. I would say that there were times where I maybe rushed through and I just find somebody with the panic of getting older, or something like that. But the other thought too was, "Oh my gosh, I'm so freed up to serve." Not that we can't serve with our spouses and our families, but there is a different time.

Kurt Bjorklund: There's verses that actually say that, Paul says if I'm a single person, not married, stay that way because you can serve. But if you're married you all of a sudden have somebody else to deal with.

Emily Roberts: Yes. And I especially have found some women who serve in kids ministry just because we seem to get more women there, not that I haven't met great single men as well, but just for whatever reason cross paths with these women. And I tell them all the time, I'm like, "You are using your time so well." You know, serving kids in a way that some folks who are married don't take time to do or maybe are limited in time because of children and their ministry pulls them home.

Emily Roberts: So all that to say I think we can waste that time worrying about what's next rather than, "Wow, I have all of these hours in the day to really give my life away." And to develop my own soul, as you said. So all that to say, it can be a really exciting time.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah, yeah. Well, good.

Kurt Bjorklund: Well thank you. And thanks for joining us on Ask a Pastor. If you have a question, send it askapastor@orchardhillchurch.com. We'll be happy to interact with it in a coming episode.