ON MY WAY to work I pass a pub called the Waterloo, and every day I have to look away in case I start humming the Eurovision song.
When I get to work there’s a security pad on the door, and it happens that as you punch in the code the beeps play the first five notes of an oratorio of Handel’s Messiah. If I’m not careful I start whistling the tune, to the annoyance of myself and everyone else.
Sometimes tunes get stuck in your head. They’re called ‘ear worms’.
Experience shows that the best way to avoid succumbing to an ear worm, or to get rid of it once you’ve got one, is to get something else into your head instead. And here’s the spiritual principle. Jesus told a parable:
When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first (Luke 11:24–26).
As usual with the Lord’s parables, this simple story has multiple layers. It can be seen as a commentary on the nation of Israel at that time—the preaching of John the Baptist had brought about a national reformation, preparing the people for the arrival of the Messiah, but when Jesus Christ came they failed to embrace him as their saviour and ultimately sank to new depths of wickedness when they crucified him.
But the parable also has a more personal application. You manage to get rid of some unhealthy influence in your life, maybe a bad habit, but you don’t fill its place with anything. They say ‘nature abhors a vacuum’—if you leave an empty space something will fill it, and in this case the unhealthy influence returns.
This principle applies to all kinds of human endeavours, from giving up smoking to submitting our lives to the Gospel. In order to succeed, we need to replace what’s bad with what’s good.
Fill your mind
The Apostle Paul wrote: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8). He could have said avoid things that are ignoble and unjust and impure, and that would have been fair advice. But he went further: he said find things that are noble, just, pure and lovely, things that are positive and upbuilding and wholesome—and think on them.
This of course is where the Bible comes in —the Word of God, the source of all that is godly. “I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word” (Psalm 119:14–16).
That Greek word which Paul used in his letter to the Philippians, which is translated into English as ‘meditate’, literally means ‘take a reckoning’. A Bible dictionary defines it as “Make them the subject of your thoughtful consideration”. Think around them, ask questions, prayerfully—understand them, make them a part of you; return to them in the light of different experiences and new insights from the Bible, deepen your understanding. Not only will the old unhealthy patterns of thinking get shut out, but gradually your mind will be transformed (2 Corinthians 3:17–18).
Benefits of Meditation
In the world there are various definitions of ‘meditation’, and various methods. Generally it’s seen as a way to achieve mindfulness, focus, calmness and clarity of mind. It certainly can be a powerful tool in the quest for mental and physical well- being.
The Bible does not prescribe techniques for the achievement of mindfulness and calmness. The purpose of meditation according to the Bible is nothing less than to attune your mind to the mind of God. It’s about learning who He is, what He is like, the things He has done and will do, which all focus on His over-arching love for His creation which He has shown in the gift of His Son Jesus Christ; appreciating that this life is actually a preparation for eternal life in His Kingdom; coming to love and trust Him, and finding your own outlook gradually transformed by doing so. Mindfulness and calmness are by-products which will accompany this process:
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:5–7).