The Secrets to Being a Happy Christian: Blessings and Meditation

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It’s easy for Christians to be sucked down into the vortex of moaning and groaning about the direction of our culture and society. I’ve been to prayer meetings that are just a litany of complaints…. Of course, there is much to lament, but as Christians, we should usually hear the note of celebration above the note of lamentation. We have so much to be thankful for in the present and even more in the future. Remember the apostles even managed to celebrate that they were counted “worthy” to suffer persecution for Christ’s sake! They took literally the Lord’s command to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” even in the midst of great suffering.

Barbara Fredrickson, researcher and professor of psychology at UNC Chapel Hill, found that people’s positive to negative ratios are subject to a tipping point, and that’s usually about the 3:1 mark. Notice that it’s not 3:0. Negatives are an inevitable part of human life and even of human flourishing. Let’s not deny reality and try to live in Fantasyland. Fredrickson’s research, however, revealed that “for every heart-wrenching negative emotional experience,” you should try to “experience at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that uplift you. This is the ratio that I’ve found to be the tipping point, predicting whether people languish or flourish.”

No one is going to change media and ministry diets and habits overnight, but let me suggest two warm-up exercises to get you started.

Count Your Blessings x 3

Ask everyone at the family dinner table (or business conference table or elders’ table) to list three good things that happened that day. The biblical basis for doing this should be obvious, but scientists have also found that spending even just five minutes a day at this trains the brain to develop the habit of scanning for and locating good things to think about. And since we can think on only one thing at a time, that also squeezes out mood depressors.

Our family now looks forward to doing this quite regularly. As we savor the food and God’s goodness in our daily lives, it’s certainly elevating our overall moods, even of our teenagers! Those eating alone can accomplish the same effect by writing down the positive events in a journal.

In a study of more than five hundred participants, those who worked on their strengths and completed the Three Blessings exercise lowered depression and increased happiness three months and six months later. If unbelievers can accomplish this, how much more should Christians who taste God’s mercy and grace in every crumb and drop.

Meditation

One way to learn how to develop a Philippians 4:8 mind-set is to rediscover the ancient art of meditation. If you need encouragement, consider these facts:

  • Meditation increases mindfulness, a sense of purpose, creativity, immune function, love, joy, contentment, relational satisfaction, and the frequency of virtuous acts.
  • Meditation decreases mortality, stress, pain intensity, inflammation, blood pressure, sense of loneliness, negative emotions, and the length and severity of colds.

Or try these biblical motivations for meditation:

  • It stops sin and starts good. (Psalm 119:11)
  • It makes you ready to witness. (1 Peter 3:15)
  • It revives spiritual life and increases communion with God. (Romans 8:6)
  • It makes you happier. (Psalm 1:1-3, Psalm 104:34)

Now that I’ve motivated you, what about a method? Here are ten suggestions. As you read them, note a couple of important differences between Christian meditation and most other forms of meditation.

Whereas secular approaches to meditation involve emptying the mind or focusing on self, Christian meditation involves filling the mind with biblical truth and focusing on God.

Also, secular meditation usually insists on thinking only about the present moment, forbidding any remembering of the past or looking to the future. Christian meditation, on the other hand, delights in remembering God’s great redemptive acts in the past and joyfully anticipates the heavenly future of believers in paradise. With these distinctions in mind, here are tips to help you begin Christian meditation:

Limit: Set apart just five to ten minutes to begin with, and start with one short verse of Scripture or even part of a verse.

Vary: Some days choose a theological verse, others a practical or devotional text. Or meditate on one of God’s blessings in your life.

Write: Write the text on a small index card, and put it in a place you will come across regularly, such as your purse or shirt pocket.

Memorize: Memorize the text in two- to three-word blocks, and set specific times in the day — such as your coffee break or mealtime — to recall the verse.

Focus: Pick out the key words and look them up in a dictionary. Substitute some words with parallel meanings or even opposite meanings. Finding similar words or contrasting words can often help us to understand the original words in the verse.

Question: Interrogate the verse (who, what, where, when, why, how?).

Explain: How would you explain the verse to a child or someone with no Christian background?

Pray: Use the verse in prayer, worship, confession, thanks, or petition.

Review: File the cards and every Sunday read them and test your memory of them.

Do: Make it not just an intellectual exercise, but let it lead to practice, such as believing, repenting, hoping, or loving.

And here’s one further spur of motivation from Professor Jonathan Haidt:

Suppose you read about a pill you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill had a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory. Suppose, finally, that the pill is all-natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it? The pill exists. It is called meditation.

Watch the Video for The Happy Christian

Excerpted with permission from The Happy Christian by David Murray, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2015.

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Your Turn

Try noting and sharing your blessings with your family at dinner this week, and spend some time meditation on the Lord, His Word, and His goodness.  Join the conversation on our blog! We’d love to hear from you about meditation and being aware of the blessings in your life!

David Murray

Dr. David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and recently also became Pastor of the Free Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. He was ordained to the ministry in 1995 and pastored two churches in Scotland for 12 years. He is the author of Christians get depressed too and How Sermons Work and regularly speaks at conferences in North American and beyond. David his wife Shona have five children.

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