Scripture Focus: Psalm 77.2-3
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
From John: The world has gotten even more anxiety-inducing since we originally posted this in 2018. Many suicides of Christians and Christian ministers in the intervening years testify to this.
Christian meditation and prayer is still an important discipline to help us in distressing times but some problems you can’t pray away. Ask Paul. Ask Jesus. If you need the help of a counselor or doctor you are not being unfaithful. See the resources at the end of this post for help and more information.
Reflection: Discipline for the Anxious
By John Tillman
We live in distressing times. If there are corners of our world not touched by division, aggression, worry, and angst, you probably can’t get email there.
Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues are on the rise—especially among younger adults. National Survey of Children’s Health researchers found a 20 percent increase in diagnoses of anxiety among children ages 6 to 17, between 2007 and 2012. The American College Health Association found that anxiety, rather than depression, is the most common reason college students seek counseling services and that in 2016, 62 percent of undergraduates reported “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous year. (An increase from 50 percent in 2011.)
Studying this, science is discovering things that are not exactly new under the sun. A recent Harvard study found that church attendance paired with spiritual disciplines such as meditation and prayer have a beneficial effect on mental health. In a Forbes article, study author Ying Chen noted that being raised religiously, “can powerfully affect [children’s] health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.”
The psalmists would not express surprise at these findings. Though we think of our society as facing pressures unknown to humanity until now, we would be mistaken to think of ancient times as idyllic and calm.
David and the other psalmists certainly knew what it was like to live under threat, under financial pressure, under the constant weight of political instability and the wavering loyalty of an unpredictable government.
Amidst such pressures, they had a safe haven. Their help for the stresses of life was meditation and prayer.*
The psalmist writes of being “too troubled to speak,” yet he cries to God. He writes of insomnia, yet he rests in God. He writes of doubts and of feeling that God has rejected him, that his love has vanished, that he had forgotten to be merciful. Yet in the midst of doubts and fears, he remembers God’s faithfulness in the past. He meditates on these memories in the heated moment of stress.
Although the benefits of meditation can help in a crisis, meditation is not a quick fix. It is not a fast-acting antidote for the world’s venom, but an inoculation to be taken ahead of time.
When beginning (or returning to) meditative prayer, start small and short. Use the prayer provided at the end of this devotional (Psalm 119.147) as a start. Spend two to five minutes simply re-reading the prayer with an expectant heart, asking God to be with you.
*We are in no way implying that meditation should be pursued in lieu of proper medical treatment. If you are in need of counseling and professional services, please consider the following resources:
Mental Health Grace Alliance
Not A Day Promised Resource Page
Life Recovered (Resources for Ministers)
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me.
You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” Your face, Lord, will I seek.
Hide not your face from me, nor turn away your servant in displeasure. — Psalm 27.10-12
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle
Ezekiel 28 (Listen – 4:32)
Psalm 77 (Listen – 2:12)
Ezekiel 29 (Listen – 3:43) Psalm 78:1-39 (Listen – 7:12)
Ezekiel 30 (Listen – 4:07) Psalm 78:40-72 (Listen – 7:12)
Read more about The Practice of Meditation :: Running
One way of thinking of meditative prayer is exercise to expand your spiritual lung capacity, allowing you to breathe in God’s spirit more naturally at any time—including during a crisis.
Read more about The Practice of Meditation :: Tea
Allow the scripture to soak in your mind, repetitively dip it in your thoughts as you would a tea bag into warm water.