“The period of meditation is useful for personal consideration of Scripture, personal prayer, and personal intercession…Spiritual experiments have no place here.”
“This time for meditation does not allow us to sink into the void and bottomless pit of aloneness, rather it allows us to be alone with the Word. In so doing it gives us solid ground on which to stand and clear guidance for the steps we have to take.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 60.
We are called to delightfully meditate on the Word of the Lord day and night (Psalm 1). The follower of Christ who mediates on His Word develops roots in His Word, feeding the soul, informing the day, drawing life from the Vine (John 15). Are we convinced that without Jesus Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5)? If we are convinced of this we will pant after His Word as the deer pants for the water, our souls will yearn for the Word of God and the Presence of God (Psalm 42).
While we experience the Word in communion with one another, and while we learn to hear the Word collectively as the people of God, we are also called to know and experience and hear the Word as individual sons and daughters of the living God. The two are interrelated and inform each other. If Jesus Christ is the Word of God, then the Word of God is our life – not the dry dead-letter word that is twisted and tarnished by man, but the sacramental Word of God through which God pours His grace and fullness in Jesus Christ. We crucified the Word of God some 2,000 years ago, it is wise that we not do it again.
I don’t know what observations led Bonhoeffer to warn against “spiritual experiments” but it is a warning I endorse. The enigma associated with the warning is that while we should not seek “experience” per se, that when we seek and encounter God in Christ that we will experience that encounter – after all it is a relationship. We may be surprised at the experience, it may not be what we expect – there are times it may be in low octaves and other times it may be in high octaves – there may be times it is exuberantly demonstrable and other times it is almost imperceptible – the Psalms reflect this.
There are times when we are encouraged to seek a particular experiential facet of our relationship with God in Christ – consider Paul’s words about the peace of God in Philippians Chapter 4 – we are God’s children and we can seek the good things of our Father. Therefore, it is important to distinguish what we mean when we teach that we are not to seek experience for the sake of experience and should beware of spiritual experiments. We are to seek nothing outside our Lord Jesus and seeking experience for the sake of experience can lead us into delusion and deceit – we can think we are something when we are nothing. Even worse, we can use our experience as a litmus test for truth and fellowship.
It is a sad thing to see a congregation that does not experience God; it is also a sad thing to see a congregation that seeks experience for its own sake. Our lives must always be about Jesus Christ, first, last, and always – only in Him do we have light and life and proper contextual understanding and wisdom.
Meditation in the Word guards us against seeking experience for the sake of experience because the Word informs our hearts and minds, its roots go deep into our souls. The deeper the roots of the Word in the soul the straighter the tree will grow up into Christ Jesus. When our days begin in conversation with the Word they can continue in conversation with the Word and the Word will form and mold our experience in conformity with the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). Life must always be about Jesus Christ – outside of Christ there is no life. If Christ is our life…then how strange not to center our thoughts and hearts in Him…how strange not to meditate on Him and His Word both day and night.