In 1994, The Lion King was released in movie theaters. It was an instant hit, grossing nearly $250 million at the box office alone (to date, it’s made over $1.6 billion!), making it the second most successful movie release of all time and the most successful animated movie of all time. Those records have been eclipsed, but The Lion King is still the best-selling home movie of all time.
I was one of those people who contributed to its success through my ticket purchase.
I remember sitting in the theater, at about 20 years old, in awe of the storytelling – through animation, song, and voice acting. It was more than just a kid’s movie. It was an epic for all ages.
Specifically, I remember my feelings from the opening scene (mirrored by the closing scene). It opens with the sun rising over the savannah and pans across the various animals awaking to a new day. It moves to birds, then giraffes, elephants and more migrating to Pride Rock where they where sits the Lion King, Mufasa. He is greeted by his close advisor, Zazu, and then the old priest, Rafiki, who immediately goes to the prince, lion cub, Simba. This is when it gets really good.
At this point in the scene, the music is quieted, but it begins to swell again as Rafiki takes Simba from his mother’s paws. He turns and slowly walks to the top of Pride Rock. When he arrives, Rafiki triumphantly lifts Simba to the air. The animals react with pride – the elephants blow their trunks, the monkeys jump up and down screaming their approval, the zebras stamp the ground. Then they all bow to the future king of the savannah.
I saw God in a movie theater
The scene was grand – especially watching it on a massive movie screen (one of the largest in Kansas City at that time). As I watched the animals bow to Simba who was lifted before them, I was reminded of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. As Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people shouted and sang to greet him. They greeted him as the long-awaited king. The Pharisees confronted Jesus, and commanded him to tell the people to stop. Jesus response is simple:
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” Luke 19:40 NIV
In a movie theater, I experienced God. I saw a version of Jesus’ promise — creation crying out to praise it’s King. A movie, having nothing to do with ‘Christianity’ pointed me to God.
The ancients would call this experience ‘contemplation.’ In other words, I saw God in the world around me – specifically in culture. In a movie made by people of all beliefs and faiths (most not aligned with my faith), God embedded himself, and God allowed me to see him in it.
A Renewed Mind: How to see God.
Recently, I’ve rediscovered a key to hearing God through contemplation in my own life. Like most things in the spiritual world, the principle is simple but not easy to put into practice.
The first couple of verses of Romans 12 is well known to followers of Jesus:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”Romans 12:1-2 NIV
I highlighted that middle sentence, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” because I’ve found it to the key to seeing God more clearly in the world around me.
Your mind WILL be conformed to something.
Here is the amazing truth about that statement, it’s just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago. The world around me is attempting to conform me to its shape. More than ever, media in all its different forms (print, television, internet, social platforms) is turning us into its disciples. We are spending hours daily on social media alone – the average is 2.5 hours daily for a working-age adult (another study suggested it is as high as 3.5 hours daily).
How do I battle the natural conformity my spirit and soul want to make to the world’s standards? First, I reduce the time I am using media. Simple…not easy, but you can do it. Access the tools you have on your phone, tablet. Read more books. Take up hobbies.
Second, begin the process of renewing your mind. Over the last several years, I’ve been building habits to renew my mind – reading Scripture, journaling, praying, meditating. If you are a follower of Jesus, these concepts may not be new to you, but are you actively walking them out? In honesty, I was not walking many of these practices out. I would read my bible, but I didn’t allow it to transform me.
Again, they are simple ideas, but not always easy to walk out regularly.
Let me dive deep into the discipline of meditation which I’ve just begun daily practicing this year. Meditation is an act of renewing my mind. It teaches me to quiet my own thoughts, and to put all of my focus on God, his Word and how it impacts my life. If you are interested in learning more about what I share below, I encourage you to read Resilient by John Eldredge. I’ve taken his thoughts and found a practice that works for me.
How to Biblically Meditate
Historically, meditation is a discipline practiced by followers of Jesus, but meditation was used by God’s faithful long before Jesus. Psalm 1 is a foundation for the entire book. It imparts wisdom similar to what we find in the book of Proverbs. A vital part to this foundation is meditation:
“Blessed is the onePsalms 1:1-3 NIV
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.”
In recent church history, a fear of meditation has arisen. The fear has come from the popularity of eastern meditation which teaches to empty the mind of all conscious thought. The Psalmist makes clear it’s not just knowing the truth of God which develops and strengthens us. We become strong and capable followers of Jesus by meditating on God’s truth too.
The practice outlined below will teach to to actively fill your mind with God’s truth and meditate on it. Here are the steps I take in my discipline of meditation:
1. Pair Meditation with Scripture + Journaling
Let me begin by encouraging you to pair this practice with reading the Bible. As I just showed, a key to Biblical meditation is not emptying yourself of thoughts, but focusing on the things of God. To do this, you must have something of God to think about. A part of my meditation process is focusing on the things I’ve just read during my daily Bible reading.
I’ve shared this in my post How to Understand the Bible, but part of my Bible reading process is to journal the things that “jump off the page” at me. When I write these things down, it’s easier for me to recall them as I meditate.
So journaling helps me to recall what I’ve just read, but journaling after mediation can be helpful too. It’s very possible God will begin to show you new pictures, thoughts or ideas about what you’ve read and meditated on. Write these things down, so you can recall them in the days and years to come.
2. Set a timer, but give yourself grace.
I’ve learned lots of lessons about this process, but the first thing I’ve learned is meditation is hard. Quieting all of the things that roll through your mind is not easy — work demands, family commitments, bills to be paid all want to invade your thoughts. A timer helps you work toward a goal.
This is a habit you are creating, so begin small. Start with just a couple of minutes. I was brave (maybe too brave?), and started with ten minutes. However, I haven’t progressed beyond that in the several months I’ve been regular meditating. Many days, I fail at a solid ten minutes.
So have a goal each day, but be easy on yourself. Some days the time will fly by, and other days it will be a real challenge. If you fail, give yourself grace. Meditation is a spiritual muscle you are building, and to begin it most likely is atrophied and weak. Just like with a physical workout, the true win is showing up again the next day.
3. Quiet Your Body: posture yourself to receive.
I meditate in the place I read, journal and pray – my kitchen table. It’s a physically comfortable place for me, and I can hear the nature not far from me in my backyard. I begin by closing my eyes, so I am not distracted by any of my surroundings. I also put my arms on the armrests of the chair palms open and up.
There is spiritual significance to the physical action of opening your hands to God. First, opening my hands is a sign of surrender. In mediation, I want to surrender all of my own thoughts and feelings to what God wants to show me. Second, I want to release anything I am holding onto – emotionally, mentally, even physically. I don’t want to enter into my time of mediation holding onto things that will keep me from hearing God.
My posture physically shows I belong to God.
4. Meditation: Quiet Your Mind.
All meditation share this common denominator – pushing out unwanted thoughts from your mind. The difference with biblical meditation is you are choosing to think on the Bible (as opposed to emptying yourself of all conscious thought). Paul in multiple places talks about the inward spiritual war we wage against both the enemy of our soul and our own sin nature.
In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul writes about this spiritual warfare of the mind like this (emphasis mine):
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NIV
As you meditate, push out all those thoughts of your to-do list, social media posts and bills to pay that come flooding into your mind. This is what it means by taking them captive. You push those thoughts out, so you think only on the things of God. There will be a time and place for those (important and unimportant) things, but now is not the time.
5. I choose You.
I begin my meditation by making these three statements:
- God, I choose you.
- Jesus, I choose you.
- Holy Spirit, I choose you.
This is a slow, step-by-step process. I start with God, and I mentally walk through all it means for me to choose God. I choose him over my goals and dreams: it means I lay down my own honor and glory. Meditation means creating mental pictures of what it is you are thinking. So see myself bowing down to God.
Then I turn my thoughts to choosing Jesus. I see him at the right hand of the Father — that is his place, not mine. I tell Jesus I choose to abide or be in him. Jesus tells us in John 15 he is a vine and we are the branches, and we are to be in him. So I picture myself as a branch connected to the vine of Jesus. I tell Jesus I am willing to be pruned (a scary thought if I am honest).
I finish by choosing the Holy Spirt. It’s important to note we worship the trinity, and the Holy Spirit is often forgotten. However, it is the Holy Spirit who truly allows me to renew mind (remember, this is the final outcome). As this process is a lot of mental images, I see myself stepping into a pool of water — the Spirit. I ask Him to fill me, and I see my body being filled with Him beginning with my feet (as I’m standing in the pool) and working its way to the top of my head. I ask the Holy Spirit to anoint my eyes, ears, mouth, heart, hands and feet.
6. Word of the Year
That portion I just described typically takes about half of my time (4-6 minutes), so when I finish I turn my attention in different directions. One place I go is my 2023 Word of the Year: PEACE.
At the end of 2022, I kept reading Jesus’ promise to his followers:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27 NIV
It has become my focus for my year, so many times I meditate on peace in all it’s different aspects. I again, see myself stepping into a pool of peace. It is a promise from Jesus, so it is available for me to step into at any point. I then picture myself walking into the world as God’s agent of peace.
7. End Meditation with Scripture
At this point, I still have a few minutes left on my timer (yes, I check…ten minutes is a long time!). So I will begin to think about different bible passages I’ve read that day. Again, journaling makes this easier for me to recall. For instance, just today I read, highlighted and journaled this verse from 2 Timothy:
“But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you.” 2 Timothy 3:14 NLT
I meditated on being a person who is trustworthy. I prayed and meditated about my children having people in their lives they can trust with the things they are taught. Again, this is an act of developing mental pictures, so I saw people I’ve trusted over the years with God’s Word in my life.
Meditation: Renewed to See God
That is my practice of meditating. Some days it flies by, but many days I check my watch multiple times. Other days I can’t make it through all ten minutes. However, as I build this discipline in my life, I’ve found the promise of Psalm 1:3 being fulfilled.
I am seeing fruit. My roots are growing deeper and wider in the soil of God. I find myself having less dry or desert seasons. Most noticeable are the daily sin struggles I couldn’t seem to overcome becoming less pronounced. I am finding wins in those areas of my life.
In short, my mind is being renewed. My soul is transformed by the Spirit of God by intentionally focusing on the things of God for just a few minutes each day. As my mind is renewed, my spirit is transformed, I hear God through contemplation. I see God in the world around me.