In the last blog I mentioned I had participated in a Christian mindfulness presentation that included some interactive exercises. It was being sponsored and hosted by a well-known national denomination. This gave it some credibility in my mind, so I signed up. I was interested in how it would be approached by the Christian PHD (doctor of philosophy) who taught it. I was hopeful I could learn something and find similarities in what God has called me to do through Into the Waters. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed. But God showed up in it, and gave me a message I understood. This is a long post; but an important one. I’ll share some of what I experienced in the session; but first briefly touch on mindfulness as a current cultural trend.
Mindfulness is a buzz word right now, but it is not new. It has deep spiritual roots going back thousands of years. Some roots are from Christianity, others are not. It has gained traction in our current culture because it has been presented as non-religious, useful for all people regardless of spiritual beliefs. Various forms of mindfulness are being encouraged, taught, and implemented in school systems, corporate training programs, healthcare systems, sports training, consulting practices, armed forces drills, etc. This article states it is the fastest growing health trend in America.
Mindfulness practices are intriguing to people because “statistics show” it lowers stress, improves productivity, increases mental focus, betters physical health, strengthens relationships, stokes creativity, lowers employee turnover, etc. Some are even claiming it has the power to obliterate fear! Pretty impressive!
Should I believe the hype? What is mindfulness exactly and as a Christian, how is it to be practiced, if at all? What are its implications? Does it square with Christianity?
According to Oxford dictionary, mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by concentrating on the present moment, while calmly accepting the feelings and thoughts that come to you, used as a technique to help you relax.”
Oxford dictionary also credits mindfulness as a concept from Zen Buddhism. Mindfulness practices typically include exercises of breathing, visualizing, noticing feeling and thoughts within present moment in order to make better choices to respond in calm and self-controlled ways. Those practices are very commonly considered mindfulness meditation techniques.
Prepare to be confused….
In contrast, a mindfulness organization states it is NOT about achieving a state of calm. They state, “it is just about noticing whatever experience we're having, including all the thoughts, feelings or physical sensations that are a part of it… we learn the skill of becoming aware of our thoughts, without necessarily doing anything with them. By just noticing thoughts, we learn how to unhook ourselves from our identification with them. This is different from pushing thoughts away. It’s how we relate to our thoughts, not the absence of them.” So are you confused by that? I am. (If interested, click here to read their entire document. )
It is a frustrating prospect to me that I am to notice my thoughts and feelings and not necessarily do anything with them, except "unhook" myself from them, whatever that means. And if I am to rely on my own power to make better choices in moments, again, losing prospect for me personally. I don't have that power. God has shown me my desperate, urgent every day need for mind renewal on His terms, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
But let’s not throw mindfulness aside yet, because mindfulness is actually God's concept and here is his definition- Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Going further, mindfulness as God intends, involves the biblical practice of meditation.
We can see the importance God places on meditation in Joshua 1:8 when He tells His people that, if done His way, meditation guarantees prosperity and success. If He is taken out of that equation, it is a worldly concept and smoke and mirrors.
Now let me give you a practical example to sort through. Let's go back to the event I mentioned in the beginning… It was marketed as Christian Mindfulness and Spirituality, so I figured it would be presented in a biblical way that aligned with God's definition of mindfulness and meditation. Instead, it was a dangerous mix of truth and lies.
The presenter shared in the first segment that Christian mindfulness practices go back thousands of years to early monastic and nomadic communities. These early Christian believers practiced “constant prayer” in quiet settings in order to contemplate God and His Word and experience His presence. So far so good, until… great emphasis was placed on present moment awareness and how to respond. The presenter referenced John 10:10 to emphasize Jesus’ promise to give life and life in abundance. A great promise! But the scripture was used as backdrop to support present moment awareness. She stated we are to focus on what can be seen in order to recognize the ordinary abundance all around us in order to fill us.
Do you see what is wrong with the presenter’s interpretation?
Focusing on what can be seen to be filled is NOT the context of what Jesus meant at all. He did not mean that we are to focus on life all around us to fill us. He meant that the promised life of abundance came through His life that He would give us. We are to be filled by Him, Romans 15:13. Since she was incorrectly interpreting the meaning of John 10:10, this was where I began to get uncomfortable in the presentation.
She continued by inviting us to have an attitude of curiosity. This meant to practice noticing ordinary abundance and to be present in a moment. She instructed us to close our eyes and imagine ourselves as an alien visiting the earth for the first time. Then, as an alien, we were to reach out our hand and pick something up from earth. Since we were visiting earth, it would be something we had never seen before. We were to look at it, feel it, observe it, engage all of our senses, and manipulate it if possible. We were told this was an exercise to train our brains to be more mindful by focusing intently on a present moment. As she presented this exercise, I suddenly became very mindful of something rising up in me. My feelings and thoughts were't pleasant, nor was I feeling very calm suddenly. Maybe this was to be the point I "unhooked" myself, LOL.
Would you have participated in this exercise?
I did not do the exercise. I was shocked. Jesus’ beautiful promise to give life in abundance was twisted. There was no suggestion to pick up something God designed, like a beautiful rose for example. We could have closed our eyes and noticed the intricacies of God’s handiwork and how it awakened all of our senses, causing us to wonder at the glory of God. Instead, I was to be an alien and pick up “something” I had never seen before. Given the fact that there was no encouragement at all to give God glory for whatever the created thing was, she lost me as a participant at this exercise.
However, I didn’t disconnect from the presentation. I still hoped it would get better, but truly was more curious as to how much worse it could get.
Shortly after the alien exercise, she mentioned Matthew 11:28 which is Jesus’ invitation to all who are weary and burdened to come to Him for rest. She used it to illustrate a mindfulness point that when we are weary and burdened, we can train ourselves to choose our response. Red flag. Her translation was way outside of the boundary of what Jesus was saying. He wants us to come to Him with our weakness and learn from him so he can restore us. He never encourages us to train ourselves to choose our response in our own power.
At this point in the online presentation, something fell to the ground which startled the presenter, causing her to swing around in her chair and grab the item on the ground very quickly. When she came back into view, she looked a bit shocked. But then she quickly closed her eyes and breathed deeply to take a mindfulness moment. She then explained to all of us, that a candle had fallen to the ground suddenly. Since it was lit, she needed to get it immediately, stating she was fearful it would cause a fire. But, she noted she was immediately relieved, because the candle had gone out upon hitting the ground.
At this, I smiled and was mindful of sudden relief. I took it as God’s little wink to me that He was connecting with my upset. This was not a Spirit-filled Christian mindfulness session. It was a session where the light was snuffed out. Bad sign.
The crescendo was a poem she shared from a well-known writer who has recently passed away, and who, by the way, was an atheist. Yes of course, perfect ending, inspire me with an atheist's words of not knowing how to pray. Yes, the poem she shared emphasized not knowing how to pray, but knowing how to fall down into the grass and pay attention. I was seriously in a state of shock.
Could it get any worse? I stuck around to the very end hoping the host or participants might reveal their dismay. But the host praised her. Only 2 participants made comments; and they were also praises! Ugh.
I know this is a long post, but it is so important. Some might think I am overly critical or harsh. But I politely disagree. So many are being led as sheep to the slaughter by the enemy who delights in twisting and perverting God's ways. We should be hyper-vigilant in these times to honor God and meditate on His Word in context. We must be rooted and grounded in God’s word to discern between good and evil, Hebrews 5:13-14. God calls us to exercise our spiritual senses through constant use in order to discern. Are you exercising your spiritual senses?
Into the Waters offers resources to train yourself to exercise your spiritual senses through prayer and meditation in context of His truth. Our classes and online resources emphasize the critical nature of lingering with God, inviting the Holy Spirit, meditating on His Word, talking openly and vulnerably with Him, waiting in His presence, giving Him glory, and surrendering to His leading. Practice those type of exercises with us!
We are holding a session Sunday March 15th at 8pm EST called the Word of God. We will ponder 4 different ways the enemy of our soul attacks us. There is also challenge to ask God to do something new and supernatural. There are exercises to quiet yourself and renew in His presence. Join us! Sign up here. And stay tuned because I will also be announcing an April session related to new life, just prior to Easter. I hope you join one or both! And if you are looking for even more, try this biblically based mindfulness challenge that I posted recently on our Facebook and Instagram page. Try it with a friend! Click on the picture below for instructions.
Since Fall of last year, Into the Waters' prayer and meditation sessions have been held in an online format. They have been going very well, with every survey revealing 100% would recommend the session to others! It is precious time with God.
Here is one comment from a participant in the January 25th session-
"I liked the ability to do this online in my own space. Great job in guiding us through the exercises."
It was an early morning start at 8am EST, with the majority connecting from the East Coast, a couple others connecting from CST, and a couple more from the PST (a 5am start!) This the very cool thing of gathering for a session online. You connect from the comfort of your own space and time zone! God will bless those early birds!
I started the session by sharing a few personal examples of difficult moments of mental battle, confusion, and burden that have happened since the start of the year. For the most part I started the year pretty positive; but it didn't take long until battle ensued. I've learned God leads me in a process, taking me through lessons that are not just for me; but for others. As I share, I see that my experience comforts and encourages others, 2 Corinthians 1:3-5. We are in this together! God wants us to know we are not alone in our trials. You will experience that if you participate in a session.
Related to the lessons God took me through, I was able to share how God led me to victory in 3 different ways; the lesson being there is no formula with God. We need to hone our skill set in spiritual terms and tune to the leading of the Spirit. Do you know how to do that? He wants us to be aware of the variety of weapons at our disposal to gain victory in our troubles. Do you know what some spiritual weapons might be?
Most Christians are very limited in knowing how to battle through. So as I got closer to the session, I realized that the WORD of GOD session was to partly be about how we overcome. I shared 4 ways the enemy of our souls attacks us. Participants were led through prayerful reflection time with God to meditate and ponder how the enemy might be tempting them. 50% of participants noted they received revelation from God on an area that needed healing. PRAISE GOD!
"My joy of the Lord was restored in realizing I was allowing it to be stolen." - Jan 25th participant
Also the sessions always include a good portion of time to still ourselves before Him and invite His presence. 70% of participants particularly enjoyed being able to still and quiet themselves in His presence. In the hustle and bustle of our attention deprived lives, it is more critical than ever to make hard stops, to be vigilant in protecting quiet time with the LORD. Many of us need to be hyper-vigilant in an aggressive way, especially if we are exhausted, depleted, burdened, complaining, and anxious. We say we don't have time, but Jesus was very clear with Martha telling her that only one thing was truly necessary. He stood in defense of her sister Mary who chose time at the Lord's feet. He made it clear IT WOULD NOT BE TAKEN AWAY FROM HER, Luke 10:42. God's defense of your time with Him is already there, are you letting Him defend your time with Him?
"I really sense a need to be more mindful of listening better this year. I tend to want to do all the talking. This process was very helpful to me in practicing that." - January 25th participant
That feedback makes me so happy and thankful! It's testimony of one who is being self-reflective and wanting to "practice"! We can talk, talk, talk to God; but do we stop and listen? Each session always includes time to ask God for things, for vision of the unseen, and then wait on what is impressed, to make note of what comes to mind as we meditate on His truths. In the last session, we asked God to do something new! Something supernatural and of the Spirit! ASK.
"God insists that we ask, not because He needs to know our situation, but because we need the spiritual discipline of asking."- Catherine Marshall, author (1914-1983)
To close this post out, I want to point out the word "mindful" that was used in the participant's quote above. It has become a real buzzword in our culture. And Christians are being led astray related to it. I want to share more about mindfulness; but won't be sharing about it in this blog. I will in the next. It will be about a session I attended recently that was hosted by a national Christian denomination. I signed up hopeful to learn from the PHD who lead it. Unfortunately, I came away very disappointed and concerned. It didn't calm me or benefit my spirit. Will share more next week.
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Prayer is Gift!
Hi my name is Gina; and I'm the founder of the ministry. My 25 year journey with God has been centered on immersing myself in the safe relationship God offers, learning about the power of surrender, and praying for His life in greater measure!