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I was Just Sitting in a Church Chair Thinking…

In a factory full of church chairs it is not hard to find a chair to sit in. We just completed a day of training with my team and in debrief with the consultant the subject of meditation came up.

“So,” Cynthia said, “you described your future objectives using all left brain imagery. However you also talked about how you stop and think about your first mental/emotional reactions to the events you encounter as a leader. What do you do to refocus your thoughts so that your thoughts do not buckle into subjective assessments that distort your actions?”

I could feel the smile plying across my face at the question. “I meditate.” That’s right I redirect my thinking by meditation. It is a routine discipline for me because I find that other than feedback from others meditation is the most effective tool I have to reassess my first reactions to events or people and avoid the pitfalls of a limited perspective. Meditation helps me see both sides of an argument or both sides to a dilemma or alternative interpretations of an event. This ability to think through alternative ways of seeing something is critical to effective leadership. People who exercise this way of thinking exude wisdom and dependability in my experience. The results according to the Psalmist are predictable.

1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked 
or stand in the way that sinners take 
or sit in the company of mockers, 
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, 
and who meditates on his law day and night. 
3 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. (Psalms 1:1-3, NIV)

Meditation is a great practice to exercise from a church chair. Meditation consists of reflective thinking or contemplation, usually on a specific subject to discern its meaning or significance or a plan of action. The way I engage meditation is a deliberate exercise. In this context meditation is a way to exercise perspective or what some call positive self talk. The internal stability people especially leaders need is not something that just happens. In the pressure of criticism or problems or external demands it is sometimes easy to loose perspective.

The fact is that people tend to frame things more negatively than positively. Think for a moment about how you react to the events and situations around you. The boss calls you into an unplanned meeting. Do you think “Oh how nice she is going to recognize my commitment to the mission of the company” or is the thought more along the lines of “I wonder if I am being fired?”

Dr. Bernie Bilicki notes that how we are raised, our peer group and our environment play a part in shaping our negative views. There may even be a biological component to more negative thoughts. This negative tendency is;

…probably based on survival or self-preservation. It’s a good idea to think, “I probably am not able to outrun that bear, so I will stay a safe distance” or “I could get hurt or killed if I don’t wear my seatbelt….” We might also tend to have negative thoughts to avoid emotional pain such as shame and anxiety. Unfortunately this tendency can get out of hand when we get angry (“That person is a rotten S.O.B.”) or depressed (“This will never work….I’ll never amount to anything.”)

Biblical meditation has a starting point that provides an objective anchor if you will. This emotional anchor is set by the recognition that our self-talk is apparently transparent to God (God hears our thoughts). The idea is a little sobering. It is interesting because I find that great leaders have a clear sense of accountability in the way they speak and act that begins in the way they reflect or think. David mirrors this characteristic in his psalm;

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14, NIV)

The point of accountability is not to create an internal legalism of rigid moralistic codes of what can and cannot be thought. Instead it is a judge of thoughts that allows for the exposure of damaging or incomplete perspective and an insight into more complete assessment of self, situations or others. Joshua pointed Israel toward this kind of mental tutorage as Israel prepared to enter the land God had promised them;

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)

So does the idea of positive self talk and meditation fit in the same biblical way of approaching the subject? Consider the following examples.

I’m not good enough. Gideon expressed some negative self talk when commissioned by God to act in the face of Israel’s oppression by another people.

14 The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” (Judges 6:14-16)

Notice how God redirects Gideon’s self talk. Gideon focuses on his family (an easy target – oh God you don’t know the family I grew up in…). God redirects Gideon’s self talk to view his personal credentials from the foundation of God’s call to action and God’s promised presence – Gideon had a higher power in God.

I messed up. Peter is a great example of this. After touting his loyalty to Christ in front of the other disciples he caved when a young servant girl asked if he was Jesus’ disciple after Jesus’ arrest. (Matthew 26:70) Jesus addressed Peter’s self-talk by asking Peter to actually voice a different self-talk.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17, NIV)

Jesus clearly understood that the way we think impacts our actions and reactions. When Jesus lead Peter to say something different than what must have been going on in his mind after denying Jesus Peter’s self-talk underwent a transformation. The fact is attitude—how we look at people and things—is what either gives us energy and well-being, or fatigue and misery. It is not just psychologists who agree that expanding positive self-talk every day is one of the most powerful keys to maintain a sense of wellbeing and achieve success in life. When viewed from the way Jesus worked with Peter and the concept of meditation it appears the Bible has talked about this long before the concept was popularized.

Many of our problems are symptoms of underlying dynamic mental processes (self-talk) going on inside. Meditating on the Bible can expose an often unconscious network of defenses, anxieties, and sources of self-trust and provide a positive self-talk instead. (Heb. 4:12; 2 Tim. 3:16)

Sitting in a church chair in the factory I am reminded of the power of meditation. I see its impact on how I lead others, understand their words and actions and respond to the situations we face everyday. I lead a sales team in a factory – we happen to work with churches that need chairs. If meditation works here I am confident it works where ever believers will apply it.

[1]Bernie Bilicki, PsyD. “Expand Your PST: Your Positive Self-Talk” Source: http://www.vibrantmentalhealth.com/newsletter/positive-self-talk.html; accessed 4 May 2011.

Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in leadership, cross-cultural leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.