I was recently asked to write an article on ‘reflection’ for my church. While a lot of people have participated in a church service where a time of reflection was in place, I have found that many actually have not. Therefore, before providing some practical steps to help us use our time of reflection effectively, I want to first identify what ‘reflection’ is, primarily within the context of a church service.
Reflection, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is ‘the production of an image by or as if by a mirror.’ A little further down the list of definitions we can also see that reflection is ‘a thought, idea, or opinion formed as a result of meditation.’
In Genesis 1:27 we see the creation of mankind as the very image of God; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
In other words, God created mankind to bear forth His image; to reflect His nature for the rest of the world to see. As Matt Chandler explains it, ‘our presence on earth is akin to rulers sand authorities of ancient lands placing a statue or an icon of their image in distant regions that were also under their rule, so that there would be an image of the reign and rule of that king. You and I, as mankind, are that icon; that image of God that shows that there is a creator who is reigning and ruling.’
As image bearing creation, we have been made to reflect God’s nature to the rest of the world. However, with sin and temptation, we get easily distracted and can quite often start reflecting the world rather than God.
Therefore, it is important for us to take seriously what James tells us in chapter one verse 24-25…that we should not be ‘like someone who looks at his face in the mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.’ Rather, we must ‘look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continue in it – not forgetting what we have heard, but doing it.’
As we’ll read later on, ‘all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’ that most accurately reflects the righteousness of God.
A time of reflection is vital to this because as we look to produce the image of God as if by a mirror, we must know; we must have a thought, idea, or opinion regarding the One we are reflecting in order to conduct our lives accordingly, and the only way we can do that is by deep, meaningful meditation and reflection on the Word of God.
This kind of meaningful reflection however is not intended for the last remaining minutes of a church services, but is rather a continuation of dwelling on His truths and promises; meditating on them, and allowing them to change the way we live our lives. Our time in reflection should be about how we approach the Word of God beforehand, how we respond as it is planted in our hearts, and how it changes us into a clearer image of Christ Jesus.
So how do we conduct our lives as James tells us; continuing in the Word preached each Sunday morning and doing what it says?
Here are five reflection and study habits that I encourage you to put into practice:
We do not instinctively hear preaching as the actual voice of God, but rather as the message of a man. When we receive the Word, we need to be like the church in Thessalonica and ‘accept it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in those who believe’ (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NIV). As you approach each Sunday morning, consider…
- Reading the designated Bible passage ahead of time;
- As you read, praying that God would open your eyes and ears and prepare your heart in expectation to hear from Him;
- Praying for your pastor as they prepare this week’s message; and
- Preparing your mind prior to the sermon by using the minutes leading up to the service for quiet prayer and preparation.
To listen humbly is to admit that the Bible is right and that you are wrong; that God is God and we are the ones that need to change. The Word of God is not intended to make us feel good, but rather to cut at the core of our being (Hebrews 4:12-13, NIV); to challenge us to ‘get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and to humbly accept the word planted in us…’ (James 1:21, NIV). In order to humbly respond to the message, consider…
- Identifying certain points of the message that challenged your beliefs and/or lifestyle;
- Continuing to pray that God would help you submit to His Word in obedience; and
- Seeking further guidance and accountability regarding these areas of conviction that you have identified.
It is a wise practice to question everything except for the Word of God, including those called to serve, preach, and teach. Listening is active, not passive, therefore it is wise to continually ask yourself how the sermon is validated and supported by God’s Word. To help prepare yourself to approach the Word of God wisely and thoughtfully, consider…
- Reading the passage prior to the sermon and asking yourself the following questions:
What is the main point of the passage?
Why was the passage written? To whom was it written? What is it intended to achieve for its audience?
- If you notice large variances in how you understood the passage and how it was delivered, consider asking for further guidance as you continue praying as Martin Luther did: ‘Lord, teach me, teach me, teach me;’ and
- Do not allow discrepancies to go unchecked. As Proverbs 4:7 (NIV) says, ‘the beginning of wisdom is this: get wisdom.’
James tells us in chapter one verse 22 that we should not ‘merely listen to the word, and so deceive ourselves,’ but to ‘do what it says…’ The ultimate goal and purpose of hearing God’s Word is ‘for teaching’ what we ought to believe, ‘rebuking’ what we ought not believe, ‘correcting’ how we ought not behave, and ‘for training in righteousness’ in how we ought to behave (2 Timothy 4:1-5, NIV). Therefore, it is important that we actively seek conviction rather than entertainment and obedience rather than validation. To allow God’s Word to change you, consider…
- Writing down at least one area of conviction or some action that you need to take in order to obey this Bible passage (a change in attitude, an alteration in how you speak, etc.); and
- On a daily basis, revisit what you wrote down and pray that God would work obedience in your heart and mind through His Word and conviction.
We read in Deuteronomy 30:15-16 (NIV) that life and prosperity, death and destruction has been set before us today; that we are commanded to love the Lord our God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees, and laws today; that we may live and increase and be blessed by God. One of the easiest lies to believe is that there is no hurry – no hurry to confess our sins and no hurry to change our ways. What we fail to recognize however is that every promise we make to start tomorrow, we guarantee that tomorrow will never come. In your time of reflection right now, consider…
- Immediately confessing the things that the Holy Spirit has convicted you of;
- Acting on at least one way you can change your behavior, attitude, or lifestyle to come in line with God’s Word today; and
- Thanking God for His gracious invitation to walk with Him and rejoice in His grace, forgiveness, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word, conviction, and redemption.