M’Cheyne And Lingering

Written in 2007




Ajith Fernando


The past three months have been very hectic for me, and for spiritual refreshment I have been reading the book, A Basket of Fragments by Robert Murray M‘Cheyne (Christian Focus Publications). M‘Cheyne died when he was 29 years old. That is less than the time I have been in vocational (so-called “full-time”) ministry! But I am amazed by the spiritual depth I find in his writings—a depth that is difficult to find today, even among Christians who live to a ripe old age. This quality of spiritual depth is often seen in the writings of other Christians from by-gone eras too.


What did they have which we do not seem to have that enabled them to have such spiritual depth? We have so many more resources to help us plumb the depths of God’s truths as revealed in his Word. And clearly it was from the Bible that M‘Cheyne derived his depth. Why can’t we attain such depth when we have resources to help us arrive at the Biblical message so much more quickly than those who laboured before us? I think the pace of life today has something to do with the spiritual deficiency of our generation.


The key to spiritual depth is lingering in the presence of God in prayer and in meditation of his Word. Technology does not need to hinder that. Actually the wonderful resources for Bible study could help us to reduce the time spent in getting the message of the Bible. This should release us to spend more time in meditation and contemplative prayer. But meditation requires that we slow our mind down so that we can concentrate on the object of our meditation. That is where our problem lies. We are unaccustomed to slowing down.


I am amazed at how easily I am distracted when I am having a wonderful time with the Lord. Here I am revelling in his Word or enjoying praising him through song or battling for someone’s soul through prayer. Suddenly a thought arises in my mind about something I should do, and could do immediately because my computer is handy. And I am off to this work even though it is so much less satisfying that the ecstasy of being alone with God. Sometimes I get myself into different activities which keep me from my time with God. I have been infected by the restlessness that ails my generation!


One of the greatest traps in life is that of depriving ourselves of the joy of the Lord for immediate shallow satisfaction. Fallen humanity is often deceived into finding satisfaction from work at the cost of the ecstasy of being still before God. In our insecurity we work in order to feel important without revelling in the glorious identity of being God’s beloved children (1 John 3:1) and the significance of being his ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20).


Is there no hope of living a contemplative life in this rushed world? There is! But we must consciously attack those things that cause distraction in our lives. I was greatly helped recently when one of my colleagues told me that he puts off his mobile phone when he has his devotions. He asks his family members to tell those who call on his land line that he is praying and to request them to leave a message.


The mobile phone is one of the greatest agents of distraction today. I think it is an insult to God to put our phones on silent mode during a worship service without putting it off fully. When we go to embassies and other offices there are notices that ask us to put off our phones. Why can’t we do that when we have an audience with the King of kings? When we switch off our phones during worship we are making a statement to ourselves that we are in the presence of God and wish to concentrate unhindered on him alone.


There are other things that we can do to recover a contemplative life.

  • We can fashion the places where we have our time of meditation and prayer so as to affirm the fact that we are leaving other things aside to be alone with God. I usually have my time with God in my office room at home. There I have a section with photos of people I pray for and mottos I need to remind myself of. Book cupboards separate this “prayer closet” from the rest of the room.
  • In spite of this I often get distracted. In fact, sometimes because of the rush of work I find it so difficult to have my devotions in my office room at home that I need to go elsewhere. I go sometimes to our visitors’ room at home. But my favourite places are the beach and the Anglican cathedral near my home (though the last two times I went there it was closed!). By removing myself from places which can distract me, I am trying to slow myself down so that I can concentrate on God only.
  • Regular retreats are another thing that helps. The retreat may be for a few hours or for a day or more. Here the idea is that we leave our usual work in order to seek God’s face.
  • I have also found writing to be a way that helps me meditate. By writing thoughts down with a pencil or pen or by typing them into a computer we are able to follow through from seed thoughts to deeper insights into the ways of God.
  • Always we must approach this task with openness to hearing God’s voice and seeing his deep truths. We know that God wants to communicate to us. So we go to him with expectancy. We are always praying a prayer like that of Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” I sometimes sing the following hymn before my devotion time (I am writing this from memory as I am on the road and do not have my hymnbooks or access to the internet):
    Master speak! Thy servant heareth,
    Waiting for thy gracious word;
    Longing for thy voice that cheereth,
    Master, let it now be heard.
    I am listening, Lord for thee.
    What has thou to say to me?


It has been said that a leader in today’s fast paced world needs to be a person capable of multi-tasking—one who can do a lot of things at the same time. While that may make us efficient leaders it could spell disaster in the most important area of life—our relationships with God. Multi-task leaders need to discipline themselves to concentrate on God alone and give themselves to meditation and contemplative prayer. Personally this is one of the biggest battles in my life.


We must not allow the technological advances of today’s world to cause us to become spiritual paupers. Let’s be aware of our handicaps and do something to overcome them. Let’s battle against distraction and for unhurried concentration on God.


One thing have I asked of the Lord,

that will I seek after:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord

and to inquire in his temple (Psalm 27:4).