When I’m struggling in my faith or facing temptation, I often try to fix it by making plans for what I’ll do differently. I think it’s all on me. But this never works for long. I need my heart to be changed, not just my behaviour, and I can’t do this on my own. Seventeenth-century writer John Owen makes the case that meditating on Jesus Christ is the cure for many of our spiritual troubles:
Do any of us find decays in grace prevailing in us;—deadness, coldness, lukewarmness, a kind of spiritual stupidity and senselessness coming upon us? Do we find an unreadiness unto the exercise of grace in its proper season, and the vigorous acting of it in duties of communion with God, and would we have our souls recovered from these dangerous diseases? Let us assure ourselves there is no better way for our healing and deliverance, yea, no other way but this alone,—namely, the obtaining a fresh view of the glory of Christ by faith, and a steady abiding therein. Constant contemplation of Christ and his glory, putting forth its transforming power unto the revival of all grace, is the only relief in this case.1
Beholding Christ is the path to fervent holiness and zealous service. It brings us joy in the midst of terrible circumstances, and devotion when our hearts are cold. But how do we do this? When it comes to meditating on Christ, it can be hard to know what to actually think about.
Of course, reading the Bible is the best place to start. That’s where God reveals himself to us. But it helps to have some guidance here, because the effort it takes to grab your Bible and find a passage may be just enough friction that you don’t bother.
One thing I find helpful is having an easily accessible list of quotes and Bible passages which facilitate deep thinking about Jesus. Mine is stored in Evernote, with a shortcut on my phone’s home screen so I can pull it up with just a tap. In moments of despondency or temptation, I pick a couple of quotes to ponder and pray over.
Here are a handful of passages from my list that you may find to be helpful aids in reflecting on the manifold excellencies of Christ.
Whatever gain I had, I counted loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I might gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7–8)
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14–16)
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength[a] of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25–26)
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8)
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4–5)
“Christ infinitely transcends the most excellent and loveliest of created things. Whatsoever loveliness is found in them, it is not without a bad aftertaste. The best creature is but a bitter sweet at best: But it is not so in our altogether lovely Christ.” (John Flavel)
“Do without Christ! You do not know what Christ has been to you, even when you were not aware that he was your Friend. You think he has not been doing anything for you, when, in fact, he has been crowning you with loving kindness and tender mercies all your days. If we were to lose Christ today out of our life, if his name were utterly blotted out, his friendship and help taken utterly from our life—what a dark, sad world this would be for us! Think of going out tomorrow to your duty, struggle, danger, responsibility, without Christ, unable to find him in your need. Think of not having Christ in your day of sorrow! Think of dying without Christ!” (J.R. Miller)
“The saints delight in Christ; he is their joy, crown, life, food, health, strength, desire, righteousness, salvation, blessedness.” (John Owen)
“The deepest possible pleasures available to mankind are found in Christ Jesus. We must be very serious about pursuing joy, not cheap, transient, here-for-a-moment-and-gone-the-next-moment joys, but eternal, soul-saturating, life-transforming joys.” (Matt Chandler)
“Upon the discovery of the excellency and sweetness of Christ in the banquet-house, the soul is instantly overpowered, and cries out to be made a partaker of the fullness of it…I have seen a glimpse of the King in His beauty.” (John Owen)
“The same Christ who wept at the tomb of Lazarus weeps with us in our lonely despair. The same one who reached out and touched lepers puts his arm around us today when we feel misunderstood and sidelined. The Jesus who reached out and cleansed messy sinners reaches into our souls and answers our half-hearted plea for mercy with the might invincible cleansing of one who cannot bear to do otherwise.”2 (Dane Ortlund)
“But one day — our Groom has promised it will be “soon”— the waiting will be over. And he will come, our Hero, of which all legendary heroes are but copies and shadows, and he will save us to the uttermost. And all that is dark and diseased and damaged and destroyed will pass away like a bad dream and become the shadows of the great yesterday, serving only to heighten our savoring of the bright, eternal today. And of all the light in which we delight, the fairest will be his face.”3 (Jon Bloom)
- Quoted in Joel R. Beeke & Michael Reeves, Following God Fully: An Introduction to the Puritans, Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, 2019, p. 69.
- Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, Crossway, Wheaton, 2020, p. 32.
- Quoted from the article ‘When Our Waiting Will Be Over‘ on Desiring God. I have removed the Scripture references for ease of reading and memorising.