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Question 11:

What is contemplative prayer, what do you think about it, and who is promoting it?

I always love questions that deal with current issues in the church, and this is one that is quite important to answer in the current season. There are plenty of good resources out there which talk about this issue and I will share some below. I would commend them to you for further reading about this very real issue in the church.

The dangers of contemplative prayer are many, but the most fundamental is that the authority of Scripture is cast aside, and through means which, on the surface, seem to be deep and spiritual, we are led away from Biblical truth, often opening ourselves to further deception.

Contemplative prayer is hard to define, because it can refer to many different practices, but the most simplified definition is prayer that is associated with emptying one's mind and then repeating phrases and words over and over again. All of this is done with the intent of hearing from God in an audible way, either internally or externally.

The theory is that a person is now separated from his or her mind, and with those fleshly hindrances gone, the person is now able to communicate with God in a different realm. Again, on the surface, this seems acceptable, but it only seems that way because of the commonality of this thinking today, combined with a distinct lack of understanding of the Biblical design and purpose for prayer.

The Bible is clear that the Scriptures are to be our guide for faith and practice. Jesus not only taught this, but he also modeled it for us. So, when Scripture gives us a guide for prayer, we can be sure that it is Scripture that we should follow in what to pray and how.

In chapters 5 and 6 of Matthew's gospel, Jesus gives a warning and then a guide about prayer, and we would do well to follow this as we consider what the issues with contemplative prayer are. Jesus warns about heaping up empty phrases or using vain repetitions. Contemplative prayer is centered on things like chanting, mantras, and "breath prayers", all of which would fall under the warnings given by Jesus. (Breath prayers are where you repeat the same phrase over and over throughout the day. This one phrase is your "prayer".)

But Jesus also teaches us how to pray, and does so very specifically. Nowhere in Scripture are we ever commanded to disengage our minds to allow God in. Instead, from the model of prayer Jesus gives, we see clearly that it is with our minds fully engaged we offer our prayers to God. We are to meditate on the Word of God, align our hearts and minds to the things that accord with sound doctrine, and live and worship both in spirit and truth, loving God with our hearts, souls, minds, and our strength. This is almost a complete opposite from the methodology of contemplative prayer.

Just a quick summary: Biblical prayer says God has spoken, once and for all, and it is his Word which guides us. We pray as an aroma unto God, speaking to Him for the purpose of our wills aligning with his. Contemplative prayer says God still speaks to us, and if our minds are free of all thoughts, we will be able to hear God's voice. Through chants and repetition, we are freed from ourselves to connect with God in another realm.

Finally, let me end with a word of warning. This thinking and practice is EVERYWHERE. Many popular names and churches promote this practice, including Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church, Rick Warren and Saddleback Church, and many popular pastors and Bible study leaders like Beth Moore, Anne Voskamp, Priscilla Schirer, TD Jakes, and others.

Here is a quote from the Willow Creek contemplative prayer ministry, which is a weekly meeting known as The Practice:

The Practice is an experimental gathering where we immerse ourselves in God’s dream for humanity, practice the historic disciplines that align us with His dream, and carry each other along the way.

(I would highly encourage you to read this article from which this quote is taken.)

The contemplative prayer movement is really just a by-product of the "God told me" movement, where many believe that God speaks to them regularly, and that movement all started from a very low view of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

What you see in all of this is a distinct disassociation from Biblical Christianity. And what is interesting is that the "historic disciplines" referred to are actually disciplines garnered from other religions, usually Ancient Eastern Mystical cults and the New Age cultists who have followed. This should really be the final warning. When Christianity begins drawing from cultic and mystical practices, it should be obvious that historic, Biblical, Christian practices will have to be put aside. This is precisely what contemplative prayer has done.

Here are the promised articles for further reading:

From a pastor's wife - very clear and thorough

A short, but clear, explanation

Longest, but the most comprehensive
If you are struggling with understanding the differences between Biblical prayer and contemplative, this is the article to read.

Thank you to Sue B. for the question this week. I am always appreciative of questions to answer. If you have a question, send it to me at jayson@watersedgebible.org.

Because of Christ,
Pastor Jayson
jayson@watersedgebible.org

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