I believe prayer is absolutely vital to faith and is a very important way God speaks to us and invites us to speak to Him. It is powerful and life-changing. If "contemplative prayer" was just about praying according to the definition of "contemplate", I would have no problem with it. The dictionary defines contemplate as to look at or view with continued attention; observe or study thoughtfully, to consider thoroughly; think fully or deeply about: to have as a purpose; intend.
Praying with purpose, thought, and attention is good. Having times of solitude and silence to focus on what God wants to speak to our hearts through His word and prayer instead of listening to the distractions around us is good. But as I've continued to research what the contemplative prayer movement really teaches, I'm finding out this is not the kind of prayer they teach, nor is this kind of prayer taught in the Bible.
So if it isn't Biblical, where does it come from? It is steeped in the ancient tradtions of other religions and the occult, introduced to the church by men and women who were influenced by those other philosophies and embraced them. And we're eating it up, hook, line, and sinker. Why? Because we yearn for intimacy with God (a good thing) but are willing to sidestep what scripture tells us about having it and will try anything that promises a different experience that will give us new insight and will get us closer to the mind of God; the very thoughts of "the Divine" himself.
All this is nothing new. Eve fell into the same trap in the garden of Eden. The seduction Satan used to get her to eat from the forbidden tree was the promise that if she did, she would be like God. It wasn't enough that she got to walk and talk with Him every evening in the garden. Why should she settle for that if she could be equal to Him, be like Him, and know His every thought? That is the whole idea behind "new age" meditation and all the practices connected with it - to connect with and become like The Divine through contemplative prayer and spiritual practices.
Interestingly, those who are sounding the warning about contemplative prayer the loudest are those who used to be deep into new age religions, the occult, and meditation before they met Jesus as savior. They clearly recognize it for what it is because it's what they used to practice.
So where do well-meaning Christians get the idea that this teaching is Biblical, other than the fact that it comes from respected sources such as Richard Foster, Thomas Keating, Beth Moore, Christianity Today magazines, mega-church-feel-good gurus, and many, many others? Here are a few references that have been presented as Biblical proof but in fact, these scriptures are taken out of context to apply to something that was never intended nor supported with other scripture:
Ps. 62:5: "My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him."
This verse is not an instruction on how to pray. It is about depending on God for refuge and salvation, and waiting in expectation for God only. Even if we assume the psalmist was praying, he is not suggesting we must approach God in silence.
Ps. 46:10: "Be still and know that I am God."
This is also taken out of context. This psalm is actually a rebuke from God to those striving against Him. Some translations read "Cease striving and know that I am God." In other words, sit down, be patient, and acknowledge that He is God. It is not instruction in prayer.
Any scripture that speaks of meditation is often used, but never is "meditation" in the Bible used in the context of the new age type meditation supported in contemplative prayer. In the original Hebrew and Greek, "mediate" means to think about, ponder, speak, pray, consider, put forth thoughts, study, to consider something before speaking or acting, to attend to carefully, etc. Nowhere in scripture does it mean seeking an altered state of mind, speaking a phrase or word over and over, or emptying the mind so something else to fill it. The word meditate in scripture is always in reference to the study and consideration of the statutes, precepts and words of God.
Some say that the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and praying (Luke 4) was a time of contemplative prayer. Scripture only says that Jesus was lead by the Spirit into the wilderness to fast and pray and be tempted by Satan. There is nothing that indicates this was a mystical pilgrimage marked by silence. It was to prepare Jesus for ministry.
Some turn to the account of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 when God passed by as a great wind, an earthquake and a fire but it was through God's "still, small voice" that Elijah heard Him. Contemplative prayer proponents point to that as being evidence that God wants us to be silent to hear Him as a still, small voice. However, it has to be noted that Elijah was hiding in the cave because he ran away in fear and was utterly spent physically and emotionally after taking on the prophets of Baal. He was not there because he was on a pilgrimage to find God in silence. God found him and chose to speak to him gently, knowing Elijah's emotional and physical state at the time.
Matthew 6:6 is also used to encourage contemplative prayer: "But you, when
Sometimes the red flag is not in the misuse of scripture but rather the warning that comes with the teaching as is the case in Richard Foster's Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home. He writes, "I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as a supernatural guidance that is not divine guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on the nature of the spiritual world, we do know … there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way! … But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection.… 'All dark and evil spirits must now leave.'"
I have to ask, since when does God lead us into a type of praying that puts us in danger and opens our minds to demonic influence? It's also not true that the Bible doesn't give us a lot of information on the nature of the spiritual world.
Is there benefit to silence and solitude when praying and studying God's word? Of course! But silence can be obtained without opening ourselves to things rooted in eastern religion and the occult. I like how author and speaker Marcia Montenegro says it: "Silence can be soothing and comforting; we can get deep insights when we are quiet. But simply trying to be quiet is not prayer, and there is no biblical basis for the belief that real prayer is wordless. After all, God has given us a written revelation, and God's laws and words are acclaimed throughout the Bible, such as Psalm 119, which extols God's word as a treasure and lamp. In Is. 40:8, we learn, "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever," and Jesus declares to the Father in Jn. 17:17, "Your word is truth.""
The bottom line is, we draw near to God through Christ and through His word, not through new age techniques, silence, mysticism and meditation, or repetition of words. To quote Montenegro again, "Do techniques bring closeness to God, especially when such techniques are parallel to Eastern religious practices? Ephesians 2:13 tells us, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." We draw near to God through Christ (Heb. 4:16), not through techniques. When First John talks about abiding in Christ, it speaks of following Christ's commandments and showing love for each other."
I'm not a scholar. I'm a truth-seeker who happens to enjoy reading and studying. Everything I've written in these two posts have come from studying scripture first, followed by other credible sources. Blue Letter Bible (blueletterbible.org) includes the Hebrew and Greek meanings of words from Strong's Exhaustive Concordance which is a valuable tool in discerning what scripture means. An excellent book that documents with scripture what is wrong with the teachings of contemplative prayer and the emerging church is A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen.
A helpful website about how new age thought is infiltrating the church is CANA (Christian Answers for the New Age) by Marcia Montenegro, who, before receiving Jesus as Savior, was involved with various new age, occult, and Eastern beliefs and practices, including Inner Light Consciousness, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Hindu teachings and meditation, and psychic development classes. If anyone can see these things for what they are even if they are wrapped in biblical God language, she can. I got some information for this post from her article entitled Contemplative Prayer: Is it Really Prayer?
As Christ followers we need to be diligent in studying God's word so we recognize the lies when they sneak in. I want to be like Ezra who "set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances..." (Ezra 7:10) The Hebrew for "study" in this verse means "to resort to, seek, seek with care, enquire, require, to frequent a place, to tread upon a place, to consult, to seek of God, to seek in prayer and worship, to investigate, to ask for, to demand, to practice, to follow, to seek with application, to seek with care." Whew! That's heavy stuff but we aren't dealing with fluff here so reliable armor is needed.
2 Timothy 2:14-19:
Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene....
Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness."