Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Is it Just "Contemplative" Prayer?

I wish what I'm addressing here was called something else besides "contemplative" prayer because that is a good word and by true definition, very much applicable to how we pray and worship. There is definitely benefit in seeking quiet alone time with God and I think for most of us that is what "contemplative prayer" means.  However in my research for what this movement was all about, I discovered that at its roots it means something different and that is what this post and the previous one are about.  But don't make a decision for or against it on my say-so.  Read God's word for yourselves and seek discernment from the Holy Spirit, then proceed from there as you decide what or who to follow.  

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 you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."  If we read the entire chapter, however, we see that Jesus was teaching about not doing things to show off.  Verse six is one in a series of admonitions against those who were giving tithes and alms loudly so people would notice, who were praying loudly to impress others, etc.  It isn't an instruction to seek something secret in prayer or to seek silence when praying, but rather to have a right attitude and motive for prayer that seeks the Lord instead of the approval of man.  And if we keep reading that chapter in Matthew, we actually find Jesus' own instructions on how to pray!  If anything, this chapter tells us to NOT get caught up in the repetition of words.  In the Greek, the word "repetition" means to babble, to repeat the same things over and over, to use many idle words, to stammer or stutter.

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."


  1. I appreciate what you've said
    here today, Cindy, as well as
    yesterday's post. I will look
    into these links listed here.
    I am a stick to the Bible kind
    of person. I enjoy reading lots
    of other books and depend on the
    Holy Spirit to help me discern
    what's true and worthy of my
    time. I guess Ann Voskamp would
    be my only surprise in your list
    from yesterday.

  2. Sandy, I have nothing against Ann Voskamp as a person, but I did recognize things in her book that were aligned with this teaching. She does quote some of the people I've mentioned, as well as a reference supporting the doctrine of universalism which the emergent church teaches (that everyone will eventually get to heaven with or without receiving Jesus as Savior). The online magazine she is a contributing editor for writes favorably about contemplative prayer, so I assume she agrees with it.

  3. Cindy:

    This was very interesting, both posts. I think you have given some real food for thought, and done some serious homework.

    My dad's entire ministry was PRAYER. He discovered prayer in the book of Acts at the upper room prayer meeting, and it turned his ministry upside down, and for the rest of his life, he preached and lived prayer, the way Jesus taught it.

    So... this post has special meaning for me. The book done on his life is titled Everything By Prayer. If I had another copy, I would send it to you. It's currently out of print and I think being redone.

    I know he found, as I have, that all we hear and read must be examined by the standards of His Word, prayer included.

    Thanks for being brave enough to share your heart on this. Probably there are many out there who do question, and think they shouldn't since someone 'famous' said it. God is so able and willing to shed light on what He has said about it, and that's where we are safe, bringing it all to Him and His Word. Honestly, I am reminded of catholics who go to the priest for confession, instead of to the One who made the priest. I don't mean any offense here, just amazement that the Creator is not the one we immediately head to for everything!

  4. I agree, Sonja. I absolutely agree with the importance and power of prayer. What I hope to do with these two posts is alert Christians to the fact that the popular contemplative prayer movement isn't aligned with Biblical prayer as Christ taught it.

  5. I so agree with your opinions regarding prayer. Prayer is different at times of our life when we need God to speak to us in different ways. When we need the still, small voice, that is what God gives us. When we need the quiet assurance, it is there. However, we can also find God in those moments when we can but utter the contents of our heart into 'groanings that cannot be understood'. I was actually told recently by a very well-meaning individual in my church that prayer was not heard by God unless I was completely void of any other thoughts or emotions as I took my petitions before Him. I don't agree with that and don't think it is scriptural. There is a time for removing myself from everyone and everything and seeking God. However, there is also a time for that utterance of immediate petition when we have an emergent need. Prayer is not about emptying myself, but about listening for the voice of the Lord in all that I do so as to be ready to receive His word when I present myself before Him. What a small little box we place God into when we think our only means of access to Him is through hours of silence before Him. I am free and encouraged by Him to bring my needs to Him immediately and openly at any hour of need. Moreover, I am promised He inhabits my praise. I can say with surety that my praise is not silent and that some of my most enjoyable experiences in the presence of God has been when He visits me in my praise. Prayers of praise connect me with Him in ways other prayers cannot. No, I do not believe silence is necessary in order to reach God. Nor do I believe I have a need to empty myself before He can hear me; it is the emptying in and of itself that is sometimes my petition. He hears me when I call upon Him. I am so enjoying this line of posts Cindy!

    Many hugs............


  6. Diane, I totally agree! Prayer is a wonderful gift and a necessary part of our relationship with God. When we don't have the words, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf.

  7. Wow! I've missed a lot by not getting on the computer these past few days! Haven't heard of most of the people you listed in the previous post. I must say that I thank God for giving us His Word and Godly teachers of His Word such as yourself. Keep sharing with us what you've learned from your studies!! I for one greatly appreciate all the time and effort you must put into this! Have a great day! :)

  8. Thank you, Teresa. It's always scary to post something like this because I never know what kind of reaction it will get.

  9. WOW...I am not sure how I missed yesterdays post and now this. How much time and work you have put into all of this and how I admire that and the bold way in which you have shared it all. I am going to be very honest with you and tell you I have not heard or read much on this subject of contemplative prayer but from everything you have written here I can certainly see the dangers of it all. I am soo familiar with the scriptures you have mentioned and used here and find it hard to understand how anyone could twist them around to mean something they don't. I think many are guilty of reading things out of context, and not understanding the real meaning behind them. I have always stuck to the truth in the scriptures and treasure them for what they really are. I have to admit I found some of those quotes in your last post downright shocking, as well as they people who wrote them. I will also admit it bothers me that I am soo "out of it" sometimes and obviously unaware of what is going on right under my nose. It bothers me I have a hard time remembering who said what or teaches what. There are many books I haven't read. But, knowing my limitations that is why I stick to what I KNOW is true. The Bible is all I really need. I will be back to see what others have said and written here, and if I have never told you before Cindy let me say it now. You are a WONDERFUL and inspiring writer and I soo appreciate your work. HUGS

  10. Debbie, I wasn't aware of all this either until fairly recently, and once I started noticing it, I was shocked to discover how deep it was in mainstream churches and speakers I previously trusted to speak truth. It's actually been going on for several years but has become more prevalent as the "big names" and mega-churches have sprung up and have started to become involved. It's really nothing "new" (nothing new age is) but is packaged so much more cleverly now with churches going high-tech with media, more big women's conferences, more televised Christian "celebrity" speakers, etc.

  11. Good post Cindy. Contemplative prayer in my faith is defined as the stance of Listening to the voice of God. In order for that to happen, we need silence in order to reflect, pray, and read scripture. We have orders of religious that are devoted to contemplation that live in community (monasteries). It is the goal for one to become contemplative (Listening-Attentive to the voice of God-where God/Jesus/ and Holy Spirit is the Center- at all times while we go about our daily lives. This indeed takes discipline but some people do acquire this such as Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

    I think Jesus challenges us to be open to people different than us ...after all Jesus came not only for the Jews, but for the Gentiles.

    "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:39

    You are absolutely right about people needing to critically think.
    And I agree that Scripture is our foundation on how to live & how to relate to one another.

  12. Another great post Cindy. Kinda makes ya wonder what's next -

  13. Can I still hold my clutching cross when I pray?:)... just kidding, unless you tell me "no", then I'm going down hard and fast for my cross.

    I've got a lot of reading to do; however, I will say... as I said in my last comment, that prayer for me is a moving dialogue with God. I've heard others talk about contemplative prayer, but know little about it. I will say that when I contemplate God, his Word, his character, his heart, I grow in my understanding of him... not to be him, but to be more like him. I do want more of the "mind of Christ" in me, so that I can be the best ambassador of reconciliation--as though he were making his appeal through me--to a world so confused by all emerging thought.

    You bless me, sister. I'm going to reference your site on facebook because I believe this to be a worthy discussion!


  14. Elaine, I know you are a very discerning person and I'm with you on your definition of what it means to contemplate on God and His word, and in prayer. There is absolutely a need for that kind of drawing in to be near to Him. Unfortunately that isn't what is at the heart of the actual movement. It is more like new age meditation and participants are told that only in the silence will they find God.

  15. I totally agree with your comments on contemplative prayer.
    I LOVE to pray and also believe it is so important to do so and I really appreciate this post.
    I also think we need to remember that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling and for me that means to find God's truth in all things. There are alot of counterfits out there and we must be careful that we only follow Jesus and His Way, His Truth and His Life.
    I am so very appreciative of what you post as it's always challenging and encouraging, so "thank you" for taking the time to write what you do. You are a real blessing.

  16. Once again Cindy, thank you for this very well written post. It is needed, very needed in these times. Thank you for standing for truth and for sharing what you've learned. I've been learning all of this for years, and had wondered why God had laid this so heavy on my heart. It seemed that it was to teach my own children, because the days will continue to grow darker as false teaching abounds, and their hearts must be prepared to stand for truth in the future. It wasn't until recently that these teachings started hitting so close to home, through a very unsuspecting book. Thank for sounding the alarm, and for the careful way in which you handled this extremely important warning.

  17. https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2012/08/biblical-spirituality-rediscovering-our-biblical-roots-or-embracing-the-east