Sunday, May 25, 2008

Contemplating Contemplative Praying

NPPNote ~ A close friend forwarded the text below because it raised strong concerns about contemplative praying. My comments are indicated by ===>

Contemplative prayer is based in spiritual formation, it teaches the use of spiritual directors, and it teaches that we need to center ourselves in prayer.

===>Prayer is a dimension of spiritual formation and contemplative prayer is a type or praying that has been integral to the Church since the early fathers.

These terms and phrases are found nowhere in the Bible, nor do they have any Biblical basis.

===>Neither is the term Trinity or the phrase "pray to receive Christ" found in the Bible. Biblical basis is not limited to one-for-one terminology.

Some who advocate the use of contemplative prayer use Psalm 46:10 where it speaks of being still before God to justify this practice. In context, the command to be still has nothing to do with letting go of our thoughts and feelings for the sake of some mystical experience with God. It speaks of trusting God even when the difficulties and troubles of life come. The Psalmist's exhortation is to acknowledge God as sovereign over our life's events and to rest by faith in these truths in order to keep from succumbing to fear, doubt, and discouragement.

===>Absolutely correct ... and if contemplating the truths of God's nature in a quiet manner helps you focus on these wonderful mysteries (from which mystical derives), that is not a bad thing. Plus, how long do we think about an idea when it becomes contemplation? One minute? Fifteen?

Biblical meditation does not involve emptying our minds but rather filling them with truth according to God's Word. We are not to just meditate, but we are to meditate on the Word, a process in which the mind is active and engaged. Joshua 1:8 says, "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success." Thus, the purpose of meditation is to know God by His Word so that we are careful to live in a way that honors Him. Meditation is not for the purpose of achieving some extra-spiritual oneness or closeness to God, as if we can take our Christian faith deeper through means other than trusting and obeying God's Word. John 6:29 says, "Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.'" It is with faith that we please God (Hebrews 11:6) and it is by faith that we grow in Him (2 Corinthians 5:7).

===>Correct, we are not to empty our minds but submit them to the work of the Spirit. the Hebrew term for mediate in the scripture referred to above (Joshua 1:8) is "to mur-mur" - a repetition. Empty-minded or senseless ("vain" in Matthew) repetition is of course to be avoided.

Spiritual formation's idea of "silence" implies that we can find God within us as if turning our minds off leads us to Him.

===>I have never seen this in any spiritual formation material I have seen. The only place I see this kind of explanation is from those who are predisposed against it. Plus, isn't the Holy SPirit in the "inner man" that Paul speaks of in Romans?

Granted, God indwells believers, but we find Him by seeking Him by faith according to truth, not by trying to find Him in weak, fallible humanness, let alone in nature or some pagan, mystical experience.

===>It is impossible to understand faith or truth or any word/concept without some form of contemplation. Pagan and mystical are not synonymous. The evangelical church, in fear of pagan mysticism, has a very shallow view of God's majesty and fear of experiences of His Spirit that might be labeled mystical.

Those who advocate contemplative prayer promote the use of spiritual directors who are supposed to hear the Holy Spirit's personal voice in response to the life stories expressed by the directees.

===>Why is it OK to have disciplers and teachers and mentors who give us scriptural wisdom but not a director who does the same? A spiritual director is not a substitute for the Spirit (anymore than a teacher or mentor), just a vessel through which the Spirit may speak.

Their purpose and goal is to lead these vulnerable ones

===>Ouch ... Most of the people I know who use a spiritual director are mature Christians who do a great job at teaching/preaching/serving others. Vulnerable is an ungracious term to use.

to some newer level of freedom and closeness with Christ, a job the Bible says belongs strictly to the Holy Spirit Himself (John 16:13). Now, it is true that the Holy Spirit leads and guides His people, but He doesn't need a spiritual director to help Him. He can handle it (Romans 8:26-28).

===>Oh that I had a newer level of freedom and closeness to Christ!! Jesus doesn't need writers or bloggers or ...

Futhermore, He leads us through His Word, not through any extra-biblical revelation. God is not going from person to person telling them new things as they enter the "silence." This teaching totally undermines the fact that the Bible is able to make us complete and adequate for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). What God has said He has said, and anybody who adds or takes away from it does wrong (Revelation 22:18-19). We are sanctified in the Word, for it is truth (John 17:17). We do not grow spiritually, nor are we formed spiritually or to be guided spiritually by anything outside of the Word of God. This notion of emptying our minds and being freed from our thoughts such that we can hear the voice of God is found nowhere in the Bible. God does speak, but He speaks through His Word as we seek Him in truth and by His Spirit.

Being guided by the Word of God does not mean that we are to repeat single words and short phrases, thinking on them over and over again until we are no longer conscience that we are thinking at all. This is called using mantras, a distinctly pagan practice for the purpose of losing thoughts and feelings. Yet this is the driving force of spiritual formation and contemplative prayer. The teaching is to be so close to God that you just commune with Him rather than communicate with Him. In other words, they believe that God's presence is experienced most deeply without the mind and the emotions. of the ELCA says this, "Respond to God's presence with an act of faith. Do not allow your thoughts or feelings to get in the way[1]" (emphasis added). And again, "When thoughts come into your mind, gently let go of them and focus on a single word, such as - Jesus, Lord, Love." "Center your attention and desire on God. Leave your thoughts and feelings peacefully[2]". Nowhere in the Bible does it say to abandon thoughts and feelings. Rather, it says to think on what is good, right, pure, and noble (Philippians 4:8). It says to have our minds transformed according to the Word of God (Romans 12:1-2). It says to take wrong thoughts captive, which only an active, engaged mind could do (2 Corinthians 10:5). It does not say to stop thinking and feeling. Such teaching is outright pagan and New Age.

===>OK, these instructions are off-center (being centered is good!). What we have is a valid way of praying (contemplative) that can be liberalized too far ... just like preaching, doing good works, whatever. In my opinion, it is not contemplative praying that is critically wrong but those who take the focus off of Christ and the Word. Let's not throw out another baby with dirty bath water.

This contemplative prayer and centering movement is a dangerous addition to any Christian's prayer life. It is not God who speaks in the contemplative's "silence." Whoever is speaking to the Buddhists and to those practicing New Age and to any other mystics is the same being who is speaking in this "silence." Satan, our enemy, gives new pseudo-revelation (Galatians 1:8-9) and enjoys what he can manipulate when a mind is altered by any means, whether drugs, alcohol, hypnosis, or centering prayer. We are to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), which happens when we remain alert and sober. Notice why Peter commands us to remain alert and sober: "Be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer" (1 Peter 4:7). If we want to grow in our prayer life and in Jesus, we must stay sober and remain in a state where we can make sound judgments. It is only when we stay alert and mentally conscious and engaged that we can truly pray and honor Christ.

===>I mean no disrespect to the writer and I appreciate their concern and the warning but we cannot disparage a type of payer the Church has been practicing for centuries. "Lord, bless this author/servant of Christ and help us all learn to listen carefully to the voice of your Spirit who will lead us into truth."

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