There is a major difference between biblical contemplation and the Roman Catholic contemplative prayer that is sweeping through churches. It is the difference between “silence” and “THE silence.”
The silence of biblical contemplation refers simply to a quiet place in which the soul can effectively seek the Lord. In Scripture it is called seeking the Lord (Psalm 105:3; Isaiah 55:6), waiting on the Lord (Psalm 69:6), meditating on the Lord (Psalm 104:34), meditating on God’s Word (Psalm 1:2). In these times, in this day of computers and smart phones and every bit of our waking hours being filled with distraction after distraction, it is important to have daily periods of silence for spiritual devotion.
On the other hand, “THE silence” of contemplative ‘prayer’ refers to pursuing God beyond the Bible, beyond active thinking. It refers to putting aside thoughts through mantras.
It’s been made popular by contemplative gurus such as Richard Foster and Dallas Willard and is promoted by many evangelical leaders today, including Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah, Beth Moore, Mark Driscoll, Max Lucado, Philip Yancy, Ed Young, Gary Thomas, Lee Strobel, Tony Campolo and Charles Stanley to name a few.
(I shake my head as I suddenly realize how many Baptists are listed by above… Folks, it ain’t a ‘charismatic thing’ anymore.)
One of the popular contemplative prayer manuals is The Cloud of Unknowing. This book, which came out of the darkness of Roman Catholic monasticism, encourages the use of a mantra to drive away conscious thoughts with the objective of entering into an experiential communion with God in “the nothingness.”
“Focus your attention on a simple word such as sin or God … and WITHOUT THE INTERVENTION OF ANALYTICAL THOUGHT allow yourself to experience directly the reality it signifies” (chapter 36, p. 94). This is not biblical meditation; it is, however, a dangerous recipe for demonic delusion.
We must seek God through faith, and faith comes only by God’s Word (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 10:17). If we try to know and “experience” God beyond the pages of Scripture, beyond the teaching of the Bible, we are walking in disobedience and unbelief and are setting ourselves up for spiritual deception from the hands of the one who appears as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Contemplative practices such as the Jesus Prayer, visualizing prayer, breath prayer, and centering prayer are very dangerous. Many who practice these things end up believing in a pagan concept of God such as pantheism (God is everything and is in everything). People typically become increasingly ecumenical and interfaith in thinking thru these practices.
The study of the Bible is not an end in itself and should never be a mere dry intellectual exercise; it is the means whereby we know God! It is God’s ‘love letter’ to believers. It is how we get to truly know Him – thru His word!
“But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night”
“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4).
Any teacher of contemplative-type prayer will tell you that in order for the prayer time to “work”, your mind needs to be completely empty of all active thinking – a mental “void” needs to be reached in order for the session to be successful. To go into this “void”, breathing needs to be “slowed down” and purposefully so. (You’d think that believers in Christ would automatically know that biblical prayer does not require any change in breathing. Sadly, however, this is not the case.)
OK, so you take a word or phrase (from the Bible of course!) and repeat it for up to 20 minutes, making sure the breathing remains slowed the entire time. During this time, focus your thoughts into that area of “void” or “nothingness”…and the recipe goes on. Despite walking away from these special sessions in silence, the person, unbeknownst to them, is playing with demons and is also playing with fire.
No one has to choose between knowing about God and knowing God personally. GOD IS KNOWN IN CHRIST THROUGH HIS WORD. The practice of contemplative prayer convinces the person practicing it that experiential worship far supersedes the written Word of God. When you find yourself judging a worship service, speaker/teacher, lesson or whatever, by the things you experience, you need to be very, very careful that you’re not stepping into something outside of biblical truth.
Finally, I’ve heard many speakers and teachers take a scripture here, a scripture there and then use them to try to explain that what those scriptures “really” show us how to enter into a contemplative trance. [Someone pinch me] Because if that were the case, explain to me why the Lord Jesus plainly and simply explained to His disciples how they should pray.
Now, all the New Age/Baptist church members, LifeWay Bookstore advocates and contemplative practitioners can take Beth Moore & Max Lucado for starters and feel spiritually superior together. Personally, I don’t want to get burned – so I’m not playing with fire.