The Discipline Of Contemplative Prayer
“Be silent, and listen to God. Let your heart be in such a state of preparation that His Spirit may impress upon you such virtues as will please Him. Let all within you listen to Him. This silence of all outward and earthly affection and of human thoughts within us is essential if we are to hear His voice. This listening prayer does indeed involve a hushing of all outward affection.”
Francois Fenelon, a Quietist leader in France in the 1600’s and early 1700’s
Contemplative prayer has been practised by Christian mystics for centuries. Some of the great reflective writings have come from Christians who practised listening to God in silence and solitude, diligently separating themselves from busyness on a consistent basis, and cultivating a lifestyle of contemplative prayer.
Some modern Christians are wary of the occult New Age Movement that is prevalent in our world today, concerned by the perceived similarities between contemplative prayer and the New Age Movement, have concluded that contemplative prayer is unbiblical. It is true that on the surface they appear similar however in reality they could not be more different.
Followers of the New Age Movement practice meditation (which for them is an exercise in ‘focused concentration’) claim to see visions and see into the spiritual realm, and interact with what they call spirit animals. They have a symbolic spiritual language and claim to be able to foretell the future. They believe God is an ‘evocative other’ and believe the human race have moved into a new era called the age of Aquarius. This new era they claim is characterised by humanism, brotherhood and love. Their religion is man-centred, not God-centred.
Christian contemplative prayer focuses on a personal relationship with God and encompasses a voluntary desire to get in touch with our spiritual nature. It focuses on surrendering to what only God can do and is a faith relationship where we open ourselves up to our living, personal, loving Father-God.
To contemplate is to:
- to gaze intensely
- to think about intensely; to study
- to expect or intend; to meditate; muse
The Christian in contemplative prayer, contemplates the beauty of Jesus, gazing on him and communing with him. The new age follower contemplates self and an ‘evocative other.’
There are too many aspects of contemplative prayer to mention here but below are just five aspects of contemplative prayer from James. W. Golls book ‘The Lost Art of Practicing His Presence’:
- Contemplative prayer is a kind of communion intended to increase our intimacy with God and awareness of His presence
- Contemplative prayer is being still in order to know God
- Contemplative prayer is an act of surrender. It teaches us to yield, let go and not be possessive
- Contemplative prayer cultivates our desire to forget ourselves and know God by faith
- Contemplative prayer is an exercise in purifying our intentions to desire only one thing – God
Satan, a created being and the enemy of our souls, has imitated and counterfeited God’s design for contemplative prayer, mixing truth with error with at least two clearly defined purposes:
- To steal, kill and destroy human beings
- To discourage Christians from practicing contemplative prayer. Unfortunately, he continues to be successful to some degree in fulfilling both these sinister purposes.
So how can we as Christians take back this long lost art and realign ourselves with God's design for contemplative prayer?
Jesus encourages us in Matthew 6:6
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
- We can choose to set aside time, free from distractions to sit in God’s presence for the purpose of focussing on Him, gazing upon him and listening to him. Jesus encourages us to go to our room, close the door and pray to God in secret. It’s not about showing off, it’s about drawing near to him, letting His presence heal, revive and restore us, and his voice to infuse faith, hope and love in us as we seek his face.
- Develop the habit: Choose a time and place to be with God in contemplative prayer every day, for a set time. I have found devoting my lunch break to contemplative prayer has renewed my spirit and energy as I focus on Jesus. For you a different time might suit you. The key is to set aside time every day.
- Play Christian soaking music: Playing soaking music allows you to enter into a time of rest more easily
- If God speaks to you, write down what he said in a journal or in your phone. Sometimes God won’t say anything to me but I will leave refreshed, having experienced His presence and having felt close to him.
How can we help kids to practice the art of listening to God?
Kids generally have a much shorter attention span to adults, and can find it hard to sit and focus on Jesus for long periods of time. My suggestion is to set aside opportunities each day for children to close their eyes and ask God to speak to them. Some suggested times could be:
- Breakfast time: When the family is seated at the table for breakfast, instead of saying grace, as a family ask God to speak and be silent for 30 seconds waiting for God to speak. Share together what you felt God was saying.
- Devotional time: After devotions sit quietly with your child and ask God to speak. Share together what you felt God was saying
- Sleep time: Ask God to speak before bed to you and your child. Share what You felt God said, then pray and declare what you heard.
By weaving the art of listening to God, through contemplative prayer, into your family routine on a consistent and regular basis, you will cultivate a family culture where hearing God's voice becomes a natural part of your childrens lives. Then one day you will recognise the fruit of this discipline in your children, and praise God for the close relationship He has with each one of them.
8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8 NIV
Being His Presence In Every Place