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Contemplative Prayer: A most Unscriptural Practice

Contemplative prayer is a meditative prayer method that has recently experienced a renaissance; this particular ‘prayer’ technique is very similar to other prayer methods used in Lectio Divina, 'Christian Yoga' and Prayer labyrinths; the origins of contemporary contemplative prayer practices can be traced back to the Desert Fathers, a group of so called ‘Christians’ who in the 3rd Century AD withdrew themselves into an Egyptian desert area to pursue a monastic way of life and to practice meditative prayer techniques; they mistakenly believed that a total withdrawal from society would reduce their exposure to temptations and enable to them to meditate and pray in solitude with the aim of achieving a closer communion with God; however, they failed to realise that the sinful lusts seated within their own hearts were more than enough to tempt and entice them into sinful behaviour. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked….” Jeremiah 17:9; “…..every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” James 1:14. Far removed from increasing a pious lifestyle, history has proven that monasticism as commonly practiced within Roman Catholic monasteries and convents, has produced some of the most despicable acts of immorality and cruelty imaginable over the past two thousand years!

Meditative practices existed prior to the 3rd Century AD within ancient Greek culture, Hinduism, Buddhism and most other false religions and pagan cultures. The cosmopolitan city of Alexandria in Egypt was a great melting pot of diverse cultures and religious practices so it is of no great surprise that the early Christians were led astray to experiment with various silent meditative prayer techniques; it is widely accepted that these techniques were influenced by the mystical/occult practices found within Hinduism and Buddhism. The writings of a Roman Catholic Trappist monk Thomas Merton (1915-1968) have helped to propagate the recent resurgence in Contemplative prayer. Merton was a close friend of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, whose meditative practices were strongly influenced by the Buddhist teaching of Zen.

The Contemplative Prayer Outreach Website states the ‘Centering Prayer’ method is required to develop contemplative prayer; Matthew 6:6 is provided as the authority for centering prayer along with the writings of Roman Catholic mystics such as John Cassian, Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Thomas Merton. [1]

This website also recommends the following guidelines for centering prayer:

  1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.

  2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.

  3. When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.

  4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. *thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections. [1]

The spiritually discerning Christian will immediately realise that these guidelines have absolutely no Scriptural authority and are based entirely on the teachings of deceived individuals, who being devoid of an authentic knowledge of the God, are desperately employing ancient, occult practices to provide them with a spiritual experience but this vain effort will only have the potential to connect them with unclean spirits!

God has clearly laid out in His Word how sinners may approach Him and this is exclusively through the only Mediator between God and men, the Lord Jesus Christ. (1st Timothy 2:5). Since God will not God heed a sinner’s supplications apart from the mediation of His Son, sinners must firstly repent from their sins and experience the new birth before finding acceptance at the Mercy Seat of God.

Believers should never seek to approach God via mystical meditative techniques; such practices may indeed produce fleshly responses such as bodily sensations, emotions, feelings, altered state of the mind etc. but these are powerless to bring us into the presence of God. Of course a closer walk with the Lord should always be desired by Believers but a keen sense of God’s presence will not provide them an empty mystical experience; contrariwise, it will empower them for the Lord’s service and enable them to glorify Him through their lives. The following are some of the the out-workings within a Believer’s life when they are walking close with the Lord:

  • a greater reverence for God,

  • a desire to be holy even as He is holy (Hebrews12;15-16),

  • an increased boldness in their witnessing and a zeal in their service,

  • a greater concern for the unsaved and a desire to evangelise,

  • a longing for God’s Word,

  • a greater fervency in prayer,

  • an eager attendance to the preaching of the Word,

  • a raised awareness of one’s own unworthiness and powerlessness,

  • a total dependency upon the Lord for the power needed to serve Him.

Commenting on King David’s expressed fears of losing the sense of God’s presence and power, (Psalm 51:11; “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me”), Bible commentator John Gill had this to say, “….Nothing is more desirable to a child of God than the presence of God; and nothing gives him more sensible pain than His absence; and even to be deprived of or denied the means of enjoying his presence, the Word and ordinances, makes them very uneasy: to be utterly, and for ever deprived of it, is the case of the damned in hell, and is the punishment of loss they sustain; and, on the other hand, the happiness of the saints in heaven is to enjoy it without interruption. The people of God are never cast away from his favour, or out of his heart's love; but they may for a while be without his gracious presence, or not see his face, nor have the light of his countenance, nor sensible communion with him, which is here deprecated [deplored/found unacceptable].”

True Believers rarely experience a constant sense of God’s presence and the following are just a few reasons why this may be so:

  • A constant sense of God’s presence may result in Believers becoming dependent on their feelings and emotions, thus negating their requirement to walk by faith and such a walk pleases God. “without faith it is impossible to please God.” Hebrews 11:6. Walking by faith is not a blind faith but it is a faith grounded upon the promises contained within God’s Word and on the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life of obedience and died an atoning death on behalf of His people; therefore, Believers can boldly approach the Throne of Grace in prayer confident that they are fully accepted because God’s Word tells them that regardless of how they may feel, they are accepted by God in the Beloved, (Ephesians 1:6). Such knowledge not only provides them with a sure and certain hope of eternal salvation but it also gives them an abiding joy and peace that cannot be disturbed in the midst of life’s trials and tribulations; nor can this joy and peace be surpassed by euphoric feelings or mystical experiences!

  • Believers do not need a constant sense God’s presence as they have full assurance through God’s Word that His presence is with them at all times even when they lack a tangible sense of His presence, “for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Hebrews 13:5; “And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” Exodus 33:14.

  • Believers can become proud or complacent in their walk so the Lord may withdraw a palpable sense of His presence to humble them and to cause them to long after Him again. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Isaiah 57:15. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6.

  • Unconfessed sin in a Believer's heart can grieve the Holy Spirit, causing Him to withdraw a sense of His presence. Even saved sinners need to approach God with a reverence and godly fear, asking the Holy Spirit to search their hearts and to know their thoughts (Psalm 139:23-24) as regarding sin in their hearts will result in God not hearing their prayers. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Psalm 66:18.

The Scriptures have many examples of times when God manifested His glorious presence unto His people but in every recorded instance, the overwhelming reaction to such revelations is a profound humility, a self-abhorrence and a godly fear; ecstatic experiences in response to God’s presence as reported by those who practice contemplative prayer are totally at odds with the following Scriptural accounts:

“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5-6.

“Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Isaiah 6:5.

Daniel upon experiencing a pre-incarnate vision of Christ exclaimed, “….there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. Yet heard I the voice of his words: and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground.” Daniel 10:8-9.

When the 3 disciples were confronted with the transfigured Christ, their reaction was one of astonishment and fear; “For he [Peter] wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.” Mark 9:6.

Even the great apostle and disciple John, whom Jesus loved, fell at Christ’s feet as dead when he had a vision of his glorified Saviour. (Revelation1:17).

One of the Scripture verses most (mis)quoted by devotees of Contemplative prayer in order to validate their requirement for solitude and silence in prayer is Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God”; however, this verse has nothing whatsoever to do with prayer and considered within its proper context, Psalm 46 is an unfulfilled prophetic description of the days immediately prior to the Lord Jesus Christ’s second advent, whereupon Antichrist and his confederates will be defeated and their murderous raging against God’s ancient covenant people will be silenced and Christ will be exalted among the heathen and throughout the entire earth.

Although it is Scriptural to withdraw alone to a quiet place to engage in times of private prayer and meditation upon God's Word, to be of any benefit these two spiritual exercises must be undertaken with the assistance of the Holy Spirit and accompanied by some level of intellectual understanding; this understanding must be informed by the Scriptures and not by partaking in occult/mystical meditative prayer practices; not by an emptying of the mind; not by monastic seclusion; not by focusing on a ‘sacred’ word or symbol; not necessarily by being still or in secluded silence as prayer to God can be offered at any time or in any place and under any circumstances.

The following Scriptures clearly teach that Scriptural meditation must engage the intellect and focus our thoughts upon God’s Word:

“I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.” Psalm 119:15.

“….thy servant did meditate in thy statutes.” Psalm 119:23.

“O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.” Psalm 119:97.

“Meditate upon these things [ie. the things Paul has been teaching Timothy within his letters to the young pastor]; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.” 1st Timothy 4:15.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8.



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