Hi everyone, Recently I had some women in my Church discredit spiritual leaders that practice Contemplative prayer. For years, I have read and felt inspired by Brother Lawrence on practicing the presence of God. Lately, I have been warned that this type of prayer is unbiblical, yet I am not understanding what they are finding wrong. Will you provide guidance on this subject?
Hi, Renee. Thank you for your question here. I have not heard of this Contemplative prayer until I saw your post. I looked it up to see exactly what it is or what is meant by it, and gotquestions.org had some things to say about it. They are usually very good with giving biblical answers, so maybe you can look at this and see what you think.
This is a good question. It seems to me as if contemplative prayer is a way to get to know God. I do not have a problem with sitting and quietly enjoying God’s presence (I do not call it “practicing God’s presence,” because God’s presence is a fact. It simply is. He is omnipresent.), and “listening” in a way in the Spirit, but anything we think we are receiving in and from the Spirit has to line up with the Bible, because personal experience is subjective and vulnerable to different influences that are not of God.
I am seeing that Brother Lawrence is noted as being a Carmelite, and from what I can ascertain, this was an order practicing mystical theology, which focused on a spirituality that would elevate or transform an individual’s personal relationship with God. Often times, people who practice/d this would end up departing from Scripture in regard to the things of God and how to have a relationship with Him. I am not saying you are doing or have done this, by any means, but merely that historically, it seems it has led people astray from the Truth of the Word in certain respects–but that may have just been because they disregarded the Bible entirely. This practice comes from a time in history when the Bible was not always highly regarded as the inspired Word of God in different religious orders, if I am remembering correctly, and so personal experience was valued as truth above the Bible.
Like I said, I do not see a problem with sitting quietly and enjoying the presence of the Lord and even “listening” for that “still, small voice,” but I always make sure that anything I think I am sensing in the Spirit lines up with God’s Word.
Oh, yes, and I looked a little more at what is meant by ‘practicing God’s presence,’ as well (I had a friend who spoke of that, but she meant something a little different, which is why I responded as I did at first), and I understand that, because while I am going throughout my day as a stay-at-home mom, I try to work on being constantly aware of the Lord and His presence and lean into His grace as I do everything in my day out of love for Him and, in turn, in love for others.
I hope this helps, Renee! Thank you for bringing this up! Now I know a little more about the subject because you brought it up. However, if I missed something or misunderstood, please let me know! Thanks again!
Brother Lawrence was a monk. His daily work was washing dishes. And he decided that he wanted to do this work, as well as he could, as a gift to God.
And he decided to do his work, as he thought Jesus would have done this work. He tried to be conscious, as he worked, that God was present. And he tried to live, consciously, in the presence of God.
This is the sort of consciousness of God’s presence, while we do our daily work, that is possible for every Christian to live out.
The little book Brother Lawrence published, “Practicing the Presence” i understood exactly you explained Stephen. I even reread it again after 25 years thinking maybe I missed the mystical practice as a younger Christian. I wonder if sometimes we hear words and run with assumptions that it means one thing when in reality it simply doesn’t. Yes, I know that we need to be aware of things being distorted and turned from truth, but for everything of God satan tries to create a counterfeit? I think of the symbolism of the rainbow in today’s modern culture. This causes a bit of confusion from what is a symbol of God’s promise now representing something not ordained of God.
@Renee_Jeska Do you know the specific reason they give for disliking contemplative prayer? How would they describe the way that King David contemplated God’s faithfulness and steadfast love in the Psalms?
It could definitely be that we run with assumptions. However, it could also be that over time, words take on different meanings. That is why when Bible scholars study the Scriptures, they look at how key words were used at that time as opposed to reading today’s meaning into them. This is especially true in the world of theology, where this practice developed. I recently took a history of theology class, and boy, oh boy, did they like to define and redefine and morph the meanings of words and concepts (and we still do that today)! Some of it was good, and some of it ended up being not so great. So I think I would echo what was written in the gotquestions.org article and say it depends on what someone means by contemplative prayer. I know my friend who sees “practicing the presence” of God as the power to bring God’s presence into her life (which is certainly unbiblical and distorts the truth and reality of God’s nature) might say contemplative prayer has something to do with that. However, if it is merely what Brother Lawrence was doing, I have no issue with that.
I would also second Sean’s questions.
I have been reading about contemplative prayer recently. Below is an excerpt of an article that sums it up.
Article: Contemplating Contemplative Prayer: Is it Really Prayer? By Marcia Montenegro
Contemplative Prayer, also called Centering Prayer or Listening Prayer, has been taught by Roman Catholic monks Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, and Basil Pennington, as well as by Quaker Richard Foster, and is being advocated by many others. There is no one authority on this method, nor is there necessarily a consistent teaching on it, though most of the founding teachers quote medieval mystics, Hindu, and Buddhist spiritual teachers.
According to www.contemplativeoutreach.org, “Centering Prayer is drawn from ancient prayer practices of the Christian contemplative heritage, notably the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert, Lectio Divina, (praying the scriptures), The Cloud of Unknowing, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. It was distilled into a simple method of prayer in the 1970’s by three Trappist monks, Fr. William Meninger, Fr. Basil Pennington and Abbot Thomas Keating at the Trappist Abbey, St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts.”
It should be added, “During the twenty years (1961-1981) when Keating was abbot, St. Joseph’s held dialogues with Buddhist and Hindu representatives, and a Zen master gave a week-long retreat to the monks. A former Trappist monk who had become a Transcendental Meditation teacher also gave a session to the monks.” 5
The influence of Buddhism and Hinduism on Contemplative Prayer (hereafter referred to as CP) is apparent. Words such as “detachment,” “transformation,” “emptiness,” “enlightenment” and “awakening” swim in and out of the waters of these books. The use of such terms certainly mandates a closer inspection of what is being taught, despite the fact that contemplative prayer is presented as Christian practice.
Themes that one finds echoed in the CP movement include the notions that true prayer is: silent, beyond words, beyond thought, does away with the “false self,” triggers transformation of consciousness, and is an awakening. Suggested techniques often include breathing exercises, visualization, repetition of a word or phrase, and detachment from thinking.
Here are a few more references:
Holy Pivec is very thorough on this subject. She is an expert on the “New Apostolic Reformation” (NAR) that uses contemplative prayer to initiate their members into their worldview: http://www.spiritoferror.org/2016/08/whats-so-bad-about-learning-to-hear-gods-voice/6196
Also Berean Research: https://bereanresearch.org/contemplative-prayer/
@Renee_Jeska, I can understand your friend’s concerns about contemplative prayer as the term means different things to different people. I recently met someone who practiced unbiblical contemplative prayer the kind described by @cleo and @psalm151ls. There was a lot of focus on seeking to experience the spirit through emptying of the mind or listening for messages. Here’s another thread that discusses further about this kind of dangerous contemplation.
When we think of contemplative prayer, there seem to be three kinds - Roman Catholic, Puritan and the progressive kind related to eastern religions. I am still trying to understand the differences. The article below gives some balanced biblical guidance on how to approach contemplative prayer.
Some important points made in the article are:
- When we meditate and contemplate, then, let us meditate on God’s sufficient Word and contemplate his holiness. We have content to contemplate, in other words. We have a definitive word from the Divine, and it is inspired and inerrant.
- Mystics are seeking an experience of God’s immanent Spirit. This is a good desire. And yet this desire, if we are not careful, can take us drifting into a focus on the Spirit that puts us in the same ditch of heterodoxy as many (not all - emphasis mine) charismatics. You don’t have to be a cessationist to avoid this drift, but you do have to make sure your understanding of the Holy Spirit is rigorously biblical.
- We are free to dive deep into the things of God—for the things of God are deep—but we are not free to invent them. We get to partake of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4), for example, but, as Edwards says, we do not become “Godded with God.”
- The Holy Spirit and the Christian doctrine he reveals are meant to fuel an experiential Christianity, yes, but they do not fuel a Christianity based on or beholden to what we feel.
Hope this helps! God bless.
Excellent! Very clear and concise. Thank you.