Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Finding God in the Silence ~ Part Two

Dear Friends,

Today we boldly tread into the area of Contemplative Prayer that fundamental and reformed churches call “A Doctrine of Devils.” Contemplative Prayer grew out of the spiritual practices of the 2nd century Christian mystics and has been deeply embedded in monastic life for the past 2000 years. For the first sixteen centuries, Contemplative Prayer was intrinsic to Christian spirituality but the Reformation changed that for all of us who are Protestant Christians. Martin Luther was a disgruntled Catholic priest and monk whose (justifiable) anger at the church caused him to reject all spiritual practices he had learned during his 12 years in the monastery. Luther developed a religious practice that excluded any experience of God beyond reading our Bibles. He taught that you must “banish from your heart” contemplative prayer. Luther’s Works: AE Vol 24:257 For Luther, the academic and lawyer, the study of scripture was far more important than prayer as a direct communication with God. “Meditation,” as Luther described it, was simply the continual study of scripture. This is not to knock about the beloved father of our Protestant beliefs, but to explain why many of us scorn what our church believed in and practiced for the first 1,600 years.

Even us non-Lutheran Evangelical Protestants have been “Lutherized” and we banish spiritual disciplines practiced by the early church. And while much of the unbiblical church tradition that got Luther so riled up is rightfully gone from our Protestant practices, we’ve also replaced the experience of God in our lives with the intellectual study of His Word. I’ve known those who committed great passages of scripture to memory and could discuss and debate theology but their spirit was shriveled and starving. Their mind overflowed with God’s Word but their soul was empty. They were filled with an understanding of God but had never known the presence of God. 

For us Protestants who are uncomfortable with contemplation because it sounds a little too “Catholic,” please remember Jesus. When the Son needed to communicate with His Father, Jesus never ran to the Temple or the nearest Synagogue to read and study the scriptures. Jesus went off by Himself. To the mountain top. To the silence. The solitude. Jesus met His Father in the stillness. “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” Luke 5:15-16 (see also: Luke 6:12; Matt 14:23; Mark 1:35) So is meditative prayer really an appropriate way for us Protestants to pray? It is if you want to pray like Jesus...

Did you know that  many of today’s nationally-known Evangelical Protestant pastors have endorsed Contemplative Prayer? (Jack Hayford, Rick Warren, Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll and Bill Hybels) One of our Nation’s most respected, conservative theologians, the late Dallas Willard wrote a book titled, HEARING GOD: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God.  If this AMEN Corner ignites your interest in Contemplative Prayer, this is one book that will take you much deeper.

Contemplative or Meditative Prayer has been described as the opening of mind and heart – our whole being – to God. It is stilling your thoughts and emotions and focusing on God Himself. It is accepting God’s invitation to come into His presence, so that you are better able to hear His voice correcting, guiding and directing you. Focused attention on God is a meditative practice. Scripture is designed for meditation and our Bible is filled with exhortations to meditate. See Philippians 4:8 as an example. At the heart of meditative prayer is silence, solitude and stillness. We start by finding a quiet sacred space in our home (silence) where we can be by ourselves (solitude) so that we can just sit-a-spell (stillness). 

No one can possibly accuse Southern Baptist pastor Rick Warren of teaching heresy or “new age” biblically unsound practices. Warren has said that “God wants us to connect with Him on a moment-to-moment basis.” He said we should “use ‘breath prayers’ throughout our day as many Christians have done for centuries.”

Contemplative Prayer starts with deep breaths to relax. Breathing in on the count of five. Exhaling on the count of five. Breathe through your nose and relax. In The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren says to “choose a brief scripture or simple phrase that can be repeated to Jesus in one breath.” Repeat the word or phrase. After several minutes of focused breathing and repeating the phrase, we find that we have almost effortlessly transcended into a contemplative state beyond words, emotions, images or forms. Thoughts slow down and the sense of our separateness disappears. We come into a unitive experience with God. We’ve not abandoned our discerning thoughts nor taken leave of our senses. But our mind is clear of the clutter. In the silence, the solitude, the stillness, we come into the presence of our Heavenly Father.    To Be Continued...

1 comment:

  1. Pastor John, thank you so much for raising awareness of contemplative prayer. Carving out time to contemplate is good. It speaks to me as a Christian woman.