Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Is Contemplative Prayer Okay For Protestants?

Dear Friends,

Many churches today are teaching an ancient prayer practice that  fundamental and reformed churches call a new-age “DOCTRINE OF DEVILS.” Is it really? Contemplative Prayer grew out of the spiritual practices of the 2nd century Christian mystics who were seeking an experiential relationship with God. It became deeply embedded in monastic life and is still being practiced in the Orthodox and Catholic churches today much as it was in the first centuries by those seeking the presence of God in their lives. But the reformation ended the practice of Contemplative Prayer for all those who would become known as “Protestants.” 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 life-style that excluded any experience of God beyond reading our Bibles. He taught that contemplative prayer must be “banished from your heart”. 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 pick apart the sincerely-held beliefs of Martin Luther but to simply explain why some of us reject what all Christians believed in and practiced for the first 1,600 years.

Even those of us non-Lutheran Protestants have been “Lutherized” and we banish spiritual disciplines practiced by the early church. And while much of church tradition (selling of indulgences) that got Luther so riled up is gone from our Protestant practices, we’ve replaced the experience of God in our lives with church attendance, Bible studies, Men’s and Women’s groups, social activism, “Christian politics” and if we pray at all, we simply recite the requests we have on God’s “to-do” list that we created for Him. I have known those who were the most diligent, Bible-quoting, church-going Christians you could ever hope to meet. But their spirit was shriveled and starving. Their mind overflowed with God’s Word but their soul was empty. They were filled with our Protestant way of doing church but they had never known the presence of God. 

For us Protestants who are still 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 (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...

Fundamental and Reformed churches still denounce Contemplative Prayer as demonic, but the spiritual tide is changing and most Protestant churches have turned to Orthodox/Catholic spirituality and mysticism in an effort to recover the spiritual disciplines practiced in the ancient church. Even today’s nationally-known Evangelical Protest-ant pastors have endorsed it. (Rick Warren, Tim Keller Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, John Piper, and Max Lucado) 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 you are interested 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 loving, encouraging, correcting, guiding and directing you. Focused attention on God alone 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. You should feel your stomach move as your breath fully inflates your lungs and presses down on your diaphragm. 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 any anxiety or stress is gone. We have almost effortlessly transcended into a contemplative state beyond words, emotions, images or forms. Thoughts slow down and the sense of our separateness from God disappears. We come into a unitive experience with Him. 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...

Revised and expanded from an earlier AMEN Corner

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