Contemplating Contemplative Prayer
A new movement was brought to my attention this past week. It is being endorsed by some well known Christian leaders. The new movement focuses on silent prayer, or what they call, “listening prayer.” It is described as a new kind of prayer where the Christian sits in silence and listens to God rather than uttering thoughts unto God.
At first glance it seems like a call to daily and quiet devotional reading. But at a closer look, you find another call more specific to just daily and quietness. The call is actually to find quite time in order to quiet the mind. Why? So that God can speak to you.
The idea builds heavily on a common concern among believers today (which might explain its infiltration). The concern is that Christians are always spilling problems and requests at God’s feet while exhausting Him with many words in prayer. (While this concern could be argued away, I’ll leave that alone for now). So instead of tiring God with many words, we should stop and listen to Him speak.
That doesn’t sound bad at all. In fact, that might be some good exhortation. However, contemplative prayer (or stilling the mind to hear) is not the answer. God speaks through His Word (Hebrews 1:1-2). This is what makes this new movement so scary.
And just read how scary as I quote Brannon Manning who describes the method in his book, Signature of Jesus:
The first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer.
The second step, “without moving your lips, repeat the sacred word [or phrase] inwardly, slowly, and often.”
The third step concerns what to do when inevitable distractions come. The answer is to simply return to listening to your sacred word. Gently return your mind to your sacred word.
In these upcoming weeks, I’ll examine this new movement in order to determine exactly its agenda and who is in support of it. In the meantime, I would suggest that strong discerning believers in the church do the same.