I’ve sometimes been asked whether contemplative prayer is OK to practice. A few Christian teachers have condemned it as occult, with strange claims of what they think is going on. In this series, we’ll examine what contemplative prayer is, whether it is biblical, and what isn’t all right to do.
You may be asking, “What in the world is contemplative prayer? I’ve never even heard of it!” In a nutshell, it is getting quiet before the Lord, giving Him time to speak, rather than doing all the talking about whatever is on your heart or mind. “Soaking prayer, “meditative prayer,” “practicing the presence of God,” and “basking in the Lord’s presence” are alternative terms meaning basically the same thing.
People who fear contemplative prayer usually are convinced that Eastern religious practices are being implemented. Some of their concern stems from hearing of extremes. You will always have some folks who mix what is biblical with strange, out-of-bounds practices. While we can’t prevent others from going off in weird places, neither should we let their behavior deprive us of a truly viable form of prayer.
Let’s start by talking about a buzz word for those who fear contemplative prayer: meditation. Meditation is part of both Christian and pagan practices. Whether it is legitimate depends on what you are doing.
The Bible talks about meditation. When Isaac first met Rebekah, he was spending the evening hour in a field meditating (Genesis 24:63). The Hebrew word translated “meditate” there means to muse or be thoughtful. Some translations say Isaac was thinking; some say he was praying. It was probably a mixture of the two. He was waiting expectantly for the household steward to return home from a far country with a bride for him, but there was a possibility that he would show up empty-handed! No doubt Isaac had many hopes and concerns, which he was bringing before the Lord.
I spend a lot of prayer time “thinking before the Lord.” I also ask Him questions about things I wonder about. I invite Him to give me inspiration or understanding. Conversation with the Lord is a part of contemplative, or meditative, prayer.
The Bible speaks of three things we are supposed to meditate upon:
- The Lord Himself
- The Word of God
- The Lord’s mighty works.
Meditating on the Lord:
… My mouth shall praise You with joyful lips when I remember You upon my bed and meditate on You in the night watches. — Psalm 63:5, 6
My meditation of Him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD. — Psalm 104:34
The word for meditation in Psalm 63:6 means to murmur, ponder, mutter, study, and utter, while the word used in Psalm 104:34 means contemplation (hence, “contemplative” prayer).
Meditating on the Lord means to think about His nature — His character attributes, His majesty, His goodness, His beauty. A great way to do this is by finding His names in the Bible, because He uses these to reveal Himself to us. Pick a name of God and think on it. Ask God to remind you of stories in the Bible which illustrate that particular character quality — His mercy, truthfulness, or faithfulness, for example.
See my webpage, The Names of God, for a free alphabetical listing of more than six hundred names of God as found in the KJV Bible. If you would like the list with their Bible references, I have that as an inexpensive book for you as well.
Meditating on His Word:
This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. You shall meditate in it day and night, so that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it: for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success. — Joshua 1:8
But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in His law he meditates day and night. — Psalm 1:2
My eyes anticipate the night watches, that I might meditate in Your word. — Psalm 119:148
In Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2, the word for meditate is the same one used in Psalm 63:6, meaning to murmur, ponder, mutter, study, and utter. So, this includes not only thinking on the Scriptures, but speaking them.
In Psalm 119:148, “meditate” means to ponder, converse, commune, utter, pray, and muse. Here, we are taught not only to speak and think about a verse or passage of Scripture, but to pray it, dialoguing with the Lord about it.
Meditating on God’s Word is an important part of contemplative prayer. If you’ve never practiced it, my article, How to Meditate on God’s Word will help you. I have been so blessed in doing this. It is a guaranteed way of hearing from the Lord and increasing your spiritual understanding.
Meditating on the Lord’s works:
I will meditate also of all Your work, and talk of Your doings. — Psalm 77:12
I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. — Psalm 119:99
I remember the days of old: I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the work of Your hands. — Psalm 143:5
Again, in Psalm 77:12 and 143:5, the Hebrew word for meditation means to murmur, ponder, mutter, study, and utter. In Psalm 119:99, it means devoted reflection, meditation, and prayer.
Thus far, we see that meditation is a God-pleasing part of contemplative prayer. Next time, we’ll look at another biblical component — quietly waiting in God’s Presence.
The Intercessor Manual, by Lee Ann Rubsam
Your Intercession Questions Answered, by Lee Ann Rubsam