Contemplating Contemplation (Part 2)

Been teaching on discernment and decision making so thought I would repost this, originally written in March 9, 2010. This post was modified from the original.

 In the first post, we examined the discipline of “centering prayer”, which for many is an essential practice for hearing from God.  If we want to hear from God then, according to Richard Foster, we must pursue silence.

This silence of all outward and earthly affection and of human thoughts within us is essential if we are to hear his voice.

In order to hear God’s voice one must practice emptying their mind.

What does it mean to hear from God? Do we need to empty our mind? In this post we look at several different theological areas and how they are connected to the idea that we should seek the voice of God.

Our view of Scripture as the inspired and inerrant Word of God is important. In this collection of books we have the promises, commands, and revelations of God written and preserved for us as objective truth. The Scriptures are given to us so that:

  • we can be made wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 3:16)
  • we are equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:17)
  • we have examples to instruct us (Romans 15:4; 1 Cor 10:6)
  • we can have our hearts and motives exposed (Heb 4:12)
  • we know what God has promised and commanded

This is a non-exhaustive list, I encourage you to add more in the comment section.

In thinking through centering prayer we must wrestle with how we view Scripture. Is Scripture sufficient for living out the Christian life or do we need more guidance?

Support for the Discipline is primarily supported by appealing to the “devotional masters”. However there is no sound Scriptural support for the contemplative prayer described in Celebration of Disciplines or Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. Certainly we can see Jesus seek out times of solitude to be alone, get rest, and pray. We are also told to “be still” in many Scriptures (Ps 4:4; Ps 46:10). However, do any of these passages describe the practice of emptying the mind or seeking a still small voice? When Jesus taught us how to pray did He describe the discipline of listening silence? When Jesus sought time alone was it to empty His mind?

Or is carving out times for silence and solitude meant to be when we can study and reflect on Scripture, examine our heart and conduct, and pray to God?

When practicing spiritual disciplines, what kind of support should we seek before adopting them?

The will of God is one of the things sought for in centering prayer. But what is the will of God? Is it a specific and individual plan for each person that will be revealed through His voice as we seek it? Or is it a general, moral will, that is revealed in Scripture, which God desires all people to obey?

Some aspects of God’s general will in Scripture include His desire:

  • to be worshiped and trusted (Heb 11:6; 13:15)
  • for us to go and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20)
  • for us to be sanctified and go good (1 Thess 4:3-5; 1 Pet 2:15; Heb 13:16)
  • for us to grow in faith and maturity (Eph 4:11-13; Rom 8:29)

If God does have a specific plan for us as individuals that must be sought out, then clearly this has an impact on how we approach seeking guidance from God. How are we supposed to know what that will is for us?

Our view of the Holy Spirit certainly affects how we come to contemplative prayer. As an aside I encourage you to stop reading this post and check this post out by Rey on the Holy Spirit. Tremble indeed.

When the Holy Spirit interacts with us, what does Scripture say we can expect?

  • Conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment. (John 16:8-11)
  • Power to live in godliness (Rom 6:6-7,11; Gal 5:24; 2 Pet 1:3-4)
  • Illumination & Understanding of what God has already revealed. (1 Cor 2:9-14)
  • Guidance & Wisdom in the form of fruitful living. (James 1:5; 3:13-18; Gal 5:16-24)
  • Assurance of Salvation. (Rom 8:16)
  • Help in prayer life. (Rom 8:26-27)

This is a non-exhaustive list – feel free to add more in the comment section.

As the Holy Spirit works in these ways in our life how does He do it? Is there a difference between convicting, guiding, illuminating, and revealing? Should we expect the Spirit to provide new and direct guidance to us through impressions or a voice? If so, then Is contemplative prayer or emptying the mind the means to hearing from Him?

Our definition of prophecy and continuation of the sign gifts certainly affects how we come to contemplative prayer as well. Should this form of prophetic guidance be considered a normal occurrence in the life of a believer?

The Third Commandment tells us not to take the Lord’s name in vain. A recent post at the Parchment and Pen examining the real meaning of the third commandment, reminds us that when we claim to have heard from God we had better be absolutely sure. When we say “the Lord told me” when He has not we are breaking this command and taking His name in vain.

In essence, God didn’t want the Israelites to say that He’d said something that He, in fact, had not. This makes sense. God has a reputation to protect. He doesn’t want anyone saying, “Thus saith the Lord”, if the Lord has not spoken.

How sure can a person be that the impression or voice that they are receiving is from God and not their own thoughts?

We are told to meditate (Ps 1:2; 119:15). But is this a process in which we seek to empty our mind or is it a time to fill our mind through study and reflection on the Scriptures? The prophet Isaiah is told by the Lord to “come and let us to reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). And Jesus told us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). From start to finish, Proverbs tells us to seek and apply wisdom which is given by the Lord (Prov 2:6).

Consider what Joshua was told (1:8) as he entered the Promised Land:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.

Our daughters have been part of Pioneer Clubs. It has been fun to listen to them sing the theme song, which is based on Psalm 119:105.

 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

Throughout Scripture we are told to focus on the written words and apply them. Where in Scripture are we told to empty our mind or to seek subjective inner voices or experiences in order to be know God’s will or to be equipped to live in godliness?

Consider further, that even if we were to empty our mind so that we could hear from God, we must still engage our minds and use reason to evaluate the voice that we have heard (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1; Deut 18:21).

The Holy Spirit speaks. I believe that this is primarily and normally through the Word. In Hebrews 3:7 (emphasis added) we read:

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, … “

The voice of the Spirit is heard when we read Scripture. In this Hebrews passage the Spirit is speaking when we read Psalm 95:7. I believe that the Spirit primarily guides us into truth that has been revealed in the Scriptures and helps us understand the Word rather than through impressions and voices.

None of this precludes God from speaking directly to us through a voice. The Scriptures record many times when God spoke to the prophets. However, I question whether this is a normative experience that Christians should seek out, particularly through contemplative prayer.

How does your theology handle this very practical area of hearing God?

1 thought on “Contemplating Contemplation (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Can the Holy Spirit solve the problem with Vulcan Theology? | Dead Heroes Don't Save

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