Some folks lie on the floor, listen to soft Christian music, and call it "soaking in the Spirit." Others kneel in silence and say they are "waiting on God." I sit and call it Contemplation.
Many non-Believers I know "meditate" at least 20 minutes a day. They practice "mindfulness" and "being present to the moment." Christians take it a significant step further. We practice Contemplative Prayer; being mindful of Christ, not just mindful; and present to Him, not just to the moment. Call it what you will, dismiss it if you can, the process is simple, and the results are profound. But accepting it as valid, and incorporating into my prayer life, was no simple matter.
Actively Praying the Lord's Prayer
Some years ago I was spending a considerable amount of time in very active prayer. Using the Lord's Prayer as my model, I would daily "approach the Throne of Grace" (to use a good Pentecostal phrase) and pray as long as I could, and as hard as I could, seeking for more of God for both myself and my city. I entered into His Presence saying "Our Father which art in heaven," turning my heart from things temporal to things eternal, rejoicing in our Father-son relationship. I thanked Him that I was a part of the "Our," His corporate body and bride in the earth. In praying "hallowed be Thy name" I proclaimed the many compound names of God over my life and praised Him for all the benefits His blood had purchased on my behalf. I declared "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven," crying out to God for the manifestation of His kingdom here on earth; that I would demonstrate His attributes, the Fruit of the Spirit; that I would walk in His anointing, and flow in the Gifts of the Spirit; that His authority would be active in the world today in the release of the Five-Fold Leadership functions of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher. I prayed the Kingdom and Will of God for everyone on my prayer list, asking that they reach their full potential, and for the Lord to intervene in their problems. I asked for "our daily bread," the necessities of life, for everyone I knew. I confessed my sins and shortcomings in "forgive us our trespasses," always being mindful to forgive any who had in the past, or might in the future, "trespass against us." That I might continue to walk in holiness before the Lord I prayed "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." I closed in praise and thanksgiving with "Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory." I still delight in praying through this prayer. To be honest, I thought I was doing OK. Well, better than OK, actually. I thought I was doing rather well. Come to find out, there is more, so much more.
A Prophetic "Word"
It all began when, during one of the prayer meetings I was attending each week, Christine Barr prophesied over me. She described how the Lord wanted me to shut up! Well, that is not exactly how she expressed it, but it is what she (actually He, God) meant. I was to spend some time each day just sitting at His feet, in silence no less! Sitting. Saying nothing. Just "being present" to Him. Listening. Being. For extended periods of time.
You gotta be kidding!
I felt like telling her to shut up!
I totally ignored this "Word."
Dismissed it actually.
You gotta be kidding! I felt like telling her to shut up! I totally ignored this "Word." Dismissed it actually. After all, I had been praying hours a day for years. I had read all the current books, and none of them said I needed to do something as silly as just sit. I knew what to do, and how I was to do it. And anyway, was not all of this silence stuff New Age! Or Catholic! Poor girl - even the most powerful Prophets sometimes miss it.
Several months later she visited the same weekly prayer meeting. I again submitted to ministry, hoping she might be more accurate this time. To my dismay she came out, like the proverbial broken record, with the exact same "Word." Good Lord, I thought, does she make this mistake with everyone? Besides, who was this little spitfire to tell me . . . !
But the persistent hound of heaven
was heavy on my trail.
God wanted this for He and me,
and He was not about
to let it go.
But the persistent hound of heaven was heavy on my trail. God wanted this for He and me, and He was not about to let it go. He wanted more than Ken R. Anderson, "the Intercessor." He wanted intimacy. Meanwhile, I just wanted to learn how to better do what I was already doing.
Suddenly I was getting it from everywhere. My wife went to a conference and brought home a tape called "Contemplative Prayer." I borrowed a book from (of all places) the Atlantic School of Theology Library entitled "The Awakening Call," by James Finley. Both the book and the tape were full of it. Sitting in silence. Waiting on God. Doing the Mary of Bethany thing. OK already. I get the message! Now, how to do it?
10 Minutes At A Time
My watch beeps on the hour. As I was "doing my thing," daily praying through the Lord's Prayer I decided to stop at 10 minutes to each hour and "wait upon the Lord" (or whatever it was I was supposed to be doing!) until I heard the beep.
Who knew that 10 minutes could be such a long time! It was excruciating. The 50 minutes of active vocal prayer were pure joy, followed by 10 minutes of absolute misery. Never did I feel so inadequate to a task. And this was what God wanted? I don't think so (!)... Or was it?
After a few days of this agonizing exercise I noticed something. Toward the end of some of my 10 minute silent sessions I was starting to sense God's Presence in unusual and certainly unexpected ways. What was this all about!? Could it be that this stuff actually "worked?" Intriguing. For several days I just shut it down on the hour, figuring I had "done my 10". But either curiosity, or desire for more of God, got the best of me. I decided if I was experiencing a move of the Spirit in what I was doing, to "ride it out," to go with it until it diminished. I am so glad I did!
What a paradigm shift for this fervent Pentecostal! I read more. Authors like Thomas Merton, James Borst, and many others. Before long I felt like I had fallen into a deep well of "catholic" spirituality, and discovered keys to the heart of God long since lost. I came to see that we Pentecostals had made the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bath water. In leaving behind the things we believed to be incompatible with our doctrines and understanding of scripture, we lost some sweet secrets to communion with the heart of God.
Pentecostal . . . and Anglican
Then the Lord led me to become a spiritual double dipper. I was with the Anglicans on Sunday morning and the Pentecostals Sunday night. Pentecostal worship is geared toward noise and celebration. The Anglican liturgy is quieter, and leads the heart into Contemplation. (Unfortunately, most Pentecostals are as afraid of silence as Anglicans are uncomfortable with jubilant rejoicing. I believe we could all benefit from both.)
I became an Oblate Probationer in the Order of Julian of Norwich, an Anglican religious order. My Oblate Rule required that I spend at least 30 minutes per day in what they called Still Prayer. By the time I left that order, Silent Contemplative Prayer was firmly established as a part of my prayer life. Today, I cannot imagine my relationship with God without it.
The mechanics of
this "difficult" thing
called Contemplation are
really very simple.
The mechanics of this "difficult" thing called Contemplation are really very simple. I find a place where I will not be disturbed to sit as comfortably as I can, back straight to prevent me from nodding off, and focus my heart and mind on God. I often use an anchoring phrase such as "Lord Jesus, I adore you," or whatever I feel in my spirit at the time. If my mind wanders down some irrelevant bunny trail I mentally pray my anchoring phrase and it immediately brings my consciousness back into the Presence of the Beloved.
Hermitage of the Heart
Doing this daily has not only brought me into the Presence of God, but has also built within my spirit a "room" - what I would call a Hermitage of the Heart - into which I can retreat at any moment and spend time with my Lord. I have been in a busy doctor's office, in my car waiting at a stop light, walking along a noisy street - actually almost anywhere and at any time - and entered into my Inner Sanctuary to enjoy sweet fellowship with Him. It is especially put to good use when a church service is going nowhere, or when some preacher lapses into unintelligible religious bafflegab. It seems that the more time I spend in intentional Contemplative Prayer the larger my Internal Hermitage becomes, and the easier it is to access.
I confess that after many years I am just a beginner and there are still days when almost anything is easier than sitting still, being silent, waiting on God in quiet Contemplation. Yet, there are times when fellowship with my Heavenly Lover in this Secret Place is deep, life changing, and profound. I experience the intimacy for which my soul has long sought. And I have the joy of satisfying the heart of God by my being truly present to Him. Could anything be more wonderful? Praise God. Hallelujah!
Some fifteen years later I no longer just enjoy Silent Contemplative Prayer. This has so profoundly affected my life that I now live each day by Seven Contemplative Disciplines and worship exclusively in a church that feeds the Contemplative Life. I have discovered a deep well of Contemplative Christianity and it is a delight.