Anything that strays too close to New Age practices alarms most believers, and rightfully so, but some disciplines were ours before they were perverted by false spiritualism.
Contemplative spirituality more or less teaches that true holiness and spiritual growth occur by contemplation of God through emptying your mind. The practice typically does not embrace the Bible; if any scripture is included, it’s out of context or very loosely paraphrased.
Francis Schaeffer, author of The God Who Is There, warned against the temptation to make Christianity a mystic religion. “Mysticism is nothing more than a faith contrary to rationality, deprived of content and incapable of communication.”
Nevertheless, adherents to the contemplative prayer movement espouse “personal interpretation” of the Bible where any verse may have thousands of different interpretations for each individual. There is no correct or more informed reading of scripture.
The truly dedicated, New Monks and other groups, decry anyone who attempts to define their beliefs with a system of doctrines. They hold to the “collective unconscious” of traditions and myths which all point to “universal truths” and mean that all faith groups that acknowledge some kind of god are valid.
The practice of vague, aimless “spirit journeys” and foundationless scripture essentially reduces Christianity to Eastern mysticism on par with Buddhism.
The loss of Christianity’s staunch anti-universalist view makes its gospel worthless.
Serving a God of Order
Paul clearly reminds the church that our God allows us to know him through orderly study, revelation and worship. “Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people” (1 Corinthians 14:32-33 NLT).
Even the gift of tongues is subject to some restrictions, and Paul commands believers in 1 Corinthians 14:1-12 to consider the whole community and how to help each other. He concludes with “Since you are so eager to have the special abilities the Spirit gives, seek those that will strengthen the whole church.”
So when the Bible discusses meditation, it’s clearly not endorsing aimless mysticism for self-improvement.
“You don't have to embrace bad theology, namely Roman Catholic historic bad theology,” John Piper discusses in his article about contemplative prayer, “in order to find amazing representatives of those who've known God at this level, contemplated God spiritually in the heart at this level, and have given rise to that kind of contemplation in wonderful praying.”
He points out the Puritan’s collection of meditative prayers in The Valley of Vision which dwells on the Word, its descriptions of God and the promises God gives his children. As Focus on the Family explained, “This tradition has nothing to do with the depersonalizing, self-abnegating, Nirvana-seeking spiritual practices of the Hindus, Buddhists, and New-Agers.”
The practices of true Christian contemplative prayer and meditation have much older and more honorable roots.
The Real Roots of Christian Meditation
After Moses—Joshua’s mentor and father-figure—died, God came to the young man and gave him several promises and commands, including, “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” (Joshua 1:8 ESV, emphasis added).
The Psalmist also brings up this practice, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).
“I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.” (Psalm 119:147-148).
The meditation discussed here is always paired with careful study and remembrance of God’s commands and promises. This regular and unhurried ruminating over our Father’s words seems to be deeply pleasing to him.
The discipline of meditation on God’s Word and nature also seems to be when God has often spoken to believers.
Peter, for example, had visions of how God viewed gentiles (Acts 10:9-16). Paul speaks of having been “caught up to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). Then there’s John whose visions gave us the Book of Revelation (Revelation 1:9).
Later leaders in the faith like Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, John Chrysostom and Anthony of Egypt studied the scriptures and prayed intensely, often having visions and hearing God speak. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit and presence of God appears to be part of what was prophesied in the Old Testament.
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28).
Disciplining Ourselves to Hear From God
When we start out to add true Christian or—as John Piper calls it—Puritan contemplative prayer to our daily life, it’s very important to consider that it’s called a discipline for a good reason.
Biblical meditation must come from a deep and informed knowledge of God’s Word.
The Bible warns us to guard ourselves against false teachers and ideas. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
Any vision or word from the Lord that we receive while in prayer or while meditating on scripture must always be compared to the Bible and not contradict God’s Word.
The reward of training ourselves in this spiritual discipline is enormous, though, since the Bible and prayer are the primary ways that we hear from God and draw into his presence.
““I know the joy that comes from being shut in alone with Christ,” David Wilkerson said while describing the benefits of being a believer with a deep and methodical prayer-life. “It comes from worshipping him, ministering to him, waiting on him to reveal his heart. I call this Jesus' feeding time. I sit in his presence, listening for his still, small voice.”
In response to worries about knowing what visions and words are from God, he added, “This is why the Bible says again and again, ‘Wait on the Lord...wait on him...wait.’
“It's during our waiting that these other voices are exposed, or grow weary and leave. We're to wait, wait, wait, so both heaven and hell know we won't give up until the Lord takes over.”
Those moments, after the waiting, are when “…he speaks to me, teaching me, ministering to me by his Holy Spirit, showing me things I could never learn from a book or person. His truth comes to life in my spirit, and my heart leaps within me.”