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    “See to it no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

    « Who I Am vs. Who I Choose to Be | Colossians: Human Nature in Three Easy Chapters »

    On Contemplative Prayer: The Modern Trend of Revisiting Ancient Practices

    See also: On Labyrinths as Spiritual Disciplines


    An interesting trend has developed in many modern churches in which adoption of ancient religious practices has been occurring. Walking labyrinths, prayer stations and contemplative/centering prayer, are all practices that were abandoned by Protestant churches in the 1500’s and beyond, not to mention they are heavily Buddhist-based.


    Not that we should or should not do anything based on the traditions of man. As Christians (“Christ-followers”) our only authority is the Bible (the written word of God) and God.


    Since God will not contradict Himself, whenever we think we are hearing from God, we must carefully read our Bibles to confirm or deny “His” words to us in prayer. Whether ancient or modern churches, pastors, or Christians practiced these things should be of no consequence if they do not line up with God’s word.  

    “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field…The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-8)


    In looking at the Bible alone then, I find there is no mention, evidence, or hint of early Christians practicing such things as labyrinth walks, prayer stations, or contemplative prayer.


    That being said, I realize the Bible also makes no mention of airplanes, automobiles, etc. Does this lack of mention necessarily equate to sin on the part of practitioners? Reasonably and logically, no.


    Let us take a look then at those who did and do practice such things historically and contemporarily. In doing a Google search for the term “contemplative prayer”, many Christian sites and books pop up, citing Ignatius of Loyola, John of the Cross, and Thomas a Kempis (along with a few others).


    It is quite easy to find information on these ancient people, and I strongly encourage readers to do so. A very basic search taught me the following:


    Thomas a Kempis lived during the late 1300’s to mid-1400’s and became especially famous for writing “The Imitation of Christ” devotional. Doesn’t sound so bad, but he was a Christian mystic and many of his beliefs and teachings have strong similarities with Buddhism.


    Thomas’s works inspired Ignatius of Loyola (who lived in the late 1400’s to mid 1500’s) who founded the Jesuits among other things. Ignatius and the Jesuits helped with the Inquisitions and persecuted and killed many “heretics”/Protestants (Check out “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs” written in the 1500’s for more information on the Inquisitions).


    There are more colorful things I learned, but for this article’s purposes, I will move on. John of the Cross was a disciple of Ignatius and also worked on the Catholic church’s counter-reformation (persecution of Protestants) with Theresa of Avila.


    The odd thing about all of this is those modern preachers, teachers, and authors promoting the works of Thomas a Kempis, Ignatius of Loyola, and John of the Cross claim to be Calvinists or Reformed Calvinists and John Calvin was a Protestant. The above-mentioned ancient authors severely persecuted Protestants, so why would modern self-proclaimed Protestants use these works?


    As children of the Living God (Hosea 1:10 and Romans 9:26) we are called to live careful lives apart from the world (Ephesians 5). We are in the world but not of it (1 John 2:15), meaning we should not be hermits, cloistering ourselves away (as pious and well-intentioned as this sounds, it is actually disobedient to God’s word), but neither should we embrace the world (traditions, fads, or “new” way of thinking). It is a constant balancing act, yet God will give us strength and discernment to persevere.  


    Fortunately, Christians do not need the things of this world to get to God. One of the fundamental differences of Christianity is that we need no ritual, tradition, special person, candles, or anything to speak to God.


    Many times we try too hard and complicate the simplest act. The Christian walk is about what we do, but it goes much farther and deeper than that. It is mostly about where our hearts lie. Do we love God more than anything?


    Are we willing to give Him all of ourselves without reservation? These are not easy questions. They are not easy to carry out. But neither has to do with our physical, mental, or emotional actions.


    There are many non-Christians who are generous, kind, spiritual, loyal, compassionate and diligent. What should set the Christian apart is an absolute love for God (as a being), His word, and His people (especially fellow Christians).


    There have been many “Christian” websites and writings I have come across lately which espouse contempt for so-called brothers and sisters in Christ. “If a man says he loves God but hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20).


    God is gracious to meet us where we are (stories from the Old Testament include Jacob wrestling with God, Genesis 32:22-31; God guiding the Israelite’s through the desert as a pillar of fire, Exodus 13:21-22; God meeting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, Daniel 3; and many, many more. The New Testament provides many stories of Jesus the Messiah which means “God with us”).

    This is important and fundamentally different from any other cult or religion’s god. There is no way we could ever ascend to reach God where He is at because He is just that holy. So He mercifully descends to reach us.


    There is nothing wrong with thinking about God and considering His goodness, grace, mercy, or divine judgment. Meditating on scripture is commanded in the Bible (for references, and a good article on Biblical meditation, see here http://bible.org/article/biblical-meditation ).


    These practices however, are distinct from prayer. Prayer is active talking or listening to and from the Lord. There is nothing we need or should do (thank goodness!) to prepare ourselves for prayer. There is nothing we could do.


    “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). In this verse, there is nothing to do or prepare for. We must simply be still. If there is an attempt at “centering” or thinking or speaking or even emptying the mind we are not being still, we are working.


    This verse is more about resting and being at peace with the knowledge of who we are and who God is (and God is not us). “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 55:8)


    I absolutely believe that God speaks to people in prayer. I believe He sometimes speaks to people in dreams, visions, music, books, or whatever He chooses. But anything we hear or believe we hear will also be in the Bible in context if it is truly God.


    And God is also gracious to speak to us when we are in sin. This does not mean He condones our sin. He expects us to stop IMMEDIATELY and not look back by keeping things (in some cases people) around to tempt us.


    Careful discerning is imperative. Look to others for their wisdom and carefully evaluate what they say, but look to God and His word only for truth. Be patient and prudent (but not inactive), and He will be merciful to give you truth and wisdom.

    “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men” (Acts 17:11-12).


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