Last weeks events were some of the most moving Holy Week experiences I have ever had. Between Maundy Thursday and Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, I know many of you agree with me.
These formational experiences often can lead us to question why we have them so infrequently.
I believe the answer lies (in part) with the fact that we have forgotten how to practice contemplative prayer.
Since the time of Constantine, when Christianity was legalized and made to be mainstream, the church has struggled to find it’s way in the mystery of following Christ…and that includes our practice of prayer.
Jesus didn’t teach His disciples a verbal prayer until after He had walked with them for a while, but He was constantly praying.
Paul described our call to prayer like this…
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16–19 (ESV)
Pray without ceasing.
Give thanks in all circumstances.
I don’t know about you, but I can not honestly say that I rejoice ALWAYS, pray WITHOUT ceasing, or give thanks in ALL (really not even most) circumstances, but we are still encouraged to do so.
Over the last few years, I do believe I have made significant leaps forward in it, though.
Contemplative prayer is the practice of being constantly and continually in the presence of God through prayer. It is an ancient concept that Jesus and the apostles practiced, and it is still POWERFUL for us, today.
As Richard Rohr points out, most of us have learned to pray “trouble-shooting” prayers. This practice began as Christianity became more mainstream and a person could feel comfortable being “Christian” without committing to actually follow the teachings of Jesus or the rest of scripture.
Trouble-shooting prayers are specific and short conversations where we bring our requests to God for inspiration or intervention and then they are over until we need to trouble shoot something else. This type of prayer needs a problem to solve and requires our minds to be focused on accomplishing a task.
Contemplative prayer is content with being in the presence of God, contemplating Him. It can happen on your drive to work, while at work, at home, or even while reading a book. It is that ceaseless prayer that doesn’t require us to be thinking of what we need to say in the moment, but rather just soaking in the presence of God.
You can do this anywhere and any time. You don’t need a worship service or an experiential worship environment.
Contemplative prayer creates your own personal, perpetual experiential worship environment.
I have found that in those moments, I am at peace and I can’t help but be overwhelmed with thoughts of thanksgiving and praise.
I find that God brings scripture to mind regularly in ways that apply to things I am dealing with right now.
At times I am remorseful, repentant.
Other times I am overcome with a sense of God’s presence.
I would like to say this is the way I live my life every moment of the day, but that would be a lie.
I am, however, growing in my practice and experience of it.
Let me encourage you to experience Christ in fresh and new ways by trying it yourself.
1. If you are new to the practice, begin by setting aside some time that is quiet and undistracted.
Maybe even consider putting some low music on that encourages your focus on God.
William Augusto is one of my current playlists for this.
2. Think about the unconditional love of God.
He loves you. He gave His Son for you. He has been working for thousands of years so that you could experience Him and His love. And remember, your sin does not remove His love for you.
3. Talk to Him. You can literally say anything, but don’t feel that you have to carry the conversation. You can tell Him what is on your mind, but spend plenty of time just thinking about Him, His love, His teachings.
4. Listen. If you have never heard God speaking to you, just know that He is and it’s more a matter of listening than earning something from God.
Let me be clear that this is not a formula, it is simply a way to enter into His presence and allow the Holy Spirit to intercede with and for you. If it feels weird the first time, join the club. The more you practice contemplative prayer, the more you will experience the presence of God and the more you will be drawn to do it more.
So much conviction wrapped up in this for me. Prayer feels strange, unless it’s for someone specifically, some need. Somehow I have separated it in my mind from being an act of worship.