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Jul 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 5, 2015 – Luke 12:35-38, 41-43

Introduction to Contemplative Prayer

“Be dressed in readiness; and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will girt himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. . . .”
Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us or to everyone else as well?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time. Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.”Luke 12:35-38, 41-43

Intro: Our list of skills for the spiritual journey must include Contemplative Prayer

I want to spend several weeks with this subject
– not because it is complex–it is, in fact, simple
• but it is also difficult and challenging
• especially in our ADD, cell-phone culture

Contemplative prayer means different things to different authors–there is no standard meaning
– for some, it is an ultimate, unique and mystical encounter with God
• unlike any other type of prayer, the “beatific vision” or “union with God” is pure grace
• few people have ever had this type of experience and for those who did it was rare and brief
– my use of contemplative prayer is somewhat different–here is its essence:

To be with God in attentive silence
(in which the mind and heart are totally absorbed with God)

A time comes when we have to get out of our prayers to get into prayer
– like when every time we pray, we repeat the same anxious thought or concern
• we don’t feel relief after such prayers, because we’ve reinforced our negative feelings
• it’s important to stop going in circles when we pray and getting nowhere
– typically, when we sit with God in silence, our minds say, “Nothing is happening”
• so they commandeer our prayer time
◦ filling the silence with thoughts and words — not always spiritual or edifying
• again, there is a difference between saying our prayers and contemplative prayer
◦ we can say prayers without needing to be aware of God
▫ our minds can be in another place or time — past or future
▫ we can be cut off from our surrounding and our inner life–e.g., our motives in saying prayers
◦ we brush our hands and think, “There! I’ve said my morning prayers. Now, I’m off to work”
▫ but assuming we don’t have to be there with our whole attention displeases God

This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me (Mt. 15:8)

Emily Herman, “The sense of unreality which so insistently haunts the beginner in prayer is due to the fact that he is engaged in a monologue and not in a conversation. . . . it is as impossible to realize our communion with God without the practice of silence, as it is to conduct a conversation [alone]”

Contemplative prayer is being fully present to the moment
– which we receive as a gift and use come close to God
• just before Jesus was transfigured, his disciples fell asleep
◦ Peter began to sputter, “Lord, it is good for us to be here . . . not realizing what he was saying”

Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. (Luke 9:35-36)

• immediately after they were told to listen to Jesus, they were left with him alone
◦ this is contemplative prayer; alone with Jesus, listening to him
◦ getting everything else out of the way so God can fill the horizon of our prayer

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-6)

What I am going to do is walk you through my definition one word at a time

So we begin with, “To be” — “Be dressed in readiness,” “Be like men waiting . . .”

A friend of yours tries to describe event but then give up and says, “You just had to be there!”
– that is because there was something about the experience that cannot be put into words

Malcolm Muggeridge, “The religion Jesus gave the world is an experience, not a body of ideas or principles. It is in being lived that it lives, as it is in loving that the love which it discloses at the heart of all creation becomes manifest.”

being with God does not require us to do all the talking
– in my first follow up appointment after eye surgery, I had a question for my doctor
• I asked her if I had given her trouble toward the end of the operation
◦ that’s because I could remember her repeating sternly, “Mr. Smith, open your eyes!”
• a good patient does not resist the surgeon or try to take over the procedure
◦ contemplative prayer calls for a similar attitude
◦ it is more listening than speaking, receiving than requesting, resting in rather than striving for

The authors of The Mindful Way Through Depression point out an important distinction
– the two separate mental functions are the mind’s “doing mode” and “being mode”

  1. Doing: the mind organizes things, makes sense of things, and attempts to manage things
    • this mode is obviously useful in meeting most of our physical challenges
    ◦ but there are some moods and situations, we cannot think our way out of
    ◦ trying to do so only intensifies them
  2. Being: is not “thinking about,” but “being with”
    • being with the experience of life as it is right here, right now

An advantage of the “being mode” is that we can still do “many things”
– perhaps even more efficiently or effectively
• Jesus did not get on Martha’s case for doing many things,
◦ but for being “worried and bothered about so many things” (Lk. 10:41)
• in our present passage, his third blessing is for the steward the master finds “doing” (v. 43)
– but the “doing mode” tends to shut out our experience of being here in the moment
• then it is easy to fall into reactive habits
◦ but for those who find it difficult to stay in the being mode while doing things,

Charles Spurgeon said, “There must be alternations between the contemplative and the active life of a Christian. Sometimes, it is best to sit quietly with Mary, and leave Martha and the dishes alone; but, at another time, it is better to bestir yourself, and to run hither and thither with all the diligence of a Martha, for then Jesus will be most likely to meet with you.”

• in contemplative prayer we learn to be–i.e., in the experience of the moment as it comes to us

The next words of my definition are “with God”

With this we face a formidable challenge: God is immaterial
– it’s much easier to focus our attention on an object
• but nothing of God’s person is available to our senses or can be represented in an image
• yet in scripture, God tells us repeatedly, “I am with you”
◦ so God is transcendent and immanent at same time
◦ he is not here as physical things are, but he is here in his own form (“God is spirit”; Jn. 4:24)
– when we settle into contemplative prayer, we are met by a presence
• this takes some getting used to — we wait, we watch, we listen – we are “on the alert”
◦ we learn to bring our awareness to God’s presence
◦ authentic prayer requires this connection with God

Thomas Aquinas, “. . . first of all, he who prays, comes nigh to God . . . ‘for prayer is the uplifting of the mind towards God.’”
Helmut Thielicke, “. . . the most important part of prayer is to come into the presence of God . . .”
Emily Herman, “If prayer has any reality at all, it is founded upon a sense of God, and as it develops into something more . . . our sense of God becomes a dominant factor in our lives.”
St. James, 
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (Jas. 4:8)

We also maintain awareness of our environment, thoughts, feelings and emotions
– this is because we don’t know in what hour he will come to us
• or what door he will knock on or walk through
• anything could carry our awareness from the tangible to the immaterial

St. Augustine, “In the study of created things we must not exercise a mere idle and passing curiosity, but must make them a stepping-stone to things that are immortal and that abide forever.”

The next word that defines contemplative prayer is an adjective: “attentive”

[Here I asked everyone to look at the painting behind me and give it a title. Then I asked that they judge the halfway point in space between the painting and themselves and focus on where that would be.]
– do you see how you can move your attention around? it is yours to control
– think of attention like a pair of binoculars — you choose where to aim them
• if something grabs your attention, bring it into focus
◦ look at it with curiosity and discernment — is it an insight or a distraction?
◦ you can usually tell instantly

The last word of my definition is “silence”

Silence is about creating space for God
– it is clearing the clutter of our minds to listen for him and to him
• some people think contemplative prayer is “emptying your mind”
◦ but have you ever tried to do that? to sit without any thoughts? it’s nearly impossible
• contemplative prayer is not about emptying the mind, but filling it with God
◦ we try (generally unsuccessfully) to empty the mind of everything else
– consider how the psalmist handled destructive voices that entered his mind:

Those who seek my life lay snares for me;
And those who seek to injure me have threatened destruction,
And they devise treachery all day long.
But I, like a deaf man, do not hear;
And I am like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
Yes, I am like a man who does not hear,
And in whose mouth are no arguments.
For I hope in You, O LORD;
You will answer, O Lord my God. (Psalm 38:12-15)

– he became speechless regarding his self-defense or arguing back
• and he made himself deaf to their threats in order to anchor his heart and hope in God
• when at home I am watching a scene in a movie that is scary or emotionally intense,
◦ I sometimes turn off volume –without the soundtrack, the scene loses its intensity
◦ the intensity of the present moment is greatly diminished when freed of anxious thoughts

We silence the internal noise  of our thoughts, emotions, and will for this reason:
– Jesus may come quietly and knock gently
• when I was a Charismatic, I wanted the noise “like a violent rushing wind”
◦ but as a contemplative, it is the “still small voice” I hope to hear
◦ and I don’t want the Lord’s voice to be drowned out by other voices

Conc: A couple years ago, I came up with an idea for a book I wanted to write

The title would be, You Don’t Have to Jump Off A Bridge (subtitle: To feel alive)
– I was thinking about bungee jumping and other extreme sports
• there’s a huge volume of experience in each passing moment
• and that’s another facet of contemplative prayer:
◦ at first we silence ourselves so we can listen and discern God’s presence
◦ but eventually it is the awe of God’s presence that silences us

T. F. Torrance, “Worship is the exercise of the mind in the contemplation of God in which wonder and awe play an important part in stretching and enlarging our vision, or in opening up our conceptual forms to take in that which by its nature far outruns them.”

– not only wonder and awe, but it is especially love that plays an important part

Thomas Aquinas, “. . . in this lies the full perfection of the contemplative life: that the Divine Truth should not only be seen but loved.”

• that is where contemplative prayer takes us — its objective and most rewarding gift:

To love Jesus Christ and to be loved by him

O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me;
Let them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your dwelling places.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
To God my exceeding joy;
And upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God. (Psalm 43:3-4)

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