There is a great deal of loneliness in this world. Increasingly, more and more people live alone. As job hours build to crazy levels, disconnection occurs simply out of having no discretionary time to spend with others. So, for many people, taking the time to sit in the presence of God and forget about the clock seems almost absurd. It is as if contemplating Christ is some luxury instead of a necessity. But it is a vital Christian practice.
I propose that just maybe the reason why so many Christians, churches, and ministry organizations have contemplation off their spiritual radars has to do with how we view our relationship with God. Communicating with God is a great privilege, and made possible through the Lord Jesus Christ. In Christian contemplation we do not just pray to get something; we seek to adore God and enjoy being in his presence. God longs for our companionship. Yes, you read that right. God delights in us. He wants to be with us. This weird notion that God always wants something from us is one-dimensional and truncates the true knowledge of God into a business transaction where we give God obedience and he answers our prayers.
If that is your typical understanding of how we relate to God, consider the beginning of humanity. God enjoyed “walking in the cool of the day” with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8-9). The original garden is portrayed as a paradise because it was the place where God and his creatures simply enjoyed being with one another. We must come to grips with the reality that becoming spiritually mature means learning to love God for who he is, not just for what he can do for us.
Contemplative prayer has as its singular goal being with God, period. It is about allowing time to melt away into an enjoyment of God, and God’s enjoyment of us. If this seems strange, mystical, or medieval, it is only because contemporary evangelicalism has strayed far from the streams of living water offered through the kind of prayer that contemplates the grace and love of God in Christ. Maybe you can only view God loving you if you are living a perfect life. Remember this: there is nothing you can do to make God love you more or less. It is high time we relax enough to receive the wondrous reality that God loves us for who we are and not for what we can give to him.
God longs to be with us! The “Jesus Prayer” is a simple and ancient prayer that combines the prayer of the tax collector from Luke 18:13 (“God be merciful to me, a sinner”) with the earliest confession of the church (“Jesus is Lord”). Put it together, and the Jesus Prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is meant to be a means of entering into the presence of God and experiencing communion with Jesus. Repeating phrases from Holy Scripture are some of my favorite ways of engaging in contemplative prayer. I like personalizing Philippians 3:10, “I want to know you, Lord Christ, and the power of your resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in your sufferings.” Using the biblical book of psalms is a wonderful place to express the desire of our hearts toward God, and to drink in his love for us. Over time the repeated words begin to fall away into a deep connection with God.
Again, if I seem to be sounding like some reclusive monk locked up in a remote monastery, I can assure you that I am not in any such place. I am a busy pastor who has more responsibilities that he ought to have. But I do neither my church nor my God any favors by constantly working with no time set aside to connect with the reason we are to engage in this Christian work to start with: to know Jesus to the very core our beings. None of us are brains-on-a-stick meant to check off on a list of beliefs; then, go on our merry way being uptight, anxious, and worried about everything under the sun because we did not let those beliefs sink down into the marrow of our spiritual bones.
God is huge, and he is full of huge love for his creatures. The Western church must begin to allow the fog to lift so that we can walk with God in the garden of the soul. How will you and your church allow God into your lives to make this happen? The answer to that question might just be the very thing you have been looking for all along.