Imagine going to the Met Museum or the Louvre and sprinting through the entire art gallery without stopping to consider the brush strokes, the texture, the composition, and the subject matter of each photograph or painting. Sure, you "partook in the experience," but you didn't leave room for your soul to be moved by the painting, or for your mind to wander, engage, and explore. Yet for many of us, this is the story of our daily life. We stand surrounded by a beautiful world that is full of wonder, but we opt to simply partake and never quite take it all in. Everything starts to feel like one giant blur. All we can recall is being overworked, overstressed and constantly fixated on everything that’s going wrong in the current moment. Instead of observing life through a lens of thoughtful contemplation and critical thinking, we opt for a feelings-as-truth mentality, which effectively negates any chance of being reminded of what's actually true. And this is where we discover the beauty of contemplative prayer. Sometimes referred to as quiet time or silence and solitude, contemplative prayer takes intentional time daily to turn aside and fix our eyes upon God. It is in this space where we discover a shift happening within us from the inside-out. Life starts slowing down. Discontentment turns into gratitude. Anxiety to peace. Lies for truth. This may sound a lot like meditation, but as we explore this beautiful practice, we discover that contemplative prayer is based upon a radically different foundation.



Over the last decade, there has been an explosion of interest into alternative forms of spirituality, usually expressed through mindfulness and meditation. Even for those that don’t consider themselves spiritual, there is interest in the therapeutic benefits of these two practices. The incredible rise of meditation as a form of healing and spirituality has birthed two fast-growing startups in the space, Headspace and Calm. Both have hundreds of millions in funding and in 2020 alone, nearly 165 million people downloaded their meditation apps. Headspace states that meditation “isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment.” Which goes to say, the foundation of meditation starts and ends with you. This self-focused practice often is aimed at reducing anxiety or distress as we attempt to return back to a place of calm equilibrium. Contemplative prayer, on the other hand, is God-focused. It is the means in which we reflect on God and heighten our awareness of his presence. There is freedom in expression here, as we can engage in contemplative prayer in a variety of ways. Maybe one day we fill ourselves with what’s true by meditating on mini-bits of scripture. We could also observe nature and reflect on God’s beauty. Or maybe we even process our thoughts before God, exchanging toxic feelings and lies for what he has to say over our situations. While Jesus doesn't list "contemplative prayer" as an explicit command, we see people throughout scripture, even Jesus himself, practicing contemplation, silence, and solitude to discern God's will and deepen their connection with him. The Bible lists many examples of Jesus withdrawing from his followers and from the crowds after long days of working miracles and teaching others. Mark 1:35 says that "very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." Notice in that the intention to a.) root himself in God's presence before the day begins, and to b.) do this practice by himself. There's a time and place for communal worship or praying with our friends in community, but often the deepest form of mind-wandering, soul-searching contemplation comes within the contours of stillness and silence. As Mother Teresa once said: "In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you." Why does God use silence? Particularly in our society, we spend a lot of time talking at God. We sing songs about him and talk about him at great length, but the art of really slowing down to consider what he wants to say to us has become somewhat lost in our noisy, distracted culture. It's normal to question how or when God can speak to us, and we want to be clear to state that every time you enter into a quiet moment with God you’re not necessarily going to hear a loudspeaker from the sky reading off a monologue to you. It may simply come in the form of a thought.

And is this really all that hard to believe? That the one who created everything designed the world in such a way where he could speak to us directly in our minds?

When the prophet Elijah was in a cave in the lowest of low moments, it says that God came to him in a still, small whisper. But even if you’re having difficulty discerning your thoughts from God’s voice, God will still reveal himself in scripture, through others, or even by an inner peace we experience. Here’s the ultimate goal: to center ourselves in such a way where we’re able to slow down enough to recognize God, to remember truth and to fulfill our greater purpose of becoming people of love. This is not a formula or a mandate. If the conclusion is: "okay, I just need to pray more” or “I just need to get up earlier and read my Bible more," you’re missing the point. Yes, those practices are beautiful in the right context, but we need to be careful not to miss the heart of why we’re doing this in the first place.



Contemplative prayer can be a transformative practice when we incorporate it into our daily rhythms of life. However, in the midst of a distracted society, getting there practically isn't always easy. Here are a few tips and strategies for entering into that place of deep, contemplative reflection:

Discard Distractions

It likely goes without saying, but we get the most out of contemplative prayer by starting in a distraction-free environment. Having your phone ringing or buzzing next to you will inevitably draw you out of your deep focus and orient your mind towards what you need to get done, or answering those beckoning for you. Eliminating distraction is essential for letting your contemplative moments be just between you and God.

Practice Silence & Solitude

Going off of the last point, this is a practice that works best in silent reflection by yourself. Jesus, whose life revolved around relationships and reaching others, modeled this by withdrawing from the crowds and his followers to discern the will of God and rest his mind, body and spirit. It may seem odd to think Jesus would need any kind of "rest" if he was God, but bear in mind that Jesus was simultaneously fully God and fully human. Therefore, he experienced the same pains and bodily afflictions that we do -- from the nails driven into his hands on the cross to the pangs of hunger when he fasted for 40 days. Of course, his divinity allowed him to do things that human beings can't ordinarily do, such as walk on water, but that doesn't change the overall fact that Jesus was able to be a model for human behavior given that he experienced it and lived it firsthand. Paul puts it this way in Philippians 2: "Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." Jesus is recorded carving out intentional moments with God the Father, knowing explicitly that there's an enhanced level of focus and clarity that comes from sitting in undistracted silence. “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him." (Luke 6:12-13) "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35) That's not to say God can't reach you anywhere or speak to you on the fly, in the midst of any circumstance. Of course he could. However, we often cram our lives with noise and do not create intentional spaces of listening. Especially for those whose lives are packed to the brim or dependent on others, finding a calm, clear headspace seems daunting. Interestingly enough, the place in which we end up having the most silence and solitude in our everyday lives is on our commute or in transit. This honestly isn't a bad place to start building this practice, especially if you have to drive somewhere by yourself anyway. Consider pausing that podcast or turning off the radio for a portion of your drive and embrace the totality of that quiet (while focusing on the road, of course.) Or perhaps those that are embracing our culture’s more recent work-at-home culture, you create a space designed for quiet within your apartment or home. It's true that the atmosphere and environment around you matters when entering into that deep contemplation, but for some people that could look like a dimly lit room with soft music, and for others that could look like an idyllic meadow on a mountainside. The point is not how beautiful you can make the scenery, but how much you can orient your body in a place of peace to start with that relaxed, still, and open foundation. Give yourself grace here. This can be a messy process when we first start practicing contemplative prayer, because our minds are noisy. That’s okay. Use the noise as an opportunity to do a pulse check of where your emotional health is right now.

Be Open

As followers of Jesus, the Spirit of God lives within us, so it may sound odd to "invite" the Holy Spirit into a moment. But what this really means is simply acknowledging the presence of the Holy Spirit and asking that we grow more aware of God. It's a statement that our hearts are in an open place, ready to receive. If you’re open, you can start by saying this short prayer invitation: "Holy Spirit, guide me in this practice. Help me to be aware of what you're doing in this moment. Help me to ground and center myself in your presence and discern what you're trying to say to me. I am available and open at this moment to receive and make my mind, body, and soul available to you. Amen." Pairing this with scripture can also be a powerful way to engage with contemplative prayer. Historically referred to as Lectio Devina, the practice of meditating on specific verses helps us become aware of what thoughts are coming to mind and what the Holy Spirit might be revealing to us.


If you've ever journaled, you know that even if no one ever reads your writings, it's a beneficial way for you to process. It's easy to compartmentalize things in our lives or pretend like nothing ever happened, but eventually those un-worked through thoughts are going to catch up to us. One element of contemplative prayer is reflecting on our days, weeks, months, and years with God. If you prefer more structure, there are prayers like the Prayer of Examen, which is another more templatized way of reflecting with God. And often our times of reflection start with what we're grateful for, and what brought us joy in the previous week. Even from a non-spiritual standpoint, the scientific world has shown numerous benefits of simply expressing gratitude consistently. "Benefits associated with gratitude include better sleep, more exercise, reduced symptoms of physical pain, lower levels of inflammation, lower blood pressure and a host of other things we associate with better health," says Glenn Fox, a professor at University of Southern California known for his research into the science of gratitude. Though it's important to incorporate gratitude, reflecting should welcome all of our emotions and enable a healthy processing of the good, the bad, the indifferent, the worrisome, the frustrating, and the hopeful. There really is no formula for reflecting, as your own experiences will dictate what you ultimately end up reflecting on. However, we wanted to offer a few more "structured" ideas, simply as a launching pad for getting started. Carving out intentional time to have quiet time and space may be the easy part, but you may feel empty or stumped upon entering into that reflective space. Keep in mind as you read the below suggestions that these are simply scaffolds to help build up your own personal, unique, and honest contemplation. 1. First, think of your day or week as a whole. Hone in on a moment where you felt God's peace abundantly, and what it was in that moment that redirected your focus back to God. It's often found more in the simple moments than the extraordinary ones, and might look something like: "I noticed God as I went on my walk today, as I felt the sun beaming down on my face. I was reminded of the beauty of his creation, and I was filled with gratitude as I was able to take in the sights and sounds of the day: the birds chirping, the leaves falling, and the cool autumn breeze tousling my hair. 2. Next, identify the range of feelings and emotions that you felt throughout the week. Maybe the dominant feeling was anger or frustration towards a friend or colleague or family member. Vent that frustration and honestly and openly before God and ask the Holy Spirit to help you process it and replace it with truth. "Why did I feel this way? How can I reconcile with this person and both honor my own feelings while forgiving them and loving them in the process?" 3. Ask Jesus to show you ways in which he experienced what you were feeling when he was here on earth. He may lead you to a moment in scripture where He experienced something similar. What was Jesus' posture at that moment? How and why did he handle the specific feeling or emotion in the way in which he did? 4. Journal whatever thoughts come to mind. Even if you aren't a "write-it-out" type of person, keeping some kind of short log (even if it's literally one sentence) can help you chart your perspective and how it may have changed over the days, months, and weeks. Often perspective comes through measuring up our current situations with moments in the past or future, and having a tangible record of our thoughts can help us remember where we've been and where we hope to head.



We leave you with this as a reminder, contemplative prayer is not a ritual intended to be part of a regimen of mandated practices. Be mindful of your heart posture and focus on building a rhythm of continual quiet time and reflection with God. You may not experience a significant change in the near-term, but this practice can be incredibly fulfilling over the long haul. Reflecting, whether in a spiritual context or not, stops us in our tracks and gives us a breather from the endless hamster wheel of life we seem to constantly be running and burning out on. However, when it is a process done with Jesus, it adds a whole other layer of being able to sit in a moment with the creator and author of your soul. While there is a time and place to intercede, worship, or lament, contemplative prayer is about coming to a place of stillness and focus with God and remembering that our transformation into becoming more like him comes not through our effort or works, but through his grace, truth, and love.


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