Contemplative Prayer

Contemplative Prayer
By Robert H. Roam

The art or practice of meditating on God and His Word goes back to the origin of man. Man was created with the ability to think and reason. When man and woman were first created in the Garden of Eden, God spoke to them. All throughout Scripture we see the benefits and blessings man received when he obeyed the words of God. We can also read about the judgment that comes to those who do not obey His words.

The children of Israel were to keep the Law given to them by God. Their whole lives were to be affected by the Word of God.

Hear 0 Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on the gates (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

When Moses died and Joshua became the leader of Israel the Lord spoke to him about keeping His Word. “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” Joshua 1:8). He was instructed to not only read the Word, but to also meditate on it day and night.

There are other references given in the Psalms about meditating upon the works, precepts, statutes, and the laws of God. The psalmist wrote,

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scournful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).

Another example is “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy,
Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all (1 Timothy 4:12-15).


Sacred Reading

Lectio Divina is a Latin expression which means sacred reading. It is “probably the most ancient form of mental prayer and the source of most other forms of quiet prayer. Jesus himself no doubt reflected on the words of the Scripture, especially the Psalms, in those quiet moments he spent in prayer.” The early church gathered together, “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

Luke Dysinger in Accepting the Embrace of God, identified the specific process. He wrote,

A very Ancient art, practiced at one time by all Christians, is the technique known as lectio divina – a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God. This ancient practice has been kept alive in the Christian monastic tradition, and is one of the precious treasures of Benedictine monastics and oblates.’

Lectio Divina differs from our usual style of reading. Michel de Verteuil, Lectio Divina – Sacred Reading, A Method of Bible Reflection explained the difference.

A bible text is not like a textbook or a newspaper, providing us with objective information. It was not written like that. Instead, it stirs up feelings; we find ourselves identifying with the characters, we feel for them, admire them or dislike them. We are caught up in the movement of the text, its suspense, its dramatic reversals of fortune, it unanswered questions

This type of reading to me is much deeper than other types of reading that I do. It is like savoring what is being read, not just tasting or sampling. Dysinger also pointed out the distinction between our normal method of reading and this sacred reading of the text.

The reading or listening which is the first step in lectio divina is very different from the speed reading which modern Christians apply to newspapers, books and even to the Bible. Lectio is reverential listening; listening both in a spirit of silence and of awe. We are listening for the still, small voice of God that will speak to us personally – not loudly, but intimately. In lectio we read slowly, attentively, gently listening to hear a word or phrase that is God’s word for us this day.`

The weaknesses of Lectio Divina are much like any other form of prayer. Jesus warned,

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to the Father which is in secret; and the Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking (Matthew 6: 5-7).

We must be sure our attitudes are right when we approach the Lord in prayer. It is necessary that Lectio Divina does not become a ritual that we do by going through the motions. There could also be a danger in individuals receiving their own personal revelations outside of the Word of God. “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).

Another weakness could be an emphasis on works instead of grace. Some of the advocates of Lectio Divino in their writings seem to place a greater emphasis on what they do or don’t do, instead of what Jesus does for us. I believe that Jesus wants us to be lights in this dark world, not sequestered some place away from society. We are to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…” (Matthew 28:19) We are to be His witnesses in all the world.

People need to see individuals whose lives have been changed by the power of the Gospel. We need to take the saving message to the masses, in the market place, in schools, at work, at play, and everywhere we go. Jesus teaches us that we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a city set on a hill, and that we are to let our lights shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16).

There are many more advantages than disadvantages to practicing Lectio Divina. Thomas Keating, in The Classical Monastic Practice of Lectio Divina, illustrated the benefits.

Lectio Divina is a special kind of process, and to benefit fully from its fruits, its integrity has to be respected. The ripe fruit of the regular practice of Lectio Divina is assimilating the word of God and being assimilated by it. It is a movement from conversation to communion. It also enables us to express our deep spiritual experience of union with God in words or symbols that are appropriate. There is thus a movement not only into silence, but from silence to expression.’


Listening with the Heart

The form that is often used is to cultivate the ability to listen with our hearts to hear from the Lord or to allow Him to speak to us as we are reading the Word of God. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches….” (Revelation 2:7). In order to do this we must first begin to read in a slow discerning way, savoring each word or sentence we read. I know that personally there have been many times that as I was reading the Word of God, I would feel that the Lord was speaking to me from His Word.

There are many truths from the Scriptures that we have not gleaned as yet. There have been times that I received a fresh thought from a Scripture that I have read many times before. Lectio Divina allows us to be able to get much more from the Word as we read it in contemplation. In Lectio Divina we may read the same sentence or Scripture over and over, memorizing and allowing the Spirit of the Lord to speak to us from the Word.

The next step is to pray. We allow the Word that we have just read to touch and change our lives. We can express to the Lord our hurts and problems while reciting the Word over and over applying his Word to our situations and also being changed by what we have read. We then rest in His presence as we contemplate His love for us. This is a wordless time that we simply sit in His presence, allowing ourselves to be refreshed by the Spirit. Again, first we select a Scripture and then become still as we read the Scripture slowly. We allow what we have read to interact with our thoughts, then speak to the Lord from our heart what we feel and then to finally rest in the presence of the Lord in a quiet manner.

Lectio Divina encourages one to take his time when reading and speaking to the Lord. Whereas many times we speak or read in a manner that is like skimming. Lectio Divina encourages us to listen to the voice within us that is often the voice of the Lord. Jeanne Guyon, in Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, wrote, “What is attracting you so strongly to your inward parts? It is none other than God Himself. And, oh, His drawing of you causes you to run to Him.”‘

I cannot count the times that I have felt the drawing of the Spirit of the Lord to go deeper in Him. The yearning that is present is from the Lord Himself, although we do not always recognize who it is that is calling us. Jesus said,

To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice, And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers (John 10:3-5).

Thomas Kelly, in A Testament of Devotion, said, “The Living Christ within us is the initiator and we are the responders.”‘ This is where it is so important to be still and to listen for the “still small voice” that Elijah the Prophet spoke about in 1 Kings 19:12. This is sometimes easier said than done, as we are so easily distracted. How many times have we attempted to pray and suddenly all kinds of different thoughts enter our minds to distract us? We suddenly remember that we were supposed to call someone, or we forgot to do something else. I am finding that it takes an effort on my part to shut out the distractions and to focus on the voice of the Lord. However, it is like any other discipline, the more you do it the easier it becomes.

In the article, “What do we mean by prayer?” Evelyn Underhill stated, “Prayer, then, begins by an intellectual adjustment. By thinking of God earnestly and humbly to the exclusion of other objects of thought, by deliberately surrendering the mind to spiritual things, by preparing the consciousness for the inflow of new life.”

Even though I desire to listen to the voice of the Lord, I find myself repeating many prayers that I have prayed many times before. These prayers are important, but I have memorized them over the years and sometimes I can recite them without much thought. When I pray Lectio Divina style, I have to make myself concentrate much more on the request and carefully listen for the answer. Sometimes, even though I may not receive an immediate answer, I still feel the comfort of the presence of the Lord. This is always gratifying, just knowing that I have felt him and been in His presence.


Experiencing His Presence

Lectio Divina is opening yourself up and exposing the secret chambers of the heart and inner thoughts to the Lord. Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, stressed the importance of the will being surrendered to God.

It is the will aspect of personal/spiritual realty that is its innermost core. In biblical language the will is usually referred to as “heart.” This it is that organizes all the dimensions of personal reality to form a life or a person. The will, or heart, is the executive center of the self. Thus the center point of the spiritual in humans as well as in God is selfdetermination, also called freedom and creativity.’

It is not only being honest with God; it is being honest with yourself. It is pulling back the veneer and exposing the real you to the Lord. It is also acknowledging our need of the Lord’s help. In the ancient classic, The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis wrote,

The kingdom of God is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, such as is not granted to wicked people. Our Lord Jesus Christ will come to you and will show you His consolations, if you will make ready for Him a dwelling place within. All that He desires in you is within yourself, and there it is His pleasure to be. There are between Almighty God and a devout soul many spiritual visitings, sweet inward conversations, great gifts of grace, many consolations, much heavenly peace, and wondrous familiarity of the blessed presence of God.”

What a wonderful feeling of release it is to be able to confide in the Lord. I feel that this is really the starting point for restoration in every life. There is something about the presence of the Lord that illuminates our very being. This is the goal or aim of Lectio Divina, to be in the presence of the Lord.

In Lectio Divina there is much soul-searching. Thomas Merton, in Contemplative Prayer, said,

In the prayer of the heart we seek first of all the deepest ground of our identity in God. We do not reason about dogmas of faith, or the mysteries. We seek rather to gain a direct existential grasp, a personal experience of the deepest truths of life and faith, finding ourselves in God’s truth. Inner certainty depends on purification. The dark night rectifies our deepest intentions. In the silence of this night of faith we return to simplicity and sincerity of heart. We learn recollection which consists in listening for God’s will, in direct and simple attention to reality. Recollection is awareness of the unconditional. Prayer then means yearning for the simple presence of God, for a personal understanding of his Word, for knowledge of his will and for capacity to hear and obey him. It is thus something much more than uttering petitions for good things external to our deepest concerns.”

This is when we allow the presence of the Lord to speak to us about our own needs. This is where we evaluate ourselves and are able to understand purpose and meaning in our lives as the children of the Lord. We may be reminded about something we said, or an inappropriate act. I have been reminded about promises that I made and forgot. I have also felt the need to cleanse my heart. I have felt my own unworthiness and felt humbled by the touch of the Lord’s Spirit. It is like turning on a light in a partially lit room. When the light comes on everything becomes visible in the room. When the Spirit of the Lord comes, there is a revealing of areas in our lives that were not noticed prior to His appearance. This can be very revealing, because sometimes we are not aware of our needs.

When we are meditating on the stories in the Scriptures, there is often identification with the story or person mentioned. The accounts may not be identical, but there are often similarities. This enables us to “bring it closer to home” and apply the Scriptures to our own lives.

By identifying ourselves with God’s people-Jesus, the prophets and the great men and women of the Old and New Testaments-we find ourselves
adopting their attitudes. We also recognize ourselves in the bad characters of the text-the Pharisees, Pharaoh, the apostles when they were jealous of each other-and find that we want to give up these attitudes.”

The greatest benefit has to be that we find ourselves being embraced by the love and compassion of the Lord. Kempis said,

Love is a great and good thing, and alone makes heavy burdens light and bears in equal balance things pleasing and displeasing. Love bears a heavy burden and does not feel it, and love makes bitter things tasteful and sweet. The noble love of Jesus perfectly imprinted in man’s soul makes a man do great things, and stirs him always to desire perfection and to grow more and more in grace and goodness.”

It is often overwhelming to feel the love that the Lord Jesus has for me. His grace is still amazing! This, of course, makes me want to love Him in return. As Douglas V. Steere in “The Inner Springs of Prayer” said,

There can be no complete prayer life that does not return to the point from which we began – the prayer that is a response to the outpouring love and concern with which God lays siege to every soul. When that reply to God is most direct of all, it is called adoration. Adoration is loving back. For in the prayer of adoration we love God for himself, for his very being, for his radiant joy.”

It is very difficult to describe the feeling of God’s embrace. It is humbling, while at the same time it is consoling. The classic passage by the apostle Paul says it best.

Love is patient, love is kind.. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails… (I Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV).


Essential Faith

Lectio Divina encourages faith. Faith is an essential ingredient to pleasing God (Hebrews 11). In lectio divina there is an anticipation of receiving something from the Lord. First, you seek his presence. Next you anticipate having the Lord speak to you, either from his Word or in your thoughts. Then we also anticipate receiving direction or an answer to our requests or needs.

In much of our traditional praying, we just present our list of requests. We may mix worship and praise in as well, but often we do not take the time to listen for an answer from the Spirit of the Lord. Listening, as I have said before, can sometimes be very difficult. As I was praying this morning, my mind began to wander. I would find myself thinking about people and other things totally apart from what I was praying. I had to make myself concentrate on the prayers that I was praying. When I have difficulty concentrating or focusing in my prayers, I begin to worship and praise the Lord for all of His goodness to me. This brings his presence and helps me to re-focus my praying.

The Scriptures teach us the importance of having faith. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6) Lectio Diving is not only man speaking to God but allowing God to speak to man. It doesn’t matter what form of
prayer we use; if we do not have faith in God when we pray, nothing will happen.

There is nothing sacred about Lectio Divina, as it is just a method we use to communicate and fellowship with the Lord. The position of the body does not matter. It is not kneeling, standing, sitting or lying prostrate on the ground that impresses God and attracts His presence. It is the condition of our hearts that the Lord is looking at and responding to.

When the children of Israel sinned against God and fiery serpents were sent among them, those who were bitten by the serpents died. The Lord told Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it upon a pole, and all that were bitten would be healed when they looked on the serpent on the pole. Years later the children of Israel worshipped the brazen serpent on the pole. When Hezekiah became King, he destroyed all forms of idols and broke in pieces the brazen serpent, calling it Nebushtan, which means a piece of brass (2 Kings 18:1-4). There is a danger that we as humans want to make “things” sacred, instead of God.

There is much value in the teachings about prayer and its importance. Many books have been written on the subject of prayer, some of which I have read and own. However, there is no substitute for the actual practice of prayer in a person’s life. I feel that what we need to do is become more involved in prayer on a daily basis. Prayer is very personal and intimate between an individual and the Lord. What a wonderful privilege we have to communicate with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.



I have benefited from the study of Lectio Divina. However, putting it into practice has not been easy for me. I have been accustomed to praying in a more traditional style. I have found that being more reflective and taking my time while praying and reading the Word of God is very beneficial. This I have put into practice on many occasions. There have been several times that I know that the Lord has spoken to me from a specific Scripture. Each time it was just what I needed.

For several weeks, during the time of this writing, my brother was ill with a terminal disease. This, of course, was on my mind daily. I was able to spend about ten days with him over our spring break. During that time we were able to share together and to read Scriptures together. As I would pray each day, I continued to feel the comfort of His presence. After I had returned home from Phoenix where he lived, I received word that he had passed away. Even though this was not unexpected, I still felt very sorrowful.

While in prayer, I asked the Lord to give me a Scripture to help me to understand the loss of my brother. When I opened the Bible, I read, “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:23-24), Many other Scriptures came to my mind about eternity and living in heaven. I began to reflect on how much better it was for my brother to be with the Lord and with many of our loved ones who have gone on before us. Although I wept and mourned his passing, I realized that
this was not the end.

In the book The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard quoted Dwight Moody, “One day soon you will hear that I am dead. Do not believe it. I will then be alive as never before.” When the two guards came to take Dietrich Bonhoeffer to the gallows, he briefly took a friend aside to say, “This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.”

As I reflect over my life, I can remember that the times that the Lord spoke to me most often were when I was sill and listening for His voice. Wehen I was a young man in my early twenties, my father gave me some excellent advice. His words were, “Son, you need to be a better listener,” I did not realize at the time just how valuable these words were to become. I desire still to become a better listener. I am listening to hear from the Lord and to feel His wonderful presence.



The above material was published by Christian Life College Press, Stockton, CA. This material may be copyrighted and should be used for research and study purposes only.