Gazing into the Face of Yeshua Part 5
For the past month we have been looking at some examples from scripture of a type of prayer that most of us are probably not familiar with.
Now today I want to look at some other scripture that describes this activity, which some Christians would call “contemplative prayer.” It has also been called “listening prayer,” “prayer of the Presence,” and “centering prayer.”
In its simplest form, this is a kind of prayer where we just spend time with the Lord, without any agenda on our side—certainly no “prayer requests” as such—and often without any words at all.
Prayer without words? How can it be prayer if we don’t ask God anything? Well, if you don’t like this wordless activity being described as “prayer,” then find another term. How about simply “being present with the Lord”?
Here is a definition of this kind of prayer—which I am going to call “contemplative prayer”—from Gary Wiens, who both practices this kind of prayer and teaches about it at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City.
Gary calls it, “enjoying intimacy with the Godhead in love, resulting in personal transformation.” I’ve also heard Gary and others such as Jim Goll and Joseph Garlington describe this kind of prayer as “just wasting time on Jesus.”
Contemplative prayer is pictured in one of my favorite verses. Let’s look for a minute at II Corinthians 3:18. This verse says,
As we look and see with the eyes of our heart the beautiful face of Yeshua, which was scarred for our deliverance—that face with eyes that connect us with the love that fills His heart—we are changed. II Corinthians 3 says that we are changed into—the same image!
What this is saying is that if we spend time gazing at Him as a practice of life, we become more and more like Him. Why?
Well for one thing, there is something transforming, on a human level, about gazing. Gazing is a sustained watching or looking into another person’s eyes.
Even earthly psychologists recognize that a powerful bond is created between two human beings who gaze into each other’s eyes. The bond between a mother and her newborn child is strengthened by her gazing into the baby’s eyes. The bond between a man and a woman is often acknowledged and strengthened when they gaze into each other’s eyes for even a few seconds.
On a human level, gazing develops intimacy. It’s that simple. And the more we gaze, the greater the potential for deeper and deeper intimacy. Increased intimacy transforms the quality of our lives, because we were made for intimate relationship.
Gazing on another human being transforms us by increasing intimacy. The same thing is true with gazing upon God.
But how do we gaze on Someone who is invisible to us on earth? How do we, as a practical matter, look into His eyes?
I am not an expert on this, although I have practiced this type of prayer for many years. But in recent years I have also done some study on this subject.
There is a renewed interest in contemplative prayer experience in our day, and several contemporary Christian authors have written books on the subject.
Nevertheless, the classic works about contemplative prayer remain mostly in the writings of Catholics, such as St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Bernard, Madam Jeanne Guyon and Brother Lawrence.
After reading some of their works, I would say that trying to define contemplative prayer experience or trying to reduce it to a technique or formula is a slippery matter indeed. Nevertheless, I will make some suggestions here that will either confirm what you are already doing or (I hope) set you in the right direction to begin a practice of contemplation.
One of the key elements of contemplative prayer is silence. So finding a quiet time of day and a quiet place to spend about 20 minutes is an ideal setting in which to begin.
Solitude is another important element, although I hope to be able to share with you another time about some wonderful group approaches to contemplative prayer that I have experienced.
But at base, contemplation is a one-on-One activity, of the sort we saw Mary of Bethany engage in. Even though she was probably in the company of others, Yeshua alone was her focus in Luke 10.
As I said, there’s no “formula” for this kind of prayer. Some people recommend beginning with some quiet Christian instrumental music for a few minutes and then turning it off when they sense the Lord’s presence.
Others, especially the classical writers I mentioned, would recommend beginning with reading a Bible passage or a writing about some aspect of life with the Lord. This kind of reading is sometimes referred to as lectio divina.
The idea here is that reading something sacred will bring one into the realm of the spirit, opening one’s heart to the presence of the Lord.
After one practices this kind of prayer and begins to walk in a measure of what Brother Lawrence called “practicing the Presence of God,” it becomes possible to sit down for a time of contemplative prayer and find oneself already in His presence. It’s like finding He’s waiting for you.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Someone who has not consciously sat and contemplated the Lord without seeing Him with natural eyes should consider beginning very simply.
Set aside 20-30 minutes at most. Begin by reading a passage from the Psalms or from Isaiah or the Song of Songs that says something about the Messiah. If you don’t know any such passages, ask the Holy Spirit to help you.
Read quietly and slowly. Let the words sink in, but don’t “study” the passage. If something you are reading really captures your attention, stop there and read it over again a few times.
Often at that point you may begin to sense the Lord’s presence. You may even “see” Him with the eyes of your heart. (I know that this language will sound strange to some, but others will know exactly what I’m talking about.)
When you sense His presence (and especially if you “see” His face in your heart), stop reading and just wait on Him in silence. Let Him be who He is. He may say nothing to you at all for a long time, even though you regularly get prophetic words from Him at other times in your life with Him.
He may speak or not. But in this type of prayer the overwhelming “feeling” if you want to call it that, is usually peace. This is because you have stepped out of the busyness of your daily life, just to “waste” this time gazing on the face of Yeshua, the Prince of Peace.
Believe me, as strange as it may sound to us, opening yourself up to this kind of peaceful prayer without words is one of the greatest gifts you can give Yeshua in this life. If I give money to a ministry because I love Yeshua, I can usually go out and somehow obtain more money to replace what I gave away.
But the time I spend can never be replaced. That makes time one of the most valuable commodities we have as believers. And the Lord is very much aware of that.
It’s one thing to spend time on an activity that clearly advances the Kingdom of God in the earth. But it’s a really special gift to Yeshua to spend time with Him where your chief delight is the pleasure of His company, even in silence.
What we are saying to Yeshua by our willingness to engage in a contemplative experience with Him is, “It is worth it to spend this time in silence with You, not asking You for anything, even if You say nothing to me—even if I can’t feel Your presence or see You with my heart. You are worth it.”
In addition to being one of the most valuable gifts you could give the Lord, the practice of contemplative prayer is also one of the most transforming spiritual disciplines you could engage in over your lifetime on earth. Many of us find that to be true, even though at times it seems like nothing at all happened during the time of quiet.
Early in the practice of contemplative prayer you will come to realize that it is the Lord who grants you the prayer experience. The particular experience you have with Him each time is a gift to you.
All prayer is “by faith,” isn’t it? How many times have we made intercessory petitions when we didn’t “feel” like He heard us, but we knew by the written Word of God that He did?
It’s even more so with this kind of prayer. The worst thing I could do would be to get up from a contemplative prayer time and say, “Well, nothing happened. That was time wasted.”
No, Yeshua is always with the believer, even when we don’t feel Him. And we need to accept even the unexciting sessions—with faith. They will produce the fruit of patience and humility in us, if we accept them.
For whatever reason, each contemplative prayer session is slightly or even greatly different from the last one you had. No two are identical.
Maybe it’s because our God is no more a “machine” than we are. Although He is highly consistent, He is also unpredictable.
So we thank Him for the prayer sessions He gives us, and in humility we realize this truth: prayer is an art, not a science.
In science one gets the same result from an experiment every single time. In art, every work is unique. Even a copy done by the original artist is not truly identical to the original piece.
So it is in prayer.
Next week I am going to give you some structured exercises in contemplative prayer that will help you get your feet wet and maybe give the hestitant among us the courage to jump right in!
I will also talk more about practicalities: about how long these contemplative sessions should probably last—and more about what they might be like for you.
Then I hope to share more about some of the deeper on-going benefits of contemplative prayer, especially in the area of applying the Cross to our lives. This kind of prayer is a wonderful tool for that.