by Larry DeBruyn
Contemplative, or Listening Prayer and Psalm 46:10.
“Be still, and know that I am God . . .” (Psalm 46:10). Those promoting contemplative or “listening” prayer refer to this Scripture as a biblical endorsement for pursuing this spiritual discipline. As a precondition for experiencing Soul-to-soul communication from God, contemplative Christians advocate cultivating quietude for the purpose of creating a spiritual tabula rasa (i.e., Latin for blank slate) in which personal communication from God can be received. Influential Christian leaders and spiritual directors encourage listening prayer (praying without words) as a means to experience “God’s guidance in everyday life.” At face value, Psalm 46 verse 10 appears to endorse this increasingly popular but ancient and mystical way to pray.
A major Christian magazine once devoted a full page advertisement promoting a DVD titled “Be Still.” The DVD case bears the inscription of Psalm 46:10 and a promotion which reads, “In Today’s Fast-Paced, Hectic Life, Be Still Is an Important Tool that Keeps You in Touch with Yourself, Your Family and God.” The magazine’s advertisement of the DVD stated:
BE STILL . . . demonstrates how contemplative, or ‘listening,’ prayer can be be a vital way to find peace in the midst of a frenzied, fast-paced, modern world. BE STILL examines the importance of silence and reflective prayer as a way to receive God’s guidance in everyday life. BE STILL . . . features a useful ‘how to’ section that shows how contemplative prayer can be used to return to a more simple life and reaffirm that which is truly important.
As advocated by some of today’s most notable Christian communicators, what should Bible believers think about this DVD advocating contemplative prayer?
Bible Interpretation 101 teaches that every text without a context is pretext. Extracting Psalm 46:10 to be an endorsement of meditative-listening prayer is just such a pretext. Here’s why.
First, the injunction to “Be still” must be understood in the milieu it was uttered. The Psalmist addressed a cosmos in crisis. The crisis imperiled the creation (vv. 1-3); threatened the city (vv. 4-7); and besieged the country (vv. 8-11). In the crisis with their world falling apart, the people were afraid (v. 2).
Second, the verb “Be still” (Hebrew, rapah) is used 46 times in the Old Testament with meanings everywhere from describing laziness to ordering relaxation. Though the majority of versions translate the injunction “Be still”, other meanings are “Cease striving ” (NASB), “Be quiet” (NCV), “Desist” (Young’s), or “Calm down” (CEV). In no biblical usage or context does the Hebrew verb enjoin God’s people to meditate or contemplate. Rather, believers are to rest and trust in God. Click here to continue reading.