A Thoughtless Gift: Contemplative Prayer

A Thoughtless Gift: Contemplative Prayer December 10, 2023

Giving a thoughtless Christmas gift is a bad thing. But contemplative prayer is a gift that moves beyond your thoughts and into the Spirit.

Woman in red shirt and Santa hat holding red Christmas gift
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Nobody likes to receive a thoughtless Christmas present. It shows that you gave no consideration to the person who’s going to receive the gift. Thoughtlessness is rarely a good thing. We use the word “thoughtless” to describe someone who’s either forgetful and daydreaming or someone who’s just plain rude.  Most people would much rather be described as “thoughtful,” because it suggests intelligence and a considerate spirit. Sometimes our prayers are full of our own thoughts. But thoughtlessness can be good sometimes when it comes to prayer.

 

Thoughtful Prayers

Often, our prayers are thoughtful—as well they should be.  Well-crafted public prayers can both inspire the human listener and touch the heart of God.  They can communicate good theology, engage in worship and praise of the Creator, express lament, petition our Provider for the things we need, and much more.  There are also private times to pour your heart out to God, expressing your most intimate thoughts and feelings.

 

Thoughtless Prayers

But sometimes prayers should be thoughtless.  Here’s what I mean—Romans 8.26-28 says:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words. And God, who searches hearts, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

 

Groanings Too Deep for Words

In other words, there are prayers that go beyond human language, or even human thought.  Pentecostals and Charismatics often use these verses to substantiate the modern gift of tongues.  I suggest that the word “groanings” does not mean ecstatic utterance in unknown languages, but a wordless sigh, breath, or simple intonation that never needs an interpretation.  The Spirit knows your heart and receives your wordless expression as prayer–even though you yourself may not even know its meaning.

Contemplative Prayer

In Contemplative Prayer, we simply rest in God’s presence, wordlessly and thoughtlessly listening to the Holy Spirit.  Not only is it unnecessary to use words, it’s also unnecessary to use thoughts or imagination as we pray.  Isaiah 55.6-7a says:

 

Seek the Lord while he may be found;

    call upon him while he is near;

let the wicked forsake their way

    and the unrighteous their thoughts

 

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near,” says Isaiah.  This is good news!  It speaks of the real presence and immanence of God, His close personal availability to the believer.  The wonder of it all is that the Creator of the universe invites us to know God and be personally known.  But this can only be done by listening.

Isaiah teaches that the best way to seek God is to forsake your way and your thoughts.  Forsaking your way means giving up all formulas of prayer.  While methods like the A.C.T.S. Prayer, the P.A.P.A. Prayer, the J.O.Y. method,  and using the Lord’s Prayer as an outline are all good ways to pray, sometimes wordless and thoughtless prayer is more in order.  Simply by returning again to God, we experience divine compassion.

 

Contemplative Prayer Isn’t Finding Nothingness

Contrary to many misconceptions, contemplative prayer’s goal is not to detach yourself from all things, and find nothingness.  Instead, the goal of contemplative prayer and Christian meditation is to be filled with the perfect love of God, which works itself out as a perfect attachment to, or love of, the whole world.  Therefore, thoughtless prayer is not an attempt to empty yourself, but merely the setting aside of the distractions that our own thoughts may bring.  Since we’re listening to God, we allow our own thoughts to drift on by.  

  

Wordlessly Wait in Silence

Instead of focusing on our own imaginations in prayer, we set our ponderings aside and wordlessly, thoughtlessly, wait in silence.  Isaiah 55.8-9 says:

 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

    so are my ways higher than your ways

    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 

Focusing on our own thoughts, imaginations, wants, requests, and desires, we make the mistake of investing ourselves in ourselves, rather than in God.  When we fill the air with our own desires, whatever we ask for is going to be far lower and less than what God has planned for us, anyway.  Sometimes it’s good to simply return to God, resting ourselves in perfect divine love.

 

Reshaped Relationship with All Things

Verses 12-13 promise blessings for those who practice God’s presence:

 

 For you shall go out in joy

    and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you

    shall burst into song,

    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;

    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle,

and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,

    for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

 

The result of quiet listening, of wordless and thoughtless contemplative prayer, is that God transforms you.  And as you are reshaped, so is your relationship with all living things.  The once-divided soul is now attuned to the song of God in creation.  The believer is atoned, or at-one with the perfection of God in all things.  It’s this kind of unity that God invites us to, when we practice contemplative, or thoughtless, prayer.

 

For related reading, check out my other articles:

About Gregory T. Smith
I live in the beautiful Fraser Valley of British Columbia and work in northern Washington State as a behavioral health specialist with people experiencing homelessness and those who are overly involved in the criminal justice system. Before that, I spent over a quarter-century as lead pastor of several Virginia churches. My newspaper column, “Spirit and Truth” ran in Virginia newspapers for fifteen years. I am one of fourteen contributing authors of the Patheos/Quoir Publishing book “Sitting in the Shade of another Tree: What We Learn by Listening to Other Faiths.” I hold a degree in Religious Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University, and also studied at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. My wife Christina and I have seven children between us, and we are still collecting grandchildren. You can read more about the author here.
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