{1} Please give me your thoughts on contemplative prayer. My church is diving in head first into this "new way" of communicating with God (contemplative prayer), and I am nervous about it. From a distance, being quiet and letting God speak to me sounds good, but in practice, what we are being taught is exactly like Buddhist meditation -- though using different words and images. I think to how Jesus taught his disciples to pray and it didn't look like this. There are, of course, arguments on both sides. Am I being narrow minded, or is my church heading in a path of going beyond what is written? Thanks for your insight.

{2} I have read Christian books wherein the authors suggest "imagining yourself in God's presence" or "sitting in God's presence" as a form of prayer, and some have even suggested that such a practice could result in some sort of personal revelation. I can see a loose biblical connection with Ps 46:10 or maybe Ps 1:2, and I can see that there could be value in imagining oneself in God's immediate presence. Yet I am troubled by the similarities these suggestions seem to have with the practice of Contemplative Prayer. And I am not certain that this interpretation of Ps 46:10 is really correct. Do you think there is harm in "imagining yourself in God's presence" or "sitting in God's presence"? Or do you think this is a practice that should be avoided entirely?

Right you are. Ps 46:10 has little (if anything) to do with mediation. What is the context of the entire Psalm? (Scroll down for text.) Anyone who reads the whole of Psalm 46 will see that the peace pertains to Israel; it’s collective; it’s social or political. But let's move on to address both your questions.

There are several dangers that come with altered mental states:

  • Almost anything can come in to the vacuum.
  • Even the demonic may find a portal in such a mental state.
  • It's very easy to equate our feelings about God with God himself.

This is not to say that meditation is wrong. But biblical meditation is always thinking about something specific: the word (Josh 1:8; Ps 1:2). And that means that mind-emptying Eastern forms of meditation may be hazardous. Of course we can learn from the Buddhists, especially in the areas of mental and physical self-control, mindfulness, and so on. Yet selflessness in pure Buddhism isn't necessarily the Phil 2 type; the central tenet of Buddhism is the no-soul doctrine (we have no actual, ultimate, absolute existence).

Imagining ourselves in God's presence, or in a range of specific biblical situations, is a practice recommended be Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. (It's not novelty; such exercises have been around for nearly 500 years.) How ought we to respond to the notion of visualization?

  • We already are in his presence (Eph 1:3; Col 3:1). So in one sense, we don't need to imagine.
  • Dwelling on that fact, even visualizing, can be healthy.
  • Sometimes working through our "issues" (emotional baggage, father concept, scriptural ignorance) changes our concept of God -- and thus paves the way for healthier images.

Hope these thoughts (hardly the last word on the matter) are helpful.

Psalm 46:1-11
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
   Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
   though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
   though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, 
   the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;     
   God will help her when morning dawns.

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord, 
   how he has brought desolations on the earth.
   He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;     
   he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;     
   he burns the chariots with fire.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God.     
   I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;  the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah