Are there some dangers associated with modern forms of prayer

Samuel Smith



You are welcome to another edition of Insights from God's Word, a Bible study programme that is committed to sharing God's Word by allowing the Bible to speak for itself.

In this edition, we continue with our series on Biblical Perspectives on Prayer and Fasting. The topic for this study is: Are there some dangers associated with modern forms of prayer? In this lesson, we will be exploring various modern forms of worship, and their associated prayer patterns that have penetrated the Christian world with vast success. We will be specifically considering the emerging church movement which had swayed Christendom in recent years and its associated forms of worship styles and prayer patterns. For us to obtain a clear understanding of the issues, the lesson has been divided into five sub-sections as follows:


The emerging church movement has been defined in several ways by many biblical scholars and theologians. The wide expanse of definition sometimes make the concept so broad that it becomes difficult for one to put a hand on what this movement actually is all about. In general terms however, the emerging church movement can be described as a Christian movement that combines the worship traditions of various religions in an effort to identify a worship style that is attractive to the postmodern people of our day. The emerging church movement specifically combines the traditions and doctrines of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Mysticism and Evangelical Orthodoxy to create a kind of worship experience that is accepting to many in this age of postmodernism.

The thought leaders are generally evangelical Christians who are struggling to find new and attractive ways to communicate the gospel of Christ in this postmodern age. From John Jovan Markovic's (PhD) article: The Emerging Church: A Call to Action and Authenticity (Part 1 of 2), we read about how some emergents are pushing new and alternative approaches to worship such as "casual dress, physical rearrangement of seats and the pulpit in order to create a more casual and relaxed atmosphere, candlelight, visual arts, icons, all types of music, the eucharist, medieval centering or contemplating prayers, moments of silence, various forms of meditation (including Eastern forms of meditation) and mystical practices, prayer labyrinths, designated places for personal meditation, silence and prayer, and so forth—all of which have the purpose of making worship EPIC—experiential, participatory, image-driven, and connected" in mainstream Protestant churches today. Even though the emergent church movement is composed of several experiential forms of worship as we can see above; however two major practices that clearly define the movement are spiritual formation and contemplative prayer. But what are spiritual formation and contemplative prayer? The next two sections in this lesson will deal with these two issues.


Spiritual formation is usually defined nicely as a "the process of a community being formed in the image and likeness of Christ for the sake of others".¹ Spiritual formation is also defined as "the process of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ for the glory of God and for the sake of others (II Corinthians 3:17-18)".² These definitions provide very attractive biblical backgrounds for spiritual formation. If this is what spiritual formation is all about, then no one will have had a cause to question or fear the rampant penetration of this practice into mainstream Christian denominations. But just a little digging up on the topic of spiritual formation makes it clear that the concept is not entirely based on Scripture.

For instance closely connected with spiritual formation is the method of spiritual direction. Spiritual direction has been defined as "a relationship between a person seeking a more Christ-like life and another who serves as guide to the process. The guide is trained as a spiritual director".³ In this process of guide-mentee relationship, the mentee usually will have to follow the exact instructions of the guide so as to reach the highest level of a Christlike life. The question that begs for an answer in relation to this approach is this: What if the spiritual director do not wholly know the Christ of which he or she purports to mentor someone to know? What if the spiritual director is influenced by false doctrines of Scripture? The general effect will be that the director will likely pass on a hollow knowledge of Christ and the various false doctrines he or she holds to the one who so desires to learn about the Saviour of the world and His Word.

In as much as all believers need nurturing to grow in Christ (see 1 Peter 5:1-3; 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 4:9), the Bible does not teach a total reliance on a spiritual director for one to come to a full knowledge of Christ. Besides the necessary nurturing, the disciple must learn to study the Scriptures for himself (see Acts 17:11). He must come to the point where he is able to defend its doctrines without the help of another. He must graduate from taking milk to accessing the strong meat of God's Holy Word (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:12-14). And all of these are not got by placing one's spiritual growth in the hands of another person. Besides even the pastor of the church, church members are also to help to nurture new believers so they will be able to grow in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-7). The concept of just one person guiding a disciple to the full knowledge of Christ is not a biblical method.


Another method of contemporary Christian practice which emanates from the emerging church movement is contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer involves the practice of fully emptying one's mind so as to experience the divine presence of God. According to some of the thought leaders of the emerging church movement, contemplative prayer usually begins with centering prayer. Centering prayer has been described by various thought leaders of the emerging church movement as the starting point of contemplative prayer. Centering prayer actually involves the practice of "meditating on a single word or thought for the purpose of opening the heart up to communion with God".⁴ Henri Nouwen, an acclaimed proponent of the emerging church movement describes centering prayer as follows: "The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart … This way of simple prayer … opens us to God’s active presence" (The Way of the Heart, p. 81).

But it is important to note that this so called Christian practice of contemplative or centering prayer is basically borrowed from eastern mysticism and new age meditation, where people focus on the stilling or emptying of the mind for inner peace and personal renewal. But instead of bringing those who practice these methods to a deeper experience with God, contemplative or centering prayer actually leads the worshiper toward self-centredness, self-reliant methods of salvation and self-worship. Moreover, the practice of emptying one's mind to the state of stillness is a dangerous one since at such a state the person's level of unconsciousness can serve as a harbinger for evil spirits to easily take control of the mind without the person ever knowing it. Contemplative or centering prayer is nothing more than Satan providing a spiritual experience which seems to satisfy the physical senses but in reality leaves a deep hole in the heart; it is a satanic practice whereby the prince of demons has disguised himself as an angel of light in the various churches, and dishing out 'wine' that is prepared from the pots of hell (see 2 Corinthians 11:14).


For us to be able to decipher the falsehood of the various practices in the emerging church movement, we need to have a clear understanding of what the Bible says in relation to worship, meditation and prayer. In relation to biblical worship, the focus should be on God (Exodus 34:14; Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:9). Everything else must diminish in the contemplation of the Creator God (Psalm 95:6; Nehemiah 9:6; Revelation 4:11). Moreover, any approach of worship (whether traditional or new) must be rooted in the sacred pages of Scripture (see Isaiah 8:20). For our worship style must have the two facets of pleasing God in truth and in Spirit (see John 4:23). Any attempt to borrow styles of worship from ancient traditions or modern new age groups which are clearly outside the precepts of God's Word will definitely lead to a form of worship that is not pleasing to God (see Matthew 15:1-3; Mark 7:5-9).

In fact, there is nothing wrong with trying to find creative new ways to reach the postmodern people of our day. However, our leaders must never think that a softening of the standards of biblical worship is the way to do it. Some evangelical and orthodox denominations who decided to utilise modern forms of worship styles which include rock and other forms of worldly music have realised too late how such unbiblical approaches rather destroy the faith of members instead of growing them in Christ. Yes, such a false experience of worship may seem to work for a while, but will definitely lose its enchanting effect on the congregation with time, as the heart of the people become wearied of the worldly, and begin to seek after the worship of God in truth and in spirit (review John 4:23).

In relation to true prayer, the Bible has not left us without counsel. From Christ Himself, we learn the biblical truth that "7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. 8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him" (Matthew 6:7, 8). Friends, this biblical admonition stands in contrast to the method of centering prayer whereby the repetition of a particular word or thought happens to be the cornerstone practice. Moreover, Christ also exhorts us to talk to our heavenly Father in prayer. From the gospel of Luke, we read the following in relation to the Lord's Prayer: "11:1 And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.

11:2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.

11:3 Give us day by day our daily bread.

11:4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil."

(Luke 11:1-4)
From this model prayer of Christ, we learn that our prayer to God must comprise of actively speaking with God and not listening in stillness of mind. It is not for nothing that Christ clearly said that "When ye pray, say" (Luke 11:2). What this means is that prayer is supposed to take the form of an active converse with God, and not a passive listening to God in stillness or utter unconsciousness. How will one be able to communicate with God when in total unconsciousness? Even though the Lord may speak to our minds in the process of prayer, the ultimate way through which He communicates with us is through the Holy Scriptures. As we pray to God and contemplate on His Word, the Holy Spirit enables us to hear the voice of God in His Word.

In relation to true meditation, the Bible has clear answers. Unlike the new age meditation which involves the emptying of the mind until one reaches the state of stillness or unconsciousness, the Bible clearly teaches a vigorous tasking of the mind in meditation (see Psalm 119:15, 97, 99). Besides other themes of Scripture, God's people are to contemplate on Christ and the overall plan of salvation. From the apostle Paul, we read the following in relation to this point: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18). At this point, a question that begs for an answer is this: How do you reconcile the following biblical texts with the explanation on active meditation as provided above:

i) "For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not." (Isaiah 30:15)

ii) "Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10)

Friends, those of us living in the fast-paced world of this 21st century era can easily get to understand the mind of God in the texts above. In an era where fast food, fast travel, fast work and even fast worship is the order of the day, the Lord of hosts calls on us that it is in quietness before Him in prayer (review Isaiah 30:15); it is in being still before Him in meditation (review Psalm 46:10); even away from the frantic order of the day that we can obtain divine strength for every duty. Sometimes, the fast-paced nature of our world makes us to forget or lose the consciousness of the importance of spending quality time with God. Through the two texts above, the Lord reminds us on the importance of maintaining quality spiritual time with Him. Commenting on this issue in relation to the text in Psalm 46:10, Ellen G. White wrote: "When every other voice is hushed, and in quietness we wait before Him, the silence of the soul makes more distinct the voice of God. He bids us, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ Psalm 46:10. This is the effectual preparation for all labor for God. Amidst the hurrying throng, and the strain of life’s intense activities, he who is thus refreshed will be surrounded with an atmosphere of light and peace. He will receive a new endowment of both physical and mental strength. His life will breathe out a fragrance, and will reveal a divine power that will reach men’s hearts." -- (MH 58.3). Besides the above passage, Ellen G. White further provides us with several statements about Christian meditation that helps us to understand without the shadow of a doubt the true meaning of this concept. Outlined below are some of her quotes on Christian meditation that comes to support the explanation that has been provided so far: i) "It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross." -- (DA 83.4) ii) Concerning Enoch, Sister White writes: "The infinite, unfathomable love of God through Christ became the subject of his meditation day and night; and with all the fervor of his soul he sought to reveal that love to the people among whom he dwelt." -- (8T 329.3) iii) "We must be constantly meditating upon the word, eating it, digesting it, and by practice, assimilating it, so that it is taken into the life current." -- (Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 89) iv) "The Bible is God’s voice speaking to us, just as surely as if we could hear it with our ears. If we realized this, with what awe we would open God’s Word, and with what earnestness we would search its precepts. The reading and contemplation of the Scriptures would be regarded as an audience with the Infinite One." (CSA 69.5) v) "In the Bible a boundless field is opened for the imagination. The student will come from a contemplation of its grand themes, from association with its lofty imagery, more pure and elevated in thought and feeling than if he had spent the time reading any work of mere human origin, to say nothing of those of a trifling character." -- (1MCP 92.3) From the Holy Scripture and Spirit of Prophecy, we learn the clear truth that Christian meditation involves the active process of pondering over the themes of Scripture instead of a passive listening to God in a state of unconsciousness. As our minds are vigorously engaged in the broad themes of God, it is only there that the Lord is able to speak unto us. In his article titled "Biblical Spirituality", Mark A. Finley considers various texts on biblical meditation and provides us with the following insight on the subject: "Christian meditation seeks not to empty the mind but to fill the mind. It does not seek oneness with a mystical god within, but seeks to understand more deeply the nature of God who created and redeemed us, and we then more fully reflect His character."


In this section of our study, I want us to go through a very touching testimony of someone who had experienced the real issues we are currently considering. The testimony of Stephanie Griffin was captured by fulcrum7 News on April 11, 2018 under the caption "How Spiritual Formation Almost Destroyed My Life". Here is an excerpt of the story as published by Fulcrum7:

"Stephanie Bowers Griffin MSN, RN, PHN, was thriving as an Emergency Room nurse when she came under the influence of the Spiritual Formation movement. Under the guidance of a Spiritual Director, Stephanie became heavily involved in its teachings for nearly nine years, and was well on her way to becoming a Spiritual Director, herself.

However, after nearly three years of training and enrolling in a Master’s in Spiritual Formation Degree, God intervened! After being delivered from the depths of this false revival and its mystical practices, Stephanie now reveals a deep understanding of its dangers and false teachings in Silence No More.

I was raised Seventh-day Adventist since the age of 8. Like so many others, I was a Bible believing, doctrine believing Seventh-day Adventist. I was baptized when I was 11 years old, and I graduated from a Seventh-day Adventist Academy and college. I worked at an Adventist summer camp, in the Emergency Room of one of our biggest hospitals, and even went on mission trips.


By all appearances, I was the quintessential Seventh-day Adventist. BUT life happens to us all, and so it did for me, as well. I was hurt and betrayed by my parents; I was disappointed by extremely cold conservatism and the accompanying judgmental and critical attitudes.

I felt stuck in a nursing career that drained the life out of me, and it all took its toll on me. Then there was yet another broken relationship, and this is when Spiritual Formation found me. Satan always takes advantage of where we are with the timing of his temptations.

I had never heard of Spiritual Formation. But for me, it seemed like the life-giving answer to all of the hurts, disappointments, and harshness of life and religion. Reading my Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy, and spending time in prayer were the foundation of my relationship with God, and Spiritual Formation seemed to be built on all that. It seemed rooted in the same values I held, and it also appeared to offer beautiful ways of nurturing and enhancing my prayer life. It was very exciting to have someone come alongside me at a time when I felt so spiritually lonely. It felt beautiful and welcoming to me.

Prayer was very important to me after not being able to pray for my dying grandfather when he so desperately asked me to. The heartache of not being able to pray for him drove me back to a relationship with God, and I felt a strong desire to deepen my prayer life so I might never again feel unable to pray for someone in need. This was my motivation for delving deeply into what I thought was genuine biblical prayer; but in actuality, it was Satan’s perfect opportunity to bring defeat into my life. He offered me the appearance of something I desired, but that would inevitably stifle my prayer life, grieve the Holy Spirit, and hinder my ability to effectively communicate with and hear from God for many years. I fell for the seeming beauty, peace, love, and tranquility that Spiritual Formation offered. I was trapped.

Trapped in Darkness

I embraced almost every practice and experience it has. I created my own sacred space in my home, complete with my singing bowl, finger labyrinth, flickering candles, poems, art, and any other object I found meaningful at the time.

I had a Spiritual Director for many years, was myself becoming a Spiritual Director, and had directees whom I was tending. But after completing two-and-a-half years of a three-year program, something just did not feel right.

Though I really didn’t understand why, I couldn’t move forward. I just knew I was unable to do so, no matter how hard I tried. Little did I understand that God was protecting me, even though I didn’t know it. He did the same for me when I was briefly enrolled in a master’s degree in Spiritual Formation. I felt blocked from continuing, but didn’t exactly know why. I thought it was just timing and that I would eventually finish both the Spiritual Director program and the master’s program when life was a bit more settled.

However, I did continue with silent retreats, Spiritual Formation readings, many exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the practices, and remained in Spiritual Direction myself, sincerely believing that I was following biblical worship in Spiritual Formation. Sadly, I was not.

Even though I had attended our schools, read seminary textbooks, the Spirit of Prophecy, and had some basic working knowledge of the Three Angels’ messages, I was empty. For many years I didn’t speak of the Three Angels’ messages, didn’t study them, didn’t so much as think about them. Not because I didn’t believe in them, but because I was distracted by other readings and Spiritual Formation offerings. I was hurt by extreme conservatism, so I enjoyed these feel-good readings and practices. I believed I was being spiritually fed by them—and I was; but not by the Word of God, or the correct spirit. These practices didn't have anything having to do with God—only the appearance of it.

I enjoyed the ritualistic exercises, especially Walking the Labyrinth and Contemplative Prayer. I fell in love with the writings of the mystics and relished reading the Spiritual Formation authors, such as Brennan Manning, Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton, Brother Lawrence, and many more. In fact, one of my graduate school professors referred to me as a modern day mystic. At the time, it was a great compliment. For many years, these readings felt very meaningful to me…until one day I noticed they just didn’t.

Contemplative Prayer was for me a place of serenity and calmness, the very opposite of what I was experiencing on a daily basis in the Emergency Room. The Silence felt very intimate and incredibly sacred. It was by far the most difficult experience for me to walk away from; in fact, it was the very last thing I relinquished. I held onto it with a death grip. It’s addicting. It was my drug. It was the practice that offered me what I believed was the most peaceful part of my day.

Waking Up

It took a lot of convincing, but as I read more about Spiritual Formation, its origins in spiritualism and its occult nature were made apparent to me. When conviction came, there was no turning back.

I remember feeling lost, scared, and even empty. I wondered what was to take the place of Spiritual Formation in my life. Would I be giving up a closeness with God I felt I had? It was like a drug to me, and now there was nowhere to go for a fix, nothing to replicate what I felt during my Contemplative Prayer time. I remember the doubt that crept in, and how each time I decided to go with the facts, rather than my feelings.


In time, that void was filled with something far greater; something very different, but much greater and tremendously more powerful and effective. That’s what happens when the Holy Spirit is allowed into our lives. We receive power from on high—a Power that produces results, instead of working so hard and gaining nothing in return, as was my situation for far too long.

Now it’s shocking to me when I think about what I was involved in for so many years—the stronghold it had on my mind, and the danger of it all. We all have an influence for good or for evil, and I don’t ever want to influence anyone in the wrong direction again.

Today, when people share with me how much they appreciate my book, how powerful they found it to be, and how much it opened their eyes to Spiritual Formation, I feel thankful to God for allowing me to be used for good. I get to give Him all of the glory, once again.

I can honestly say that my experience now is much richer, more meaningful, and more real than anything Spiritual Formation ever had to offer. God is answering my prayers, and I am privileged to see and experience the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit in ways I never imagined. The experience I was seeking in Spiritual Formation was an illusion. It was empty and powerless!

However, now that I’ve left Contemplative Prayer behind and have re-engaged in authentic Bible-based prayer and study, I am experiencing God and His power in ways that I never did in Spiritual Formation. I was re-baptized in January of this year at God’s bidding. Having my husband unexpectedly join me for his own re-baptism speaks of the blessings that come when we follow God in His way.

Now, when life happens, I go to Jesus and give Him my hurts, fears, disappointments, joys, and desires. I lean not on my own understanding and feelings, but on His Holy Word. He, in turn, gives me the peace and rest for my soul that I need. Life still happens, but He never fails."

Exhortation: From the apostle to the Gentiles, we read the following clear warning in relation to various unbiblical practices that hover around us: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" (Colossians 2:8).


1. Spiritual Formation: Conformed to the image of Christ for what purpose? by MaryKate Morse

2. What is Spiritual Formation by Portland Seminary in George Fox University

3. What is Spiritual Formation by Portland Seminary in George Fox University

4. Contemplative Prayer and Meditation by John Witcombe and Amazing Discoveries

In our next study, which happens to be the last in our series on Biblical Perspectives on Prayer and Fasting, we will consider the topic: How Does One Prevail in Prayer? The Bible Study references for this study are 2 Chronicles 7:14, Psalm 91:14-16, John 14:13, 14; 1 John 5:14, 15; Genesis 32:24-30, Exodus 32:7-14, Exodus 32:30-35, Matthew 15:22-28, Matthew 26:36-44, 2 Corinthians 12:6-9, Luke 18:1-8 and Psalm 66:18. Please do well to go through these passages before the next study is released.

Stay blessed and keep shining for King Jesus.


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