The Limitation of Discursive Prayer
When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. … And when you pray, do not keep on babbling … your Father knows what you need before you ask.
– Jesus, Matthew 6.6-8
A young woman named Jessica was recently describing Silent Prayer to her church at a Sunday gathering and confessed how when she first heard the term Silent Prayer it sounded to her like an oxymoron. “Isn’t prayer talking to God?” she asked rhetorically. It would appear that this is what the Church in general understands prayer to be. Yet, Jesus modeled and described such a stark contrast.
Discursive Prayer is obviously not a bad thing, but it is limited. When prayer revolves around what we have to say (no matter how good), what we have to think (no matter how insightful), or what we have to feel (no matter how religious), it intrinsically revolves around or centers on us. It puts our ability to feel, think, form and verbalize thoughts at the center stage of our minds. A practice of Silent Prayer works to reverse this self-centric disposition so that we may be able to enjoy a Christ-centric relationship with God.
In a regular practice of Silent Prayer, thoughts arise as we sit silently because that’s what the mind does, but our response is to allow those thoughts to just pass right by as we sit in the plain, ordinary, eternal presence of God, because that’s what the spirit does. We too often become slaves to our thoughts, opinions, preferences, and emotions, thinking that they are what define us. This is true heresy. The Reality of our identity is found in the One, in Whom’s image we are all made. A practice of Silent Prayer trains us to release our over-identification with the thoughts and feelings that come and go, so that we can be identified with the spirit and Reign of God within us that abides and transcends.
When our communication (or communion) with God is solely discursive, by its nature, our relationship with God will become self-centric. The fruits of this will look like being circumstance-centric, experience-centric, feelings-centric, or knowledge-centric. Anxiety, fear, and desperate desire become our primary motivations behind everything we do. This is not a criticism as much as it is a confession from personal experience.
When our communion (or communication) with God embraces our silence, by its nature, we will become less self-centered, less fearful of our circumstances, more compassionate toward others, greater listeners, increasingly grateful, and embracing of God’s own silence. Peace, acceptance, love, and compassion become our motivation, which is the realization of our design and potential.
Silent Prayer does not put an end to discursive prayer, but instead, informs it and matures it. Simply put: when we take our time to be silent, we will take our time to speak.
When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls their lips is wise.
– Proverbs 10.19