What is Contemplative Prayer and How to Do a Contemplative Prayer Practice

Contemplative Prayer as a Feather

Part 1 of this post will explain what is contemplative prayer. Part 2 will outline how to do a contemplative prayer practice.

What is Contemplative Prayer?

I describe contemplative prayer as the ultimate meditation. I also like to say that prayer is talking to God and meditation is listening to God. By definition, contemplative means:

  • As an adjective: expressing or involving prolonged thought.
  • As a noun: a person whose life is devoted primarily to prayer, especially in a monastery or convent.

The word practice is used with meditation and with spiritual disciplines because they take practice! Contemplative practices are not something that you just do with ease.

Our minds were built to think. We are thinking all the time. The idea of meditation and contemplative prayer is to stop the anxious, fearful, cluttered thoughts that cause overwhelm and rob us of peace. That is done by clearing a cluttered mind to rest in God’s presence. How? In contemplative prayer it’s done through the use of thinking on a sacred word. 

A Sacred Word

Contemplative prayer uses what is called the sacred word. The idea is that when thoughts start to come into your mind, you focus on the sacred word to bring you back to just resting in God. The word is not spoken. The word is in your mind. These words are taken from Scripture. Examples of words are: Jesus, grace, peace, be still (I like these two words taken from Psalm 46:10 and Mark 4:39), mercy.

Gentleness is the key to using the sacred word. When your thoughts drift, say the sacred word to clear the thoughts. The act is as gentle as if the sacred word were a feather placed on top of a cloud.

The Mind as a River

The metaphor is that the mind is a river and thoughts are things that are floating by. In contemplative prayer the goal is to learn to just let the thoughts go, in other words, let them float by so you can just focus on God’s presence. (Examples are: I need to put eggs on the grocery list, has it been 20 minutes yet, that email has to go out by 3PM…. etc.)  Just let them go, or say the sacred word to get back on track.

Many times inspirational or creative thoughts will enter into the mind. These thoughts, even though they are God inspired are supposed to be ignored. (Note, if they are truly inspired, the thoughts or ideas will come back.)

The ultimate goal is to empty your worries and cares to be in God’s presence.  This does not involve listening to God.  (Even though I said meditation is listening to God, contemplative prayer is to have no expectations or goals to listen for God.) It is to just be. Answers are to be sought outside of contemplative prayer.

For me, contemplative prayer is one of the most difficult spiritual disciplines; however, it can be one of the most rewarding. To receive the full benefits of contemplative prayer, it is recommended that you practice for 10-30 minutes each morning and in the afternoon.  (Page 2 has an example of a contemplative prayer practice and caution when doing contemplative prayer.)

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12 Responses to What is Contemplative Prayer and How to Do a Contemplative Prayer Practice

  • Hi Barbara,
    I love the image. Thanks for sharing.
    Peace to you,

  • I find if I have instrumental music playing in the background, it helps me to relax more & stay centred. I think it’s a wonderful gift to do nothing but rest in God. sometimes picture myself resting my head on his shoulder or like a child with me sitting in his lap in a rocking chair. This is my favourite way to spend time with God. It does make you feel closer to him & more aware of his presence.

  • Hi Sallie,
    Thank you for your comment. This makes me so sad to hear this – offensive… Well, time is our most precious commodity and I know that our time is one of the greatest gifts we can give to God – just to be in God’s presence. I hope that you practice this form of prayer to experience a deeper connection with God.
    Peace and blessings,

  • I have a friend that finds contemplative prayer offensive. I want to learn this because I feel I’m missing an important connection with God. Thank you for your information and patience with those who don’t understand.

  • Hi Ellen,
    I didn’t know if you saw the second part of this post that describes how to do contemplative prayer: How to Do Contemplative Prayer. If you have any questions, please send them here: Contact Me.
    Peace to you,


  • Hi Donna,
    Thank you for expressing your thoughts here again.
    1 Corinthians 2:9-10 says, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
    And verses 12-13: Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. (Not to be confused with spiritism.)
    Verse 15-16: Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”
    In our daily walk with God, we are to use discernment and to listen to God’s Spirit within us Who leads us and guides us. So, I would expect anyone to discern whether contemplative prayer is something that would help them to deepen their faith and connection to God.
    The Apostle Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, THINK about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
    Contemplative prayer is thinking on God.
    And Psalm 1 says, Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
    The sacred word is meditating on God’s word. The word comes from Scripture.
    Philippians 2:5-8 says: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but EMPTIED himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
    You seem to be fixated on the emptying word. Jesus emptied himself. I use the word empty to empty the negative thoughts to fill one’s mind with God’s peace.
    If you choose to believe that this practice opens one up to demons, that is what you believe. I just wonder what is to keep demons from possessing anyone praying or not? Contemplative prayer is the ultimate gift we can give God. Giving God the gift of just being in God’s presence when time is our most precious commodity.
    Anyone reading this must discern through the Holy Spirit whether this would be beneficial to deepen their relationship with God. You have my take and you have the words that Donna have written here. Beware or be blessed? It’s up to you to decide.
    Peace to you,

  • Hi Jackie,

    Thank you for your reply to my comment. However, i do have to clarify something you said. Jesus said we are to bring every thought captive in 2 Cor. 10:5. This is a process of submitting our thoughts to Christ, putting them in subjection to His word, not emptying ourselves. The scripture you quoted about being still and knowing He is God has nothing to do with Contemplative prayer, nor can you make it. The psalmist isn’t at all saying to empty our thoughts before Him as a way of being still but according to the Hebrew root word it means to cease, or let go of trying. This cannot be twisted into the meaning of emptying ourselves before Him, but simply where we give over our needs to Him, trust Him, and cease from making things happen of our own accord. For all you readers, please do you homework on this practice. There’s a difference between spiritual and spiritism. This taps into the spirit realm opening yourselves up to all kinds of demons parading themselves as the Holy Spirit. Beware

  • Hi Donna,
    Thank you for your comment. I guess the best example of what I mean by this emptying word is when I used to work for Clear Channel. On some days I would turn on my computer and I was greeted with a message that said I couldn’t send more emails or even have the computer function until I cleared out some files.
    Our minds are thinking all the time. So, what I mean by this is that we need to empty our thoughts of fear, doubt, and worry so that we can fill our minds with peace, love, and compassion. Jesus may have never said, “Clear your thoughts.” But he certainly said, “Fear not and don’t worry about tomorrow.”
    The Psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God.” By being still, we give God our full attention just to be in God’s presence. The point is to empty the thoughts that keep us from being filled with God’s peace and presence through being mindful of God’s Spirit within us.
    I appreciate the thoughts that you’ve shared.
    Peace to you,

  • As I was looking up scriptures on meditation NOWHERE in the bible did I find that we are to EVER clear our minds of thoughts. Instead the bible is very clear on it.

    Psalms 119:27 I will meditate on your wonderous works….(this involves a thought process)
    Psalms 119:15 I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways
    Psalms 143:5 I will meditate on all you have done
    Psalms 1:2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord and will meditate upon it day and night

    These scriptures say just the opposite of what contemplative prayer teaches. The bible is telling us to fill our minds not with a “Sacred word” as in a chant or mantra in order to magically clear our minds, but rather fill our minds with His Word.
    In 2 Co. 10:5 its says to take every thought captive. This requires action, not Stillness as the contemplative prayer expresses. The ultimate goal in truly meditating, is to be filled with God’s ord. To have it before us, lead us and guide us. NOT TO empty your self, but rather fill yourself.

  • Hi Claudette,
    I didn’t know if you saw the second part of the post. The comment showed up on this page. Here you will find instructions on how to do contemplative prayer.

    Prayer, meditation, Bible study, are all spiritual practices that you need to do on your own. It’s like exercise, no one can do it for you. If you follow this outline, you will be doing contemplative prayer. With learning anything, at first is hard and then becomes easy. I hope that this helps. The benefits of having greater love, compassion, and peace are worth it.
    Peace to you,

  • I am really interested in learning contemplative prayer so please help accomplish this. Thank you.

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