When God created humanity, He said: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).* The essence of being created in the image of God is the ability to reason and make moral choices. With our minds we enter into a relationship with God. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah expresses this thought in the Lord’s invitation to “come now, and let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18). The apostle Paul adds: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2).
As we enter into God’s presence through prayer and the study of His Word the Holy Spirit transforms our thinking. Transformed thoughts lead to transformed behavior. In the chapter “Can Our Dead Speak to Us” in The Great Controversy, Ellen White writes: “In place of the righteousness and perfection of the infinite God . . . Satan has substituted the sinful, erring nature of man.”1 She then makes this insightful comment: “It is a law both of the intellectual and the spiritual nature that by beholding we become changed. The mind gradually adapts itself to the subjects upon which it is allowed to dwell. It becomes assimilated to that which it is accustomed to love and reverence.”2
As our minds are filled with the truths of God’s Word our spiritual lives are revived. The psalmist cried out from the depths of His heart: “My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word” (Ps. 119:25). Praying with our Bibles open as we meditate upon the principles of God’s Word is one pathway to deeper spirituality. God’s last-day messenger to the remnant put it this way: “Take the Bible, and on your knees plead with God to enlighten your mind.”3
Seeking a deeper spirituality according to the biblical model means filling the mind with the life-changing truths of God’s Word, an appreciation of His ways, and a love for His works (see Ps. 1:2; 119:15, 16, 97). Christian meditation focuses on God’s Word, God’s will, and God’s works, and it looks outward to our Creator, Redeemer, and coming King.
An Old but Dangerous New Spirituality
A new and dangerous unscriptural form of spirituality that introduces Eastern mysticism is permeating some Christian churches today. Without judging the motives of those promoting this “new spirituality,” many of whom are sincere people who long for a deeper experience with God, it is clear that they have borrowed concepts from Buddhism and Hinduism in an attempt to wed the “spirituality” of the East with the teachings of Jesus.
This is happening through what is termed “contemplative prayer,” a form of prayer in which worshippers attempt to enter into a mindless state free from all distractions and thoughts into the presence of God at the center of their being.
In the article “Love Is God’s Being,” M. Basil Pennington, a Trappist monk and one of the early promoters of the contemplative prayer movement, wrote: “When we go to the center of our being and pass through that center into the very center of God, we get in immediate touch with this divine creating energy.”4
Pennington goes on to explain that one must enter this center of God within us to release all our negative emotions. “It is this release that allows all of this chaos within us with all its imprisoning stress to be brought into harmony so that not only there might be peace and harmony within but that the divine energy may have the freedom to forward the evolution of consciousness in us and through us, as a part of the whole, in the whole of the creation.”5
These concepts of “divine energy” within us and the “evolution of consciousness” are foreign to Scripture. The apostle Paul admonished, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). He also declared: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Pennington leaves no doubt regarding his desire to integrate Christianity with Eastern religious thought. He states: “We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and ‘capture’ it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible. . . . Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM, and similar practices.”5
Elements of this dangerous approach have been around for centuries. The Cloud of Unknowing is a book about contemplative prayer written about 1375 by an anonymous Catholic monk who taught: “Take just a little word, of one syllable rather than of two. . . . With this word you are to strike down every kind of thought under the cloud of forgetting.”6
The online encyclopedia Wikipedia provides this definition of mantras: “A mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of ‘creating transformation’ [spiritual transformation]. . . . Mantras originated in the Vedic tradition of India, later becoming an essential part of the Hindu tradition and a customary practice within Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. The use of mantras is now widespread throughout various spiritual movements.”7
The otherwise unthinkable has happened: practices of the mystical East have infiltrated Christianity. The words chosen for the mantras have changed—they have been Christianized; but the end result is exactly the same. The goal is an altered state of consciousness. Constantly repeating a mantra—which for some Christians is repeating the name of Jesus over and over again—leads to this “centering” or focus on the presence of God. The participant may enter a hypnotic-like state of mindlessness or thoughtlessness to merge with the presence of the divine.
Willigis Jäger, a Benedictine monk and master of Zen Buddhism, writes: “Do not reflect on the meaning of the word; thinking and reflecting must CEASE, as all mystical writers insist. Simply ‘sound’ the word silently, letting go of all feelings and thoughts.”8
Should not any method of prayer that bypasses the mind be seriously suspect? Can it not open the mind to demonic forces? Can it not place the worshipper directly on Satan’s ground?
God’s Word: Our Safeguard
A feeling of a mystical spiritual presence does not necessarily mean that the “presence” is from God. Ellen White warned: “Under a religious guise, Satan will seek to extend his influence over the Christian world.”9
Genuine New Testament Christianity focuses on Jesus in His Word. It contemplates His life, death, resurrection, priestly ministry, and soon return. That contemplation of Jesus and the beauty of His truth changes us.
As we meditate upon His sacrifice on the cross we enter into the presence of the One who is love. We are instructed: “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.10
We do not seek salvation from within; we seek it from Christ. Looking to Jesus in His Word, our hearts are secure, now and forever.
* Bible verses in this article are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 554, 555.
Ibid., p. 555.
Ellen G. White, in Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Mar. 4, 1884.
M. Basil Pennington, “Love Is God’s Being,” The Contemplative Prayer Online Magazine, Mar. 9, 2000.
M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating, Thomas E. Clarke, Finding Grace at the Center (Woodstock, Vt.: Skylight Paths Publishing, 1988), pp. 5, 6.
In Ken Kaisch, Finding God: A Handbook of Christian Meditation (New York: Paulist Press, 1994), p. 223.
Willigis Jäger, Contemplation: A Christian Path (Ligouri, Mo.: Ligouri Publications, 1994), p. 31.
Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 464.
10 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 83.
Mark A. Finley is editor-at-large for Adventist Review and an assistant to the General Conference president. This article was published August 11, 2011.