Carla Unseth

Worship through Contemplative Prayer

As I have learned more about worship, I have learned about many spiritual disciplines that are less well-known. I wanted to write a few blog posts on those, the first of which is contemplative prayer. When we first come to Christ, the first type of prayer we learn is to ask God for our needs. Then as we grow, we learn to follow a method such as the ACTS method of prayer so that we aren’t just asking, but also praising, thanking, and confessing. We can grow even more in the practice of prayer by learning to center prayer around a deeper level of communion with God and focusing on growing in intimacy with Him. This is contemplative prayer. I asked a friend, Michael Tonn, to write about this because his spiritual temperament is contemplative so he is drawn to this type of prayer. I hope you enjoy entering into this experience of contemplative prayer with him.

You walk into a dimly lit room. There is a single chair a few paces from a small table. The lone light in the room is pointed down on a book, which you find out to be the Bible as you approach.

It’s opened to the Psalms, with this part highlighted:

“For the LORD is good, and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

You sit down in the comfy chair, close your eyes, and breathe in deeply.

“For the LORD is good…” you whisper.

The Lord has been good to you. He has given you life, given you a place to sleep, clothes to wear, food to eat, work to do, family, friends, and so much more.

As you mull over these thoughts, your friend walks in with an elated look on her face and quickly crosses the room.

“Oh, you have to come right now, we are going to this party, and there’s gonna be so many cool people there and…”

Just as you open your eyes and start to nod and raise, you see the Bible.

As you pass by, your eye catches that verse:

“His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

You pause beside the table, and your friend doesn’t even notice that you haven’t followed. You return to your chair, and let your eyes sink closed again.

God has been faithful, ever since the Garden. Up to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and beyond. He has never broken His covenant with His people. And His promises extend all the way up to you, today, right


Then, your boss steps into the room and slams the door, jarring you from this prayer. He wears a stern look, arms crossed. Soon, he marches straight toward you, gaze fixed downward.

“Those reports were never done. Didn’t I tell you to tell Samantha those needed to be done last week? The regional manager is going to lose it and I’m not…”

You haul yourself up and drag after the man in the tie. But again, you hesitate at the open word of God.

“…His love endures forever…”

Your boss is still muttering under his breathe before he cranks the door closed.

You turn back; the chair is still warm when you return. It’s easier this time to slip into your deep breathing and close your eyes.

“His faithfulness continues…”

This has been an exercise in contemplative prayer. The room is really your “prayer closet.” The light is your focus, your attention. It rests on the Word. However, people and concerns of the world can interrupt this time you are having. They want to drag you away from that peaceful place. But we can use God’s words to draw us back to Him, back to His loving presence.

And that’s the most important part: knowing His presence. This focus can be obtained using Scripture, a hymn or worship song, an experience or event that brought you closer to relationship with the Lord, or the gentle affirming words of a brother or sister in Christ.

The main focus is to allow God to bring you closer in intimacy with Him. Unlike some other forms of prayer, it’s almost a ceasing of work. Saints in centuries past had different ways to describe it – “watering a garden” was used by Teresa of Avila. It’s God providing the means and the ability to draw closer to Him.

The only caveat I add here is that such intimacy can dislodge many powerful experiences or memories within you. As you seek to draw closer to God, He will work at revealing and removing anything that

stands between closer communion with Him. This is the true desire of every Christian soul – to be loved and known by the Beloved. It is very helpful to go slowly, and also to find someone more skilled in this form of prayer to share thoughts and experiences.

But with months and years of gentle and persistent practice, you can experience many rich rewards from God through contemplative prayer.