Prayer is usually defined as the act of making a request towards God. Thus, if a person asks God for something then the person is engaging in prayer. In both the old and new testaments this is the normal use of the word. Biblical synonyms are petition, supplication, entreaty, request, to beg, implore, appeal and to plead.
Some people object to the concept of “contemplative prayer” because contemplation does not involve asking for anything. In fact, since contemplation is an attempt to “hear God within” it us usually pursued in silence and by purposefully not focusing on a specific mental state, including desires and requests.
There are 2 directions we can take from here. We can agree that prayer is defined as making a request and abandon the term contemplative prayer, or we can expand the definition of prayer.
If we abandon the concept of contemplative prayer we still have question of whether or not contemplation (or, roughly, “listening in silence”) is a valid biblical concept. If we expand the definition of prayer we have the problem of diluting the term until it looses meaning and usefulness.
The idea of contemplation is to hear and see God inside of our being. That is, hearing and seeing God internally. As distractions are diminished the person can “hear” and “see” in their inner person. It is sometimes said that “we hear the silence”, or “hear in the silence”, meaning that as we silence our interior state we can then hear and see God. Thus, the person sits quietly, without speaking or exercising focused thinking, and (eventually) experiences God’s presence within. Now, is this a biblical concept? To answer whether or not these are biblical concepts will first require a general discussion of hearing God as experienced by the world. Then we need to look at how we who “have ears to hear”‘ and are “new creatures” can hear God within us. For now you can look at these 3 essays: Indwelling Spirit, The Holy Spirit as Teacher and Seeking God.
The definition of prayer could be expanded to include any communication with God. Thus, expressing gratitude and wonder towards God in worship could be considered a form of prayer. Likewise, when Paul talks about “praying in the Spirit” or says (I Cor 14:14) “For if I pray in an unknown tongue my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What should I do then? I will pray with my spirit and I will also pray with my mind”, he is clearly talking about something different than the restricted definition of “making a request” since the person praying in an unknown tongue doesn’t even know what is being said. Furthermore, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit within us will intercede for us when we don’t know what to ask: “likewise, the Spirit within us helps us with our weaknesses, for when we don’t know what to pray the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groaning too deep to be spoken.” (Ro 8:26). Given such an expanded view of prayer the idea of listening to God internally could be considered a valid aspect of prayer.
Here is what we say: We don’t care what you call it. All we are saying is that we recommend you learn about hearing God internally.