Context is key in everything. It can be awkward to join a conversation in the middle. Often things are confusing, hilarious or even inappropriate sounding when you’re missing the rest of the information.
Reading the Bible is no exception. In fact, given the great importance of rightly understanding and teaching the word of God context is even more crucial!
A verse I hear commonly misused is a part of Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” I think many believers have heard or been taught an improper meaning of this verse. This concerns me because it is often used by advocates of contemplative spirituality to support their promotion of the “discipline of silence.” A DVD program promoting this concept was even named “Be Still” after the supposed proof text. You can read Marcia Montenegro’s review of the DVD.
Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline, claims that silence and solitude are spiritual disciplines. But he doesn’t just mean taking time to be quiet from the hustle and bustle of our chaotic lives. In his book, (which sadly is on many a church library bookshelf) Foster is promoting contemplative prayer. He has stated “we should all, without shame, enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer.” The problem is that contemplative prayer isn’t the way Christians were taught to pray by Jesus Christ.
Also, if you look back and see where Foster’s ideas came from (read this Ray Yungen piece on Foster), and where those people acquired this form of prayer it becomes very clear contemplative prayer, which is part of the “Christian mystical tradition,” is virtually undistinguishable from eastern-style meditation. Since Jesus specifically instructed his followers NOT to pray as the pagans do, borrowing a form of prayer from eastern religions is unacceptable.
But let’s go back to Psalm 46 and reexamine the proof text often used to convince people that contemplative practices are Biblical. Rather than pull the partial verse out of its context to make a point. Let’s read the entire Psalm (KJV):
Psalm 46 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah. There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.”
In context it is clear that this Psalm is not instructing us in how to pray. It’s about how mighty God is. And verse 10 isn’t telling us to silence our minds in order to hear from him as some claim. There are also translations that don’t even say “be still.” The New American Standard version of the Bible doesn’t even say “Be still” in verse 10. Rather it is translated “cease striving.”