by Natalie LaValley

As Christians, we know we are supposed to imitate Christ. But Christ was the most multi-dimensional man who ever lived. He was meek and authoritative, quiet and charismatic, gathered crowds and sought solitude.

Paul wrote, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). Salvation begins this lifelong process of learning to imitate Jesus in all His dimensions. Although we cannot possibly embody the fullness of One who was both God and man, we need to submit to the Holy Spirit’s work in transforming us “with ever increasing glory” as we look upon the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Because we have unique personalities with different strengths and weaknesses, each of us gravitates toward particular aspects of Christlikeness more than others. Divisions arise when we think our way of imitating Christ is more valid than someone else’s. That is why, though it is unlikely we will achieve perfect balance, we need to at least understand the multidimensional aspects of Jesus. Then we can strive to balance them in our walks with Him and respect others who prioritize those aspects differently.

Richard Foster identifies what he calls “Six Streams of Christianity.” These are six basic aspects of Christ which various Christians have emphasized most strongly throughout Church history. They are generally referred to as follows:

  • The Contemplative Stream/Prayer-filled Life

  • The Holiness Stream/The Virtuous Life

  • The Charismatic Stream/The Spirit-empowered Life

  • The Social Justice Stream/The Compassionate Life

  • The Evangelical Stream/The Word-centered Life

  • The Incarnational Stream/The Sacramental Life

To be a balanced disciple of Christ, we need to develop ourselves in all of these dimensions. Foster paints an image of these six streams flowing together to form a powerful river.

The next five posts will delve into each stream. We’ll look at the first one now.

The Contemplative Stream: The Prayer-filled Life

The prayer-filled life emphasizes Christianity as a personal relationship with God. It focuses on developing intimacy with God.

Jesus and the Contemplative Stream

The gospels show Jesus having a deep and intimate relationship with His Father.

“…Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” – Luke 6:12

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” – Mark 1:35

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” – John 14:10

We see that Jesus also taught His disciples how to seek the Father.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:5-6

Becoming like Christ, then, means seeking intimate times of prayer with the Father. If Christ made a habit of praying in solitude, especially before and after intense times of ministry, so should we. The contemplative stream, more than the others, develops this habit.

A Historical Example

One example of an early Christian who practiced the contemplative stream is the Desert Father, Antony of Egypt (AD 251 – 356). Antony grew up in a wealthy family. But one day, as he studied the Scriptures, he was struck by the command, “Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor” (Mark 10:21). Though these words were distressing, he also took to heart the verse, “Be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6). He disliked that Christianity was becoming increasingly secularized in his culture, so, in obedience to his convictions, he set out into the Egyptian desert to focus on seeking God without money or worry. Antony spent twenty years in the desert practicing intense spiritual disciplines for the sake of deep communion with God. After those twenty years, he returned to civilization and boldly preached to both the poor and the elite, healing, giving counsel, and casting out demons. He displayed a profound wisdom in his discussion with the intellections. Toward the end of his life, he returned to the solitude of the desert.

Antony’s life is just one, perhaps extreme, example of the contemplative stream. Ultimately this practice focuses on deepening communion with God through developing a prayer-filled life. This kind of prayer life does not just mean delivering laundry lists of requests but also involves listening to God and meditating on truth. While prayer with other believers is important, this stream aims at seeking solitude and moments of silence in order to focus more intensely on God.

If you would like to practice a prayer-filled life, this free devotional download below explains a few spiritual disciplines for you to try.

This blog series draws from the Christ Habits curriculum. If you or your small group could benefit from studying these disciplines more in-depth, you can find the Christ Habits Collection here at our store. 

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