As most know, Mary and I are big advocates of prayer, it’s been a staple of our ministry from its outset. Prayer, in its simplest form, is simply communicating with God. In some ways prayer is easy but in other ways it can feel very complex. Prayer involves intellect, emotion, and faith. Most often it is done in our normal language, but some have learned to pray in the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit is one of the most powerful forms of praying because the Spirit takes our flesh out of the picture, and we begin to pray and intercede in ways we wouldn’t have the courage to by ourselves. Another critical element to having success in prayer, yet is often undervalued, is the importance of listening.
We must remember that effective communication, whether interpersonal or with God, is two-way interaction. While many are good at interpersonal relationships, I am afraid that it’s a lost art when it comes to communicating with God. When we pray, many mark out a time, find their prayer place, and whether kneeling, setting, or walking, begin talking. We give thanks, make request, worship, but once we’ve finished our conversation, we feel as though we have given God His allotted time, we move on. There are two problems with this form of communication or prayer.
First, real communication isn’t giving someone an allotted amount of time, it is ongoing. If I scheduled only fifteen minutes, a half-hour, or even an hour with my spouse and then I moved on and didn’t communicate with her for the rest of the day, it would be disastrous. It’s cold, empty, and selfish. Healthy communication is ongoing communication. This is an imperative in personal relationships, and it is critical to having a successful relationship with God. If a relationship is going to be vibrant and healthy there must be ongoing access to one another. I encourage you today, do this with your spouse, make it a priority with your kids, but also make it a precedent that God and prayer will be more than an appointment on your daily schedule. Begin giving Him access to your mind and heart throughout the day.
The second issue of importance when it comes to having healthy communication is that it is two-way interaction. It takes both talking and listening and when it comes to prayer, way too often, it is a one-way conversation. Too many of our prayers involve simply acknowledging God, telling Him we love Him, giving Him our list, and then we’re done, off to the tasks of the day. May I ask this? When is the last time you have given God space in prayer to talk to you? When is the last time you’ve simply set quietly and listened? Would it probably not be good to give God as much time to talk to you as you talk to Him? How weary do you become when you meet with someone, and they do all the talking? They talk and talk, and when they’re finished, the meeting is over. Do you ever wonder if God feels that way about you? You do all the talking, and then you are off about your day, this is not spiritually healthy. Take time to invite God to speak to you and listen.
I am reminded of Job, a godly and righteous man, a man of prayer, a person much like many who are reading this. He made time for God, acknowledged Him, sacrificed, prayed, worshipped, but it appears his relationship with God was a one-way one. It wasn’t until trouble hit his life that Job had time to listen to God, and even then, it took nearly forty chapters before God was allowed to speak. Notice, when chaos hit his life, he talked to his wife and his friends. In fact, he talked, counseled, maybe some would call it having therapy sessions, with four men for most of the book. They would advise, he would respond. This went on for days! Finally, after all the banter from the so-called experts, Job allows God to speak. It doesn’t take God long to get Job’s attention, to clarify the situation. A couple of chapters, 77 questions, and Job has a new perspective of who he is, the purpose of his trial, and who God is. What couldn’t be fixed by counseling, his wife, his friends, and thirty-seven chapters of human discourse is solved by God in less than an hour.
I mention all of this because the past few years have been some of the most challenging in my life. I knew my default. When trouble came, I knew to go to prayer, to ask God, to trust Him, pray the scripture, speak in faith, and wait for answers. Days turned to weeks, weeks into months, and I found my prayer time had become repetitive, monotonous, and empty. Same prayer, same faith, and the same silence. It was only one day when I quieted myself that I felt God speak to my spirit, he simply said, “are you done?” My prayers had been one-way, I had spoken much, but listened little. Much like Job, I had talked and talked, but not given God any space to speak. In that moment, my prayer stopped, or at least I stopped talking. No more asking, faith speaking, or empty worship, just listening. I picked up my Bible, and He spoke. I listened to music, and He spoke. I sat quietly, and He spoke. I listened in my spirit, and I sensed Him leading me, suggesting books to read, and when I did, He spoke. I’m in a season of prayer right now where prayer looks very different. My mouth is shut but my heart, mind and ears are open. I am listening, and like Job, I am hearing and seeing God in ways like I’ve never experienced.
As I close, may I ask, how is your prayer life? Does it feel empty and void of life and passion? If so, maybe God is asking you what He asked Job, and what I feel He asked me, “are you done? Are you ready to listen?” If you are, and if you are willing, get ready to see a completely new perspective of who you are, what is going on in your life, and how amazingly awesome God is.