Everyone prays. There is so much suffering in this world – anxieties, worries, sicknesses, fears. There are also times of unexpected moments that cause people to be thankful – the joy of being loved, an experience that brought laughs and smiles. People will pray – the tough ones, angry ones, cynics, little children, grandpas, foolish and the faithful. Someday and somehow, whether today or tomorrow, people pray.
But people can pray poorly, dismissing the gift that God has given us. Restlessness and despair can happen when people turn inwards rather than Godward. It is not because the prayer itself is not working, but rather the practice of it has not been understood. If one has never learnt about computers and is not able to work one, does it make sense to blame the computer?
Prayer is something that comes naturally – young children seem to be better able to do it than their parents. It could be because of the way children acknowledge their dependency and need of others’ help in daily life and they realize that prayer is not just an act of crying unto God. The dependent child also waits in anticipation that the parent will respond.
Prayer is communication, talking with God and not just to Him. God also talks with us and there is a circle that is whole and close between us. One can say that prayer is made up of four acts (it may happen several times over, but still made up of these four acts). This is communication:
First, we speak
Second, God listens
Third, God speaks
Fourth, we listen
Often times we are too impatient, demanding and unsubmissive to do the fourth act. When that happens, we never even know that the second and third acts have been completed. When we do not truly listen, prayer will seem to have failed because communication, since it was incomplete, actually did fail. The love that God has expressed was left unknown.
Listening cannot be an accident. It must be our own conscientious action, a thing we choose to do and something we can learn to do better and better. We have to make ourselves ready to hear.
Have an attitude of constantly being aware that God may suddenly speak in anything of His creation. Indeed the apostle Paul declares that what may be known about God is plain to absolutely everyone in the world, “because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:19-20).
But caution! An attentive attitude is not enough if we do not know how to distinguish God’s voice from other voices or how to interpret God’s voice when He does speak. God speaks to us through Scripture and the words of Scripture are forever the words of His present conversation with us. Through the Bible, we can find explanations of what God’s deeds mean – this means that we can find principles in the Bible to help us distinguish God’s voice from the voices of our own desires and yearnings. It is SO important to be familiar with the Word of God and seek in it the meanings of God’s acts today and tomorrow.
This means that we need to be disciplined in our daily life to seek our Lord in His Word and listen to what He has to say. How can we hear when our lives are clogged with our own loud voices, cravings and fears? We need to be silent and empty the self of self and have the Lord fill it. Our hearts need to wait upon the Lord, always listening, always ready to pick up something from Him. It is the kind of heart that does not reject words from God which may be harsh. It does not limit the voice of God by cutting off what they do not want to hear, but will receive whatever the Lord chooses to say.
Let’s try out the whole circle of prayer today – not just speaking, but also listening to God speaking.
Sister Cherlyn Oh
Reference: Wangerin, Walter Jr. Whole Prayer – Speaking and Listening to God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998.