A common hindrance to confident praying is the feeling that no one is listening. We feel like the wife who tries to talk to her husband while he is reading the sports page of the newspaper or the father who is talking to his teenagers while they are listening to music. No feedback, no response, not even an occasional, “Uh-huh.”
When this happens, we begin to see prayer as nothing more than ritual. We have lost sight of the truth that God is deeply interested in us and is listening intently to every word of our prayers. Prayer is intended to be a spirited interaction between us and a living, loving Being with whom we have an intimate and growing relationship. “We have almost forgotten,” wrote A. W. Tozer in Pursuit Of God, “that God is a person and, as such, can be cultivated [in a relationship] as any person can.” When we feel that God is not listening, we need to focus on two vital aspects of prayer.
Confidence In Listening To God. Prayer is not merely what we say to God. It is responding thoughtfully to what He has already said and what He is constantly saying to us through His Word. For this reason, the Bible is an important part of our ongoing conversation with the Lord.
One way to develop conversation with God is to open the Scriptures to a psalm or paragraph from one of the Epistles. Read thoughtfully to discover what the text is telling you about the thoughts, affections, and values of God. Listen carefully and reverently to the mind of the One who inspired these words. Ask Him to help you discover the interests and desires of His heart. Then respond conversationally from your own heart to what you are hearing. As you do, you will begin to develop confidence that you know what is important to God. You will also begin to discover what God is doing in your own heart.
As a husband prays in response to the words of 1 Corinthians 13, for example, he will know God’s mind about love and apply it to his relationship with his wife. It may be the words love is patient that impress him about how tersely he’s been treating her. This, in turn, should lead to a welcome and much-needed change in his attitude and behavior.
“Be silent,” Francois Fénelon wrote, “and listen to God. Let your heart be in such a state of preparation that His Spirit may impress upon you such virtues as will please Him. This silence of all outward and earthly affection and of human thoughts within us is essential if we are to hear this voice.”
It won’t be an audible voice. But you will know it’s the voice of the Spirit when you hear the truths of Scripture speaking gently, lovingly, and forcefully to the circumstances and concerns of your life.
One night when my grandson Nathan was extremely ill, I awakened and prayed for him. While I remained in an attitude of prayer, silent before the Lord, I became aware of a way I had not been sensitive to the needs of my wife, Shirley. I saw how my attitudes had not been in line with the words and heart of God. I recognized a need in her life that I had been blind to for years. I asked God’s forgiveness and help. The next day I began to make the appropriate change in behavior toward her. What a difference it has made! I am convinced that is how God may speak to us when we are silent before Him.
Confidence In Responding To God. Listening to God will lead to actions as well as words. Words are just the beginning. If we’re reading 1 Corinthians 15, for example, we will exalt the Lord for the great victory of the resurrection and the hope that goes with it. But our response will go beyond that. It will give us greater confidence as we face a defeated spiritual enemy. It will give us words to say to the terminally ill. It will give us power as we face the everyday tumults of life. It may cause us to forsake a sinful attitude or habit.
When we pray, we must be ready to take action. The deeper the prayer goes into the Scripture, into the mind of God, the more radical the action may be. It may lead us to someone’s living room to share a deep burden. It may carry us back into the past to deal with some unresolved hurt we have received or inflicted. It may drastically change our plans. We may end up in some strange place doing things we never thought we would or could do. This is because our prayer is to God, and He is not a placid, inert Being. He is the living God, who steps into our lives with His awesome power and changes us in dramatic and unpredictable ways as we respond to Him. Or He may leave us right where we are. That’s okay. He’s God!
When we bow before God with our needs and our requests, we think we’re the initiators. But it may be that all prayer is a response to Him. This is what Norway’s Ole Hallesby taught in his classic book, Prayer. He saw Jesus’ words “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Rev. 3:20) as the key that opens the door to prayer. And how does Christ knock? Through the conditions and circumstances of our experience that drive us to Him in prayer. As I think of it, my prayers for little Nathan were a response. Jesus had been knocking on the door of my life through the physical needs of my grandson.