We do all the talking and we never hear a peep out of Him. But perhaps we never hear a peep out of Him because we do all the talking.
Yesterday we declared that God listens. But unless we return the favour, we’ll miss out on today’s truth: God answers.
Sometimes, we tend to approach prayer like we’re disc jockeys working at a radio station – it’s our job to yak away into our spiritual microphone and it’s our Audience of One‘s job to listen. If He wants to talk to us, He has to phone our ‘contest hotline’, and if it’s not already busy with Callers 1 through 5, He’ll get through and be the lucky Caller No. 6 who gets to talk to the supposedly important DJ.
But I think it’s useful to imagine the Prayeradio not as a 50,000-watt one-way broadcast, but as a child’s hand-held walkie-talkie. These little devices haven’t changed much since I was a kid, and they’re still reasonably popular. I love walkie-talkies; what I love most about them is the simple, elegant genius of the technology: the same hardware that functions as a microphone when you’re talking doubles as a speaker when you’re listening. All you have to do to switch between the two is take your thumb off the ‘talk’ button.
It’s much the same with prayer, folks. We have to switch to Listen Mode sometimes!
This can happen before we say ‘amen’ – silence during prayer is not only OK, it’s a good idea (no matter how much that goes against my ‘better’ judgment) – and it can also happen after ‘amen’.
That’s because ‘amen’ doesn’t have to mean ‘over and out’. It can simply mean ‘over’. The batteries of our spiritual walkie-talkie will never run out so it’s OK to keep our prayer channel open all the time – whether we have our eyes closed and hands folded or not.
Listening is the toughest part of praying, but it’s arguably the most important. But also vital is asking the right questions, and asking them the right way.
A priest once told me we that whenever we’re faced with a decision and want input from God, we should always phrase it as a yes/no question. The ‘Please grant me discernment on this general issue and help me to know Your will’ approach is a bit more natural for me, but ‘yes/no’ is a lot simpler.
As my priest friend explained, God will always answer a yes/no question, with one of the following responses:
- Not yet
Sometimes I shy away from asking yes/no questions because I doubt that God will really answer me (or I’ll have my walkie-talkie tuned to the wrong channel and miss His response). But other times (and maybe more often), I stop short because I’m afraid I will hear Him – and I won’t like the answer.
Asking for discernment, rather than simplifying to a yes/no question can be a really effective way for me to pay lip service to the idea of seeking God’s will, but being able to justify the idea of doing things my way because I didn’t get a straight answer (because I didn’t really ask a straight question).
Of course, as I said the other day in God Speaks, God’s answers are rarely audible, and they almost never hit you over the head. So we have to listen actively – with our ears, yes, but also with our eyes and most importantly with our hearts.
But I often find that I get my answers when I’m not listening actively – almost as if my efforts in this area can actually get in God’s way.
Rather, it’s doing Godly things (study, service and fellowship, for instances – as well as praying about things other than ‘What do you want me to do about X?’) that enables me to accidentally let my guard down so I can receive messages from Him when I least expect them.
I often have to be distracted from actively seeking in order to find.
Maybe the act of letting God happen to me (to coin a phrase) is a more effective way to hear Him speak than actively listening for messages from Him is because, on one level and in one sense, the Messenger is the message, and the answer to every question is God.
Peace be with you.