There have been a few big “prayer” initiatives in the news the last few weeks. First is the National Day of Prayer. Then, the following week is World Day of Prayer, a relatively newer movement targeted to get Christians around the world engaged in “informed prayer and prayerful action.” Signposts are always good reminders to get us back on track, and it would seem these events could serve as such for us—reminders to get our prayer life back in line with God. Unfortunately, too often we need events, signposts, disasters and the like to remind us to seek God. And, when those times come, we forget the most important piece of the prayer chain.
Anyone who has prayed really hard for something knows this feeling. We ask. We beg. We plead. We try to negotiate. We make deals and promises. Yet, we feel like the Lord is not listening to us. I have heard it said that if our prayers are not answered, then we are praying for the wrong things. I also know that the Bible tells us if we ask, we shall receive. So how do we figure out a common ground?
Maybe the problem is not that God is inattentive to our requests or that we are even making the wrong requests. What if we are the problem? What if our inability to hear God is the breakdown in our prayer line? Imagine how often God hears us saying, “thanks for the advice, but I think my idea is better.” Yet we continue to go back again and again asking for more direction and help, only to ignore divine advice and appointments.
It is hard to listen to the Lord because God doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear. In fact, God typically tells us something we grapple with because our nature is not like the Lord’s. Being obedient to God is even harder, but obedience requires us to believe what we hear and then do something about it. Unfortunately, humans are not pre-wired for obedience. It takes diligence and practice and a strong filtration device to help us remove the mess from the message. With practice, as we begin to listen to AND obey the Lord, his voice becomes more clear to us. As our hearing improves, so grows our faith. John writes,
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers. ~John 10:2-5
When it seems like God is absent, maybe we just are not listening. I believe that in our efforts to pray, we need equally strong efforts to listen. Maybe we should start a new day called the “World Day of Listening” as another important signpost to remind us all to spend as much time in listening prayer as we do in talking prayer. And maybe if we start with one day of listening, our prayer and faith would multiply many times over. It might also be good advice in general. Listen more—talk less.