We get to know someone better by talking and listening to each other, building a relationship. When that happens on a regular basis the relationship grows stronger and deeper; creating a history together and forming bonds of shared understanding. We might call this time together all kinds of things when it comes to friends, but with God, we call it prayer and it takes many forms.
Prayer changes us.
In close relationships, we listen with our hearts to what the other is saying with their eyes, voice and actions – creating a two-way street of mutual respect, love and appreciation. A “goal” of prayer time then, so to speak, is to build up this same good relationship with God –and grow into understanding something of how each other thinks and feels.
What are we looking for when we share our life with others? Genuine interest? Some who sincerely cares about your opinions and thoughts? Someone who really listens when you speak? Someone who understands you? Relationships where we feel that connection are the most valued. Nearly everyone is looking for the same thing – a relationship that means something. God is, too.
What matters is that we intentionally, consciously touch base.
Communicating with God about how we are right now, why we’re feeling sad, happy, angry, whatever at the moment – is pretty direct and surprising not difficult. Whether you talk to God out loud or in your mind isn’t an issue. Whether it’s a set time of day or spontaneously throughout the day doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we intentionally, consciously touch base.
Now we’re talking to God, sharing how we feel, and that’s a good thing but we also have to keep in mind prayer is part of a two-way relationship. If prayer is to be more meaningful than a check-in and request line how does it help you grow into an understanding of the mind of God? Again, just as in any valuable relationship, we need to listen as well as speak. If someone does all the talking and never listens it’s a one-way street.
There’s the challenge – how do we listen to God? If we limit listening to what actually comes through our ears that might be difficult. There are those who hear God speak to them this way, but what seems to be much more in keeping with humanity in general is a process of focusing, paying attention, reflection, and observation; tuning our inward radar toward God. For Anglicans, the normative ways to experience God’s communicative self are through Word (scripture), Sacraments, and experience (perhaps a “still small voice”). And, have you noticed that when you love someone we begin to also see the world through their eyes? When we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest God’s word in scripture with the hope to grow and understand Gods meaning perspective can change. Prayer changes us.
God is always communicating with us
Fortunately, God speaks to us in countless ways – through friends, family, nature, books, music, movies, art, poetry, the list is endless. God is always communicating with us – though we may not be listening. Just as we do with another person, we have to be intentional in our actions in order to build a relationship – learn more about each other, be open to creating a two-way street.
If a person were to continually come to you only when they needed something you might not consider the two of you are the best of friends, that the relationship was more like a one-way street. Likewise, in prayer, we should remember that God is not Santa Claus. build in time to praise, confess, and give thanks in addition to making supplications for yourself or others.
The wonderful thing is that God is loving and involved, hearing and responding to our needs whether we intentionally express them or not. And sometimes it happens that prayers do not appear to be answered in the way we think best. To rationalize that just because you didn’t get want you wanted or prayed for means that God either didn’t hear your request – or doesn’t care or doesn’t exist. This would not fit in with the Christian belief that God has our best interest – and that of every human being – at heart. In other words, not getting what we want doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us or that we didn’t pray “right”.
Life happens. In times of despair, sorrow and heart-wrenching pain time spent in conversation with God can be uplifting and comforting, but also extraordinarily challenging. Just as in any relationship, there is always a growing edge because prayer changes us, not necessarily circumstances.