I remember a summer camp skit I saw years ago where a family was gathered watching TV and one kid got up and said, “I’m heading off to pray, anybody need anything?”
I think we all appreciate that prayer is not just the practice of asking God for stuff. Prayer is about expressing concerns and frustrations to God, but there is more to prayer than talking. I am, of course, going to ask God for help with what is going on in my life, but prayer is meant to be deeper than just a verbal dump. It may be a bold statement but I believe that no matter how faithful you are at it, your prayers will remain weak and shallow, until you learn to add silence to your prayer life.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove writes that “prayer is less about trying to get God to do something we want God to do and more about getting ourselves to do what God wants us to do and become what God wants us to become. There are times when we speak, weep, groan, and shout at God. But there are also times when we simply sit in silence and are held by our Beloved.” I think he’s right. If God is all-knowing, and prayer is all talking, then prayer seems to be completely redundant. Why talk to God if you can’t possibly inform Him of something He doesn’t already know? There must be more going on when we pray than an information exchange.
Prayer is communication with God so it should come as no surprise that prayer involves talking as well as listening. I know many people get uncomfortable with the idea of listening when we pray (the idea that God speaks) but I think we can use our heads and use Scripture to discern when and if God truly is speaking to us.
If you want to give this a try, when you pray, invite God to make your character more like His character. Ask that God would reveal to you where you need to get to work and then listen with your eyes and ears. When you pray a bold prayer like that in faith, God will answer, and through your Bible study, or through your experience, or through conversations you are having with other people, God will reveal to you places where you are not being very godly. He will draw you into situations where you need to develop patience (like the check out at Walmart) or maybe He will bring less-lovable people into your life so that you can develop compassion.
I would also encourage you to make silence a part of your spiritual life. Get to work early, or stay late, or go for a walk, or park somewhere safe and secure and practice being in silence. Being silent is more difficult than it sounds but God is fond of silence. It is one of His favourite places to show up (1 Kings 19:12). Franciscan Monks have a saying that “if your speaking doesn’t add something beautiful to the silence don’t speak.”
A new monk joined an order and was told, upon entering the monastery that he could only say one sentence each year. At the end of his first year the novitiate came to his superior and said, “my bed is too hard.” After two years, when his time to speak had come he said, “the food here is terrible.” Finally, after three years, he spoke to the head monk and said, “I quit!” “Good,” replied the head monk, “you’ve been complaining ever since you got here!”
Growing comfortable with silence is about tending to the lines that anchor us to Jesus Christ and it takes practice. Quiet places and quiet times are very hard to find but when you find them it is so worth it. In silence we tend to our relationship with God. It is impossible to use God for your agenda when you are silent, so five minutes of silence in God’s presence can’t help but be time well spent.
When you wait in God’s presence in prayer don’t worry about “what if I don’t hear from God.” You can completely trust that God will provide exactly what is needed for your relationship with Him. When you wait before God and hear nothing but crickets, then it was silence that your soul needed anyway.