Most Christians have heard that they should be praying. I think most try to make praying a habit. However, many of us eventually drop the habit because of the many frustrations that can accompany trying to cultivate a life of prayer. At the top of that list of frustrations—at least for me—is that it seldom feels like God is really responding. So often prayer feels like a one-way conversation, where we talk at God, then end our time of prayer with no new insights, information, or any sense of having interacted with anyone.
So how do we hear from God when we pray? Sometimes I like to think of prayer like a cell phone conversation. Now that might sound pretty weird, but I think it gives us a helpful illustration for thinking through some of the frustrations that sometimes cause us to give up on prayer altogether.
ARE YOU EXPECTING A CALL
Sometimes I have a hard time getting a hold of my wife during the day. Usually this is because her phone is turned off or on silent. You see, my wife teaches private music lessons, so she keeps her phone off so it won't disturb her lessons. Even though my wife wants to hear from me, she sometimes misses my calls because she's focused on something else. When we are expecting a close friend to call us, we make sure our phone is turned on. If we don’t have our phones on, communication can't happen because we'll miss the call. When God speaks, are you ready to listen? Or, do you have too many other things on your mind? Are you focused on hearing His voice, or are you too distracted by the cares and worries of the world? Our relationship with God isn't confined to quiet times or church services. He wants to speak to us throughout the day, as new situations or people come our way. Cultivate the habit of truly expecting God to respond in prayer.
I don't know about you, but the first thing I say when someone answers the phone changes over the course of a relationship. For a while I identify myself by my full name and how we met. If I just said, "Hey," the other person would probably have no idea who I was. After a while I just use my name, then eventually just my first name. With my really good friends, I usually just start off with "Hey" or something like that. By that time the other person and I are so close that they know it's me just from the sound of my voice. It is the same with God in prayer. When you first begin seeking God in prayer, you may not always be sure when it is God responding, and when it is not. Maybe it's God. Maybe it's just your own thoughts or a random feeling. Maybe it's the Enemy. It can be very frustrating not being sure how to interpret what we think we are hearing in prayer! And honestly, you will probably make some mistakes as you try to determine when it's God. Overtime, however, you will come to recognize those instances when it is God who is speaking.
ARE YOU IN RANGE
Who hasn't had the aggravating experience of trying to get a signal in a remote location? There are some places where we just can't seem to get a hold of anybody or receive any calls. The problem is that you have to be close enough to a tower in order for your call to go through. It is similar when we are listening for God's response in prayer. If we are far away from Him, it will be difficult for us to understand what He is saying or what His will is. The closer we are, the easier it is to hear. Of course, since God is everywhere, we are not speaking of close and far as literal distance, but rather about fellowship. Are you in a position spiritually to hear from God? Maybe you need to draw closer.
There are other reasons we can have difficulties hearing God in prayer, and it's not necessarily true that we will hear from God every time we do pray, even when everything is fine. Hopefully, however, the metaphor of a cell phone will help you to keep praying and keep cultivating the spiritual discipline of hearing from God in prayer.