“For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever.” – Romans 11:34-36
One of the bravest things you can ever do is shut up when you really, really think you have something to say: when all you want to do is blurt out the thing sitting on the tip of your tongue, and instead, you just reel it back in. Swallow. Sit back and listen.
That’s true in all forms and formula of relationships, student/teacher, parent/child, spouse to spouse. So often, the temptation is to express yourself. Express your needs, your desires, your dreams and your failures, your careful rationalizations and fretful theories about life (specific and general), as though the world needed one more nervous blabbermouth, or as if the person you’re talking to needed to hear you more than you did to hear them. So let’s get one thing perfectly clear: there’s no conversation ever had, no relationship ever entered into, that didn’t benefit enormously from being all about listening instead of talking.
This is truer in the Kingdom of Heaven than in any smaller circumstance, and yet we have this strange conception, this skewed idea of prayer as a monologue—from our lips to God’s ear. The image of the lone mystic babbling into the void persists to this day, even reduced (as the world loves to do) to the stereotype of the harried soccer mom or nervous wage slave, rattling out his or her laundry list of ‘Things I Need God To Do In My Life’. Neither cliché is a true representation of the process or the power of prayer.
Prayer is focus, paying attention to God’s favor in our lives as we learn to ask the right questions and being in the right place to hear the answers. Prayer is righteous, a claiming of your identity in grace and in God as we move and grow and evolve into the people that He always saw us to be. Most of all, prayer isn’t just a one way street, a single line of traffic heading upward and outward into the ether, and prayer isn’t a Q&A, a two way street of call and response either. Prayer is a relationship, between the three facets of the Godhead and ourselves, and be assured: we’re the junior partner in all of that.
The act of prayer is a wheel, an endlessly revolving cycle where the Father imparts wisdom to the beating heart of His Son within us—because all of Heaven yearns towards Jesus—which flows back to Him through the magnificent dynamism of the Holy Spirit. Our role in all that is simply to learn how to listen. We pray to affirm the person that we are in the eyes of the Lord and the place where we need to be. Everything comes down to the relationship between us and the Father, pulled into sharp relief by our relationship to the Son within us and the Spirit aflame around us.
Remember Hebrews 7:25 and Romans 8:26—Jesus and the Holy Spirit intercede for us. We’re learning to develop the same kind of relationship with the Father that Jesus has, and to do that, we have to become experts at receiving, adept at listening and black belts at shutting up: because often, when we think that our prayers aren’t being answered, it’s simply because God doesn’t like them very much. He can see the prayer we should be focusing on, and He’s trying to nudge us in the right direction…it’s not His fault we’re too busy blathering on to notice.
There’s an old Spanish proverb that states: “God writes straight with crooked lines.” What He’s saying to us makes perfect sense: we only need to learn to read.
We pray with God, not to Him, and especially not at Him. We pray in line with His will, having discovered through focus and faith what His will for us actually is. It’s a place of sharing, a real conversation, a partnership where He displays His favor to us. Consider His favor for you—meditate upon it. What does the Lord’s generosity feel like? What does His patronage look like? We live in a state of grace beneath His smile because we are in Christ. Focus on that approval, and find for yourself the truth that the Father wants for you, the identity that He wants you to embrace in the Kingdom.
Once we focus on the outcome, we begin to understand the process of how to reach that place…how to become that person. Can you see the person that God sees, waiting for you ahead on the path? Focus on that person. Zoom in on their face, take a mental snapshot and make that your prayer. Allow Jesus and the Spirit to intercede for you, and listen. You’ll hear what you need to hear, and see what you need to see, as the crooked lines begin to unbend in front of you, and you read, for the first time, the writing on the wall.