Devotion is not a passing emotion: it is a fixed, enduring habit of mind permeating the whole life and shaping every action…and it necessitates an abiding hold on Him, a perpetual habit of listening for His Voice within the heart, as of readiness to obey the dictates of that Voice. Jean Grou

This may sound odd, but I didn’t’ learn how to pray until I was about twenty-seven years old.
As I’ve mentioned before, this was about the time I was just beginning to learn how to be Jesus’ friend. It was also at that time, he taught me how to not only talk to him, but also how to listen to what he had to say to me. Now granted, I “learned” how to pray probably when I was a toddler, but to understand prayer and how God uses it in a person’s life—I didn’t get this one until about the third decade of my life. When a person enters into a friendship with God, they begin (I emphasize the word begin) to learn how to talk to him and how to listen to him.

Prayer for a lot of people is just talking. However, when you have a conversation with a good friend over a cappuccino at a Starbucks, two things typically occur—you talk and you listen. This is typically how conversations occur. Ironically, for a lot of people, this isn’t how prayer works for them. It often can be a one way street: they talk, but there isn’t a whole lot of listening going on. It’s as if God is just expected to be the good listener.

I am a huge fan of Walter Wangerin and love his writing. If you have never heard of him, you have to go get any of his books, because they are written with an eloquence and wisdom unlike any Christian author that I know. Wangerin is a prolific writer on a wide-range of subjects; he’s written a novel that was awarded the National Book Award (essentially, the American novel of the year); books on marriage, prayer, adoption, the resurrection, inner-city ministry; he’s even got a book of poetry. His latest book is about his journey having cancer.

One book he entitled Whole Prayer, which is simply a book which discusses how to pray. The book has a simple premise, but it is also very profound. Wangerin makes this proposition about prayer:

First, we speak,

While, second, God listens.

Third, God speaks,

While, fourth, we listen.

There is obviously a lot there in those four points, full of questions for us. How does one speak to God? Is there a formula or standard in how we should speak to God? What is the process in which God listens? How does God speak to us? And in what ways can we listen? One of the most important things I learned when I finished the book was this—isn’t it amazing that God is always listening for us. Wangerin, in the book, makes this beautiful analogy of a sick child crying out for her mother and right away the mother comes into her room to take care of her. Almost as if even before the child cries out, the mother is there. As he writes, “And immediately with understanding came the active response of a mother whose love is nearly omniscient, whose heart is almost omnipresent.”

This is no different than how God attends to you and me. Even before I know what I need, He does—that is his relationship to me as a Father—taking care of me. The Lord is moving ahead of me, trying to prepare the way so that I can pass through unharmed and unhindered. As my favorite Psalm declares:

He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. Your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great. You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn. (Psalm 18: 19, 35-36)

For our purposes, I would take Wangerin’s wisdom one step farther: when one is praying there should be four essential things occurring: talking, listening, responding and then finally, expecting. Jesus offers us some important hints into what prayer looks like. Let’s walk through a couple of these. In the fifteenth chapter of John, Jesus teaches two important and astounding things about prayer. The first is somewhat mysterious, but as his friend, he will make known to us everything that we need to know. That’s an astonishing statement and it’s important to take him at this word:

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:15

What I hear in something like this is this—by deepening our relationship with God day by day, we can know and understand our lives and the world around us better. The Bible calls this kind of stuff wisdom. But in the verse above, Jesus adds this strange little phrase which foretells what prayer can also be about—“because a servant does not know his master’s business.” He seems to be inferring that if you are a friend of his, he will let you in on what his pursuits and intentions will be—again, for yourself and also for the world around you. So therefore, prayer on some level is the tool which God uses to draw us closer to not only him, but also to our very selves. We will learn who we are; who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do—today, tomorrow and twenty years from now. God through prayer will give us clarity in what our lives should look like. It’s an amazing relationship to say the least.

In: Friend to Jesus
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