I have a small confession to make. I have a bad habit. Sometimes, when I get home in the afternoon – especially after I’ve had some really exciting meetings – I’ll say hello to Jax, then immediately start telling her about what happened during my day. Very often she will pause me and say, “you didn’t ask me how my day was. You didn’t even ask me how I am.” Then I realise, I am doing it again! I have just had a one-way conversation.
I guess part of the secret to any kind of happy relationship – including marriage – is that there is good two-way communication. If I were the only person who ever spoke in our home, Jax would never feel heard. I would never listen to what she has to say and that is not really a relationship.
Our relationship with God also requires two-way communication – speaking as well as listening. If we were to define prayer, we could say that prayer is two-way communication with God – it involves speaking and listening. Prayer is not just rattling off all our requests, thoughts, ideas and feelings to God and then leaving – we need to listen for what God is saying too.
Acts chapter 2:42 tells us that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (the Bible) “and fellowship” (connecting with each other). It also says that they ”devoted themselves to prayer” (talking to God and listening to Him). The Bible also tells us that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5).
Jesus gave his disciples a guide to help them to pray – the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6) – which we still use as a model for prayer today. “This then is how you should pray” – or in today’s language, “this then is how you speak to God”:
1) “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name…”
This speaks to the idea of me connecting with God and praising who He is. “Hallowed be your name” means I think about His character and His Glory; His majesty, His power.
2) “…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth here, as it is in heaven.”
My second topic of prayer would be that I think about myself and those around me. I am asking God to bring His kingdom into my life, into my family, into my community, into our city, into the nations of the earth.
3) “…give us today our daily bread”
Next is the subject of my needs – my provision. It’s an opportunity to present our requests to God. Acknowledging that He knows what we need. This is far beyond just finances; this relates to grace and to patience. This relates to decision making and guidance – in fact, to every aspect of our physical, mental and emotional being!
4) “…forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors”
Allowing God to look inside our hearts and asking Him to forgive us for our sins, and forgiving everyone else who has sinned against us. We should be keeping very short accounts with other people.
5) “…lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one”
If we’re spending time in prayer, chances are that we have committed to living our lives God’s way, instead of ours. As humans, we need help with this! That’s why we ask for protection from temptation, and for strength to choose righteousness over sin.
Jesus often uses the metaphor of Shepherd and sheep to describe the relationship between God and us: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27. When we are spending devotional time with God, we should not only be reading our Bibles and sharing with Him anything that is on our hearts; but we should also be creating a habit of pausing during that time and asking Him if He has anything to say to us. If we don’t pause and quieten our thoughts we usually won’t hear anything.
Many of us find it difficult to distinguish between God’s voice and our thoughts. One of the approaches I have is to presume that some of the thoughts going through my head, after asking God if He has anything to say, are from Him because I am listening and pausing. Often the things that I have heard are not things that I actually want to hear. They’re not thoughts I would have wanted to generate e.g. on a number of occasions I’ve heard the Father say to me, “go and say sorry to your wife.” And then I suddenly remember something that happened the day before that I did not clear up. It’s not something I planned to do, but after hearing God’s whisper I go and say sorry!
I’ve had wisdom and guidance pertaining to decision-making come from God during that listening time. Sometimes it’s just quiet – and to me, that is not a massive problem – it’s just quiet, and I can enjoy the Father’s company. I quieten my thoughts and meditate on how amazingly privileged I am to be able to spend time with the God of the universe every day.
Another thing that helps us to engage with God and His Word is meditation. Biblical meditation is thinking about God’s character and actions in the context of His word. It involves focused thought and contemplation. If you have at any time given focused thought and contemplation to God’s character or a Bible verse, you have engaged in meditation.
Meditation is a way of pausing – it might just be for a few seconds, sometimes for minutes, sometimes for longer – and thinking or reflecting about what we have read in the Bible. We can meditate on:
• God’s Word: Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. Psalm 1:2
• His love: …we meditate on your unfailing love. Psalm 48:9
• His promises: …that I may meditate on your promises. Psalm 119:148
• All of His works: …I meditate on all your works. Psalm 143:5
Meditation is taking the idea/the concept/the verse and thinking about it with focused thought and contemplation. I came across an article about Bible meditation, and the writer said to think of Bible meditation like slowly enjoying a piece of chocolate, letting it melt in your mouth, paying close attention to every nuance of flavour and texture. I really like this idea of taking a Bible verse – a concept that jumps out – and savouring it. It is usually the verses that we meditate on that are the verses that stick inside of our hearts. Imagine the richness that would be produced in our lives if we engaged in a lifelong habit of meditating on God and His Word.