Prayer and God's silence
I don’t want to know all the answers—I only want some understanding on numerous issues that perplex me about prayer. I don’t want to fully understand every issue generated by every question—I only want to have an understanding of the direction I should be going as I think about them. I don’t want to substitute answers to my questions for actual praying—I couldn’t keep from praying if I were ordered to!
[It irritates me more than a little when people speak to people like me who are filled with questions and treat us as if we thought “knowledge” was a substitute for living; as if we were more interested in “head” knowledge than “heart” knowledge. I don’t think that to seek understanding is one form of ducking out of real living.
While I don’t think “knowledge” is everything, I’ve no reason to believe that God gets a kick out of how we exult in our ignorance (if and when we do that). There’s nothing particularly pious about that airy dismissal of serious reflection on central issues—“Oh questions like that don’t bother me. I just trust the Lord.” Yes, I can see that trusting is right and makes sense but then some of us are bothered by such questions even though we do trust the Lord. A pursuit of understanding could easily get out of hand but so can a mindset that’s too willing to remain ignorant. Maybe we should credit one another with the best motivation while we all trust the Lord completely.]
Jesus never tried to prove that prayer “works”. He took it for granted and prayed. He might never have thought about the matter (“Does prayer work?”)—that wouldn’t surprise me in the least. When we wonder if prayer “works” it’s almost always in the context of asking “for” things; that is, when we’re making requests. Like, “Give us this day our daily bread” or, “Heal my very sick child” or, “Please bring Harold back home to us” or, “Please keep our marriage from falling apart.” This is legitimate prayer material, of course, and it’d be tragic if we couldn’t make our requests known to God. There’s no reason for us to apologize for doing it (Philippians 4:6) even though later in life we might apologize to God for some of the things we requested.
Prayer “works” as surely as a friend enjoying conversation with his friend “works”. In what way does it “work”? Well, it enriches the friendship, deepens our sense of the “personal” nature of God (you can’t pray to a “force” or a “process”) and his interest in our lives and all this has “social” consequences for the worshiper since it cultivates intimacy with God and inner strength and stability. It generates likeness to God (friends become like their friends) and that in turns means everyone around us will benefit.
Yes, but isn’t prayer all one-sided? We do all the talking and God says nothing! I can see how people can come to feel that way—how difficult can it be to understand that? I notice, however, that if we get some of the “big things” we ask for—cure from some debilitating disease, a saved marriage, a redeemed child, a serious financial rescue, and the like—then we don’t think God has been speechless. In situations like that we think he has spoken loud and clear. The truth is, even if this is a crass way to put it, I don't think we care much if we never heard the “voice” of God so long as we know he listens and responds to our requests, especially at critical moments and in major things.
Then again, while it’s true we pray audibly I would say that my speaking to God is almost always silent though conscious. If my talking with God can take place without a sound maybe God speaking to me can occur without a sound.
It’s commonplace for us to say that God “speaks” to us in scripture and we’re content with that truth. We don’t constantly feel the need to have God speak to us audibly though there are times when we’d like that (we assume the conversation would always be pleasant, don’t you know). We’d have a conversation with God and no doubt we’d fill it with the questions of the day, the things people argue about but I would guess that the main thing we’d gain by a God who speaks to us audibly is that we'd "know" he is truly there, he’s real and he truly does have an interest in us. I don’t think any of the above is strange and I’m certain that if I knew I could bear to have him speak audibly to me—that what he chooses to say to me are pleasant words rather than words of judgment about how I am living out my life before him—I know I would want that.
If he ever chooses to do that I’ll be more than happy but in the meantime I confess that I’m happy for him to speak to me in scripture and life, as he now does. It’s his chosen way to communicate at present and while there is much I don’t understand in what he has said and while I’m sure he hasn’t said anything about some of my specific questions [he’s not a divine almanac or the repository of information for Trivial Pursuit] I’m certain of his central purpose in his communicating with me (as with countless others). But how he speaks to us is less important than what he says when he does speak in his own chosen way.
He has spoken finally to us in and as Jesus Christ and that colours our understanding of all that he has said, is saying or will say in the future.