Tom and I are away on retreat, listen and discerning God’s guidance for the next several months. This is always a refreshing and renewing time for me and I look forward to these days with great expectation. I am confident that God always hears what I have to say and God always speaks to me.
As we got ready yesterday I found Jesus words before the raising of Lazarus revolving in my mind:Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here. (John 11:41, 42)
I was struck particularly by the confidence of that prayer. Jesus knew that God heard him. He didn’t feel the need to shout or try to get God’s attention by repeating his prayer over and over.. He didn’t feel the need to coerce God into doing something for him, he just acted in the confidence that God heard him and that God knew best how to answer his prayer.
How often I come to God unsure of whether or not God is listening. How often I come feeling that I need to convince God to listen to what I am saying and take notice – more like the psalmist who cries God hear my prayer unsure of God’s attentiveness. How often I question the seeming lack of response.
What does it take for us to live in that confident place of knowing that God hears our prayers?
First we need to come in anticipation and gratitude – Jesus thank you is a heartfelt cry of gratitude to One that Jesus knows as a loving and caring father. Gratitude awakens us to the fact that God is already at work in the situation we are praying for. It opens our eyes to see what God is doing and molds our prayers to the divine will. One of my friends once told me that whenever she has a prayer request for God she starts with a time of silence to ask OK God what are you already doing in the midst of this situation? It is a revolutionary and powerful way to pray. Not just acknowledging God’s activity but expecting and looking for it at every step. We do not worship a passive God but one who is already actively involved before we start to pray.
Second we need to come confident that we are praying the right prayer. I have often wondered why Jesus waited two days before coming to Bethany to see Lazarus. I suspect that he spent at least part of that time listening for God’s voice, asking OK what do you want me to do here? I don’t think he headed off for Bethany until he was confident that what he planned was God’s will. So often we pray based on our wants rather than God’s desires. So often our motives are self centred not God centred. No wonder we don’t always get the answers we expect.
Third we need to come with a sense of the presence of God deep within our being. So often we pray out of a sense of our own needs or concerns without taking time to centre ourselves on the presence of God and remind ourselves that the One to whom we offer our prayers can and will only, ever respond in the loving way. God who is love can only respond from a heart of love. If we become confident of that nothing can shake our prayers and our eyes will always be open to God’s loving response.
Fourth we need to come expecting and looking for God’s answers. So often I pray a prayer and then dash on to the next thing, not taking time to notice and savour what God is doing in response to my request. We not only need to give thanks for the fact that God hears our prayers, we also need to give thanks for the answers.
I have a friend who keeps a prayer journal – jotting down his prayers, writing out his hopes and expectations for that prayer and then writing down the response that comes. He sees this as a way to more closely align his will with God’s. I think this is a wonderful idea but to my embarrassment I must admit that I have never implemented it.
Fifth we need to recognize that our prayers are part of a tapestry as this photo above suggests. They do not stand alone and the answers we get must be woven into that same tapestry. As a simple example it is no good praying for rain when our neighbour is prayer for sun and expect everyone to get their prayers answered. Maybe a better prayer would be God nourish the earth with rain in season and help me to appreciate each day as a gift from you.
In response to my reflections I wrote this short prayer which I am hoping it will also revolve in my mind and draw me closer to that abiding presence of God
Lord thank you that you hear our prayers,
Weave them into your tapestry.
Thank you that you always answer from your heart of love.
Draw us close with your responses.
Thank you that you are at work in every situation,
Transforming, renewing, making all things new.