By Rowan Wyatt
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you”. Matthew 6:6 ESV
As an ex professional musician I have always sought to take care of my ears and my hearing. When I first started out there wasn’t a lot of choice for hearing protection, either foam earplugs, which made it impossible to hear what you were doing, or nothing at all which at times was just as bad. I learned to position myself better so I could buffer the other noises away and just hear my own guitar amplifier and if the stage was big enough I would position myself right at the front to get as far away from the, very high wattage, amps we would use. Then a few years ago, as I was winding down my music and just playing for fun I discovered some new types of ear plugs on the market. These silicone buds fitted in your ears but had different filter levels you could adjust to achieve your desired filter level. I could finally hear what I was playing without the deafening distraction of all that was going on around me.
I like to pray in the way Jesus prescribed in the above scripture, for as much as praying is talking to God a huge part is listening to him. I like to spend time in intimate reflection and quiet contemplation to hear that still small voice, sometimes a ‘knock you off your feet’ gust! Free from distraction and conducive to being able to hear with a degree of clarity, away from distracting noise. Filtering out the distractions just like I did with the expensive ear plugs I mentioned above.
I love this poem by my fellow Welshman W.H. Davies which I first encountered as a quiet boy at school, to me it is a total reflection of modern spiritual life, it’s lack of quiet listening and its words should be heeded: –
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
How wonderful those words and how poignant with the rush and immediacy of the modern world. Everything is required immediately, a quick fix whilst bustling on with the busy, noisy and hectic lives we lead. Who wants to waste time listening for Gods voice, see his beauty in nature or feel his hand on your back. It seems few people do today, lost amid the fancy big screens, ego laden worship bands and the game show host leaders of the mega churches. I guess God does reach people in these places but not this pilgrim.
Listening to God is the most important aspect of your Christian life for if you are not taking the time or even bothering to try and listen to what he has to say to you then prayer just becomes a one sided babble. You hear it said so often that people are waiting to hear from God despite their constant prayer, are they taking the time to listen?
I had been struggling with some issues recently and despite praying I wasn’t hearing from God, felt no presence, felt no comfort and so whilst out one day I popped into the local Catholic church to sit and spend some time in silent contemplation. I began to pray and after giving thanks I asked for help, I heard from God, dramatically, to the point where I had to fall to my knees shaking. I realized that before while praying I was talking AT God not WITH Him and that all I could hear was my own voice, my own self-pity drowning out the voice of God.
But Rowan, surely God is all powerful and omnipresent and can be heard no matter what or where? I hear people asking that as they read this and I totally agree with that statement but I feel, and have experienced many times, that God likes and prefers to talk with us when we are in a peaceful place together, a conversation between just the two of us, intimate, a ‘just between you and me’ state, at least that’s how it works with me. Often when I pray alone, I sit or lie on the floor and as I talk to God I feel a hand on my back, comforting, protecting, fatherly. You don’t get that experience of God if your sole prayer time is a quick two minutes whilst running for your train.
Just listen. Talk to God and then be quiet and wait for him to talk to you. It may be a direct word or just the faintest hint of a whisper in the breeze rustling some leaves in the yard which brings you comfort. Take that time out, make time for it and let God talk to you.
Just listen and see what you can hear, filter out the unwanted noise of life. It may change your life.
Praying “at” God or “with” God is such a big and crucial distinction. Where we locate ourselves really does matter to the type of relationship! And what a great preposition to use in a tradition where we recognize the name of Emmanuel, God With Us. Thank you for this helpful insight!