The Crisis of Prayer

My post for today comes out of my Lenten devotional by Henri Nouwen. It’s such a good insight into prayer when it seems it’s such a struggle. At times I find myself pushing and shoving in prayer feeling like all the work lies with me. In those times, prayer feels more like a burden and I end up exhausted and disillusioned, rather than a restful place of abiding. What I am discovering is, prayer more about what we hear than what we say.

In your prayers do not babble as the gentiles do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matt. 6:7-8

For many of us, prayer means nothing more than speaking with God. And since it usually seems to be a quite one-sided affair, prayer simply means talking to God. This idea is enough to create great frustrations. If I present a problem, I expect a solution; if I formulate a question, I expect an answer; if I ask for guidance, I expect a response. And when it seems, increasingly, that I am talking into the dark, it is not so strange that I soon begin to suspect that my dialogue with God is in fact a monologue. Then I may begin to ask myself: To whom am I really speaking, God or myself?

Sometimes the absence of an answer makes us wonder if we might have said the wrong kind of prayers, but mostly we feel taken, cheated, and quickly stop “this whole silly thing.” It is quite understandable that we should experience speaking with real people, who need a word and who offer a response, as much more meaningful than speaking with a God who seems to be an expert at hide and seek.

The crisis of our prayer life is that our mind may be filled with ideas of God while our heart remains far from him.

Finally, listen to your heart. It’s there that Jesus speaks most intimately to you. Praying is first and foremost listening to Jesus, who dwells in the very depths of your heart. He doesn’t shout. He doesn’t thrust himself upon you. His voice is an unassuming voice, very nearly a whisper, the voice of a gentle love. Whatever you do with your life, go on listening to the voice of Jesus in your heart. This listening must be an active and very attentive listening, for in our restless and noisy world Jesus’ loving voice is easily drowned out. You need to set aside some time every day for this active listening to Jesus, if only for 10 minutes. Ten minutes each day for Jesus alone can bring about a radical change in your life. You’ll find that it isn’t easy to be still for 10 minutes at a time. You’ll discover straightaway that many other voices—voices that are very noisy and distracting, voices which are not God’s—demand your attention. But if you stick to your daily prayer time, then slowly but surely you’ll come to hear the gentle voice of love and will long more and more to listen to it.  (Taken from Show Me the Way, by Henri Nouwen)

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