“Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”—James 1:18 (ESV)
Matthew George Easton (1823-1894) was a smart guy who not only spoke to God directly, but also wrote a bible dictionary. In it, he defined prayer as a “converse with God; the intercourse of the soul with God, not in contemplation or meditation, but in direct address to him.”
That prayer is a conversation that goes on between us and God. He talks to us and we also talk to Him. Think of a stage play where two actors are communicating, one asks a question and the other responds with a worthy answer. So is prayer.
Now this may seem obvious to you and me but it’s not. I’ll tell you why.
Picture a prayer scene (it maybe you praying). What goes on when you pray? Do you think of prayer as you making demands to God because He is big, and smart, and has everything figured out? Do you do the talking so that God, who is unaware of the sun’s scotching heat and the pressing demands of the economy sits back on the other side of the line to do the listening as you wax eloquent about your life lessons, and how His I-don’t-care attitude nearly got you run over by a God-forsaken lunatic of Bodaboda rider?
For the most part, we Christians, like everyone else are a selfish, egoistic, greedy, I-want-it-all lot. We desire every ounce of attention, but we give none of it to others. Like Jonah, our sense of entitlement is deeper the world’s itching desires combined.
We want prayer to be about us. So we literally tell God: “Shut up, I have something important to say. You created this hell-hole of a planet so better listen to me good.” We have perfected that craft. Like a popcorn machine, we even do it all night. Talking and talking from the time the sun gives way to darkness until darkness hands back the reins to the sun, still talking.
What we call prayer is a listing of our sinful desires and passions inspired by a wretched motivation called free-will. It’s true what someone said: man left to his own resources can never amount to anything good, he will self-destruct. He will eat from the forbidden tree; hark his only brother to death; steal someone’s birth right; trade his wife for glory and prestige; sell his brother into slavery; let lust get the better of him; have a man killed and then steal his wife; and many other self-willed crafts.
Self-will is man without a leash. It’s dangerous, even more when it creeps into our holy dictum we call prayer.
What about God speaking to us? Isn’t it important? How about we shut up and let God do the talking as we do the listening?
This devotion is not a call “to do more listening than talking”; to the contrary, it’s a call to faith. Failure to listen to God has nothing to do with your doing, but everything with your believing.
Prayer is a response to something. It has no legs of its own to stand on. Because God reached down by His incarnate Word—Jesus Christ—we are able to reach up to Him in prayer. We talk to Him because He has already talked to us. How does he talk to us? Martin Luther says by His ‘External Word’—the gospel. He adds: “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture.”
Prayer is meant to be a dialogue. But in this case, a passivity on our part and an activity on God’s part. It is by God that we do. His gift of grace births in us, not first a talking mouth but a listening ear.
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? …” (Romans 10:14, ESV).
Because He has spoken by His External Word, so we speak to Him. Indeed He has spoken.
That is your Lifeline, AMEN.