Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
1 Samuel 3:10
God speaks, and we listen; we speak and God listens. It’s an ongoing, running conversation. It’s the gist of prayer. But you might wonder: “How is God speaking to me?”
There are countless ways that God speaks to us. We would not limit the many ways in which the infinitely creative God speaks to us, gets our attention, and wants us to respond to Him. God often speaks to me in the starry night, the faithful words of a friend, an illness, holding a baby, the seasons of the year and the seasons of life. He who is the eternal “Word” revealed in the flesh, is always speaking, always longing for us. We grow in prayer as we learn to pay attention to God’s speaking.
As Christians we believe that God speaks to us most clearly through His Son and through the revelation of His Son in Scripture. Therefore, all of the great teachers on prayer link prayer to the Bible. “Open the Bible, start reading it, and pause at every verse and turn it into prayer.” (John Piper) “Let us nurse our prayer on our study of the Bible.” (P. T. Forsyth) “It’s the best way to read the Bible: as prayer.” (Peter Kreeft) The great George Mueller read the Bible on his knees, ready to translate what he read into prayer.
In 1935 Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to Nazi Germany from the relative safety of London so he could lead an illegal, underground seminary for the training of pastors. Stealthily he traveled from village to village overseeing the “seminary on the run”. Bonhoeffer thought the linking of prayer to Scripture so vital that he required students to devote 30 minutes a day to prayerful reading of Scripture. In the seminary handbook Bonhoeffer spoke of the importance of tying prayer to Scripture:
We have already said that the most promising method of prayer is to allow oneself to be guided by the word of the Scriptures, to pray on the basis of a word of Scripture. In this way we shall not become the victim of our own emptiness. Prayer means nothing else but the readiness and willingness to receive and appropriate the Word… And we are certain that our prayer will be heard, because it is a response to God’s Word and promise. (Life Together)
I hear multiple complaints about prayer from people: they say they don’t know how to pray; they feel like they’re saying the same thing over and over; that it’s hard to concentrate; that prayer is boring and nothing seems to happen. But Eugene Peterson reminds us that effective prayer begins with listening to God’s Word speaking to us:
Prayer is never the first word. It is always the second word. God has the first word. Prayer is answered speech; it is not primarily ‘address’ but ‘response’… The first word is God’s word. Prayer is a human word and is never the first word, never the primary word, never the initiating and shaping word because we are never first, never primary. (Working the Angles)
With Samuel of old we say to God: “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
What are some ways you have experienced God “speaking” to you recently?
Now ready yourself to listen for God speaking to you in Scripture. Slowly read Psalm 23 (next page), pausing to turn various lines into prayer. This might mean pausing to thank God for specific times He has acted as your Shepherd. You might ask Him to lead you through a difficult time. You might thank Him for providing what you need, or ask Him to provide for you now. You might talk with Him about some perceived lack in your life. This is conversation with God; let the Spirit of God lead you.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
“A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer was listening.”
Soren Kierkegaard, Christian Discourses