What language does God speak? Could it be ancient Hebrew (as in the Bible)? Or modern Chinese (as in the largest national population in the world)? If it’s either of them, I’m stumped and can’t pray! It would be handy for me if he speaks English, but which of the hundreds of dialects and accents would he prefer? The Bible assures us that God speaks, contrasting him with the “dumb idols” [i] of paganism – and Jesus clearly said “my sheep hear my voice” [ii] – but when God speaks to individual Christians, they rarely report hearing an audible voice. Rather, they sense the stirring of an idea that becomes a message in their head. The message, of course, gets wrapped in the words of the hearer’s own language.
God isn’t bound to human language, and he doesn’t judge our grammar and vocabulary when we speak to him. We may use one of the many beautifully crafted prayers that have been written over the ages. Or we may pray in our own words. But we don’t need to match the poetic language that we read in the prayer books. If our prayer language is clumsy, stumbling, or ungrammatical, he still listens. When we make our requests to him, the language he likes to hear is the simple language of truth. He wants us to say what we truly mean, and what we sincerely believe.
Sometimes when we try to pray, we find ourselves stumbling for words, just as Paul described:
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” [iii]
When we run out of words, we discover the natural language of God – the language of intention – the creative language he has always used. When God created the universe, he didn’t reach out and mould it into shape with giant hands. He spoke – but not in a booming voice that struck terror in all who heard it. He calmly focused his intention, and everything changed.
When we pray, there may be much that we can put into words, and that’s good. But, when we consider some of the items on our prayer list, we may be quite uncertain what to say. At those times it’s good to focus our care on that person, that place, or that situation and yearn in silence for the best possible, or impossible, outcome Quietly contemplating the subject enables us to discover our feelings, and to reach out in wordless love.
Love is the ultimate language of God, and words are often inadequate to express it. We can’t always find the language to express what we hope for in our prayers for other people. We may even struggle to say what we want for ourselves. As for worshipping God, we can rarely find rich enough phrases to express our admiration. But he doesn’t need us to be skilfully expressive. If we have love, it’s enough to linger for a while and be silent in his presence
[i] 1 Corinthians 12:2
[ii] John 10:27
[iii] Romans 8:26 (NIVUK)