I like music, especially when it’s worship with real passion. I don’t mind if its loud. It’s OK if it has a beat, because I enjoy a charismatic knees-up! Music has been a major part of my life and still matters to me. In the 60s I was in the popular Christian rock band, The Pilgrims [i] , who were once introduced at a big concert in central London as “not only the best but also the LOUDEST Christian group”. So, I know how to be loud for God. But the best thing I’ve learned since those days is to value silence – but now I’m talking about prayer.
I’m sure that Joshua prayed before he led his people into battle [ii]. After his victory at Jericho, I imagine that he prayed enthusiastically – “LORD, we bless you for the mighty victory you just gave us at Jericho. We did what you said, Lord. We shouted, we sang, we marched – and we blew those rams horns. What a noise! What a thrill! What a triumph! So now, as we attack the city of Ai, we ask you to go with us and bless us, Lord. Amen.”
But, as he prayed, a voice was calling – “Joshua! Joshua! … there’s something you should know.”
Unfortunately, Joshua was so busy praying that he didn’t hear God’s voice!
To pray effectively we need to use our ears as well as our mouth.
God is nearby, and he wants to speak to us – but that only works if we listen.
When God called Samuel, in the quiet of the night [iii], Eli was in the next room, separated by nothing more than a curtain, but Eli didn’t hear a word. When God called again, Eli realised what was happening and sent Samuel back. Samuel listened, and replied “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”
That’s when Samuel’s ministry began.
Elijah, like Joshua, was fresh from a huge victory when God took him aside [iv]. A powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
God can speak in an audible voice, and I believe that happened to me just once. But normally God’s voice is a silent stirring of the senses. To pray effectively we need to recognise that quiet stirring, which is the inner voice. As you come to prayer, it best to start so quietly that we can hear our own breathing and be so still we can feel our heartbeat. To overcome noise and distraction we must seek and love the silence. Christians are often taught the A.C.T.S model of prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) which is good in its place, but it’s all about words.
Preaching starts with words, but prayer starts with silence.
When we come to prayer, it’s best to – Wait – Listen – Value the silence – Let God speak. We need to expose ourselves to the probing of his Spirit, let him examine our motives and show us perspectives that reason alone can’t see.
Paul experienced God’s voice in a dramatic way on the road to Damascus [v] but years of further experience taught him to recognise the subtle voice of God – the strange sense that he was taking a wrong turn – the quiet feeling that he needed to wait for direction – the clear indication that the dream that woke him up was a definite call. Do you know the story?
“Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ’Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” [vi]
Don’t be like Joshua; don’t just choose what you want to do and expect God to bless it.
Be like Paul; allow God to direct, to change or to cancel your plans so you’re free to receive a Macedonian call.
There are many types of prayer, and it is often appropriate to talk to God directly and urgently about the needs of the moment – but don’t make a habit of rushing to prayer with lots of words. Get used to holding back, quietening your mind, sensing the presence of God, and allowing him to lead your prayers.
“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” [vii]
© Derrick Phillips 2022
[ii] Joshua 7:1-11
[iii] 1 Samuel 3:1-10
[iv] 1 Kings 19:11-13
[v] Acts 9:1-7
[vi] Acts 16:6-10
[vii] Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 NIVUK
Yes, there are many ways to pray, and some of them will be just right for your personality and experience. Many faithful people say they find prayer difficult, and that’s often because they are trying to pray in ways that suit other people – but not them. To pray effectively – to feel that prayer is a valuable part of your life – it’s worth exploring the subject and developing a prayer habit that’s meaningful to you.
Still Digging is a book about prayer – many types of prayer. It has 80 chapters, but don’t let that put you off. Each chapter deals with an aspect of prayer, but each chapter is short – short enough to be read with a cup of coffee, or used as part of daily devotions.
The book is available as a paperback or a Kindle eBook. Search Amazon for Still Digging – Scratching the surface and plumbing the depths of prayer.