Making prayer a dialogue rather than a monologue
April 18, 2019
This column is called Conversation with God. Readers might ask, “How is prayer a conversation?” It’s easy to see how we talk to God, but how does he talk to us? Can we really expect to hear from God when we pray?
One of the misconceptions I often encounter comes from people who desire to make their prayer more truly a conversation. They want to be guided by God, to hear his voice. They sit down to pray and simply listen, waiting for God to speak to their hearts. Sometimes God may speak to us in this way.
Sitting and waiting for God to speak can also invite both frustration and deception, however. If God does not seem to speak, what do we do next? Continue sitting there waiting? Start talking to him? Get up and do something else? On the other hand, if we do encounter some inspirations, insights or ideas, how can we be sure they come from God? They might just be our own thoughts. They could even be deceptions from the devil.
The solution to this dilemma is to do something altogether different in prayer. Instead of waiting for God to speak to us directly on any subject at all, we can listen to his voice in sacred Scripture. Meditating on Scripture has been a favorite prayer method of the saints since Old Testament times. The Psalms frequently speak of “meditating on God’s word day and night” (see Ps 1:2).
The Bible is the Word of God, divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit. When we read it prayerfully, we are reading a message from God. We can begin our mental prayer by asking the Holy Spirit to guide our reading, to speak to us through the Scriptures. Then when we slowly and reverently read a passage of the Bible, we can look for new insights into the character of Christ, encouragement in our struggles and insight into God’s will. During mental prayer, passages we have heard dozens of times before come alive in a new way. God speaks to us through Scripture. Then we respond to what he has said. Prayer becomes a dialogue.
We don’t have to ask ourselves, “Did God really say that, or was it just my imagination?” We have the text in front of us. We need not go away frustrated, wondering why God is silent.
Now, sometimes, of course, a particular passage may not seem to speak to us. We might not understand how it applies to our lives. Yet God assures us that his word “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish what I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:11). It will always bear fruit in our lives, even if we do not clearly see that fruit. All we must do is be open and reverent.
We all long to dialogue with our Creator. Meditating on Scripture helps us to do so in a concrete way that preserves us from potential frustration or deception. By beginning prayer with Scripture, we allow God’s self-revelation to permeate our hearts in a deeper way. Then we have something to converse with God about.
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is co-author of The Contemplative Rosary just released by EWTN Publishing and author of four other books on Catholic spirituality.