Friday, April 4, 2008

pray LOUDLY!

Everyone else (see here and here) is referring to this post by David Powlison, but I wanted to mention it for those of you who missed it. It's required reading for anyone who has ever struggled to concentrate through a prayer time.

Here's what he says:
It's fair to say that having a "quiet time" is a misnomer. We should more properly have a "noisy time." By talking out loud we live the reality that we are talking with another person, not simply talking to ourselves inside our own heads. ... We can ... close the door, take a walk, get in the car—and speak up. ... Prayer is verbal because it is relational. ... I've known many people whose relationship with God was significantly transformed as they started to speak up with their Father. Previously, "prayer" fizzled out in the internal buzz of self-talk and distractions, worries and responsibilities. Previously, what they thought of as prayer involved certain religious feelings, or a set of seemingly spiritual thoughts, or a vague sense of comfort, awe, and dependency on a higher power. Prayer meandered, and was virtually indistinguishable from thoughts, sometimes indistinguishable from anxieties and obsessions. But as they began to talk aloud to the God who is there, who is not silent, who listens, and who acts, they began to deal with him person-to-person. It's no gimmick or technique (and there are other ingredients, too, in creating wise, intelligent, purposeful, fervent prayer). But out loud prayer became living evidence of an increasingly honest and significant relationship. As they became vocal, their faith was either born or grew up.
I have definitely found that going for a walk or choosing a time when no-one is around (early in the morning? late at night?) so I can talk out loud, sing, or recite Bible verses when I pray and meditate (reflect on God's truth) focusses my thoughts, frees me from self-absorption and helps me to concentrate.

In his post, Powlison explores the Psalms and the teaching of Jesus, and comments on the prayer of contemplation, Buddhist and Hindu practices, and what it means to be quiet before God. You can read the rest here.


Ruth McIntosh said...

Hi Jean, love your blog, but i have to respond to this one.
I think Powlison makes a great point here. Speaking out loud to God is totally appropriate, Scriptural and helpful. I do however have problems with many of his comments about silence before God. Two psalms command us to 'be still' before God (Ps 37:7; Ps 46:10). Ps 46:10 comes at the end of a psalm that talks about physical turmoil (earthquakes, the raging sea), and political turmoil and wars. Our response to danger may appropriately be loud cries to God, but the psalmist cousels us to 'be still' and know that whatever terror besets us, God is God - he WILL be exalted.
I would counsel that we choose not only to talk, but to be silent in God's presence - AND we don't have to wait for an earthquake! In my experience there is wonder, joy and much blessing in being still before God and listening to him...
- asking him questions and listening to the thoughts or impressions that come to mind (testing them against Scripture, but trusting the he is a God who speaks)
- pondering the Bible verses he brings to mind or silently holding before him a situation that concerns me
- or simply enjoying his presence and rejoicing in his amazing and overwhelming love
Joyce Huggett's 'Listening to God' is a wonderful resource and encouragement. The story of a woman who found the joy of being in God's presence in silence as well as in spoken prayer.
Conversations are about talking AND listening to someone. Powlison puts it so well - "the living God is highly verbal". Let's not just talk to him, but choose to be silent and listen to what he has to say to us!

Jean said...


I’m not sure we’re ever going to agree on this one!! But here’s my thoughts:

I think God speaks to us through the Bible, and we speak to God through prayer. Steve did a word-search in the Bible for a talk on prayer, and found 28 different words for prayer, all of which were “speaking” words – e.g. talking, asking, begging, calling out, promising. They weren’t about listening to God. I think we listen to God when we read / hear / remember / obey the Bible.

Which might sound dry, but I can testify that speaking to God in prayer, and listening to him speak to me in the Bible, is a wondrous, joyful, intimate, living way of relating to the God who brings peace and comfort through prayer, and who speaks his Word with power into my heart through his Spirit.

On Psalm 37:7 and Psalm 46:1:
- I don’t think these verses call us to wait on God in silence. Psalm 46:10 – “be still and know that I am God” – is a call to God’s enemies to stop struggling in the face of God’s judgement (see here) and Psalm 37:7 is a call to God’s people to stop grumbling and wait patiently for God’s rescue from their enemies (see here). I’d quote some big, reputable commentary if we had one on our shelf, but we don’t, so these will have to do!

On “asking him questions and listening to the thoughts or impressions that come to mind”:
- While God can speak to us any way he wants – through visions, inner words, dreams, or even donkeys (as he did to Balaam, Num. 22-24) – the main and sufficient way he speaks is through the Bible (1 Timothy 3:16-17 – the Bible “thoroughly equips” us for “every” good work).
- So I don’t think being “silent before God” and waiting for him to speak should be a regular part of prayer, as if this were the norm for how God communicates with us. I don’t think God promises to speak to us in this way, and it can potentially undermine the role of the Bible in our lives, as if the Bible is not enough on its own. I think “trusting that he is a God who speaks,” as you put it so well, is trusting that he speaks to us through his living and powerful Word.
- I also think listening for God’s voice can be very confusing and open to abuse – that we may easily mistake our own feelings and impressions for God’s voice – although I know you say to test everything by the Bible, which I totally agree with!

On pondering the Bible verses he brings to mind:
- I agree with you that God’s Spirit brings the Bible to mind, which is one way God speaks to us through the Bible. I agree it’s great to ponder these verses (as well as others!) but not that this is part of “prayer.” I would call it “meditation” i.e. reflecting on God’s Word (which would be verbal quibbling except that there’s so much confusion about the nature of prayer).

On “silently holding before him a situation that concerns me”
- I think the Bible’s solution to anxiety about a worrying situation is to “pray” (Phil. 4:6) i.e. ask God for help, and to remember God’s promises and the comfort he gives us in the Bible.

On “simply enjoying his presence and rejoicing in his amazing and overwhelming love”
- I have no problems with enjoying God’s presence silently! Silence can be a natural response to overwhelming emotion like delight, awe or anguish. But I don’t think this is “prayer.”
- I don’t think silence should be used as a means to hear God speak, or as a means to “union with God” or ecstatic experience of God.

On “Conversations are about talking AND listening to someone. Powlison puts it so well - "the living God is highly verbal". Let's not just talk to him, but choose to be silent and listen to what he has to say to us!”
- Yes, conversations are two-way, but I think the conversation between us and God is normally God speaking to us through the Bible, and us speaking to God in prayer.

You should post your comment on the Pawlison post and see what he says! I’d be interested to hear how he responds.