What God Really Hears When We Pray  
Copyright 2003 by William Meisheid (02-01-03)

In the last issue of the Chimes I talked about reconditioning your harness through prayer, of the importance of prayer in getting ourselves ready for the work that God has for us to do. We saw that prayer was real work in and of itself and we talked about the need to do it regularly.

As Christians, we all pray. Some of us pray regularly, even daily, and a few of us pray throughout the day. However, most of us pray "as needed". We wait for something to happen in our lives, some crisis or need to cross our path, before we seriously approach God in prayer. I am not talking about the off-handed prayer that pops out, like "Lord help me find a parking place"; I am talking about when we seriously engage God.

If we are honest, we would probably agree that most of the prayer that makes its way to God is related to crises or significant needs. If that is true, shouldn't the most important consideration be what God will hear, not what we should say? After all, it is what we really communicate to God that is the important thing, whether in a crisis or in any and all of the prayers we offer to God. We may think that we have to get the words of our prayer just right, to be sure of what we are saying, so that we can be sure of what God hears. The truth apparently lies elsewhere.

Let me explain. There is a wonderful story taken from the Interpreter's Bible Exodus commentary that expresses the heart of this "what does God hear" issue.

God and the archangel Michael were in one of the anterooms of heaven. In a continuous torrent, all of the prayers of mankind, oral and sung, were ascending from earth to the presence of God. It was a babel of sound in every possible tongue. It stood on all sides of every question, filled with hurricanes of passionate demands, winds of whining speech spiced with flattering words, violent gusts of insistent demands, seeking special favors. Michael, overwhelmed with it all, suggested to God, "If You will allow me, Sire, I would say that You made a great mistake when You allowed man to talk. If he were not able to talk, then You, not needing to hear his words, might know he was really praying for." God quietly replied, "I do not listen to their words, I listen only to their lives." He closed the large windows and opened a small door. The tempest of words stopped. Instead, from the earth, another prayer climbed to God's presence, clear and uncluttered. The loudest portion of it was truly distressing, but a weak, wavering voice also spoke from the lives of men to heaven: "O Lord, if it does not cost us too much, could we sometimes be just and courageous and kind. Amen."

That story brought me up short. This is more than just a thought-provoking yarn. James 4:3 says, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." This verse reminds us that our motives are not always as pure and holy as the words of our prayers.

Our motives are not always obvious in our words. Instead, motives are matters of the heart and are often deeply hidden from sight, sometimes even from our own casual glances. Jeremiah warned us, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9) The answer is God alone. As to us, we may have deceived ourselves into thinking we are nobler than we really are, that our words say everything that is to be said.

So we see that God looks at what we are really saying, not just at our words, and it appears the biggest speaker we have is our lives. Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 7:20, "Thus, by their fruit [their lives] you will recognize them."

Where does that leave us, as we try to make prayer an integral part of our lives? It makes us remember that when we pray, God is looking at what our life says, as well as what our words say. As a result, we also need to examine both the words of our prayers and the prayer of our life lived and, if necessary, begin to make the necessary alterations. Next time I will examine the prayer of our life lived and discuss how we can begin to make those changes.