By Addison Bevere, Crosswalk.com
Have you ever been alone in a great canyon? One of those caverns that traps sound waves, making them skip across surfaces and travel back to you? The reverberations are fun to manipulate, at least for a while, but eventually, it gets old listening to yourself on repeat. Conversations, by definition, are supposed to involve two or more people, so it’s only natural for us to want someone else to get involved.
For many of us, though, praying to God feels like yelling within a great canyon. Sometimes it may seem like someone’s joining the conversation, but how can we be sure that other voice isn’t just an echo of our own thoughts, words, and desires? How can we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we’re not just having words with ourselves?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to hear God’s voice: a loud, booming voice. Heavenly words that were clear and undeniable. Anytime I’d pray as a kid, I’d hope that voice would respond.
But it never did.
How Do We Talk to God?
Another voice danced around inside of me, though. I’d try to sort out where it came from...my head, my heart, my gut? If the voice came from my head, then surely it was my own thoughts, but if it came from my heart or somewhere deep in my gut, shouldn’t that be God’s space? We’re told that Jesus lives in our hearts, so it’d make sense that that’s where he speaks from…right?
But despite my best efforts, I had the hardest time sorting out where the voice came from.
The people who seem to know their way around prayer would tell me to pray with passion and listen more than I speak. For years, though, these instructions seemed incongruent. How can I passionately listen? If I hear something, I’ll pay attention to it, but if I don’t, I don’t. I can’t listen to what’s not there: either God speaks to me, or he doesn’t. Just get on with telling me which one it is and how it works. This whole prayer thing feels important, so we need to get it right, right?
We often get God’s words wrong, though. Even the Bible has been used to endorse behaviors and decisions that Heaven knows aren’t right. So how can we be sure God is talking…and what’s the right way to talk back? Where do we go when we need to have words with God?
Knowing the Voice Intimately
Scripture tells us that we knew the Voice intimately once, back in that Garden. There was no denying the voice of God; he walked with us in the cool of the day. But it would seem his voice wasn’t enough. We wanted to go around the Voice, to whatever may be behind it: the knowledge of good and evil, the answers to self-sufficiency, a godlike independence. So we didn’t listen to the Voice. We chose a different voice, the voice of the Accuser. This voice confirmed our suspicions. There was more to be had, and we wouldn’t be happy until we had whatever “it” was. The Voice was holding out on us, keeping us from discovering our own voice.
We know how that story goes.
But what’s fascinating to me is the Voice didn’t stay in the Garden. It moved with us. Even after we sinned and spilled our brother’s blood, the Voice showed up and kept on speaking to us. But over time, fewer people heard the Voice. They were too busy building their own stuff, leveraging their newfound knowledge and skill. Largely, the Voice that unites us all was forgotten, and humankind listened to a restless voice that accused and vilified, setting the world in a violent frenzy. The Accuser had everyone’s ear, and life became worse than death.
It’s hard to hear the Voice when the Accuser is constantly speaking: Get more knowledge. Do something spectacular, for God’s sake, make something of your life, or throw yourself off a building. Our lives are bombarded by this voice. From the moment we’re born, we’re coaxed into “more.” Our progress is never good enough. Our brains are never smart enough. Our passion is never big enough. This is the voice of our making, or I guess it would be our unmaking.
And the people around us mean well, but their words are often tainted by their own accusations: the strongholds of doubt, regret, and shame that shrink their lives into rigidity or chaos. We grow up believing that this voice is the only voice. This must be the way the universe communes with us, so we search for God within the Accuser’s voice.
There are some of us who know the Accuser’s voice isn’t the great Voice. While the Accuser is abrupt and persistent, the voice of God is subtle, wooing us into awe-filled delight. At first, it sounds like a babbling brook or a tree dancing in the wind, but there’s something in the sound that we didn’t notice before, a resonance that quietly sings within us. Or is it actually outside of us? It’s too hard to tell. In the words of the great theologian Karl Barth, “O, if we could actually hear, if we could but hear this voice that resounds so clearly within us as actually God’s voice. If we could only believe. Then we could also speak.”
Can You Hear the Voice?
Through patience, steadfastness, and faith, some of us realize that the Voice is not just something out there; it belongs to the One in whom we live, and move, and have our being. It is within us. We’ve got it all backward; we’re not yelling across a canyon in the dark. Our voice is an echo of the Voice. It would seem that having words with God is about joining the conversation, not starting it.
The Voice is speaking. Can you hear it? Will you answer?
The gospel tells us the good news that we’ve largely gotten God (and prayer) wrong, and that’s why we should repent, stop listening to the Accuser, and return to the Voice. The Accuser has no right to dictate or deny our prayers. In fact, Scripture tells us that the Spirit and Son constantly intercede so that we, through our prayers, would know the surety and connectedness of God’s presence, a surety that takes us into and through the canyon. They intercede that we may know the Voice and follow it home.
And the dangerous truth is that the canyon is the pathway home. Like a child sent into the wilderness for a rite of passage, so our journey takes us into and through the silence. It’s in the canyon that we wrestle with God and discover who we are and what we’re capable of. It’s in the canyon where empty words are exchanged for a real connection. It’s in the canyon that we face off with our ideas of God, prayer, and many other things, so we can surrender to the universal mind of Christ. It’s in the canyon that we figure out that a “prayer life” is much more than a spiritual exercise; it’s the higher consciousness that reorders and integrates life, reclaiming every bit of living (and us) as holy and necessary to God’s purposes and design.
The canyon’s silence helps us join our voice—our holy amen—with the Voice again.
For even in the canyon’s echo, the Voice speaks.
Article adapted from Words with God: Trading Boring, Empty Prayer for Real Connection (Revell, copyright 2023)
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/happyphoton
Addison Bevere serves as the COO of Messenger International, a discipleship organization that impacts millions of people in virtually every country through various initiatives. He is also a co-founder of SonsAndDaughters.tv. Addison and Juli Bevere live in Nashville with their four children.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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