Do you pray often? Do you pray regularly? Every day? Do you say a prayer before bed, after you wake up, or before you eat? Many people pray at one of those times every day. Here’s how those prayers often go: “Dear Lord, thank you, do something for someone, Amen.” There are four parts to the typical prayer: greeting, gratitude, request, and closing.
The greeting is like a letter (what people used to write before the Internet) or email. It identifies the intended recipient/reader/listener. In this case, it’s God.
The gratitude section is where people thank God for whatever they want. Whether they are thankful for a good day, health, family, or something else, they often express gratitude to God. Sometimes, praise or glorification is included in the gratitude portion, wherein the person proclaims aspects of God’s nature and person. These are forms of gratitude, though, in that the one praying is thankful that God is whatever is they express about him.
The third section is often the longest: request. Here people ask God to do something for them or someone else. People pray for healing (the most common), financial help, wisdom. Sometimes rants are included before the request: “I have this or that problem” followed by the request regarding that specific problem.
The closing is short and sweet: “Amen” (or for some denominations, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Once the closing is offered, the prayer is over. Some may call this the salutation, but it’s actually treated more like a real closing, a “the end” to conclude the prayer. Once the person closes the prayer, they return to whatever they were doing, often believing that their communication with God is completed for the time being.
But is this really a complete prayer life? Say the four parts and move on? These type of prayers are often ritualized monologues. Prayer, though, is a dialogue. God speaks, too, and exclusively through the Bible. The Holy Spirit speaks to us, as well.
When we pray, do we take time to listen, or do we just speak? Do we treat God like an exalted listening post, or do we earnestly desire his reply? Maybe it’s time we did less “praying” and more dialoguing with the Lord. Next time you wonder why God won’t answer your prayer, maybe you need to stop vocalizing and start listening.
When Elijah was in the cave (1 Kings 19:11-12), he received instructions from God. As he sat there, a mighty wind arose, there was an earthquake, and a fire. But God was not in the strong wind, earthquake, or fire. God did not speak loudly and with force. He did not use a proverbial bullhorn to blast his words to Elijah. Rather, God spoke in the gentle breeze.
Elijah could have easily missed it amidst all the things going on around him, but he didn’t. He heard the Lord’s voice. Why? He was listening. His mouth was closed and his ears were open. Sometimes we miss God’s voice because we’re focused on—or even look for—something exciting. We want the trumpet blast and rolling thunder (cf. Exod 20:18-19). Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in our own situations or livelihoods to notice God speaking.
Prayer is not a matter of speaking four parts and moving on; it is not a monologue. Prayer is dialogue with God. God is ready to talk, are you ready to listen? This week, find time to be more like Elijah, listening for the Lord to speak to you in the gentle breezes.