By Andrew Kreye
“And we have this confidence in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”– 1 John 5:14
“Pray and expect God to speak.” It wasn’t until I heard those words that I really thought about my expectations in prayer.
Looking back, I had two expectations when I prayed; either I would expect nothing to come of it, or I would expect a miraculous event. Neither of these expectations helped me grow closer to God, but I knew I wanted to be closer to Him, and I knew that prayer was supposed to help with that, so I started to pray more.
I didn’t really know “how” to pray at first, so I imitated what I had seen other people do. I talked at God and recited the prayers that I knew; I tried praying the Rosary, got distracted, forgot how many Hail Mary’s I had said, then said a few extra to make up for it because I thought it would be better to say too many than too few.
Then I learned that prayer wasn’t a transaction. I didn’t just put in my time to “earn” a closer relationship to God. I started to think more about how I prayed instead of how long I prayed. I started reading Scripture and praying about prayer, asking God about how He wanted me to pray.
Next, I learned that prayer wasn’t something that I did. God showed me that prayer was a relationship, and He showed me this through the people he brought into my life. He reminded me that a relationship requires dialogues, not monologues. So, I stopped talking at God and started talking to Him.
I started to listen more in prayer, but I didn’t know what I was listening for. It felt like I was waiting in anticipation for a friend to walk into the room, but I didn’t know why he was here. Like my friend had something to tell me, but I wasn’t sure if it was good news or bad news.
It was like I was playing 20 Questions, but the Lord was playing Charades.
Little by little, I started to realize we were playing by different rules, but I still didn’t know what those rules were. (Little did I know I had already been reading the instruction manual.)
Prayer isn’t complicated, though. It isn’t a puzzle that has to be solved. Prayer isn’t something that we “do”. I already knew that, but I still didn’t understand what it meant.
A relationship is something that we live. Once a relationship is formed, it remains in your life, either increasing or decreasing, rarely staying the same, but always staying present.
In high school, I met a little 19th-century nun, and throughout college I got to know her. She died in France in 1897 when she was 24 years old, and still our Lord used her to teach me about loving Him. Saint Thérèse wrote, “The nearer one gets to God, the simpler one becomes.”
God revealed something to her that I had yet to learn, but slowly came to understand.
“For me, prayer is a burst from my heart, it is a simple glance thrown toward Heaven, a cry of thanksgiving and love in times of trial as well as in times of joy”– Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Our relationship with God only becomes complex when we make it that way. God has revealed to us that he loves us unconditionally and that He will keep loving us no matter what we choose. He respects our free will and lets us bear the consequences of our choices, but He is ready to forgive us the moment we go back to Him. However, we use our limited relationships with imperfect humans to try and predict what God wants and how He will act.
Unlike what I used to think, God isn’t playing a game with us or trying to trick us, He’s asking us to be in a relationship with Him. There is no winner or loser in a relationship. The Lord is pursuing us; He isn’t playing “hard-to-get”. In fact, He is always available to us.
Pray and expect God to speak.
He may not speak immediately, and when He does, it may not be what you expect, but would you be interested in a relationship where you could anticipate everything that would happen from the beginning?
God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we need. If we could predict how God would answer us, that would mean we know what’s good for us. And a quick look at human history will show you that that isn’t true.
As a relationship grows, you start to be able to anticipate more of what the other person will do or say, but never completely, and even less so with the infinite God. But prayer does change us. Slowly and subtly. We start to hear God more clearly and to see him more easily in our lives.
Don’t be surprised when you notice that God’s Word has seeped into your heart; He hasn’t arrived without warning, though He may not have given a timeline. Instead, prepare your heart to be a place to welcome Him at any time, even when it’s least expected.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. You have blossomed forth from me. Are you then surprised if a drop of my Heart’s blood trickles into your every thought and deed? Are you surprised if the thoughts of my Heart quietly infiltrate your worldly heart? If a whispering takes wing in you and day and night you perceive a low, beckoning call?” – Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Heart of the World, p. 80