God Does Not Speak To You In Prayer! Or Does He?
Recently, I read a flyer for a conference on prayer that contained this line: “God does not speak to His children in prayer.” I have to admit that when I first read this line, I was a little taken aback. “Certainly,” I thought to myself, “There must be some mistake. Of course God speaks to His children in prayer!” Immediately, in the back of my mind, I began to rattle through some of the instances where God did in fact speak to His children in prayer. I even ran across an instance of God speaking in prayer during my devotions just this morning. Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, is barren. But the couple desperately desires kids. So Isaac, as a faithful husband, turns to God in prayer:
Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:21-23)
In just three verses, we read of two instances in which the Lord “speaks” in prayer. The Lord “answers” Isaac’s prayer when He grants his wife a pregnancy and He speaks to Rebekah as well, foretelling the destinies of the twins within her womb. So how can a conference on prayer dare to claim, “God does not speak to His children in prayer”?
A few points are in order concerning God and His speaking to us in prayer. First, it is important to remember that these passages are descriptive and not prescriptive. That is, they recount for us a specific and historical instance in which God answers Isaac’s prayer through an action and speaks to Rebekah’s prayer with a foretelling. This does not necessarily mandate, however, that God will speak to our prayers in this same way. An example of how God works in one instance does not necessarily set the pattern for how God will work in every instance. Thus, while these passages contain a historical narrative, they do not necessarily contain a divine promise. Second, apart from the consideration of descriptive and prescriptive passages of Scripture, it does seem as though biblical authors do indeed count on and even expect God to speak to them in prayer. The Psalmist declares: “I call on You, O God, for You will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer” (Psalm 17:6). The Psalmist expects an answer from God when he prays to Him. Thus, it seems only reasonable that we too, like the Psalmist, should expect God to answer our prayers, for we too, like the Psalmist, are children of God. Third, we must finally ask not just, “Does God speak to us in prayer?” but, “How does God speak to us in prayer?” This is the question that flyer for the prayer conference addresses next.
The flyer continues, “God readily speaks to His children in His Word and in the Sacraments, as the Holy Spirit gives His divine counsel through very clear direction or sometimes His ‘nudging.’” In other words, if you want an answer to prayer, read your Bible! Participate in worship and gladly receive Communion! Keep an ear attuned to heaven for divine appointments! For through these ways, God speaks. God does indeed speak to us in prayer, just not necessarily through a miraculous sign or an audible voice.
God’s simple way of speaking to us through His Word in prayer comes out especially clearly in the Lord’s Prayer. For instance, in this prayer, we pray to God, “Give us this day our daily bread.” How does God answer this prayer? Through His Word, of course! “The eyes of all look to You, O LORD, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:15-16). In this prayer, we pray to God, “Forgive us our trespasses.’ How does God answer this prayer? Through His Word, of course! “If You, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness; therefore You are feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). In this prayer, we pray to God, “Lead us not into temptation.” How does God answer this prayer? Through His Word, of course! “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (James 1:13). In each of these instances, God gives us a clear and unequivocal answer through His Word. Thus, it is good to pray with a Bible in hand. For through Holy Scripture, God speaks!
Can God speak to us in prayer through other means? Of course He can. He is omnipotent. Ultimately, He can answer in any way He chooses, though He will never contradict what He has already revealed through His Word (cf. John 10:35). But before you beg for some divine sign in the sky in answer to your prayer, crack open your Bible. For while you are praying, God is answering most often in the simple way of His Word. And couldn’t we all use an answer from God to our prayers?