“There was a time when I thought of my prayers as some kind of lottery. I might get lucky on a few of my scratch- board prayers and clock up a few ticks, as if I were checking God off against the shopping list. Big wins were a lot less likely – really only dreams. Some people even keep diaries of the answers they feel they have, or have not, received to their specific prayers.”
So begins Margaret Silf in the chapter titled “Why Don’t You Answer My Prayers?” in her book “Inner Compass“. In an earlier post, Return to Sender, I noted a kind of cynicism that pervades prayer when we think of it in unhelpful ways; this often betrays how we think wrongly about the God to whom we pray in the first place.
Listen to how Margaret Silf continues to elaborate on prayer:
Today, though, I really question this way of thinking of payer and the ways in which God responds to it… Imagine [instead] our deepest desires as a powerful underground stream… this stream is so deep in our hearts that for the most part we are not even aware of it ourselves… but this stream does show itself sometimes in the conscious levels of our lives. Like a mountain stream, it bubbles up in small springs and little fountains and trickles along the way… these trickles may show themselves as areas of our experience where we are consciously striving for some specific happiness or success or fulfilment… or they may be more obvious by their absence (dry patches, empty spaces)…
All the while the deep current flows on, holding our deepest desire, often unspoken and unrecognized… when I let my prayer become this deep flow that I can’t even name or ever fully know, the amazing truth [is] that God is continually responding to it… If I believe that God is continually responding to my deepest desire, then it follows that by observing God’s actions in my life and His movement in my heart, I will be able to see more and more clearly what my deepest desires really are. Paradoxical though it may appear, I will become able to hear my prayers by listening to the answers, and not the other way around…
My prayer is not really mine at all but rather expresses the movements of my deepest underground streams and currents that spring from God and are known and understood fully only by Him. God’s answers are not brought about by my prayer all… rather, my prayer is the response to God’s action in my life and His presence in my heart.”
I resonate with Silf’s insights, partially because of the wonderful paradox noted in an earlier post, No Storyless Prayers:
“In the wonderful paradox of God, we find Him to be both the subject and object of prayer; He is the listener and the inspirer of prayer, for prayer eventually matures from being all about us – to being all about Him. And yet, we do not lose our value to the story simply because we find ourselves displaced from our selfish perch. The story cannot be told (prayer cannot be prayed) without us, though it really isn’t about us in the end.”
Let me invite you to tell me what you know about prayer and the God of prayer. What is your experience with the wonderful paradox as you’ve grown in prayer?