Reflecting on prayer we encounter various difficulties involved with prayer.  Some people express the difficulty they experience this way: How do I get through to God? But that’s the wrong question.  The question is; how does God get through to me?  Look at what the Bible tells us on virtually every page. God speaks first.  He speaks his word of invitation, his word of love for us.   We need to learn to be open, to listen to that word.  Elie Wiesel, in his book Souls on Fire, tells how his grandfather taught him that “to listen is to receive.”  Surely that is true in a special way when we listen to God in prayer.  God’s gifts are superabundant.  God wants to give us those gifts.  Our challenge is to listen, to open our minds and our hearts to receive those gifts.

A wise mother, replying to her daughter’s complaint that God had not answered her prayer, replied: “God always answers prayers.  You were not listening.”  But to listen, truly to listen, is not easy.  We often hear only what we want to hear.  We call that   selective hearing.  We all practice it.

They say that to translate the Chinese character for listening you need to express   five ideas: you, ear, eyes, heart, and undivided attention.  That illustrates why real listening in prayer does not come easily and naturally.  It requires preparation and sustained effort.  Soren Kierkegaard once wrote: “A man prayed and at first he thought prayer was talking.  But he became more and more quiet until in the end      he realized that prayer is listening.”

There is a way to gauge how well we are listening when we pray.  It is this.  If all our praying really boils down to saying: “Dear God, please make things different!” we are not listening to God speaking to us through the everyday circumstances and events of our lives.  To have God always making things different than they are cannot be the ultimate purpose of prayer.  You can ask for that, for a situation to change, but you have to add, as Jesus did in Gethsemane; “Let it be as you, not I, would have it.”

There is a phrase which sums up   what is really important about prayer….   “a listening heart.”   A good prayer, both in itself and as a way into deeper prayer,  is simply to say: “Lord, give me a listening heart!”