††††††††††† Sometime, I think that God is not answering my prayers -- but the realtrouble is that I'm not listening to his answer.

††††††††††† Prayer is a two-person conversation and when we pray, we need to learn to listen for God's voice. If we don't, then how would we know whether he is answering us or not?

††††††††††† Several people in the Bible had their prayers answered by dreams or visions in the night. Is that how God speaks to us?

††††††††††† I do not remember the day I first met my wife; she does not remember first meeting me either. We don't remember meeting each other because we were both members of a large young people's group at church and became aware of each other's existence gradually.

††††††††††† However, I vividly remember how I was convinced that I ought to get aquatinted with this woman and pursue her. That conviction came to me in a dream. I believe that God spoke to me in that one dream.

Now here comes a big disclaimer:

††††††††††† I believe that God hardly ever speaks to me or anyone else in dreams! In my experience, the dream about Ginny was an exception, a never-repeated exception.

††††††††††† Normally I'd be crazy to act on the basis of a dream or to think my prayers are answered by a dream. For instance, last night before bed I was praying about a financial problem; I fell asleep praying and I dreamed that I was naked in the woods where I chased down a deer on foot, killed it with my bare hands, ripped it open and ate the raw bloody meat.

††††††††††† Was God answering my prayer about finances by sending me this dream about becoming a fat Tarzan?

††††††††††† Hardly!

††††††††††† It would take a might strong vine to hold my weight!

What about urges?

††††††††††† If God seldom answers our prayers by dreams, then what about urges? Strong feelings that I want to do something, that I ought to do a certain thing, that I NEED to do it! Does God send us strong mental impressions in answer to our prayers?

††††††††††† I think that He sometimes, but rarely, does.

††††††††††† Ginny and I often pray to be sensitive to God's voice, to be aware of his guidance when he wants us to do -- or not do -- something.

††††††††††† Once about 3 a.m., I woke up suddenly knowing that my uncle and aunt were in grave danger!

††††††††††† I don't know how I knew this, I just did.

††††††††††† I woke Ginny and told her. We felt that God had warned me about my uncles' danger. We prayed for their protection and decided that I'd better drive over to their house right now and rescue them. I threw on my clothes and drove rapidly across town to their home where I found...

††††††††††† Everybody safe and well and sound asleep!

††††††††††† Odd, isn't it?

††††††††††† What kind of mind game was God playing with me to mislead me like that? Or perhaps, God was not speaking to me at all? Maybe this urge had nothing to do with God's guidance. Maybe it was the result of the pizza and chocolate ice cream I'd eaten earlier that evening.

††††††††††† Yet there have been other times when I felt the same sort of urge but it did seem as things worked out that God may have been speaking to me.

††††††††††† Once when I drove a tractor trailer truck cross-country, praying as I drove as I often did, I felt that God would have me turn off the main route across Ohio and drive north. No reason given. I debated it a while then started north away from the Interstate. Drove a few miles. Nothing happened. Decided this was dumb and pulled into a truckstop for supper before heading back to where I belonged.

††††††††††† While I was eating, another truck driver walked up to my table. "Look, Buddy," he said, "I've got to talk to somebody. Could I sit here and talk to you?"

††††††††††† He had been driving along a different road, crying over his family problems as he drove, when he felt an urge to leave his route and come to the intersection where we meet. Neither of us even knew there was a truckstop on that road.

††††††††††† He left that place as a Christian with hope. He planned to go back to his wife. He said our conversation had helped.

††††††††††† I suspect the urges to turn off the road which the other driver and I both felt were indeed urges from God -- An odd thought occurs to me: by obeying my urge, I became an answer to that guy's prayers! If I had not followed the urge, his prayer would have remained un-answered, at least by me.

††††††††††† In each of these incidents from years ago the urges I experienced both felt exactly the same.

††††††††††† In the first case, maybe the urge I thought had come from God really came from eating all that pizza; in the second case, truckstops are where trucks stop, nothing miraculous about drivers meeting there.

††††††††††† How do you tell the difference between God's voice in answering your prayers and the voice of un-digested pizza? Does he really speak to us nowadays? In prayer, I hear my own voice loudly but how do I hear God's still small voice?

††††††††††† Get your $19.95 ready because here come a half dozen preachy guidelines I find helpful in trying to hear God's voice.

Listening guideline One: He has the right to speak.

††††††††††† First, I acknowledge that God has priority. The Creator certainly has the right to direct and expect obedience from his created beings. He not only made us but he redeemed us with his own blood. What other boss can say that? God has double right to direct us.

Two: For Heaven's sake, get a life!

††††††††††† Second, I believe that he has given me life much as an art teacher might give a canvas to a student artist and told me to paint my own picture on it. I am responsible for what goes in the picture though he's always available for consultation and correction.

††††††††††† Like any earthly father, our heavenly Father sometimes tell his children to go outside and play. It's fine with him if you choose to play football, basketball or duck-duck-goose. He just wants us to have wholesome fun. I suspect that most of the career decisions we agonize in prayer over fall into this category.

Three: know the rules

††††††††††† Third, he has posted a fewabsolute laws on the studio wall concerning how I am to work. For instance, I'm forbidden to dip my brush in the next guy's paint jar. If I get an urge to do anything which I know is morally wrong -- contrary to the clearly posted rules-- then I know for sure that is not in accord with the Master's will.

Four: Read the instructions

††††††††††† Fourth, I believe that the Bible is God's word and that the principles I discover when I read it regularly guide me in what to do in specific situations in my marriage, my business, my recreation, and my life in general.

††††††††††† Now the Bible is a book; it is not a rabbit's foot or good luck piece. Opening it at random and pointing to a verse to live today by makes as little sense as picking six random numbers to bet your money on -- and it produces just as few winners.

Five: Who said that?

††††††††††† Fifth, I listen carefully to the counsel of other people. God can indeed speak through your husband, boss, mother-in-law, children or pastor.

††††††††††† Even a person who interrupts your prayers may very well be an answer to one of them:

††††††††††† Archbishop Fenelon said, "The intruder whom God send us serves to thwart our will, upset our plans, to make us crave more earnestly for silence and recollection, to teach us to sit loose to our own arrangements, our rest, our ease, our taste; to bend our will to that of others, to humble ourselves when impatience overcomes us under these annoyances, and to kindle in our hearts a greater thirst for God..."

Six: What do you feel?

††††††††††† Sixth, there's the matter of "burdens" in prayer. I take that term to mean the feeling that I ought to pray for someone or something even though they are no direct concern of mine. A burden for prayer often is a call to involvement. For instance, years ago I was riding a bus and noticed a group of people waiting at a bus stop in a downtown park at rush hour. They looked so tired and lost and lonely. Their faces haunted me for weeks. I began to pray for these strangers.

††††††††††† I suspect the burden to pray for them was the voice of God to me because soon I began to strongly feel that somebody ought to do something to tell such people about God's love. Soon that transmuted into the impression that I ought to do something -- That was not what I wanted to hear. Sure, praying for the people at the bus stop was one thing, but it seemed God wanted me to get out there and ... witness???

††††††††††† Me? I'm no preacher. I'm an Episcopalian for heavens sake. We don't do stuff like that! Why, at one local church, when asked about an evangelism program, a vestryman said, "But we don't need to recruit members, we already have plenty".

††††††††††† Anyhow, after a long struggle -- and not at all sure that I was really hearing God's voice in answer to my prayers -- I did go to the park in my spare time. The shyest Christian in Jacksonville actually did speak to strangers and teach Bible lessons to groups at the bus stop.

††††††††††† This may well have been an exercise in masochism, or it may have been an answer to the prayer God originally laid on my heart. At any rate, over a period of about four years while I witnessed on the street, over a hundred people made a first-time profession of faith in Christ.

††††††††††† So, I suspect that any time you see a need that bothers you enough to pray about it, God will tell you to do something about it personally.

No Voice needed!

††††††††††† Once when my daughters Eve and Patricia were at a garage sale, they pooled their resources to scrape up 5Ę and bought a little prayer plaque for me. It is one of my greatest treasures and contains the words to a prayer I pray over and over:

††††††††††† Lord, help me to do

††††††††††† †† What I can

††††††††††† ††††† Where I am

††††††††††† †††††††††† With what I have.

††††††††††† God certainly speaks to us us by giving us clear-cut duties; there needs be no special voice from heaven to tell you to take care of your aging parents, to pay your bills, to feed the hungry, to do your job faithfully, to tend your children, to treat your employees generously, to pray for government officials, to feed and water the dog -- such things are givens.

††††††††††† If we listen as we pray, God will answer us.

††††††††††† He speaks through Scripture, through other people, through circumstances, through opening doors, through closing doors, through dreams in the night, through light in the day.


You have been reading Chapter Fifteen of the book Why Donít I Get What I Pray For? by John W. Cowart (IVP, 1993)

Click here for Chapter Sixteen


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