The song “From a distance” by Nanci Griffith has a stanza and chorus that goes:

From a distance, the world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains white
From a distance, the ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight God is watching us,
God is watching us God is watching us from a distance

If you feel this way about prayer then I suspect that you are not alone in your thoughts. Sometimes everything looks just idyllic and picture postcard perfect “from a distance” but if God were really down here among us He would see how gritty and grimy it all is. Not seen from a distance our beautiful blue/green world is so marred and blighted by all sorts of pain, injury and injustice. I often think that this song, with its beautiful lyrics and tune has it wrong if it says God is watching us from a distance. I need someone personal, close, willing to hear and share my angst, hurt and frustrated ranting.

Tradition of prayer in our house growing up

Funnily enough; I grew up in a home where prayer was a central part of our daily lives. Everyday, without fail we would stop what we were doing to give response to the Angelus and then at night last thing before going to bed, we would all kneel and say the rosary. Yes, prayer was a part of my Mam and Dad’s life but not mine it was just something I did. As I grew I just didn’t get it how this repetition of the same words was going to get God’s attention and that He was going to listen to our needs and reply to us. It all seemed so one sided.

Being in the De La Salle Brothers Contemplative Prayer

That’s when I got interested in a monk’s life and reading scripture. What had God to say about Himself? Was the monastic life something I could get involved in to get a closer relationship with God. Did I really want, at that age to get closed to God? But off to the monks I went and joined the De La Salle Brothers as an apostolate. I stayed with the ‘Brothers’ until I was eighteen and during my time in the brothers learnt something about contemplative prayer, and matins and vespers and early morning rising! But during that time I also came into a more prayerful communion with God and I also think with Jesus. But I only knew about ‘my will’ being done not God’s will.

Knowing the Will of God for my Life and Prayer

As a Christian knowing what God’s will for my life has always been a real struggle, this way and that and never being sure if the path I am on is the right place for me to be. But how was my prayer life going to help keep me in God’s will and being sure I was hearing Him correctly. Corrie Ten Boom, author of ‘The Hiding Place’ spoke about how our lives are like an embroidery tapestry. From our perspective we can see only the treads and botched up colour arrangements and can’t make out the design because we’re looking at it from upside down. But God sees the completed work He is achieving in our lives because He sees it right side up. So how can we see the tapestry right side up, can prayer help? What is Prayer Anyway? Put simply, it’s a lifetime of conversation with our heavenly Father. Jesus always speaks so candidly about His relationship with the Father even referring to Him as ‘Abba’ (Daddy). What a wonderful close and endearing relationship. In John 11:41-42, in the raising of Lazarus we get a picture of this closeness; 41So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.42I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

God’s footprints along the path of your life

What is Prayer?

• Being in conversation with God
• Two-sided communication
• Long term, long distance communication

Now our ordinary everyday lives may not involve us in raising someone from the dead but they should involve us in conversation with our heavenly Father, daily. Even if it doesn’t seem like a two way conversation you might have with someone you know, our Father speaks to us in so many ways that we shouldn’t think He’s not listening. It’s more likely we’re the ones not listening for His reply to the question or request we just asked. We may not get an immediate answer but we will get answered. Through the Bible, through our loved ones and people who will cross our path, our Father speaks to us. We just need to listen with an intuitive ear. Sometimes the conversation is quickly responded to. Sometimes our Father has to teach us something through what we’ve asked and it’s not something that’s going to happen quickly. A great way of keeping track of how God is at work in your life (Eph 2:10) is to keep a journal not necessarily a prayer journal but a journal of what’s happening and going on in your life. It doesn’t have to be orderly or even require a daily entry. But with time it will show up the pattern and path of your life and if its done in conjunction with Bible reading it gives a clearer picture of God’s footprints along the path of your life. Paul E Miller’s book ‘A Praying Life’ gives some wonderful insightful practical ways you can bring God’s dealing with you through prayer, more real and alive in your life. Derek Prince’s book ‘Prayers and Proclamations’ also points out how scripture can be used in a practical way to enhance your conversations with God and make use of all the wonderful promises he has provided for us in the Bible to help us do His will.

Prayer and Chronic Illness A Practical Example

In 1992 I was diagnosed with a chronic illness called Meniere’s Disease, A condition which affects the workings of the inner ear. Over time it caused hearing loss, vertigo and tinnitus (ringing in the ear). In my case it’s bilateral so it affects both ears. It couldn’t have come at a worse time in my life, just newly wed to my beautiful, long suffering wife and getting on with a busy career as a field service engineer with Reuter’s news agency in London. The impact was a devastating blow to my confidence in God’s will for my life and how I was going to ‘do life’ after this. I’ve had this illness now for over two decades and it’s progressively gotten worse. I’ve had to come to terms with the loss of one of my senses and how this has affected my ability to communicate with people and how I interact with others. There are certain verses in the Bible that have really stood out for me in my prayer life when I brought this illness before the Lord while praying for healing and the strength to cope with the effects of the illness. These verses are:

2 Cor 12:9 “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Ps 119:50 “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.”

Phil 4:13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

This is a pattern I’ve recognised in my life since the illness became a part of who I am. It doesn’t define who I am but it is certainly a part of me and because of it Jesus’ strength is made more powerful and determining in my life. This is something I can rely on because my Father voice is heard quite clearly through my questions and tears about this illness.

I want to finish up this article on prayer by drawing attention to two points Paul E. Miller makes in his book ‘A Praying Life’. He’s talking about common ways Christians go wrong when it comes to hearing God’s voice. The first is:

1. Word Only – Going wrong by not listening

It this scenario, Christians miss out on hearing the Father in their lives because they are focusing only on God’s word to be their conversation piece with God. They read from scripture and think that this is the was they will hear from God in their conversation with Him. But in doing so, they miss out on the activity of God in their lives; by not watching and praying they miss the unfolding story of His work in their lives. Our lives will lack the sparkle and intimacy of God’s presence. To see the finger of God in our circumstances, in creation, in other Christians as well as God’s word helps us engage in an ongoing conversation with the Father about how He is at work in our lives. We need to develop an eye for the Shepherd and tune in to the Father’s voice above the cacophony of sound emanating from our own hearts and the world at large – what C. S. Lewis called “the Kingdom of Noise”. Also if we are scripture based only, when it comes to prayer we can end up separating hearing and obedience by focusing only on obedience and ignoring a life of listening and repentance. Listening to and obeying God’s word are very much intertwined in biblical thought and in the Hebrew they are one word ‘shamar’.

The second point raised is:

2. Spirit only- Going wrong by elevating human intuition

Sometimes people think that they hear God speak through their own thoughts and feelings. In doing this it puts them in control of God and ultimately undermines God’s word in their prayer life and in conversation with God. God is undermined by elevating human intuition to the status of divine revelation. Intuition is important in that it makes us sensitive to the leading of God’s spirit but unless guarded and directed by scripture it can run amok and make our selfish desires suddenly become divinely inspired.

The problem is that that the Holy Spirit comes in on the same channel as the world, human desire and the Devil. Our heavenly Father does lead, but we need to be careful that we’re not using Him to cover for our own desires. If we were to frequently do this then our prayer lives and the path of our life would get very weird indeed. We need to develop a poet’s eye when it comes to interpreting God’s word in our lives in relation to how He has been at work over the past while in our lives. To correctly discern when God is speaking to us we need to keep the Word and Spirit together in the pattern of the Father’s work in our lives. Spirit only people can separate the activity of listening to God from obedience to God’s Word. Under the cover of “being led by the Spirit” they can easily do what they want to do. What they “hear” from God might be masking their own self-will.

Recently our girls were given a memory verse in JAM from the Psalms it reads:

“The Lord will keep his promises. With love he takes care of all he has made. “ Ps 145:13

I think this is the way our heavenly Father looks on us and all that is going on with us. He wants so very much to be involved with us and influence how we ‘do life’ from small details to big vistas. For each one of us, our canvas is still a work in progress.

by Tony Keane, June 2103