The Skill of Prayer

when God talks backIn talking about prayer, we tend to think about it as something everyone can do without training. We tend to think about it as breathing…each person does it with out needing to learn anything.  And on one level, this is correct as God has put something deep within our soul that desires to connect with the Creator of Heaven and Earth. However,in the other hand, we need to recognize that prayer takes work.

In 1 Timothy 4:7-8, St. Paul says:

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

Just like we train our bodies to work, we have to train our spirits. Remember that goal of prayer is to get to know God better. God is a person – not a force out there that can be controlled. Prayer, therefore, is about a relationship and relationships take work and time.

Here’s the awesome part: Each one us can hear God!!!

Hearing God is not limited to the special few – the cool, the pastors, or those people on TV. Jesus said that “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.” (John 8:47a). If we have bowed our knees to the King and follow Him, then we can expect to hear the King.

A few weeks ago I hinted at a cool scientific study about prayer, I want to talk a bit about it as fit into this concept of hearing God.

Hearing God’s Voice

  • T. M. Luhrmann, a psychological anthropologist and profession at Stanford University
    • She is not a follower of Jesus
    • Calls herself a secular agnostic in her book
  • She spend four years trying to understand more about the Evangelical relationship in America
  • During this study, which was published as the book “When God Talks Back”, she set up an experiment to see if people could be taught to hear God’s voice
    • The Bible said we can
    • The Church as said we can
    • But does it really happen?!
  • To prove this, she recruited a 128 subjects
    • Screened them to make sure they were mentally healthy
    • In other words, they weren’t crazy
  • Then she split the folks into three groups
    • Each group were supposed to participate in a spiritual discipline for
    • 30 minutes a day for 30 days
  • The spiritual disciplines were these:
    • Listening to a lecture on the Gospel of Matthew
      • Given by a college professor
    • Listening to a bible passage being read with background music (Ignatian prayer)
      • During this time the subjects were encouraged to use their imaginations
      • To enter into the scriptures
      • To see and smell the stable where Jesus was born
      • To hear the sounds of the footsteps as the shepherds walked up
    • Centering prayer
      • Taking a single word and focusing about it
      • Being filled up on God’s mercy for example
      • The subjects had background music going on
      • If your mind wondered, you were to pull it back
  • All three practices have been in the global church for hundreds of years
    • In the case of Ignatian prayer, it is a practice that goes back to the ancient Israelites
    • The Passover is a good example as is the Festival of Booths were they physically re-enacted wondering in the desert
  • The end result of the study was this:
    • Those who participated in the Ignatian prayer discipline
    • That is, using their imaginations to enter into the scriptures
  • Showed an significant increase in sensory override experiences
    • In other words, they heard God’s audio voice or saw visions!!
  • Those in the centering group also experienced this
  • Those in the lecture group did not
    • A lot of them dropped out
    • They had more stress
  • True, not everyone in the Ignatian prayer group saw or heard these things
    • Those who did not, felt more of the peach and presence of God
    • They were more likely to say that their month was less stressful than before
    • That God had become more like a person in their life
  • The same was said of those who did the centering prayer
    • They were calmed
    • Felt more of the love of God


  • Why I’m I telling you all this?
  • Because I think it should change the way in which we prayer
  • If the goal of prayer is to get to know God better – then we should be engaged in spiritual disciplines that lead to that goal
  • One of the sad things about the last few hundred years in church history is that we have gotten so intellectually focused
    • We have gotten so focused intellectually knowing the Bible
    • We read the Bible not so much to know God, as to know about Him
    • We have forgotten the practices of the early church and our ancestors
  • Over the next few posts we will be talking more about specific practices based on the Scriptures to help us on our journey.