“You’re not listening to me!” My daughter Emma and I were talking about a touchy subject: Why God commanded Israel to kill her Canaanite enemies.

“Don’t say I’m not listening to you, Dad. I am. You just keep repeating the same thing, and I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

She was right. I had assumed that a simple model of communication—which I had learned about in college as a speech major—was sufficient. The model works accordingly:

  • I (the sender) have an idea (what the Greeks called logos);
  • I use words (rhemata) to express my idea;
  • you (the receiver) hear my words (rhemata) and now have the same idea (logos) that I have.

But conversation doesn’t work that way. Conversation can’t be reduced to a sender transmitting ideas to a receiver. There are too many variables that create interference: poor diction, nonverbal communication, ambient noise, personal histories, cultural differences. Simply repeating the same words over and again—and believing that misunderstanding lies exclusively with the receiver—is a naïve approach to communication. It can also lead to a frustrating conversation.

All this led me to think about prayer, which many evangelicals describe as conversation with God. Is it?

To be honest, most of my prayers are a monologue. I tell God what’s on my mind, and then my prayer time is done. The communication flows one direction. And most of the time I don’t even verbalize my prayers. I simply offer words in my head. Of course, that’s not an obstacle for God. He already knows my thoughts (Ps. 139:4). And if God can read my mind, I don’t have to worry about him misunderstanding ...

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