No, Prayer Isn’t Really a Conversation

Even in the New Testament, talking with God is mostly unilateral. But he does answer.
No, Prayer Isn’t Really a Conversation
Image: Flickr

“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 ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These Next