Does inner prayer feel like a one-sided conversation to you? Do you long for hearing God’s voice, long to feel Him?
I have been a Christian ministry professional since 2004 and at times, I still feel like I am talking to myself when I pray. Can you relate?
I’m sure you can, because every time I’ve been transparent about this “deficiency” in my life, I’ve encountered other people who agree that they too have a difficult time with prayer.
If this is the case, that so many people have a hard time with prayer, then why are we so afraid to openly talk about it? Why can’t we say, “Yeah prayer is tough for me, I have a hard time hearing God’s voice and I sometimes wonder if I’m talking to myself.”
Even though so many people struggle with prayer, they often do not share this problem with others. But I believe there is value in honesty, and I feel that if we were more real and truthful in our pursuit to be closer to God, then we would, in fact, become closer to God. Vulnerability and transparency lead to magical changes and opens up new roads to travel.
So, in the spirit of asking tough questions and sharing deep concerns, I am just going to throw it out there and say it.
I struggle with prayer.
I am not ashamed or embarrassed that I struggle with prayer. Why? Because I know without a doubt that the act of prayer is more than just a “feeling that I get” when I pray. But before we get to that, let’s first look at a specific kind of prayer – inner prayer.
Inner prayer is private prayer. You might say aloud to yourself, but I think most people think of it as silent prayer by themselves. This is the kind of prayer that you might say while falling asleep at night, or while driving by yourself to work, or when the professor hands out a final exam and you don’t know how to answer the first question.
Inner prayer is a solitary act. Just you and God, and no one else. If you were to add it all up, probably the majority of the prayer in the world could be classified as inner prayer.
The question about inner prayer, though, is, “Does it feel like you’re just talking to yourself?”
Why We Can Struggle With Inner Prayer
Unless you are one of those rare people out there (and I know they exist) who are completely and utterly filled by inner prayer, then you’re probably like me and struggle with inner prayer, struggle with hearing God’s voice or even feeling Him. It sometimes feels like speaking into a walkie-talkie, wondering if the other party will respond, or if their handset is even turned on at all.
When we are communicating with God through our inner self, it can be rather challenging because it happens through something we use countlessly throughout our day – our thoughts.
In this way, the practice of inner prayer doesn’t appear much different than simply thinking to ourselves.
However, there is an enormous difference between talking to yourself and talking to God. But so often for me, the two acts aren’t discernibly different.
I have struggled with prayer my entire life, as I have already alluded to, and if you are interested in learning more about my own personal struggles, make sure to check out our podcast accompanying this post.
But because of my struggles with understanding prayer, I have also gleaned a lot of insight and wisdom on the practices of communicating, feeling, and even hearing God’s voice. And my most recent conclusion in the journey to understanding prayer is that it’s simply a foreign act.
When you pray, you are basically communicating in a different language.
Maybe this thought isn’t new to you, but I was awestruck when I had this realization.
We, humans, are limited (very limited) in juxtaposition to God. Similarly, we are restricted in our communication abilities. We are restricted in our physical capacities and we are restrained by time. We live in a fixed universe with certain rules and regulations we must adhere to, not by choice, but through biology and physics. We are subject to natural laws, and God is not.
It is because of these confines that we have a hard time communicating with God, for God is above all of these things. He operates outside of time. He communes however He decides and He has no physical restrictions. None at all. He’s so free of restriction that He even chose to become a human being in Jesus. Thus why it is hard to feel Him during prayer or even feel confident in hearing God’s voice.
This is all very important when we think about the medium of prayer, because prayer is simply communicating with God. But it isn’t simple at all.
Because prayer is talking to God, who is not a human.
Okay, before we go further, just a quick side note. Yes, Jesus is both human and God as the second Person of the Trinity. But God is not human. God is God, uncreated and without limitations. If this was a dissertation or thesis, we would have the space to go into all the nuances, doctrines, and theologies of this complex topic. But for the sake of spiritual growth and feeling and hearing God’s voice, we must forge on! The point I am trying to make, without having to go into the deep theologies, is that in order for spiritual development and your connection to God through prayer, we must understand that God is God and we are just humans living on the Earth.
Now that we “slightly” covered theological bases, let’s resume! When we speak to God we are talking to an entity that is not human. God doesn’t think exactly like us, and He doesn’t usually talk like us. He’s not restricted like us, and even though He understands us it doesn’t mean He is us. Of course, He can talk like us and do whatever He chooses, but by and large, prayer is talking to someone who is not a physical human being we can see, touch, or even tangibly feel, and this is why it sometimes hard hearing God’s voice.
It’s confusing though, because all you need to do is open your Bible, especially to the Old Testament, and read many passages that show God speaking directly to His people. And the natural interpretation after reading these verses is to think, “This is how God should be speaking to me, He is speaking so clearly and it was so easy hearing God’s voice for the people in the Bible.” But we must remember that what we see in Scripture is God speaking to only a few people out of all of human history.
And then we have Jesus…
Oh wonderful Jesus 🙂
God and man in one, walking on this earth, communicating directly with His followers.
I don’t know about you, but I get a little envious when I think how great it would have been to be a follower of Jesus while He was on this earth. To hear Him speak, teach, and just live life. I mean directly hearing God’s voice, communicating face to face, what a wonderful reality for those early disciples!
I often think, wouldn’t it just be easier to sit in front of Jesus and talk?
Oh man, I really do wish for that. I guess that’s what I really want when I pray. I want to just sit down with God and look Him face to face and read His reactions when I tell Him something. See what He does when I tell Him what I am troubled with. I want an in-person relationship with Him, one I can see and feel, not just in my heart, but in my physical reality.
I am a body language reader and thrive on interacting with people face to face. It’s fascinating for me to see how people respond in the midst of a conversation.
When it comes to communing with God through inner prayer, it’s incredibly hard for me, because I want to have that physical face to face relationship. I don’t want to talk to God in my head. I want to be with God. I want to directly feel Him and hearing God’s voice.
And it is really frustrating because we never communicate with anyone else in this manner.
We do not talk to the closest people in our lives with our thoughts.
We are not telepathic. But that’s what we are doing when we pray. We are communicating through our thoughts, and this is completely foreign and an untrained language we never use to communicate with anyone other than God.
That is why you feel like you are talking to yourself when you have inner prayer because there is no one else in your head; it’s just you and the Holy Spirit.
That’s why it does feel like you are talking to yourself, especially when God doesn’t answer back verbally in a way that sounds like speech. That’s a reason why it is hard hearing God’s voice.
Prayer is not like a normal conversation where you have pauses and breaks to hear what the other person has to say.
It’s not like you are sitting in front of God in physical form, reading His language and hearing the words come directly and audibly from His mouth.
For lack of a better way to describe it, inner prayer is talking to God “telepathically,” and this presents a problem for me and many others.
For people like myself, who are always looking for a real, in-person connection, talking to God through inner prayer presents some serious challenges.
Going back to the statement I made at the beginning of this article, I am not ashamed or embarrassed that I struggle with prayer. I know without a doubt that the act of prayer is more than me simply “feeling something” when I pray. It’s about more than my innate desire to be back in the Garden with God walking alongside me.
And herein lies the crux of it all. Even though I may feel like I am talking to myself, I am not.
Even when I don’t hear, feel, or experience anything – inner prayer is not just talking to myself.
How do I know? Well, Scripture and personal experience.
First of all, I believe in the word of God. I believe in the ministry of Paul and his explanation of prayer found in Romans 8:26-27, where he explains that prayer has a deeper resonance than we may naturally think. Here are his words, first from the NIV and then from The Passion Translation. Note, I believe that The Passion Translation (TPT) is more of a paraphrase then a translation much like The Message. It is good, though, for spiritual formation and topics like the matter at hand.
Scripture Says That We Are Not Talking To Ourselves
Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Romans 8:26-27 (TPT)
26 And in a similar way, the Holy Spirit takes hold of us in our human frailty to empower us in our weakness. For example, at times we don’t even know how to pray, or know the best things to ask for. But the Holy Spirit rises up within us to super-intercede on our behalf, pleading to God with emotional sighs too deep for words.
27 God, the searcher of the heart, knows fully our longings, yet he also understands the desires of the Spirit, because the Holy Spirit passionately pleads before God for us, his holy ones, in perfect harmony with God’s plan and our destiny.
The act of prayer in itself is an act of faith.
Prayer is structured by the Holy Spirit, and it is the Spirit who interprets our greatest desires and struggles, even if we cannot articulate them. In this way, God works throughout the entirety of our prayer, which is just amazing and complex to think about!
When we don’t feel anything, it doesn’t mean that our prayers are not working. It simply means that for whatever reason (and there could be many) we don’t feel God or even feel confident in hearing God’s voice. But it doesn’t mean He is not there.
My Own Experience Tells Me I’m Not Just Talking To Myself
I started to write a blog post months ago about unanswered prayers, but I literally came up short. I thought I would have so much to write about, but as I thought about it, I wasn’t sure I could come up with more than one or two real, fully committed unanswered prayers in my life.
It was an astonishing thing to reflect upon! I couldn’t believe how many of my prayers had been answered. At the time when I planned to write the article, it didn’t seem like they were many that had been answered. Looking back and seeing the trajectory of my life and the path God set me on showed me that my prayers were almost always answered.
And then there was Lucy, my baby that was destined to die, but was miraculously born on October 17th, 2017. She survived heart surgery six days later. If we had all the time in the world to dialogue, I would share that story with you, and some of you may already know it. But let me tell you right now that I wholeheartedly believe that my precious baby is alive because of my fervent prayer.
Whether we are “feeling” or hearing God’s voice or not, He is always with us regardless of our feelings, or our ability to sense He is with us.
While I may be frustrated with not feeling God during my inner prayer, I am tremendously thankful that I have the ability to commune with God in this way, because our spiritual ancestors before Christ did not have this wonderful privilege. It is because of the work of Jesus Christ that we have been given this gift of direct access in prayer to God. Without Jesus, there would be no access to God for the average person, like you and I. No real ability to connect to Him or even the possibility of hearing God’s voice.
While it isn’t easy, prayer is an astonishing function in our walk as Christians and it is a trained skill – a language to master. It takes time to learn how it works.
Let me give you an example of what it looks like to take on the task of mastering the language of prayer.
As I am writing this post, I am also presently “breaking in” new glasses.
Did you know you need to break in glasses? I sure didn’t!
When my new glasses arrived in the mail, I tried them on and guess what? I couldn’t see! Everything seemed out of focus, as though I was looking in a funhouse mirror. I immediately felt frustrated and thought, “Well, these are the wrong prescription!”
Aaron came home and was a little less reactionary then I. He went on the internet to see if other people have the same issue when they get new glasses.
And guess what? Not being able to see well out of new glasses is a fairly common occurrence. From what we read, it can actually take up to two weeks to get adjusted to new glasses. Two weeks!
It turns out that while you are breaking in your new glasses you should wear them as much as possible and throw away your old prescription because if you keep wearing your old glasses as you are breaking in your new ones, you will never quite get used to them. You’ll never be able to see clearly because you have to train your brain, not your eye, that this is how you’re supposed to see properly.
And it’s the same way with prayer.
You must train yourself in the skill of prayer because for most of us, it’s a skill.
When we begin praying on a regular basis, it will at first seem fuzzy, unclear, and maybe even pointless. That’s how it feels like with my new glasses. And quite honestly it is a bit tiring and really annoying to not see through my new specs. But I keep telling myself, “This is how I am supposed to see, and I am giving my brain some time to catch up.” It is uncomfortable to wear these new glasses, but I need them and every day it gets slightly better. Every day I can see a little bit clearer. And I know it will soon be a smooth transition and my glasses will be fully broken in.
Likewise, we need a “break-in” period with prayer, in order to feel or be able to really interpret hearing God’s voice.
We cannot simply pick up prayer one day and expect to understand it perfectly. We have to train ourselves in this other language. It’s the language of speaking through our thoughts to God and have the faith that something is happening even if we cannot feel it. The more that you do it, the better you will become.
But just like with any language, if you put it down for a while, you will forget how to speak it. Then you will have to re-accustom yourself to learning the language again, but usually not from the very beginning like you once did.
Prayer is rarely emotionally profitable when we are fickle with it and treat it as a luxury and not something we desperately need. And we do desperately need to be connected to God.
I should also note that if you are an avid prayer, but suddenly find yourself in the desert with prayer and unable to feel or connect to God in the way you once were, it doesn’t mean that your faith is failing. You’re not being punished, or there is something necessarily wrong. This kind of experience is well-known and documented among thinkers on the topic of the spiritual journey, often being referred to as “The Wall” or “Dark Night Of The Soul”. There’s far too much to say about this topic for this article, but just know that God is still with you, loves you, and this is a period of time to seek out new understanding and reflection about your spiritual life.
With all of this having been said, I do hope that all the “feelers” out there (like me) have been encouraged by these thoughts and have maybe found a new way to think about inner prayer. Even though we may not experts at hearing God’s voice or feel Him all the time when we pray, please know that He is there! He is listening and guiding you, even praying for us through the Holy Spirit. It’s very complex but true.
Again, if you ever doubt that God is listening or present with you in prayer, simply go back and read Romans 8:26-27, and soak in and believe that truth.
Prayer, as a “skill” takes time and training. Push yourself through the uncomfortable and maybe even pointless feelings you might have when you pray. Because God is there. God is there.
As with anything worthwhile, it takes time, consistency, and determination. Don’t let your feelings dictate or rob you of something that could be so much more. I know I don’t and I am thankful that I have never given up, even though at times I truly couldn’t connect to Him or I have had a very hard time hearing God’s voice. I look back and see that was never the case, for He is always with us, always listening, and always answering. Always!