God is always trying to get our attention. He wants us to turn to Him, to listen to Him, to open ourselves to a relationship with Him. God does not force Himself on us, but He is always making ovations towards us, waiting for us to respond with loving attentiveness towards Him. If we pay attention, if we listen, we will hear God speaking to us in our lives. Prayer is as much about listening to God as it is speaking to Him. In fact, the listening is even more important than the talking.
One way that we listen to God in our prayers is through the reading of the Holy Scriptures and other of our Church’s spiritual writings. In our private devotions, we can select a passage, read it, and then take some time to think about what we have read. As we think about the passage, we try to be aware of specific sentences, phrases or words that grab our attention. Some people will write down their observations in a journal for future discussion with their spiritual father.
The second means of listening to God in prayer is through silence. Silence is something that many of us are not comfortable with. We fill our days with the noise of iPods, TV, radios. For some people, the time that they dread most are the moments at night before they go to sleep, when all they are left with is silence and their thoughts. And yet, God often talks to us, not in thunder claps and lightening flashes, but in the still small voice whispering in our heart. (for more on this, see 1 Kings 19:11-13)
The Saints instruct us that as we say our prayers, we should take time to stop and sit quietly, just being present with God. The monastic fathers and mothers of our Church say that prayer is like a flying bird. When a bird is in the air, it beats its wings until it has reached a certain height; at that point, it stops beating its wings and glides along. The words of our prayers are our spiritual wings. There will come a point while praying where words are no longer necessary, we can stop talking and glide in silence, allowing God’s presence keep us aloft.
Prayer is a conversation. It is a two-way dynamic. As we all know, its hard to say we have had a “conversation” with someone, if one party has monopolized the time, without giving the other party the chance to offer any input. In order for prayer to be truly beneficial to us, in addition to talking to God we also need to listen to what He has to say to us.