I Don’t Even Have the Words

psalm-38

Ow!  My neck is killing me!”

I stopped in the mad-rush to put away all the laundry and turned to my three-year-old son who had flopped down on the big blue sofa.

“I’m sorry,” I said to him.  “What did you say?”

“My neck is killing me!”

I giggled a bit at this 3-year-old-turned-senior-citizen as he rubbed his neck.

Where in the world did he learn that phrase?

Then later, as we climbed into our seats around the dinner table, he gave it a twist: “My head is killing me!”

Apparently, this little old man is just falling apart.

Later in the week, as all the family gathered after the school day, he settled into his seat and sighed out, “It’s been a long day!”

Exactly when did the ninety-year-old move into our house?

My preschooler seems to be an ancient soul trapped in a tiny body complete with aches, pains, and weariness.

But I love listening to him talk.  He’s discovering all the ins and outs of language, how words stretch to convey ideas and take on new meaning in different contexts.

Sometimes, when he doesn’t know the right word that will fit the big idea, he just starts describing with every linguistic tool he’s got.

Other times, he’s tossing  around slang and colloquialisms like he’s been alive a few decades with a neck that is “killing him” at the end of “a long day.”

I’ve been marveling this week especially because I’ve been feeling the restraints myself, how words aren’t always enough to capture what I want to say when I pray.

We do sometimes make prayer into an oversized beast that we’re far too  small to overcome.  We make it so complicated, far too complicated, and then so many of us just give up.

Normally what works for me is the simplicity of the prayerful conversation.   Just talking to God is the best place to start, and I’m rarely at a loss for words—not in regular conversation and not in prayer.

But we have these seasons where just talking with God is actually difficult.

We don’t always know the “right” words for what we’re going through.  Maybe we stumble around a bit.

Maybe telling God how we feel  is hard because we don’t even know how we feel!

We’re empty, and that emptiness comes with a certain amount of cold disconnect from emotions or deep thoughts about anything.

Recently, my own prayers for myself have been inarticulate and uncertain.

I can pray for others; that’s the easy part.  But what to say to God about me?

I long to tell Him what I want, but also that I trust Him.

And do I even know what I really want anyway?

I pray for His will to be done, but I’m reminded to pray specifically and how specific is too specific?

He tells me I can ask, and yet I don’t want to sound like a whiny, entitled, discontent spoiled brat.

I want to be thankful, but I’m still in need.

How do we balance it all?   How do we fit all that we’re feeling and all that we know about God and about prayer and about our circumstances into the sometimes-rigid restrictions of words?

I read what the Psalmist said:

O Lord, all my longing is before you;
    my sighing is not hidden from you (Psalm 38:9 ESV).

This is the reminder I need—the permission I need—that it’s okay sometimes to be silent before the Lord.

God sees the longing.  He hears the sighing.  He knows better than we even do ourselves what’s buried in our hearts or tumbled together in one huge messy pile in our minds.

David also said:

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.  Psalm 139:2-4 ESV

When words come easy, we use words.  We tell God everything.  How we love Him so and how worthy He is of praise.  How we need forgiveness and how we’re hurting or desperate for rescue.

Prayer draws us to the throne of God.  We’re invited in.  This is beautiful and good and right and true.

But maybe there are moments when just being in the presence of the Lord, bringing our silence before Him, is more honest and more intimate because we just  don’t even know what to say.

So we trust Him to know instead.

We linger in this quiet companionship, not pulling away, not hiding away, not covering up  any part of our soul.

Just letting Him search us and know us and yes, even love us through this season until we can start to piece it all into words again.

Choosing to love by choosing to listen

Psalm 116-2

My daughter didn’t talk for a long time.

Oh, she understood everything I said and communicated in lots of other ways, but she just refused to really, truly talk as a toddler.

Then one day she opened up with a tidal wave of language.  She didn’t learn how to talk one tentative, uncertain word at a time.

She just talked.  It was as if she’d been storing up years of language until she could express anything and everything she felt.

And now….

Now, she’s a talker.

She wakes up in the morning talking.  She leaves for school talking.  She climbs into the minivan after school still talking.

We live with a steady stream of conversation from the first “good morning” to the final “goodnight.”

I love to watch her face and her hands.  She throws every part of her body into what she’s saying.

Her head bobs and her hands fly to her hips as she says, “Really!  I did that.”

She arches her eyebrows.  She scrunches up her nose.  She’s a non-stop flow of enthusiastic communication.

My introvert self sometimes recoils from conversation.  Sometimes I’m bound to slink away where it’s quiet, even if it means hiding in the corners of my own mind and ignoring the noise around me.

I have an insatiable need for nonverbal time.

Besides that, I’m a task person more than a people-person.  I think tasks.  I do tasks.  I complete tasks.  And sometimes I let those tasks take priority over people because I’m mixed-up that way and this is the pit of sin I fall in over and over.

So a few weeks ago when this little girl would sidle up to me ready to chat, chat, chat, I started turning my whole body toward her so she could see my face.

I put down the book.

I closed the computer.

I  left the dinner on the stove to simmer so I could listen to her.

Sometimes, life is a whirlwind of crazy in my house.  There are moments when it’s not possible for me to flip off the activity so I can flip on my listening ears.

So, I tell her that.  I say, “Give me five minutes.  Let me finish this and then I can listen.”

Then I keep my promise.

I don’t know if she can feel the difference between the distracted me and the attentive me, but someone once told me, “Listening is an act of love.”

And I choose to love her in the way that her soul needs to be loved.

I learn this, but I never seem to master it. Could any of us?

Could we ever get to the place where we’re experts at loving through patient and compassionate listening?

Yet, God does this for us.  He bends low to hear our cries, leaning into us so He hears our every word and our every heart’s cry.

Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! (Psalm 116:2)

More than that, He quiets the noise of heaven at the sound of our prayers.

In his book, The Great House of God, Max Lucado highlights the volume of heaven based on the first eight chapters of Revelation:

The angels speak. The thunder booms.  The living creatures chant, ‘Holy, holy, holy” (4:8) and the elders worship…The souls of the martyrs cry out (6:10)…The earth quakes and the stars fall…One hundred forty-four thousand people…shout in a  loud voice (7:10).

Heaven is louder than my house in that mad rush through our after school routine of homework and piano and change your clothes quickly for dance lessons and make dinner and pack lunches and sign agendas and rush out the door (hurry, so we won’t be late!).

Heaven is louder than my minivan.

But,

When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (Revelation 8:1 HCSB).

Half an hour of total heavenly silence ticks by.  In the quiet, an angel steps up with:

…a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the gold altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up in the presence of God from the angel’s hand (Revelation 8:3-4).

The prayers of the saints enter God’s presence in the hush of heaven.

The way I listen to my kids, my husband, my friends should be how I want to be listened to….should be how God listens to us.

He bends down to us.

He quiets the noise.

He gives us access to His presence.

How can we be better listeners for those around us today?

Does God Listen When We Pray?

“Listening is an act of love.”

That’s what she told me years ago as we sat around the table in our Bible study group.

She said it with a laugh, because she was a talker.  She liked chatting, chatting, chatting.  Listening was the sacrificial gift she gave to others.

Sometimes one phrase like that sticks with you years later.  It presses that impression deep into your clay-heart and you can trace your finger along the imprint over and over, to remember, to act, to transform, to put it into practice.

It changes you.

Listening.  That’s the act of love we give to others.

We quiet our own renegade thoughts, stop trying to think of what we want to say next, stop tuning others out in order to turn our selfish eyes inward once again.

We listen.  Really listen.  We listen so we can pray and ask the right questions.  Yes, we listen so we can show love.

I take this to heart.  Me, the mom perpetually in the minivan.  Some days, my kids want to babble on so.  I live in a world of noise.

But when I start to nod my head without hearing and insert appropriate “Mmmm—hmmmms” at well-timed pauses simply to pretend like I’m listening to them (while I secretly revel in my own private thoughts), I stop.

Now I choose to listen, choose to value who they are and what they have to say.

And I remind myself of this: Listening is an act of God’s love to me.

He doesn’t just ask me to give this gift to others.  He gives it first.

I don’t always feel it, of course.  Sometimes I push out those breathy prayers and feel like nothing is changing.  He isn’t listening, isn’t understanding my need or even caring about my little self in my desperate situation.

Those prayers sure feel at times like they are hitting that proverbial ceiling.

The Psalmists understood.

David wrote,

Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth (Psalm 54:2)

and

“To you, LORD, I call; you are my Rock, do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 28:1).

Asaph prayed the same:

“God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear, do not stand aloof, O God” (Psalm 83:1).

That’s what we feel perhaps, and yet we’re assured that God hears our pure hearts when we pray.

God doesn’t tune us out or ignore us.

Psalm 10:17 says,

“Lord, you have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their hearts.  You will listen carefully” (HCSB).

He listens.  Not distractedly, absentmindedly, or halfheartedly.

God listens “carefully” to the desire of the humble.

Indeed, the Psalmist could say, “You know what I long for, Lord; you hear my every sigh”  (Psalm 38:9 NLT).  Even when we can’t cram our needs and feelings into words, God hears the very longings of our heart and every sigh of our overwhelmed soul.

When Jesus stood outside of Lazarus’s tomb, surrounded by wailing mourners who blamed him for Lazarus’s death, He prayed with these words:

Then Jesus raised His eyes and said,

“Father, I thank You that You heard Me. I know that You always hear Me….” (John 1:1:41-42 HCSB).

Jesus prayed boldly on the basis of the promise of God’s character:  He is the God who always hears us. 

In Beth Moore’s book, The Beloved Disciple, she issues a prayer challenge:

Every time you pray for the next week, begin your prayer with Christ’s words straight out of John 11:42, “I know You always hear me.”  Then conclude it with Christ’s words in John 11:41, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.” Practice God’s presence!  Pray as if He’s really listening because He is!”

This is my prayer practice this week, the way I am pursuing the presence of Christ through my prayer life.

Because God does hear us.  We just need the reminder and reassurance at times.  This great God, so Mighty, so Awesome, loves us and chooses to listen to us as an expression of that merciful love.

Originally published: February 24, 2014

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2015 Heather King

Does God Listen When We Pray?

“Listening is an act of love.”

That’s what she told me years ago as we sat around the table in our Bible study group.

She said it with a laugh, because she was a talker.  She liked chatting, chatting, chatting.  Listening was the sacrificial gift she gave to others.

Sometimes one phrase like that sticks with you years later.  It presses that impression deep into your clay-heart and you can trace your finger along the imprint over and over, to remember, to act, to transform, to put it into practice.

It changes you.

Listening.  That’s the act of love we give to others.

We quiet our own renegade thoughts, stop trying to think of what we want to say next, stop tuning others out in order to turn our selfish eyes inward once again.

We listen.  Really listen.  We listen so we can pray and ask the right questions.  Yes, we listen so we can show love.

I take this to heart.  Me, the mom perpetually in the minivan.  Some days, my kids want to babble on so.  I live in a world of noise.

But when I start to nod my head without hearing and insert appropriate “Mmmm—hmmmms” at well-timed pauses simply to pretend like I’m listening to them (while I secretly revel in my own private thoughts), I stop.

Now I choose to listen, choose to value who they are and what they have to say.

And I remind myself of this: Listening is an act of God’s love to me.

He doesn’t just ask me to give this gift to others.  He gives it first.

I don’t always feel it, of course.  Sometimes I push out those breathy prayers and feel like nothing is changing.  He isn’t listening, isn’t understanding my need or even caring about my little self in my desperate situation.

Those prayers sure feel at times like they are hitting that proverbial ceiling.

The Psalmists understood.

David wrote,

Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth (Psalm 54:2)

and

“To you, LORD, I call; you are my Rock, do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 28:1).

Asaph prayed the same:

“God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear, do not stand aloof, O God” (Psalm 83:1).

That’s what we feel perhaps, and yet we’re assured that God hears our pure hearts when we pray.

God doesn’t tune us out or ignore us.

Psalm 10:17 says,

“Lord, you have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their hearts.  You will listen carefully” (HCSB).

He listens.  Not distractedly, absentmindedly, or halfheartedly.

God listens “carefully” to the desire of the humble.

Indeed, the Psalmist could say, “You know what I long for, Lord; you hear my every sigh”  (Psalm 38:9 NLT).  Even when we can’t cram our needs and feelings into words, God hears the very longings of our heart and every sigh of our overwhelmed soul.

When Jesus stood outside of Lazarus’s tomb, surrounded by wailing mourners who blamed him for Lazarus’s death, He prayed with these words:

Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard Me. I know that You always hear Me….” (John 1:1:41-42 HCSB).

Jesus prayed boldly on the basis of the promise of God’s character:  He is the God who always hears us. 

In Beth Moore’s book, The Beloved Disciple, she issues a prayer challenge:

Every time you pray for the next week, begin your prayer with Christ’s words straight out of John 11:42, “I know You always hear me.”  Then conclude it with Christ’s words in John 11:41, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.” Practice God’s presence!  Pray as if He’s really listening because He is!”

This is my prayer practice this week, the way I am pursuing the presence of Christ through my prayer life.

This week, I’ll continue breathing out those short 5-word prayers from last week.

But  in my longer prayer times, I begin each with: “I know You always hear me.”  And before I say, “Amen, ” I pray, “Father, thank You that You have heard me.”

Because He does hear me.  I just need the reminder and reassurance at times.  This great God, so Mighty, so Awesome, loves me and chooses to listen to me as an expression of that merciful love.

To read more about this 12-month journey of pursuing the presence of Christ, you can follow the links below!  Won’t you join me this month as I focus on Praying Simply?

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2014 Heather King

Shout! A Little Bit Louder Now: Part I

She didn’t believe I could hear her.  At the very least, I wasn’t paying attention and most certainly didn’t understand.

I was multitasking.  My two-year-old sat on my lap while I played the piano and sang at worship team practice.  For the most part, she sat patient and still during each of the songs.  Every few minutes, she gave in to temptation and touched a piano key or two.  Mostly, though, she simply sat and watched.

But then she began very quietly whispering in my face, “Paci.  I want paci.”

I didn’t have her pacifier and wasn’t sure where it was.  Besides that, I was pounding out chords on the piano and singing harmony all while whispering back to her, “Wait one minute.  I’ll find it in a moment.”

Since I didn’t immediately pop a pacifier into her mouth, she decided that I hadn’t heard her.  So, she said it louder.  And again, even louder.  “Paci!  I want paci!!”

Still singing, still playing the piano, I looked her in the eye and said, “I know what you want.  I’ll look in a minute.”

This was not acceptable to her.

At this point, she did the one thing a two-year-old who wants her pacifier could possibly do to make herself heard over all the music.  She grabbed my microphone with her hands, placed her mouth right up to it, and said in her loudest announcer voice (who knew two-year-olds possessed such a thing?): “Paci.  I want paci.”

That was an attention-grabber.

Have you ever felt like you needed a microphone to broadcast your prayers to heaven?
That God wasn’t aware of you, couldn’t hear you, wasn’t paying attention, and didn’t understand what you were going through?
That there was so much ambient noise, He couldn’t possibly hear the cries of your heart?

If anyone had reason to feel overlooked, ignored, unheard and unnoticed, it was the Israelite nation as they sweated and groaned their way through hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt.

And it’s clear that they weren’t silent sufferers.  Instead, “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help” (Exodus 2:23).

More important than the fact that they were crying out, though, is the fact that God was listening—even before they realized He was paying attention.

And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.   (Exodus 2:24-25, ESV).

I love how the Message breaks this thought down:

God listened to their groanings.
God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
God saw what was going on with Israel.
God understood (Exodus 2:24-25, MSG).

God listened.  God remembered.  God saw.  God understood.

Oh, sometimes we believe pieces of God’s character hold true.  God may hear us pray, but He surely forgets His promises to us.

Or maybe He is faithful to keep His promises  . . . but only when He is looking in our direction.  Otherwise, we escape His notice.

Or maybe He hears our prayers and sees our situation, but doesn’t understand how desperate it really is and how hopeless we really are.

Yet, God’s character is no piecemeal buffet.  It’s not changeable or uncertain.  It’s not full of holes from the pieces proved false over time.

So, we can hold fast to this same truth as we groan in our own need, whether it be the annoyance of a daily stress, the repentance over a habitual sin, or the hardest of life’s challenges.

God hears us.  God remembers His promises to us.  God sees us.  God understands.

And then He rescues.

His response to the cries of the enslaved nation was to call Moses to be their deliverer.  Remember, though, that He had already placed every part of this plan into action over 40 years before.

He had rescued Moses from the murderous rampage of Pharaoh, who had every Hebrew baby boy killed at birth.

He had trained Moses as a prince of Egypt, schooled him in all of the sciences and rhetoric a leader of a nation might need.

He had watched over Moses as a refugee in the wilderness for decades.

And now, he called Moses up to active duty and sent him back to Egypt with a message for the hard-hearted Pharaoh, “Let my people go.”

God had been active for years before Israel ever saw the answer to their cries.

Just as the Psalmist wrote: “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether” (Psalm 139:4, ESV).  Yes, the Lord hears our cries before they ever form on our lips and He knows our needs before we ever kneel before Him.

Because we know He hears, remembers, sees and understands, we can also declare with King David:

Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed; He will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of His right hand” (Psalm 20:6, ESV).

God’s love for us and compassion for His people is all the microphone we need to broadcast our cries to heaven and to receive salvation from His mighty hand.

You can read more devotionals on this topic here:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King