God gives us prayer so that we can communicate with him, and he with us. There are five main ways of praying:
Speaking: Using words to talk to God.
Listening: Being silent, so we can hear God’s voice.
Conversing: Having an ongoing, two-way dialogue with God.
Communing: Letting words go, dwelling in God’s presence.
Uniting: Experiencing oneness with God.
Each of these ways of praying has its part to play in helping us draw closer to God. They form a series of steps towards him, through which our relationship gradually becomes more intimate. Let’s consider them briefly, one at a time.
We begin with the most basic kind of prayer: speaking. Here we use words, either aloud, or in our heads, to talk to God. In this way, we can, for example, praise or thank him, ask for his help or forgiveness, pray for others, and forgive those who hurt us. Spoken prayers may be very brief, whilst we are busy, or longer, during times set aside for the purpose. Spoken prayers can also be shared with other people, for example, at home, with friends, online, or during church services.
With practice, we can develop the habit of speaking to God fairly constantly whilst going about our daily lives. This helps us to become aware of, and to share with him, the stream of unbidden thoughts, temptations, emotions and fantasies which continually rise into consciousness from our shadow selves. Only by recognising these aspects of ourselves can we incorporate them into our spoken prayers, and share them honestly with God, as he desires.
However, although there is a lot to be learned about ourselves through spoken prayer, we will not discover much about God if we do all the talking. So, in order to progress towards a deeper relationship with him, we must add the second step, by beginning to listen.
Learning to listen to God means setting aside time to be alone with him, in silence and stillness. During these periods we practice fixing our minds, hearts and souls on him as steadily as possible. Keeping our own words to a minimum, we wait to discover what he wants to say to us. This process is often known as contemplation.
As we listen for God’s voice, our internal stream of thoughts, feelings and fantasies inevitably continues. I have already written about how we can handle these aspects of ourselves, some of which can be very challenging. If you would like to read the relevant posting, please click on this link: https://wp.me/p45bCr-3F9
Over time, the twin processes of talking and listening to God evolve into an ongoing, two-way conversation, and this forms our third step towards him. Day and night we are, to a greater or lesser extent, aware of his presence, and our dialogue continues, no matter what else is happening around us.
As our relationship with God deepens though this constant conversation, we reach the next step in prayer: communing. This is the point at which words become inadequate, and unnecessary. Letting them go, we pass beyond them to spend time with God in silent togetherness. To begin with, this is most likely to happen during contemplation, but as we progress, it can occur at any time, as long as we remain aware of God’s presence.
Beyond the stage of togetherness, there is one more step we can take during our time on earth. Here we unite with God, experiencing an indescribable oneness with him, though of course, we are always one with God, whether we are aware of it or not. In life, we generally have to return to the demands of everyday life after each such experience. After death, however, this state is changeless, timeless, and eternal.
Although they can be separately described, these five ways of praying work best in combination. As each new step is combined with those that came before, our intimacy with God becomes broader, deeper, more honest, and more continuous. This, I believe, is what Saint Paul was referring to when he encouraged us to “Pray constantly.”
Pray about everything. Tell God what you need (Philippians 4:6; NLT).
We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5; NLT).
You desire honesty from the womb (Psalm 51:6; NLT).
Listen to his voice (Deuteronomy 13:4; NLT).
When you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private (Matthew 6:6; NLT).
Be silent before the Sovereign Lord (Zephaniah 1:7; NIV).
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him (Psalm 37:7; NIV).
After the fire [came] a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12; NKJV).
God talks with man (Deuteronomy 5:24; DBY).
You are close beside me (Psalm 23:4; NLT).
Whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17; NIV).
Pray constantly (1 Thessalonians 5:17; RSV).