We think that prayer is our effort to reach out to God. What appears to be our initiative is actually our response to God’s Spirit prompting us to pray. Often we go about the day unaware of God’s gracious presence calling us to new life. When we pray, we wake up to God’s call and loving embrace. This is why St. Paul advises us to, “Pray without ceasing.”
The best way to speak to God in prayer is as one friend to another. We can thank God for food, our house, our teachers; asking God to bring our family members safely home from work and school, or saying sorry when we hurt each other. These are prayers of thanks, petition, and forgiveness.
Christian tradition teaches that God speaks to us in many ways, especially through Jesus Christ, but many struggle to hear God speak at all. The psalmist warns, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” The key word in that sentence is "if." The psalmist thinks the problem is hard hearts, which is no doubt correct, but we also have a hearing problem. Living in a fast-paced, noisy world, we struggle to hear the voice of God. Many Christians do not know how to listen for God’s voice because they do not understand how God speaks. Many conclude, therefore, that God does not talk to us. If we do not expect God to speak to us, we will not listen for God’s voice. We harden our hearts and close our minds.
How does God speak to us?
One way is through remorse. Sometimes we act against the work and mission of Christ and engage in destructive behavior. When these situations arise, the Holy Spirit works to change our behavior by filling us with remorse. Many Christians assume they only experience God in moments of peace and joy, but Saint Ignatius of Loyola reminds us that God speaks to us in other ways, particularly in experiences of remorse. This is an act of love on God’s part because God desires to free us from our distorted attitudes and actions. God speaks to us through feelings of regret and sorrow over how we act at times.
The Lord also speaks to us in confession. Through the priest’s words, we experience the Lord’s mercy and compassion. After admitting what we have done and agreeing to do our penance. We often feel light, happy and filled with energy. According to St. Ignatius, God encourages the person who seeks reconciliation by restoring the relationship and by filling them with energy, courage, clarity, and inspirations. God also gives spiritual consolation. What is that? The most common form is feelings of quiet and peace and experiences of interior joy that attract us to live like Christ. When we are feeling free from guilt, we have a sense of God filling us with joy. That is an experience of “spiritual consolation,” a result of our cooperation with the Lord.
St. Ignatius believed that all the good we receive in our lives comes from God, like light streaming toward us from the sun. We always need to ask ourselves: “What good things was I given today?” Most of us would answer family, friends, our home, and food. Do we know what God is saying to us when he gives us such good things? He is telling us how much he loves us and cares for us.
Why doesn’t God speak to me as he spoke to the prophets or the disciples of Jesus?
This is a common question for many Christians, adults as well as children. Our experiences, interpreted in the light of these Ignatian principles, reminds us that the Lord Jesus is always speaking to us through our relationships and choices, through our feelings, desires, imagination, and thoughts. He speaks through creation, through the gift of our lives, through other people and through our own abilities, opportunities, and struggles. The Lord desires to be in a relationship with us, to free and transform us into his image. Our task is to listen and respond.