A lively conversation will often display a tension—either a disagreement or a misunderstanding. Maybe even a willful opposition. Yet if the speakers share mutual love, trust, and common values the exchange is likely to be productive. It may even be a pleasant process. But we’re less optimistic if the participants don’t like each other and the discussion involves competing values.
So what about conversing with God? Do we speak with him in the same way we talk to a good friend or to a beloved spouse? Or do we speak to him reluctantly—without much trust or care?
I ask this because I have the impression that too few Christians think of God as a close and congenial conversation partner. Instead he’s more of a potential resource for special needs, or an iconic figure at church meetings and ceremonies.
We need to acknowledge at least one obvious difference in talking to God. He isn’t physically present in the room so we can’t have the sort of back-and-forth exchange we’re used to when we think of conversations. And most comparisons between normal sharing and speaking to God won’t apply. We even have a separate term for talking to God—“prayer”—that recognizes the one-sided nature of coming to God. Prayers and conversations are not the same thing.
Or so it might seem to us.
The Bible actually portrays God as fully invested in us as potential conversation partners. His presence in all believers is immediate—a Spirit-to-spirit bond as in 1 Corinthians 2 and Romans 8—and is potentially more lively than any human bond. Psalm 139:4 portrays him as intimately aware of everything we ever mean to say, even before we voice our thoughts. God, then, is the greatest of communicators. He wants us to hear his heart and vice versa.
But if that’s the case how do we take advantage of such access? Imagine the benefits of a clear and strong connection with God! And with that vision in view let’s move ahead.
A starting point is to seek him. The term “seek” is Bible jargon for our ambition to start a conversation. Listen to Psalm 28:8—a Psalm attributed to David—“You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, LORD, do I seek.’ Hide not your face from me.” And hear Christ’s call: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things [i.e. all our life concerns] will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
Next comes a willingness to listen. God, once again, is not a poor speaker. Instead we’re poor listeners. We don’t really want to hear what he has to say.
This conundrum of moral deafness calls for humility and openness. Making the connection work is something only God’s Spirit can accomplish. He alone knows our heart’s true motives. So the starting point for a clear connection with God is an invitation to him to check the connection. Let’s return to Psalm 139 here, to verse 23: “Search me, O God, and know my heart!” David recognized God as the solution to our deafness.
So the heart is crucial as the center of our values and motives. Before our new life of faith we had deadened hearts—wanting to “be like God” as usurpers and users rather than followers—but even in coming to faith our old interests still haunt us. God said as much in Jeremiah 17:9-10—“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
And now we come to the main insight of conversing with God: he invites us to speak about important matters and not about the themes of our former rebellion. The near deafness of most Christians remains a problem as long as we make self the focus of our approaches to him. Such efforts represent our past spilling into the present—recalling how we once lived as lovers of self rather than as lovers of God and neighbor.
God’s Trinitarian existence is the ultimate measure here. God the Father wants us to take up our new identity: we are now his children by way of union with Christ. We are now his Son’s eternal bride: as much beloved by him as his Son is. So any efforts on our part to continue with the old values of spiritual autonomy and self-interest need to be crucified just as Jesus was crucified for our former life.
A clear connection with the Father is only made in our devotion to his Son. As we abide—living boldly and overtly—in Christ and in his love for us our values shift dramatically. We now discover the Bible to be speaking about this bond from beginning to end. This lesson that Jesus taught his still-dull disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 is crucial: everything in the Old Testament was a story about the Father sending his Son, the Servant, to give us life.
Once we get the Spirit’s focus on the Son offered throughout the Scriptures we start to pick up on what’s really important. The story of fall and redemption stands behind God’s answers to all our questions. We then hear the Spirit whispering to our hearts as we read, “Yes, yes, you’re getting it at last!”
The tension of the past came when we tried to force God to treat our own stories as central to life. Now we know better. And we can join the Father in his delight in his Son, which is where the conversation reaches its peak.