Have you ever been alone in a great canyon? One of those caverns that traps sound waves, making them skip across surfaces and travel back to you? The reverberations are fun to manipulate, at least for a while, but eventually it gets old listening to yourself on repeat. Conversations, by definition, are supposed to involve two or more people, so it’s only natural for us to want a response.
For many of us, though, praying to God feels like yelling within a great canyon. Sometimes it may seem like someone’s joining the conversation, but how can we be sure that other voice isn’t just an echo of our own thoughts, words, desires? How can we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we’re not just having words with ourselves?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to hear God’s voice: a loud, booming voice. Heavenly words that were clear and undeniable. Anytime I’d pray as a kid, I’d hope that voice would respond. But it didn’t.
Another voice seemed to dance around inside of me, though. I’d try to sort out where it came from—my head, my heart, my gut . . . If the voice came from my head, then surely it was my own thoughts, but if it came from my heart or somewhere deep in my gut shouldn’t that be God’s space? We’re told that Jesus lives in our hearts, so it’d make sense that that’s where he speaks from, right?
But despite my best efforts, I had the hardest time sorting out where the voice came from.
Scripture tells us that we knew the Voice intimately once, back in that Garden. There was no denying the voice of God; he walked with us in the cool of the day. But it would seem his voice wasn’t enough. We wanted to go around the Voice, to whatever may be behind it: the knowledge of good and evil, the answers to self-sufficiency, a godlike independence. So we didn’t listen to the Voice. We chose a different voice, the voice of the Accuser. This voice confirmed our suspicions. There was more to be had, and we wouldn’t be happy until we had whatever “it” was.
We know how that story goes.
But what’s fascinating to me is the Voice didn’t stay in the Garden. It moved with us. The Voice showed up and kept on speaking to us. But over time fewer people heard the Voice . . . and humankind just listened to its own voice, a restless voice that accused and vilified, setting the world in a violent frenzy. The Accuser had everyone’s ear, and life somehow became worse than death.
It’s hard to hear the Voice when the Accuser is constantly speaking. For many of us, we grow up believing that this voice is the only voice, so we search for God within the Accuser’s voice.
But the Voice is something different.
While the Accuser is abrupt and persistent, the voice of God is subtle, wooing us into awe-filled delight. At first it sounds like a bubbling brook or a tree dancing in the wind, but there’s something in the sound that we didn’t notice before, a resonance that quietly sings within us.
Through patience, steadfastness, and faith, some of us realize that the Voice is not just something out there; it is within us. It belongs to the One in whom we live, and move, and have our being. And it would seem, after all the confusion, that words with God is about joining the conversation, not starting it . . . which means we must stop looking for just words and learn to pray with open eyes and willing hearts.
Words are important, but there’s so much more to communication. Communion is what we’re truly chasing: a confluence of places, peoples, purposes. Paul did say that this communion is available to us all, so we mustn’t settle. Prayer—words with God—is our highest and best communion. Even when the prayer has no words.
“Now, may the . . . precious communion that we share in the Holy Spirit be yours continually. Amen!“2 Corinthians 13:14 TPT
The dangerous and thrilling truth is the canyon is not a place of abandonment; it is the pathway home.
Like a child sent into the wilderness for a rite of passage, so our journey takes us into and through the silence. It’s in the canyon that we wrestle with God and discover who we are and what we’re capable of. It’s in the canyon where empty words are exchanged for a real connection. It’s in the canyon that we face off with our ideas of God, prayer, and many other things, so we can surrender to the mind of Christ. It’s in the canyon that we figure out that a “prayer life” is much more than a spiritual exercise, it’s the higher consciousness that reorders and integrates life, reclaiming every bit of living (and us) as holy and necessary to God’s purposes and design.
The canyon’s silence helps us join our voice—our holy amen—with the Voice again. For even in the canyon’s echo, the Voice speaks.
This post is largely an excerpt from Addison D. Bevere’s new book, Words with God: Trading Boring, Empty Prayer for Real Connection (April 18, 2023). The book, audiobook, and ebook are available wherever you get your books. You can also learn more about the book and discover additional resources at WordsWithGod.org.