I pray to you, O Lord, my rock. Do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you are silent, I might as well give up and die. (Psalm 28:1, NLT)
Over the years, I have reads dozens of books and articles about effective communication. That includes everything from marriage counseling to leadership, from Fierce Conversations to Crucial Conversations to Spiritual Conversations, from parenting to preaching to prayer. The bottom line? It’s really hard to communicate well, regardless of the situation or relationship. Parents complain that their children don’t listen, wives lament that their husbands don’t talk, students are convinced their teachers don’t understand, and church members wonder whether anyone cares. Sadly, even after reading all those books, I often wonder if I am really being heard, and my wife still wonders whether I am really listening!
The hardest thing about good communication is remembering that good communication is hard!
Actively listening to each other is hard work. When we fail to take listening seriously, our talking hardly matters! We end up simply talking past one another, or misunderstanding each other altogether. As the playwright George Bernard Shaw once observed, “The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”
Psalm 28 begins as a lament. David is confronting God about what he perceives as a communication failure. “I’m praying Lord, are you listening?” David wants to be heard. In verses 2-5 he pleads with God to notice him and to save him from the judgment of the wicked world around him. In verses 6-9 David celebrates that God has indeed heard him and helped him. His trust is restored…his joy is complete.
When we read prayers like this, we might get the impression that it is our job to speak and that God’s job is to listen to us, and to consider what he wants to do with our request. It’s a one-way communication…more of a transaction than a conversation. If and when we get what we need, we can move on.
But the first verse of David’s song isn’t simply demanding an audience, it’s requesting a relationship. “If you are silent, I might as well give up and die.” David acknowledges that having good communication with God may be hard, but it is essential. He longs to be delivered from the problems at hand, but even more than that he longs for real life—a life that can only be found in conversation and communion with his God. He knows that his God is a God of power: “The Lord is my strength and my shield…He is a safe fortress for his anointed King.” But David also knows that his God is a God of relationship…a God of love: “Lead [your people] like a shepherd, and carry them in your arms forever.”
In Mark’s gospel, we read a story about Jesus’ encounter with a blind man named Bartimaeus. As Jesus is passing through Jericho, Bartimaeus cries out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The people around him tell him to shut up, but he keeps on screaming until he finally gets Jesus’ attention. Jesus calls to him and asks him what he wants. And Bartimaeus says, “Rabbi, I want to see.” So Jesus speaks to him, Jesus heals him, and Jesus tells him, “Go, your faith has healed you.” But Bartimaeus doesn’t go. He chooses to follow Jesus instead…he chooses the relationship…he chooses real life!
How about you? Are you simply speaking TO GOD in your prayers—hoping to be listened to and answered? Or are you speaking WITH GOD in your prayers—hoping to hear his voice, answering his invitation to follow, allowing yourself to be carried in the life-giving arms of a loving Shepherd. Here’s the good news: if you want to have a relationship with Him, he wants to have a relationship with you! Go to him in prayer…speak to him. But just as importantly, actively listen as He speaks to you. Jesus is the way, he is the truth, he is life itself (John 14:6). Stay thirty for him!