The idea that people can talk with God as a friend, instead of only praying to Him in a formal setting, may seem to some a little irreverent, or even impertinent, but in essence, it is just another way of praying to God. There are books already that give advice on how to pray, and many with prayers for people and situations. We also have the Lord’s Prayer as a gift from Jesus so that everyone has a template on how to start praying, and we can read testimonies and personal prayer stories from those who inspire us. Yet there is room for another book about prayer, because God is always eager to hear from His people, and with each prayer we offer, we acknowledge Him and move deeper into the love-relationship that He shares with us.
Talking with God uses informal conversation as the means for us to commune with God, a dialogue between friends who speak and listen to each other. Jesus called His disciples friends, not servants, because He shared with them everything His Father told Him. He chooses us to be His friends also, and anoints us, so that we can imitate Him and achieve similar or ‘greater things’; and He does this knowing that friendship involves an informality not found in other relationships. Therefore, since Jesus is the ‘exact representation’ of God, it follows we can humbly revere Him in our praise and worship as Almighty God, in heaven and on earth, and also meet Him informally as friend and confidant in our prayers, and in our imagination.
The aim of the book is to provide a format for the Holy Spirit to help us talk easily with God, so that we will know what He wants to say to us about various topics residing in His Word. Father and Son talked to each other often, and we are Their adopted family, so They are expecting to talk with us too, as family. A passage in St John’s Gospel has Jesus saying:
Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here.
Jesus wanted to show the people standing beside Him that He could actually speak with His Father in a conversational manner, and His Father could, and did, speak with Him in the same way. Talking to God is a real divine–human experience that we can all share, wherever we are on the journey of faith, and since God is calling His people daily to follow Him, it seems natural He will want to talk with us while we are doing this.
There are thirty chapters in this book, in three groups: God and Beginnings, What is God Like? and Living the Christian Life. Each topic provides opportunity for the Holy Spirit to meet us individually, where we are, and bring us closer to God. It is always the Holy Spirit who ministers to us, speaks to us and teaches us God’s wisdom.
So, whatever our situation, whether life is treating us well or we’re hurting, bruised and weary, waiting for relief; whether we’ve suffered from the deceit of the world and we’re looking for truth and meaning for our life, or seeking refreshment and reassurance there is real goodness to be found on earth; or we’re longing for a closer walk and deeper union with God, this book can help us, because the Spirit will bring us into conversation with Jesus. He can do this if we’re walking our spiritual path in company with others, or we’re walking on our own.
This makes it a book for the whole Church of God, because all who know God through the Spirit, and all who yearn to make His acquaintance, will be given God‘s invitation to talk, and those of us who accept it will be blessed through meeting and talking with Him. Maybe we will come to know Jesus more intimately through the Spirit, or be transformed by the closer relationship we develop with the Holy Spirit, or we will relate to Father God a little better, despite His mystery.
And as we learn more about God and examine the way we live the Christian life, we can choose the changes we would like to make, so as to bring Him pleasure, and a greater peace to ourselves. We may also come to understand with greater confidence that God is faithful to His promises, that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, loves and cares for us beyond measure, and that we can talk with God as often as we wish. This outcome is the work of the Holy Spirit alone.
Bible verses introduce each topic, followed by a commentary that aims to inform, encourage and teach. A section headed ‘Thoughts for reflection before we talk with God’ is next, where we are invited to mull over various questions raised or statements made, relating to God or aspects of the Christian life, which may be touched upon by the Spirit in our conversation later. Then we have the ‘conversation’, when we are prompted to imagine a setting in which to meet Jesus and to talk with Him (except chapter 1). The Holy Spirit will take the lead, possibly helping us to hear Jesus first so we can respond, or waiting with us while He, the Spirit, puts the right words in our hearts and minds so we speak first. Once the talking is over, the chapter ends with ‘A prayer to finish’.
Conversations may be short, or perhaps around twenty minutes, but they can take longer, sometimes even days; and we can have as many conversations from each chapter as we wish. There is no need to try to remember any of the thoughts we may have had earlier, because the Holy Spirit is leading, and He will bring to mind anything relevant and will guide the conversation to move in the direction He chooses.
For each conversation, we may find it beneficial to have a notebook or a journal handy, so we can jot down the things we wish to remember for the future.
There is help provided for two aspects of the book that may not be familiar to all readers. First, to have a conversation, we need a basic knowledge of how to listen to God, so for those who would like more information on this subject, a brief guide ‘Listening to God’ is included below. Second, the conversations rely on us using our imagination, another of God’s gifts. The beauty of using imagination in prayer is that we can project our physical senses into the spiritual arena and use them in the way we do in ordinary life. We can see, hear, touch, smell and taste in our thoughts as we imagine biblical events happening, or conversations taking place, adding interest and depth to our interaction with Jesus and Father. For information and suggestions about this, a brief note headed ‘Imagining our conversation’ is also included below.
Will you take a risk with God and have a conversation? He will be wanting our full attention, but He will meet us any time we choose. If we ask the Holy Spirit where to start, He will answer us – and the first conversation will have started.
Be blessed as you talk with God.
Listening to God
When we have a conversation with God, He will speak to us through the Holy Spirit. God always speaks in love and kindness, so if we hear anything that is not totally infused with love and kindness, it is not God speaking. Some people actually hear God’s voice, or hear Him in their imagination; Jesus says ‘his sheep follow him because they know his voice’, so if that is you, He will be talking gently, maybe in a whisper, and His words are likely to become etched in your memory.
If we do not hear His voice (and that is likely to be most of us), He will speak to us without sound, using a number of different ways. Here are some of the methods God may use to speak to us:
- He may speak through a verse in the Bible. If we find our thoughts turning to the Bible and we feel a tug to turn to a particular book, we follow that tug. When we get there, we wait for the Spirit to indicate a chapter to look at. We may need patience to start with, but we can learn how to hear the Spirit by spending time with Him and being alert for His gentle instructions. Then we read the chapter and see which verse or words make an impression on our mind. The Spirit will direct us to His message if we work with Him in humility, patience and perseverance. The Spirit will make us aware of the verse or words He has chosen for us to read and they will have relevance to our prayer, or our question, or the subject we are dealing with.
- He may give to our mind’s eye a picture of an object, an event, a place, a memory or something else relevant to what we are discussing with Him. Often the meaning will be obvious, but at other times we will need to wait for an explanation of what the picture means. The Spirit will explain if we wait for Him patiently. A picture may also be used to give us a Bible verse or a Bible reference, which we can then look up.
- God may give us a sudden thought, as a result of which we may find we can suddenly understand something that was not understood immediately beforehand. Or we may get a sudden picture that bears little or no connection to what we were thinking about immediately beforehand; both of these may be revelations from the Holy Spirit. If we are praying for knowledge and understanding about a particular subject and God answers our prayer, He will make it clear which question or subject the answer relates to. God might use sudden thoughts out of nowhere quite often, but we have to be alert to the possibility of this, so that we do not let a sudden thought pass without questioning whether it’s from God.
- He may reveal things to us in other ways – He is God and He can choose as He will. If we have been praying continuously for the answer to a particular question, which is pressing and immediate, we should be expectant that God will talk to us – He does not tease us, He wants to help us. Sometimes a response may take days to come, so that’s how long a conversation may last, but don’t be discouraged. God hears us and will respond in His time; He knows the whole situation, we seldom do.
Sometimes we do misinterpret what we hear and get it wrong, but this is a learning process. God will talk to any and all people who approach Him to have a conversation, and the more we practise, the better we become. When we hear from God, some answers will be confirmation for what we are thinking already, and some will be revelations that we can trust are from God, because they bring benefit and blessing to us or to others. However, if we believe we have heard God instructing us to take some action, or to discontinue some action, we need to test what we have heard before we rely on it. The safest rule to use is to get a second opinion; so before taking action, or discontinuing some action, we need to ask for corroborating godly advice from a person we trust (or more than one person) who is experienced in listening to God. The Bible contains clear teaching about this:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.
This guidance is a short tutorial about listening to God. There are more ways to hear from God than are mentioned here, and many good books have been written on the subject, so if we wish to know more, we need to ask the Spirit and He will help us find the appropriate title. However, this guidance will be enough to enable any of us to have a conversation with God if, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will start a conversation, expecting to hear God speak to us in return.
Imagining our conversation
Imagination is from God, and is fun to use. Some readers may not have used imagination in prayer before, so this brief note is to set the scene.
Imagination in prayer is not new, as meditation and contemplation have been used by the Church for centuries. Lectio Divina is a method of studying Scripture, with four stages comprising reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation. Ignatian exercises were started in the sixteenth century to help believers discern the will of God for themselves when facing life’s big decisions, and they too envisage imagining personal interactions with God in scriptural events. While readers can use these spiritual practices with the quoted scriptures if they wish, the book does not depend on their use for the conversations, since the verses heading each chapter can be read and understood in their everyday meaning; and we will use our imagination to provide the setting for our meetings with God. It is the direct involvement of the Holy Spirit in leading our conversation that ensures the integrity of the exchange.
Anyone can imagine a beautiful and happy scene, and we all do this in our daily lives, without even being aware of it sometimes. However, imagination can produce quite the opposite of a good thing if used without God’s protection, when we might imagine harmful, unpleasant or frightening images unintentionally. To avoid this, the conversations are Christ-centred, but also we can defend ourselves by following Paul’s example and, ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’. The Holy Spirit will help us in this if we ask Him.
All chapters suggest a setting in which we can imagine where our conversation with Jesus takes place. Most of the stories also suggest how we can imagine our involvement in scenes that form part of Bible events. It is perhaps easier to imagine the surroundings when the event takes place in the open air – there will be more happening – but a closed space still has its attraction because the meeting is likely to be more personal. When we imagine a Bible scene, or the setting for a conversation when we will speak with Jesus, it is helpful to consider the following suggestions.
When we’re in the open air, imagine the kerfuffle about Jesus as He walks among the crowds; or if He’s with friends, how are the dynamics different? Imagine what happens when He stops, who He speaks to; which friends accompany Him? Imagine what other bystanders near us are saying, and what we can overhear. What about the noise, the smell, the weather? Think about the trees and flowers in the area; the type of ground; what might be happening while the people we are interested in are out of our sight? Perhaps also imagine studying Jesus closely; what does He look like, or sound like? Do His friends stay near to Him or keep their distance? You could examine His eyes, His mannerisms, His demeanour, what He’s wearing, and anything else that stands out. Many settings for conversations have us sitting down with Him, but we could imagine Him asking us to go for a walk, or Him leaning against a wall, or over a gate and looking towards the distance, or doing something else. Whatever we imagine happening can bring the stories off the page and imbue them with life.
If we’re inside a room, imagine the background where we’re meeting: what’s hanging on the walls? Are there windows, curtains, lamps? What’s the furniture? If a specific place is suggested, such as a library or a classroom, choose one from your own experience which has good memories. If you can’t visualise the suggested place, perhaps find a photo to help: for example, what a wasteland looks like. All these extra details can enhance our experience, and some aspects of the background may be a part of the revelation.
When we imagine Jesus on earth, keep in mind He was a Jewish man who lived a modest life in first-century Palestine; yet He can also be a man of today in our twenty-first-century world. And when we meet with Him, imagine we’re spending time with a best friend.
In all this, we need to be led by the Holy Spirit, who may use our imagined pictures to reveal to us wisdom and understanding.
And if minded to do so, we could write the interesting things (words, pictures, verses, sudden thoughts) from our experience in our journal or notebook, as it may help us when we pray over the memory of our meeting, or revisit the scene to continue, or recommence, the conversation with Jesus.
God and Beginnings
- The Sky at Night – The beginning of relationship with God
- The Planets – The beginning of questions addressed to God
- Creation – The beginning of life on earth
- Calling and Commissioning – The beginning of service with God
- The Throne in Heaven – The beginning of the next life
The Sky at Night
‘To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing…
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
Do you look at the sky at night? It is the most majestic display of light and movement. Some stars are very bright; there are groups of stars that are instantly recognisable; there are those that twinkle and those that do not. We can follow them over the weeks and months as the earth moves in its orbit around the sun and they change their positions relative to where we are standing. They are so big and there are so many – where does humanity fit into all this? Should we stand on the surface of the earth and ask no questions about how they come to be there? Many people do that. Instead of researching the subject, they rely on what other people say – that we are a cosmic accident, and that life will end when we die on earth, and then we will revert to the dust from which we came. But there are many others who do ask questions, who find their faith in a God of love and who read the Bible to discover truth about Him. So Part One is called ‘God and Beginnings’, when we can consider what God says about Himself; we can think about the origins of what we can see, in space and on the earth, and read how God made us. We can wonder why He talks with us, and can read about the future He offers to those who desire Him.
Believing in God rests on us having a personal relationship with Him, and conversations build relationships. Once the relationship exists, God seeks to deepen it with our cooperation. Believers learn that knowledge and understanding are revealed by God and that humanity could not have progressed so much over the centuries without His assistance. God invites every living soul to have a one-to-one relationship with Him.
Is He a God of love who watches over His creation and cares for His people? Or is He a God of judgement, who makes rules and punishes people when they disobey? Some of us are unsure about who God is, or what He’s like, or if creation is His work or something else. Wherever we are in relation to faith, we could start to form perspective by considering the magnitude of the universe, and then consider in turn the sizes of other heavenly bodies within it, until we can appreciate how small we are within the expanse of creation.
Thoughts for reflection before we talk with God
Imagine standing in an open space under the night sky, wondering how you can have a conversation with God about what the people on earth can see in the night sky. Most conversations start with a question. We could ask God about the design of the stars in the sky: their brightness, their size, their position; why some are close together and some are solitary; why some die in our lifetime and not others; why He named them as He did. If ‘not one of them is missing’, how does He know? When we ask questions, we can say them in our head or speak them aloud, and God will respect us with a reply.
Imagine God in the heavens. What do we think He looks like? How does He travel through His creation? Picture God as He ‘lays the foundations of the earth’; what might they consist of? Then think about the people living on earth. The Bible has God talking to us as a father talks to his children. Why would He do that if we were not important?
It is no waste of time or effort to be curious about God, or to investigate who He is, for this might produce the treasure that changes our life. We could ask Him why we are here and why He cares for us. Even if we believe already, it is helpful to revisit our long-held beliefs and talk with God about them. If there are any misconceptions, it allows opportunity for Him to correct them.
Some people do deny God exists, but then, what is the alternative? That there is no Creator and the world just happened? Is it likely that chance could cause the order and the precision involved in the night sky? Is it believable that an accident could produce the stars and keep them in their positions on the celestial sphere? Why don’t we start to talk with God and ask Him about these things and see if He will answer us? He has invited us to talk with Him, so we can expect Him to reveal Himself.
The opening passage from Isaiah instructs us to lift our eyes and ‘look to the heavens’ as a means of learning about God. It declares, ‘the Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.’ Why should we trust what the Bible says? Because the scholars of the world over many ages have confirmed that the books of the Old Testament and the New Testament are historical documents of record that can be relied upon for the tenets of the Jewish and Christian faiths. Those who don’t believe in God may not have reached a conclusion about the Bible or its origins, but for believers and those seeking God, the Bible is our first port of call. If we ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth, He will answer us and tell us what we need to know.
It is time well spent contemplating the night sky. We can talk to God about the lives of people over the past thousands of years, about the world in which they lived and about things that have changed. Yet, by contrast, the stars in the night sky don’t seem to have changed at all.
When you have a conversation with God, He will speak through the Holy Spirit. It’s important to be still and quiet. God sometimes whispers, and we may need to practise getting attuned to His voice, but He does want to talk to us, so perseverance will pay a dividend.
Imagine looking up at the night sky, God standing beside you in your open space. If you would like the Holy Spirit to speak first, be still and be alert for one of the ways God speaks; alternatively, if you would prefer to start the conversation about how you and God can develop a new, or deepen an existing, personal relationship, wait for the Spirit to bring to your mind some words that you can say, and then be open to the Spirit as the conversation gets going.
A prayer to finish
Creator God, Maker of heaven and earth, Your creation is so big that it makes me realise how small I am. If I avoid thinking about my existence and why I am here, I can live in my own small world. But when I read about Your great power, that You have authority over the stars, and I stop to consider the beauty of creation around me, I see I am part of something much bigger than my present understanding explains.
God, please open my mind and heart to receive a new understanding of You as my Maker, and of my relevance in Your world, as I seek to know You better. Amen.