I know I’ll get flack for this, being as I am in the Reformed world, but I regularly practice something known as “conversational prayer”: I speak to God, I listen for God, and no – I’m not necessarily listening for scriptures to come to mind (as Paul Miller recommends in his “A Praying Life”).
This brings fair questions from my reformed friends like: How do I square this with the sufficiency of scripture?
To help clarify, let me make 7 quick points about conversational prayer.
- Conversational Prayer is Nothing New. St Augustine recorded a collection of what he called “Soliloquies”, through which he searched his own spirit through inner dialogue. It’s been an extraordinarily useful tool throughout the ages, applying what Martin Lloyd Jones called the principle of “speaking to oneself, rather than listening.” Conversational prayer is the only way I can discipline my soul to this practice.
- Conversational Prayer is Not Infallible. Like preaching, when I type out what I think God would say to me, I don’t take my words as infallible. God is not speaking to me in the the exact same way He does in scripture. Yet I’m not ready to say God doesn’t speak to me through conversational prayer, just as He speaks to me through the preached word. That leads me to point 3:
- Conversational Prayer is not Prophecy. At one time, I thought my conversations with God were equivalent to Wayne Grudem’s definition of “prophecy.” I’ve since changed my views: prophecy is infallible, unlike my attempts to apply scripture to myself through soliloquy.
- Conversational Prayer IS God’s voice…Insofar as it is an application of scripture. This is straight from the Westminster Confession of Faith: all scripture is authoritative, but so is whatever can be derived from “good and necessary consequence” of the scriptures. Soliloquies are the way I meditate on scripture – going from the plain statements of scripture to the “good and necessary consequence” in my own life.
- Conversational Prayer is not Alone – For conversational prayer to be effective, the one practicing must regularly search the scriptures and seek the council of others. The more we know scripture, the more accurately we can judge how God would speak to us in given situations. So scripture and conversational prayer go hand-in-hand: they each resource the other in profound ways. We must also be careful not to be so arrogant as to leave the voice of the church out of our conversation with God: my pastors and fellow believers are also tools through which God speaks to me. It would be foolish for me to abandon them for conversational prayer alone.
- It is Never Right to Say “God Spoke to Me”…unless you’re referring to God’s authoritative word in scripture. While I do believe God uses conversational prayer to speak personally to me, it would always be wrong for me to use any portion of my conversational prayer as authoritative in the life of another. Saying “God spoke to me” in reference to conversational prayer is equivalent to “thus says the Lord” of the prophets, meaning the word is authoritative. When a preacher speaks God’s truth and applies it rightly, we are not accustomed to saying, “God spoke ____ to me” – we may say, “God spoke to me through the sermon today”, but that is not quite the same claim. As a rule, I never make reference to my conversational prayer with others in order to stay far clear of sounding anything like a modern prophet.
- Conversational Prayer isn’t for Everyone. I don’t believe that conversational prayer is something everyone should or could have access to – other disciplines will be more helpful to others. For me, it richly blesses me, convicts me, encourages me, and allows me to raise my affections toward Jesus. God wired this to work for me, but I realize it may not work for everyone.