We are not good at listening

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

There was a survey carried out in 1998 by the Teal Trust, a Christian leadership development organisation.

It was conducted in the UK, the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. We’re not told how many questionnaires were sent out, but over 6,000 were returned from members of just over 400 churches, from a range of denominations. The main outcomes were:

• 48 per cent saw private prayer as vital to their Christian life and faith;

• 64 per cent claimed to pray alone each day;

• 86 per cent believed they had some experience of prayer bring answered;

• 59 per cent felt that God had communicated with them as they prayed.

Bear in mind that the figures are almost certainly unreliable, for in the words of Teal Trust: ‘The responses to this prayer survey are likely to be from Christians who are more likely to pray than others.’ Therefore, the statistics are likely to be skewed towards optimistic, and yet those six points were described as ‘positive.’

But are they? For example, if 48 per cent of the respondents claim that they saw private prayer as vital to their Christian life and faith, can that mean that over half of them think prayer is unimportant? Do they see prayer as an irrelevant religious mantra, a ritual to be performed in the hope that God will be impressed?

And if 59 per cent feel that God communicates with them as they pray, what does that tell you about the remaining 41 per cent? Do they think prayer is all about them telling God about their problems? Doesn’t he already know? Are they even sure he’s there?

And why is it that so many people reduce the most significant aspect of Christian living to ‘saying our prayers’? Talking! A monologue! Who knows, maybe there are times when God tries to communicate with us but can’t get a word in sideways!

And if 86 per cent of the respondents believed that they had some experience of prayer being answered, almost 1,000 praying Christians (the remaining 14 per cent), appear to be of the opinion that God ignores them as they pray. They seem not to understand that sometimes God says yes and sometimes he says no. He might say wait, and he might even say, ‘You have got to be joking.’ But he will always answer.

Our trouble is that we’re not good at listening, especially when it looks like we’re not about to get what we want, when we want it.

There’s is an interesting comment posted on the Teal Trust website: ‘There is a clear challenge to the church in every place to provide encouragement to pray, without generating feelings of guilt.’

However, since the survey on prayer has thrown up some serious misunderstandings about prayer, if not a great deal of ignorance about one of the central activities of the church (prayer), would it not be more productive to acknowledge that there’s a problem, and focus on teaching what prayer is, rather than merely encouraging people to keep at it?

As Albert Einstein once said: ‘Insanity is doing what you’ve always done, the way you’ve always done it, and expecting different results.’