There is a problem with the Sunday school definition of prayer as talking to God. Prayer is not just talking to God. Prayer is also listening to God. And if it is hard to talk to God because we frequently cannot perceive God immediately present with us, listening can be even harder.

Set aside all the difficulties that come with silencing the voice that keeps babbling in our head — if we get that far, if we finally quiet ourselves before God, we are inevitably confronted with a silence that is terrifying. Spend enough time here, and we find ourselves screaming, “God, where are you? Why won’t you talk to me? Why can’t I hear you?”

That last question is the most useful one: Why can’t we hear God? It is the effect of sin, terribly entwined in every part of our life, that makes us deaf to the voice of God. God speaks. We can barely make out the voice. We struggle and we stumble. Was that God talking to me or was that my own incessant voice babbling in my head again?

Here scripture can help. If we can hear God’s voice no other place, surely we can hear it in scripture. This is where scripture and prayer come closest together. But let’s be honest: that is not exactly what we are looking for. We are looking for that moment when the Creator of the universe addresses us, here, now, in our own very specific situation. We are looking for the voice of God in our lives now.

An author has suggested that Jesus prayed ahead of time, “pleading for power that came available to him when the need arose.”

I cannot believe that Jesus, the Son of God, pleaded with God the Father for power. You might stop me and say, “But didn’t Jesus plead with God in the Garden of Gethsemane?” Yes, he did, but he did not plead for power. He plead for his life.

This is one of the most interesting episodes in the Gospel. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, fully human, fully God, God become human, justifiably recoiled from death because human beings justifiably recoil from death. If Genesis tells us anything about this, it is that death is never what God intended for us. When Jesus prays, “Let this cup pass,” he reasonably asks what human nature reasonably desires.

The power lies in what happens next. When Jesus prays, “Not my will” — not the reasonable desire of my human nature — “but yours be done,” it is the astounding, powerful submission of human will to God’s will. It is submission not just to death, but to humiliation and pain and injustice, simply because God in love for the rest of human life requires that it be done.

Which brings us back to the question: what was Jesus doing when he went off by himself to pray. Was he “pleading for power”? Not a chance! Jesus, the Son of God, was in close communion with God the Father. We have no way to comprehend the love exchanged between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, but we absolutely must imagine the love that might be communicated between God and a human being in perfect communion with God. This is precisely what Jesus represented.

The person who has stood in God’s presence, the person who knows God’s will, the person who has basked in the love of God, is a powerful, unstoppable force for good. We call these people prophets and it is what we seek in prayer. Jesus was the unique, perfect example of the power of this relationship between God and us human beings. (Jesus was far more than just an example, but he was also a perfect example.)

So go and pray. Kneel bravely in the terrifying silence that first overwhelms you when you finally quiet yourself to wait on the Lord. Wait until you know beyond a shadow of a doubt you have heard from God. I cannot tell you what God will say. There is nothing more personal, more intimate, more satisfying, more exhilarating than the communication directly between you and God our Maker.

But I suspect you will at least hear these words: “I love you.” If you can get just that far — if you leave your time in prayer knowing nothing else than this: that God himself spoke those words to you — you will have reached a point of transformation that will result in a complete and profound change to your life.

Go and pray and wait and listen — and may God meet you on the far side of the silence because although you did not perceive it, he was with you all along the way.