The model of communication
One of my children (going unnamed) has developed a habit recently of saying, “of course” after almost any question. “Did you have a good day? Of course. Are you finished with your food? Of course.” Have no fear, that snarky-ness is being nipped in the bud in our home.
I wonder if we ever imagine God answering our prayers with a snarky “of course.” Would God say “of course” to our seemingly obvious requests like, “Father, please forgive my sins,” “May your will be done,” or “Please give me wisdom”? If God’s “of course” is in any way snarky, that might deter us from even asking in the first place. God is sovereign, but does that mean I shouldn’t even ask for obvious things? Does God ever rebuke us for coming to him? God’s already given us all his answers in the Bible, so does that mean that it is foolish or forgetful to pray? No, our Father wants us to ask him for things that we already know the answer to. I, on the other hand, unfortunately get annoyed sometimes when my children ask me questions that I expect they already know the answer to. My children do tend to pick up habits through imitation. Perhaps I have been dismissive of them by saying something along the lines of, “you should have known the answer to that,” or some other sophisticated way of saying, “of course.” But God is not like that, he welcomes and invites the supplication.
Have you ever wrestled with the sovereignty of God and our responsibility to pray? Does God’s sovereignty deter prayer? After all, (Matt. 6:8) “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” So why pray at all? I'm afraid this mentality can creep into our relationships in the church and stifle our communication with one another too. “Will I look stupid if I ask this question? I probably should already know the answer, so I won’t say anything and pretend that I do know the answer.” We can unknowingly shut down future communication if we seem at all annoyed that someone is talking to us.
Over the past couple of months, we have written about our motives in communication (part 1), the ideal means (part 2), with respect to authority (part 3), and the many varied methods (part 4). But we haven’t talked yet about our primary model of communication, prayer. And Jesus is our supreme example giver, as he is often found in the gospel stories in prayer (Luke 9:18; 11:1; Matt. 26:36). Jesus teaches us to pray (Matt. 6:5-15). And we are taught to pray continually (Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17). But it’s not because we are informing God of something, it’s because we have a relationship. I tell my wife that I love her every day. Her response is not, “I know, you told me when we got married, so you don’t need to say it again.” Likewise, prayer is not about information transfer, but about relationship care. We must be on guard against a cold intellectualism in our Christian life, thinking that we’ve got all the right answers and that’s the end of the road, for if that’s our goal we probably won’t be praying much. The goal of God’s communication with us was never knowledge for knowledge sake, but for the glory of God, joy in the Lord, and love for him and the gospel and our neighbor. And prayer is always a right response to the word of God. We even pray God’s word back to him. If God’s truth has not affected our hearts and our hands, then it has not rightly affected our minds either. Prayer as a response to God’s word to us demonstrates that we understand the relational priority of communication with God. So it is whenever we communicate with one another in church.
So how do we demonstrate this? I have one proposal for you: feedback. Make sure that communication in our church is never unilateral, one-sided, with a speaker and a receiver. Whenever we are communicated to, let’s do our best to think about the giver of that information, and if they would benefit from or be encourage by a response. A simple thanks or acknowledgement of receipt (aka. the thumbs up emoji) can go a long way. Just knowing that the information got through can be helpful. Engaging with the person and asking questions can show love for them and help them to refine their communication skills. Often we don’t know what needs to be said next, because we don’t know what has been heard or not. Our communication with God is our model for all other communication. If God would desire that we engage with him in dialogue, to meditate on his words, and openly wrestle in prayer before him with the application of those words to our lives, should we not also consider thoughtful engagement with what others have communicated with us as we give and receive feedback?
Should we give feedback? Of course!