I regularly receive calls to prayer, and more often these days. Praying to God is so important, and I am personally involved in movements like 24/7 Prayer International (and others). I notice though that people often understand prayer mostly as one-way communication with God. While prayer certainly includes us speaking to God, it also includes God speaking to us! Spirit-guided action will also follow.
Is our prayer conversational in a way that actively includes paying attention to what God is saying to us and acting on it? According to Jesus, life-transforming prayer must include speaking and hearing, resulting in action.
In Luke 6:46-49 Jesus directly challenges people who both speak and listen to him, but don’t do what he says. Discerning what Jesus says then is essential– so we can receive instructions and direction for our lives and commitments.
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Jesus asks.
Jesus then offers a simple comparison of two builders. One builds his house on a rock, and it withstands a flood. Another builds on the sand, and it collapses when hit by the torrent. His story invites us to decide which builder we want to be. And the right choice seems obvious.
This week I met up with Jason and Jessica, a couple from our Tierra Nueva community (pictured above). We met up in their driveway and read and discussed Luke 6:46-49 together. I saw some things I’d never noticed that really struck me. I hope these reflections inspire you.
Jesus’ teaching here is about prayer, which must include three essential steps if we are to build on a foundation that can withstand life’s storms. These include 1) Coming to Jesus, 2) Hearing his voice, and 3) Action in alignment with what he tells us.
“Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and acts on them, I will show you whom he/she is like: she/he is like a person building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.”
The first step is coming to Jesus: “everyone who comes to me…” A great crowd of disciples had come to hear Jesus, and to be healed of their diseases and freed from unclean spirits (Lk 6:18). Back then people could come to the physical Jesus. Now we come to him through prayer, worship, adoration, contemplation, and other spiritual practices like Communion. By the way, the Gospel accounts of people’s encounters with Jesus have a lot to teach us about prayer as back-and-forth communication with God.
The next step is hearing Jesus: “and hears my words…” This speaks directly of the other, lesser-known aspect of prayer— God’s communicating with us and us hearing/discerning God’s voice. We can hear Jesus’ words to us through the Holy Spirit’s work, listening prayer practices, and through reading Scripture and receiving teaching.
The final step is the most ignored: “and acts on them…” (though some more action-oriented people jump straight to it without first going to Jesus and hearing his instructions). This step speaks to our response to what Jesus tells us: changing our lives, going on a ‘mission,’ or doing whatever we hear him say.
Only the person who engages in all three of these actions is “like a person building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built” (Luke 6:47-48).
In contrast, the “person who built a house on the ground without any foundation” is like the “the one who has heard and has not acted” (Lk 6:49).
Jesus’ words assume the first action of coming to him—like those he mentions at the beginning who call him ‘Lord Lord.’ Next Jesus directly mentions the second aspect of prayer, hearing. “But the one who has heard.” The only difference between the successful and failed builder is acting or not acting in response to Jesus’ words.
The results of not acting on Jesus’ communication to us in conversational prayer are catastrophic. “And the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great” (Lk 6:29).
“Maybe it’s like if I have a car problem and I call a mechanic. I explain that my car is overheating and the check-engine light is on, indicating my car maybe needs more oil. That would be like praying to God, explaining a problem to him,” I explain to Jason and Jessica, trying to think of a relatable example.
“The mechanic tells me to be sure there’s antifreeze in the radiator, and to check the oil and top if off if necessary until he has time to check it out when his schedule is free. I agree– and this would be like the second step of prayer: listening,” I say.
“But then I keep driving my car without doing what he says. My engine freezes up and needs to be replaced. I’ve failed to follow the mechanic’s expert advice and now I’m suffering the consequences,” I conclude. The example works and we’re each moved by how down-to-earth Jesus is.
Jason and Jessica have been experiencing this concretely over the past year, finding housing, work and flourishing as a family after seven years of being separated due to incarceration.
“We’re both growing in our relationship with God,” says Jessica. It’s easier to understand one another and deal with whatever issues that we have– rather than just letting our emotions take control. My gas tank is not always on empty…”
Jesus’ teaching shows how much he cares about us. Jesus wants us to build our lives on a solid foundation so we can withstand the storms of life, not being shaken by the torrents that come against us. Jesus wants us to come to him. He speaks to us and we can hear him. He gives us direction and messages that enhance our lives, helping us and others avoid destruction.
May we all remember to go to Jesus in prayer, listen to his counsel, and gladly act on what he tells us!
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