Have you ever traveled outside the United States to places where they do not speak your language? Maybe you have even tried to teach yourself some of that new language in order to get yourself around town effectively - engage conversation with the locals and experience their culture. You are working hard to remember the vocabulary, sentence structure, pronunciation and after a while you tire of understanding what everybody is saying. Some people at this point kind of shut down their ‘translating mode' and remain quiet and just enjoy the sights and sounds. It is exhausting not being able to understand or be understood.
Then as you are walking down the street, all of a sudden you hear your language -even your dialect. Your ears perk up and you try to go to that person speaking your native tongue and maybe even engage in conversation. You are relieved to hear your language, speak without reservation and you are being fully understood - no ridiculous pantomime to accompany your words - just normal conversation. You have made a ‘new best friend' because you are able to freely express yourself and listen without making embarrassing mistakes. You are comfortably communicating.
Prayer is the greatest form of communication because many languages are readily understood. It is not just that God is able to understand the thousands of languages instantly spoken to Him, but that He listens and speaks on all levels of understanding.
Sometimes when we approach Him in prayer, we are stumbling for words. We translate in our heads what we think He wants to hear from us. We desire to talk with Him but we are not sure how to start.
One way to begin the conversation with Him might be to speak His language. What am I talking about here? I am speaking about the words He has given in His own language, the Bible. You may have heard about ‘praying the scriptures' as a new buzz phrase in your Christian community. This is not a new idea as believers have been doing it for centuries. When God hears His language several things occur. First of all, He is the Author of that language and His word speaks truth. Secondly, He is patient with the full spectrum of emotions in the language of the Word and He gives us full permission to speak these words back to Him in prayer. I also like to think that His ears perk up because it means we have spent time pouring over the scriptures to try to understand and comprehend His height, depth, width and length - grappling with the whole notion that a God like this desires to hear our voice. This is a staggering thought but that is how much He loves us and He has offered the invitation to speak with us through His Word.
The great advantage to us as we speak His language back to Him is that we are learning more about His character and we gain confidence in our relationship with Him. In speaking scripture we are given glimpses of God's capacity and in the process we are entering into His essence, His very presence. This is what He wants and desires, believe it or not, and He graciously welcomes each opportunity to communicate with us in our prayer time with Him. This kind of communication is what He wanted all along and He stands to give it to us liberally.
But there are still times we don't know what to say. Our hearts are heavy and, even though we are given permission to speak our inmost thoughts, we are not quite sure how to place those thoughts into a language we even understand.
Here is the magnificent part of God's language. He speaks the language that we cannot speak ourselves. In his book, Worship, Community & The Triune God of Grace, James Torrance calls this "the wonderful exchange" by which "Christ takes what is ours (our broken lives and unworthy prayers), sanctifies them, offers them without spot or wrinkle to the Father, and gives them back to us. He takes our prayers and makes them his prayers and we know our prayers are heard for Jesus' sake." The Spirit has taken the inarticulate groans of our broken selves and has translated them perfectly to the Father's ear and nothing is lost in the translation. So there is never a time when we are not understood completely as our prayers are accurately brought to the realms of heaven.
My own brother has suffered with cancer beyond the doctor's prediction of life expectancy. Many times I wake in the middle of the night and I feel compelled to pray for him as he probably is not sleeping from all the pain he endures. It is then that I ask the Spirit to please make my prayers understood in the heavenly realms and I am assured the translation has been made perfect. It is another way that His strength is made perfect in my weakness.
So whatever language you select in your ceaseless prayer to the Father, be assured that there is never a moment without divine understanding and power on His part, making your communion in prayer perfect in His ears.