How Do We Know When God is Responding to Our Prayers?
How Do We Know When God is Responding to Our Prayers?:
"Hearing" the Will of God
by Der Stepanos Dingilian, Ph.D., Copyright 1999
Very often I am asked: "Will God answer my prayers? I’ve been praying all this time, and He doesn’t seem to hear me!" Hearing God’s response and will is not simple. In fact, it is likely that God is responding to our prayers, and we simply do not know how to ‘hear’ His will!
This is not a new concern for human beings. The Bible is full of characters such as Job who asked this very question. One approach to addressing this issue is by referring to the writing of a sixth century monk named St. John of the Ladder (Climacus). He wrote about thirty steps necessary to grow into ‘unity’ with God. Part of the intent of such growth is to ‘hear’ the will of God. He presents these thirty steps as an upward movement in the form of a ladder, and hence his name, ‘St. John of the Ladder.’
St. John describes these thirty steps that have been placed in categories. Here we will only discuss the categories in which these steps are placed.
I. The Break with the World – Before we truly give attention to God’s will and seek to understand it, first we must realize that our needs cannot be fulfilled through human means or sources. We do not focus our attention on God until we know that we cannot attain what we need from any other place. Put another way, we generally do not turn to God unless our back is against the wall! Therefore, in order to turn our full attention to God, we must recognize and accept that what we are seeking in life cannot be bought through money, obtained through power or position, nor bartered for. We need to detach and break away ourselves from all these worldly false sources and expectations, and realize that without God’s help we are helpless just like a person who has been exiled into a foreign unknown land.
These initial steps towards recognizing and understanding God’s will for us, are solely dependent on our efforts and commitment. We need to make the decision to change our ways and turn to God!
II. The Practice of Fundamental Virtues – When we commit ourselves to seeking, understanding and accomplishing God’s will in our life, then we can begin the process of gradually trusting God. Imagine trusting a friend or a spouse. How comforting and inspiring our life becomes because of this relationship. Now try to imagine this open, comforting and trusting relationship with the perfect God, the eternal Creator of the Universe. Can you imagine how perfectly inspiring and uplifting this relationship can be? It can truly be unlike any human relationship. It can be incomparably far and above any other relationship that we experience! For this reason, the ‘perfect’ nature of the relationship with God becomes the basis and the standard upon which all other relationships are built and compared to.
However, realizing the openness and the perfection of God also makes it clear to us that majority of our relationships are not truly open, trusting and perfect relationships. They tend to be more superficial, based upon using the other person for our gain, or even downright hypocritical. Through this contrast we are suddenly awaken to the realization of how vulnerable we are in our relationships. We also realize that all which we gain in this world is passing and corruptible except for the trusting relationships; those are truly eternal. Developing this sense to recognize this contrast gives us a feeling of sorrow and sadness because we realize how death, fear and corruption steal from us and our relationships the glory for which we were created. The contrast between these two, the perfect relationship with God and the imperfect vulnerable nature of our human relationships sets up the two guiding poles that help us discover and discern our path and progress in life.
III. The Struggle Against the Passions – As we begin contrasting between the perfection of the trust in God and imperfection of the superficial temporary relationships of this world, we start dissociating ourselves from all those personality traits and behaviors that cause imperfection, hypocrisy and superficiality in our relationships. In fact, just like St. Paul, we become aware of the struggle that exists within our very own person: That which is eternal and sincere versus that which is superficial and hypocritical. Sometimes we may become frustrated with ourselves and perhaps not even like how we speak with others or relate to them. This is not to alarm us. Rather, all these should make us joyful because it is a sign that we can tell that which is Godly and eternal, and that which is superficial and temporary. We are getting ready to recognize and ‘hear’ the will of God in our life! Here, it is very important that we also begin working with a trained professional in spiritual education who can help us grow and progress along our eternal spiritual path.