Prayer: Monologue or Dialogue?

Talk about honesty! One of my seminary students admitted,  “My past practice of prayer…has been mostly a monologue.” He then made a simple yet powerful case for centering or contemplative prayer: “I am attracted to it because it will help me grow in my commitment to listen more to God…” Can you identify with that?

Isn’t it time we all confessed that we tend toward monologue because there is really only one side of the conversation that is important to us? Prayer for most of us is presenting God with a grocery list of our wants and needs, “seeking His hand instead of His face,” as Daniel Henderson put it in his book, Transforming Prayer, [Bethany House, 2011. p. 27]. 

Sounds pretty selfish! But, are we not also inclined at times to make the throne of God, the customer service department of heaven, where we voice our complaints and vent our displeasure or anger about matters great but usually small? Then after a perfunctory expression of thanks for blessing, and faint praise [After all we don’t want to “tick” God off, do we?], we close the conversation and walk off. I used the first person plural because it is easier than admitting, I personally have done this!

In Psalm 37, David says,

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him.” Psalm 37:7a

It could be argued that we are to be still and wait patiently for God to handle our complaint. The context certainly suggests that is part of it. But, I wonder if it isn’t also, that we are to be still and patiently wait for God to speak a word to us.

Several years ago, while working as the Social Services Director of a large nursing facility, a new administrator had been hired who didn’t like me for some reason. She had a reputation for terminating departmental staff left over from the previous administration, beginning with the social services department. My department! Ouch!

She really did try to make my job difficult. Within weeks my prayers were consumed with “get me out of here, Lord” prayers. And, then early one morning, I sat out on the lanai of my Florida home, and finally said, “Lord, I need an answer, and I’m just going to listen and wait until you speak. Whatever you tell me to do, I will do.” For several minutes I was totally silent before the Lord. And then the Spirit impressed on my heart, “Ed, I want you to be willing to stay put regardless of what goes on around you. Quit fighting.” That is all God said, and somehow it was enough.

That morning at about eleven o’clock, the phone rang in my office. I was invited to lunch with the administrator of a local retirement center up the street. The outcome of that lunch was an invitation to take his position, and no one but God knew about the battle that had been waged in my spirit, no, not even my wife. But God taught me the lesson of stillness before Him in prayer. Had I not been offered that new job, I would have been just fine. God spoke to me, and somehow that was enough!

Like small children, we are sometimes more interested in one sided conversations with God. But God is longing for us to be still and quiet before Him, and to listen for His voice.  Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.” When was the last time you heard His voice?


  1. What do we mean by centering or contemplative prayer?
  1. Is there a biblical basis and are there examples of it?
  2. How does Satan counterfeit this practice?
  • Some suggest that God has but three responses to our prayers: Yes, No, or Wait. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • In what way can we discern the voice of God from all other voices?
  • What does waiting for God to speak look like?

Published by


Ed has had over 30 years of ministry experience, sixteen of them at Greenwoods Community Church in the southern Berkshires of Massachusetts. More recently he has fulfilled an extended transitional interim assignment for the Alliance Southeast of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Leesburg, Florida. In addition, Ed has had nearly 13 years of experience in the field of geriatric healthcare. Ed’s is happily married to Lynn, having recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. Lynn is a true partner in ministry, having served Greenwoods Community Church as its Children's Ministry Coordinator for over ten years. She is a decorator, colorist, instructor in furniture painting, and an artist in her own right. For over 20 years she had her own business, Whimsical Brushes, teaching and traveling throughout the Northeast. Lynn is also active as a women’s outreach speaker for Stonecroft Ministries in Florida. God has given Ed a burden to be a mentor pastor, developing leaders for the church in the 21st Century. One way in which he is fulfilling that calling is through Rockbridge Seminary, where he serves as an adjunct professor of Spiritual Formation. Ed has earned degrees from Cairn University (B.S. 1971), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M. 1979), and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (D.Min. 2007). He has published several articles on the Spiritual Heritage of Litchfield County, Connecticut, and led several tours of sites associated with the Village Revivals that spawned the Second Great Awakening in New England. In his spare time, you are likely to find Ed at the piano or pecking out a blog on his blog page

8 thoughts on “Prayer: Monologue or Dialogue?”

  1. Hey Dr. E! It is wonderful to see you here again. I pray all is well with you and yours. I am moved and challenged by these thoughts on prayer you have shared. I confess that far too often I bring only ‘My List’ to the Almighty and then impatiently tap my foot waiting for the answer I want to hear.
    Thankfully, He is ever so faithful and patient. Of late I have begun my times of intentional prayer by focusing on Philippians 4:6-7, especially as Paul tells us to pray with thanksgiving as we bring our requests to Him. The lesson for me is to have a thankful heart as I pray, not to wait for an answer before I am grateful. This approach helps me to stay humble before Him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great reflections. I have been challenged t o listen and wait on God too – I so want to hear His voice though and His direction – my day is otherwise a bit of a waste of time! I’m trying to even to whom I should pray for today and not necessarily to pray for the ones that were on my list, my heart, my tick-list – and sometimes He shakes it up and gives a quite new person to pray for, or gives me a prayer in tongues, so I don’t know who it’s for! I like that God messes up my plans so I have to humbly rely on His.


  3. It is a shame we often miss the second verse of the doxology from “Whom all Blessings Flow”,

    Praise God the Father who’s the source;
    Praise God the Son who is the course;
    Praise God the Spirit who’s the flow;
    Praise God, our portion here below!

    More time for praising in prayer, since God is not ignorant of our need.

    I’ve missed your words during your hiatus


  4. Great discussion! To me centering or contemplative prayer means to focus on what God wants in our life instead of what we want. The timing for me to read this couldn’t be better because I just found out yesterday that a part-time position had been filled by someone else. I had prayed about this and surely God wanted me to do this. Well, I was wrong and God was right, He has something for me but I need to listen better.
    The Biblical basis for this is pointed out in the Psalms and especially the Psalms of David. Wow, those are great examples of wanting what God wants and waiting for it.
    Satan counterfeits everything of God by giving us our worldly desires quickly or moving us in that direction instead of just sitting and waiting on God for His direction.
    No I don’t agree with the three responses of God Yes, No, and Wait. God is much more resourceful than that and if you listen to His voice, a quiet and still voice amongst all the noise of the daily activity you can sense the direction He wants you to go sometimes without saying a word.
    God’s voice is as I mentioned above but so much more because He can use your friends, circumstances, environment and so much more to get us to listen to Him. Waiting on God to speak is done daily for me as I read His word for my direction daily. I can’t live without it. In the course of a day He may say many things to me or nothing and wait for me to do the last thing He said to me. Quiet time helps but it is not demanded. Thanks Ed for the discussion.


    1. Appreciate the thoughtful and helpful insight in your reply. God knows what is best for us, but sometimes what He’s looking to accomplish cannot be reduced to “yes,” “no,” or “wait.” Will join you in prayer for what is best for you! Ed


      1. Ed,

        Thank you and I did the last thing I was told to do, which was turn in an application at Trinity College for adjunct professor. Have a great Sunday.

        God’s Peace, Mike Brown


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s