Prayer As A Form Of Two-Way Communication

Ben H. Swett

26 February 1970

updated annually through

10 March 1990

Prayer is defined as "an attempt to communicate with God." Therefore, what we know about other forms of communication may help to clarify our understanding of prayer.

First: any form of communication requires both a transmitter and a receiver. In other words, transmission without reception is not communication.

Prayer is normally considered to be communication from man to God. We transmit and God receives--but this kind of one-way communication has some inherent problems:

  • There isn't much we can tell God that He doesn't already know, and there is no one we can ask Him to care for that He doesn't already love, so one-way prayer is not very useful, in and of itself.
  • We can't know whether our prayers are heard unless we receive a reply. That's why many people get discouraged with prayer: they transmit in the blind and then wonder if anyone heard them, or if anyone is even listening.

One-way communication from God to man is called inspiration or revelation or "the word of God." God transmits and man receives. The Bible is full of examples:

  • Adam and Eve listened to God--until they decided it was a sin to be naked and tried to hide themselves from Him.
  • Noah would have gotten his feet wet if he hadn't been listening.
  • Abraham would have killed his son Isaac if he had not heard the word of God in that last moment when he had his knife raised.
  • Jacob wrestled all night with an angel--and received his new name: "Israel."
  • God spoke with Moses "face to face, as a man speaks with his friend."
  • Except for the matter of Bathsheba, David sought for, received, and obeyed guidance from God all of his life.
  • All of the prophets declared "The word of God came to me, saying ... "
  • Jesus said "The Father himself has given me instruction, what to say ... "
  • And Jesus continued to guide his disciples, after his resurrection.
Most examples of prayer in the Bible are not merely communication from man to God, or from God to man. They are examples of two-way communication.

Any two-way communication requires four basic elements--two transmitters and two receivers--arranged as a pair of communication links.

We transmit and God receives; and God transmits, but we don't listen very well. That's the problem.


Any good communication system has built-in redundancy and alternate modes of operation. In this case, some of the receiver-transmitter units are incarnate (in physical bodies) and some are discarnate (not in physical bodies).

When men want to communicate with God but don't know how, they may go to those who can (or say they can). They may communicate with God through His angels, but they usually go to other human beings.

  • Historically, the role of a priest is to represent other people before God. He hears their concerns and relays their messages to God. In ancient times, the priests were in charge of offering up their own and other people's sacrifices.
  • The role of a prophet is to receive God's messages and relay them to others. Much of what we call "scripture" is the written form of prophecy--a record of messages from God to man. (Prophecy does not necessarily mean prediction.)
  • Angels assist both ways.
  • Jesus performs all of these functions: he is son of man and son of God, leader of angels, high priest and prophet forever.
With this kind of help, the communication system works even though it does have some inoperative down-link receivers.

Any communication system has the problem of false or spurious signals, and this one is no exception. Again, the problem is in our ability to receive.

Angel means "messenger" and prophet means "spokesman" but neither of these terms necessarily refers to an angel or prophet of God. A fallen angel or a false prophet can claim to speak for God when it is not so, and this world is full of writings that claim to be the will or the way of God.

Therefore, the critical questions are always the same: "Whose messenger is this? Whose spokesman? Where did this idea come from? Who speaks for God and who does not?"

A radio receiver usually has a dial, or some kind of indicator, to show where it is tuned and which way is up (and down) the electromagnetic spectrum. Here is an analogy ...

Note that the key to this spectrum is attitude toward others. Higher beings are more loving; lower beings are less loving. God is the Author of love and truth. Jesus loves all; Satan loves none. All other entities vary by degree. That is the fundamental difference, whether the entities involved are incarnate (in a physical body) or discarnate (not in a physical body).

The internal frequency of a radio receiver determines which transmitters it will pick up, and the directional antenna of a television set further aligns its reception to a particular station. The analogy is suitable--the difference between prayer, mediumship and sorcery is in the tuning of the receiver.

To receive messages from God, tune yourself up toward the top of this spectrum. Moment by moment, whether your real purpose is to give or to get, to serve or be served, is the pivot-point on which your spiritual direction turns upward or down.

To decide which level of the spiritual spectrum a message is coming from, look for the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Thus, by their fruit, we can know who speaks for God and who does not (Matthew 7:15-20).

Also note what happens when people die: holy people become holy ghosts; good people become good ghosts; etc.. This is automatic.

1. Stop for a moment: Set aside your problems. Let the tension go. For the moment, only dwell on calm and peaceful things. Don't worry about formalities. Don't try to concentrate. Just get quiet. Reduce the inner noise so you can hear.

2. Open your heart and mind: Let go of resentment. Confess your faults--and your fears. Get it off your chest so you can rise. Admit the fact that some of your ideas may be false. Dare to care. Dare to face the truth. Get ready to receive.

3. Elevate your spirit: Remember a specific example of something good or true or beautiful or holy, and see the hand of God at work in it. Continue to recall examples. Notice the upward flow of reverent joy within you--but don't get addicted to it. Just tune your spirit up toward the frequency of God's transmitter.

4. Care for another: Set aside your self-interest and focus good will on a specific person. Care for that person as God cares: without any other motivation, choose to desire for him or her the truest of blessings. This aligns your free will with the will of God--and thus automatically aligns your directional antenna.

5. Then pray: "Father, how can we help this person?" Don't assume that you know the answer. Do not invoke less-than-holy discarnates. Inquire of the Lord.

6. And then listen: Stop thinking for a moment and notice what pops into your mind. A light reverie is best; full trance is neither necessary nor desirable. If you receive no reply, just go about your business and try again later. A message may come in a variety of forms, but in any case:

7. Test the spirit: Look for the implied purpose of the message. Ask yourself "Where is this coming from? Where will it lead?" Use your experience with good folks and bad folks. Cross-check with the New Testament. Ask a trusted friend to help. Once you are satisfied that a message is coming from God, get off your duff and implement His guidance. Just don't forget to check in once in awhile to see if He has any more messages for you.

All of these can be forms of discarnate communication. The only real difference between them is technical, like the difference between telegraph, telephone, radio, television, etc. Therefore, it doesn't matter which form of communication is used.

  • Do not assume that the form of communication indicates whether or not a message is from God. The implied purpose of the message is important, but the form is not.
  • Revelation in nature or history is a matter of interpretation. Anyone can see anything as a "sign" of anything else--so this kind of "revelation" is more truly a product of the interpreter than it is of the Creator.
  • Casting lots (drawing straws, rolling dice, flipping a coin, etc.) can be seen as an appeal to the impartial justice of the laws of nature, and nature's God, if the intent is to reach an impartial decision. However, divination by casting lots is not a good way to seek the will of God in any other situation, because there is no way to be sure that God miraculously controlled the outcome.
  • Don't assume that your prayers were answered just because you got what you wanted, and don't assume that God is mad at you just because you didn't get what you wanted.
  • It is impossible to prove that you had any kind of subjective experience, and it is futile to claim divine guidance in the face of opposition (John 8:12-59). Even among friends, such claims may be seen as implying "I'm better than you." Therefore, it is seldom wise to say "This came from God" or "Thus sayeth the Lord." Let the observable evidence of your words and deeds testify to the spirit that motivates you, as Jesus did (Luke 7:18-23).


  • Occult: forbidden, an abomination to God punishable by death (Deut 18:9-22). Abomination means "insult"--e.g. "Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Ba'al-zebul, the god of Ekron?" (II Kings 1:1-8)
  • Dangerous: leads to discarnate interference, deception, temptation, obsession, possession. (True for those who communicate with less-than-holy ghosts)
  • Not real: fakery, fraud, delusion, self-delusion, suggestion, wishful thinking, split personality, insanity. (Position held by materialists and humanists)
  • No longer real: the canonized Bible was the final word of God. (Position held by some fundamentalists)
  • Dangerous: fear to hear about my sins; afraid God will sacrifice me as He did the prophets, Jesus and the martyrs. (Indicates distrust of God)
  • Preferential: only for great prophets and saints: "Why would He speak to me?" (I'm not good enough) "Why would He speak to you?" (You're not good enough) Claims of divine guidance intended to put others down. (I'm better than you)
  • Hard to distinguish between true and false prophets: "We know God spoke to Moses but as for this man we don't know where he is coming from" (John 9:29)
  • Doctrine that we must forego the companionship of the holy angels for fear of deceptive demons that masquerade as angels. (Saint Augustine, about 400 AD)
  • This is the first and great commandment: Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord thy God!
  • Jesus heard and obeyed God throughout his ministry. He was assisted by angels, after his temptations. He spoke with two holy ghosts on the Mount of Transfiguration (Moses and Elijah). He conversed with but cast out demons, and he heard but rejected Satan (temptations).
  • Blessed are you, Simon Barjonas, because flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but my Father in Heaven. And I also say to you, you are a rock (petros), and on this kind of rock (petra) I will build my church, and openings to Sheol (the realm of the dead) will not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:17-18)
  • Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:17-21)
  • We will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. (Acts 6:4) This is the role of a prophet: to inquire of the Lord, receive, and relay His messages.
  • Today ... for as long as it is called "today"... when you hear His voice, harden not your hearts as in the days of rebellion. (Hebrews 3:7-15)

Evaluate the source of any message just as though you heard it on the radio, saw it on television or read it in the newspaper: look for the implied purpose. Ask yourself "Where is this guy coming from? What does he want? What does he want me to do ... or be?" It really isn't difficult -- you should already know how to tell a good guy from a bad guy, and the same criteria apply whether the guy is incarnate or discarnate. Therefore, the same criteria also apply whether the message comes from an external source or out of your own subconscious mind:

  • See if the message would lead you and others toward greater love (impartial good-will), reverent joy, inner peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, mercy and self-control. Such messages come from holy sources.
  • Especially look for evidence of respect for individual free will: it is typical of the Kingdom of Kindness but not of the Kingdom of Coercion. Bad guys usually say "Trust me" but good guys say "Test me. I am willing to earn your trust."
  • See what the source has to say about Jesus (in the present tense), but also remember that some who call him "Lord, Lord" do not actually work for him.
  • Good teachers will pass you up to a higher teacher as soon as you're ready; bad teachers try to hang on to you or keep you dependent on them.
  • Don't be impressed by any kind of miracles, spiritual gifts, or psychic powers. Manifestations of power do not prove the source is holy. Disregard messages that pursue worldly concerns, no matter how they are justified.
  • Even devils can tell the truth and predict things that come true, when it suits their evil purposes, so instances of verity are not a good test.
  • Names don't prove anything. Any liar can call himself "God" or "Jesus" or whatever, and thus make some people think he is trustworthy when he is not.
  • Beware of any message that contains flattery or slander, whether directed at you or at someone else. Flattery and slander are lies.
  • Reject any offer of fame, fortune, power, prestige, excitement or sex. Good guys don't try to tempt you, but bad guys do--and bad ghosts know what you want.
  • Reject any source of scare-tactics, fear-mongering, hard-sell, threats, or any other form of coercion. Break off reception: get up, walk around, wash your face, and have something to eat. Escape from the lower realms by generating reverent joy (step 3).
  • Cross-check the implied purpose of the message with scripture, evidence and experience. Make sure that you actually accomplished steps 1-7 in that order. Ask a trusted friend to evaluate the purpose of the message, to help see what level of the spiritual spectrum it is coming from. If still in doubt, defer action (God is patient).


0. Agree. Identify in advance the person on whom you will all focus your caring, and the specific question you will raise on behalf of that person. Someone should write down the name and the question. It's OK to prepare a list of people to pray for, but take only a few at any one meeting, and pray for them one at a time.

1. Stop. Meet in a quiet place, invite the presence of the Lord, sing a hymn--and then be silent for a few minutes while each tries to reduce your inner noise.

2. Open. Continue in silence for another minute while each tries to open your heart and mind. Think about your preconceptions and personal preferences--and set them aside--but do not open to receive discarnate messages at this point.

3. Elevate. Here, you can help each other. Each may share one brief example of something good or true or beautiful or holy--but do not discuss these examples now. Quietly sing together one of the great hymns: get into it and let it get into you.

4. Care. Someone mention the name of the person, and all focus their caring on that person. If you don't know the person, focus caring on someone who does.

5. Pray. Someone read the question, and all ask the Lord that question inwardly.

6. Listen. Each must listen for the Lord's reply in your own way. One minute is enough. Note whatever you received--or the fact you did not receive anything.

7. Test. Each share--and all discuss--what was received. Take plenty of time. Test each message and decide, as a group, what level of the spiritual spectrum it came from. Implement those messages that all agree must have come from God.


Each member of a two-way prayer group functions as both priest and prophet for the others, by raising their concerns to God and relaying His messages to them. If one is so troubled that he or she can't hear the Lord, the others can ask for and receive guidance on his or her behalf. This is a major benefit.

There is strength and safety in this approach, but there are certain requirements.

Anyone may be unable to receive at a given point in time, so all must be able to say "I didn't receive anything." Watch out for your own pride: don't make the ability to receive discarnate messages a test of faith or status, as some have done with the gift of tongues. The feeling that you should get something automatically turns your spiritual direction downward, toward lower levels of the spiritual spectrum.

In order to depend on each other to point out less-than-holy thoughts or messages, each must be able to say "That didn't sound like it came from God" and each must be willing to accept such statements--especially those who receive most often.

It is best to pray for someone in your family, a friend, or an acquaintance, because it's almost impossible to focus your caring on someone you really don't know.

Don't just pray for those who are desperately sick or in trouble, especially at first. Your concern for them may depress your spirit so far you can't hear the Lord.

Make sure the questions you raise are real questions, not answers in disguise or "proof-tests" in which you think you already know what God would say.

The basic question is "Father, how can we help this person?" In this question, we start with our faith in the good-will of God, and ask Him how to do His will, as His agents on earth. Much of our joy is in helping Him answer other people's prayers.

It is good to ask God for His view of any moral decision--but don't assume that His answer must be either "A" or "B". Let Him teach you what is right and wrong. As Jesus said "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness."

The fact that two or more people received the same message can help strengthen the confidence of the group, but it does not prove that the message came from God.

It has been said "Time belongs to man, but the timing belongs to God," so be open to the possibility that God might say, Please wait, Not now, Not yet, Later or No.

Don't be surprised if you receive a question, instead of an answer. The Lord often uses this method of teaching. Think about and discuss the question received.

And don't be surprised if you receive something like "Is that so very important?" We humans are notorious for worrying about things that really do not matter.

Small-group two-way prayer is a supplement, not a substitute, for private two-way prayer. Jesus said "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20), and he also said "When you pray, go into your private room, and close the door, and pray to your Father in secret" (Matthew 6:6).