Talking with God: A Review

Robert Millet’s recent book Talking with God: Divine Conversations that Transform Daily Life is about the practice of prayer. He is encouraging sincere daily prayer because he believes that it is key to increasing the spirituality, faith, and charity of the saints.

Bro. Millet is proselytizing for “dialogic revelation” in prayer. As Terryl Givens has pointed out, Mormons have a long tradition of approaching prayer as a kind of conversation with God. Prayer, understood in this manner, is not just a matter of reporting our thanks for the day’s good events and requesting comfort, forgiveness, and blessings to make up for the day’s lacks. Certainly that is part of it, but Bro. Millet argues that prayer, properly pursued, should be a transformative event. As such, prayer should an opportunity to request to think what God thinks we should think and to feel what He thinks we should feel. Bro. Millet says:

I have come to realize that such a request of our Heavenly Father is really a request to be born again, renewed in mind and heart, “changed from [our] carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters” (Mosiah 27:25). It is more than a cosmetic alteration, for more than behavior modification. It is an inner renovation, a metamorphosis from the inside out.

In choosing to make his book devotional, rather than scholarly, Bro. Millet clearly feels that this message will reach more people and that more people will experiment with the word in prayer as a result. I don’t know that I agree, but I think that the sentiment is in the right place. In any case, this book speaks to the Gospel’s possibilities as a powerful spiritual catalyst. The commonplace notion of prayer, cited off-handedly to push a boring lesson along, is a means to genuinely become more divine. There is a magic in what we often consider mundane. Bro. Millet’s book asks us to look beyond the accepted in our own lives and in the Gospel and to pursue a closer, more refining, and more fulfilling relationship with God.

This idea of prayer and spirituality derives from Bro. Millet’s long interaction with Evangelical belief. Many Protestants believe that God is the engine behind our spiritual growth. This maintains the distance between ourselves and God, because he changes us in ways we cannot. We are the clay, as it were. This raises the question of whether it is compatible with traditional Mormon approaches to the divine which tend to shrink the distance between God and man. Can we be co-eternal worthy inheritors of his power while also being totally dependent on his grace for each incremental step we make toward divinity?

This is a short book, just 149 small pages, divided primarily into 21 brief chapters. It reads like an extended Sunday School lesson on prayer, the book equivalent of an afternoon Education week session. It has the typical look of a Deseret Book production and its language has DB’s typical cadences.

Bro. Millet confesses that he originally intended to write a much different book; one that looked with more depth and breadth into the process and purpose of prayer. However, over the course of writing the book, he edited away most of his material, resulting in a primarily devotional book. As such, it inspires one to approach God in prayer, to seek more sincerity and meaning in prayer, and to use prayer as a means to communicate with and become more like our Father in Heaven. All of these are laudable goals and Bro. Millet persuasively argues their importance. He turns to personal experiences with prayer to demonstrate its efficacy and to modern revelation and scripture to support his arguments. Stories about a wayward child and a brush with death detail moments in his life when prayer has been a powerful tool and comfort. Bro. Millet would like his audience to approach God similarly in prayer and to find power and grace therein. For the right person, this book will help.

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Comments

  1. Paul Bohman says:

    Talking to God is easy. Getting to a point of talking *with* God, and actually experiencing anything even remotely resembling a conversation or a dialog is the hard part.

    I tend to think that since God rarely, if ever, communicates conversationally with words, prayer as we practice it — with our words and pseudo conversational devices — is a rather feeble approximation to the kind of communication God actually uses.

  2. Thanks for this review.

    Regarding your third to last paragraph: I don’t think “being totally dependent on his grace for each incremental step we make toward divinity” is inconsistent with Mormonism. I think it’s true. Saying that “it is all up to God and nothing I do makes any difference” would be inconsistent with Mormonism.

    Personally, I don’t even think the evangelical notion that “the only choice we have is whether to give ourselves over to God’s will” is incompatible with Mormonism.

  3. Latter-day Guy says:

    I think the inconsistency is in the word “totally.” You’re not totally dependent on a doctor to cure your infection. You set an appointment, you go to the office, youpick up the prescription, you swallow the pills. The doctor may be indispensable, but that’s not quite the same thing as total dependence.

  4. Great review. Why does the bench sort of remind me of one of those cheap upright pianos that make such great noises in family home evenings across the Mormon Corridor?

  5. Sounds very interesting. Thanks for the review.

  6. Sharon LDS in Tenn says:

    #1 Paul: Please accept my humble testimony to reply to your doubt that God rarely can or does communicate to us as individuals …ever…in words. On the contrary. He DOES!
    Not only through referencing us to read certain scriptures..which word for word can answer directly the question or need we have. But, truly, after very sincere requests can and WILL have an exchange with us, in normal conversation, even a question and answer session.
    He does, however, talk in a much more edited, brief, consise manner…with vocaulary that is using few words that say a lot in context. It is usually obvious to me, as He makes directives or comments that is it HE really talking..because sometimes he uses a word or two that I never heard or is obscure to me. I have to look it up in the dictionary, or other reference…or occasionally even pray about it to have the full application. I use a very humble approach, not so much formal as reverential and loving and seeking…with REAL INTENT and longing..to KNOW WHAT HE thinks and wants for me…i.e., His will. I thoroughly repent BEFORE, make sure my attitude is humble and full of love…
    ASK for the Holy Ghosts help in being able to HEAR his voice, to understand his meanings, to open my heart and mind so I can hear AND FEEL what is going to come to me.
    When I first began ‘conversing’ with him, (as one woman to another man) I used pure faith, believing that it WAS POSSIBLE !!!!!! And boy, oh, boy, was I blessed with a quick and ready response. He DID answer and has continued to do so when I do MY part. I can easily tell it IS Him because the answers are SO perfect. So NOT like me or imagination. They are always so direct and pure and only as long as is necessary to impart the fullness of the subject addressed. I really believe much of the success is attributable to MY attitude and demeanor. I exhibit great TRUST and LOVE towards him. Add in the desire to really KNOW His opinon and will. One of the main points of REAL prayer exchanges is not just to be told what to do, but to develop a real relationship with him…..an intimate….close….living….mano a mano type of Father / Son / Daughter thing.
    #4 smb: I grieve for your lack of faith or possibilities…pls reconsider and know that REAL prayer and what it can become for YOU…between your loving Heavenly Father and the REAL special child of God that you ARE deep inside, can be a sacred..incredible…even miraculous experience and outlet…to solve your mortal doubts and longings.
    #3Latter-day Guy: I would encourage you to think of a solid communication in true openess and exchanges with God as an “INTER-DEPENDENCE”….and ALSO how incredible it COULD be IF we were guided ALONE by just HIGHER means like in Second Nephi 32……where we are SHOWN and TOLD ALL THINGS what we should do…thereby not messing up as much as we do when we do it all by ourselves. You are so correct that the active key in the relationship with God is US…or the “YOU” in what could take place….IF we DO OUR PART !!!!!
    And, finally, I have met Bro. Millet when he came to TN for a Know Your Religion mtg. I have FELT his spirit eye to eye.
    His advice on prayer is not coming from an evangelical side.
    Really, praying to develop and have the ability to have real ‘God to Child’ conversations is truth and light. Not attached to any church or doctrine other than just PURE religion, undefiled.
    Growing UP spiritually IS hard. Becoming like Father and Jesus and ripe in the companionship of the Holy Ghost is work and takes diligence…..but….it is SO WORTH every
    sacrifice, sweat and tears!
    I encourage all of you to keep trying. Keep believing…
    Keep reaching out to Father…..He is no respector of person and will always be there for his children, if we follow His instructions on HOW to get THERE !!!!! I bear witness that he live and LOVES ALL OF YOU .
    I too, send…Love to ALL !!!!

  7. “where we are SHOWN and TOLD ALL THINGS what we should do”

    How would that fit in with the moral agency that lies at the heart of the Plan of Salvation?

  8. Sharon LDS in Tenn says:

    #7..John f.: John…..I am using my agency to choose to become closer to the Godhead and have found out over a lifetime (I’m 60s)…that I have never known the very best at all times, in every way, to do things….to not make mistakes or just to do it the best way…most successfully. Also have learned that my ego / and pride has always led me down a ‘lower’ path, a lesser, more difficult time in whatever I was doing. Looking in the mirror instead of looking to THE most intelligence / tried and true way of accomplishing living failed me time after time, veritably every time.
    My agency has been thoroughly exercised. I just found out that there were less losses and bumps by following someone’s example (Christ) was much, much easier in the long run, gave me PEACE, gave me much more happiness than the shorter time when I DID IT MY WAY!!…Yes, I was learning doing it my way, but with LIMITED intelligence, experience and knowledge I could only go just so far.
    My I.Q. is over 145, but let me tell you what doing it alone with just my agency got me……..well, let’s just say, when I was ‘independent’ instead of inter-dependent…..asking to be shown the ‘higher’ way……….or told a ‘better’ way…..
    to evolve into a ‘higher’ being……may I say, the JOY one can feel, the PEACE to live with and in is worth ba-zillions of any agency I am using by myself, and NOW I LOVE using my agency to CHOOSE to be YOKED with Jesus and connected to a Father who lives in a kingdom of light, gold, fairness, justice, unconditional love, super killowatt intelligence, etc.
    Just simply put, ‘the path’ or ‘the way’ is a better CHOICE
    chosen by agency…..for me. Took me a lifetime, now it’s a ‘duh’ !!! What took me so long?
    Thanks john.

  9. Sharon LDS in Tenn says:

    …..oh forgot to say…….when I did it MY way, or by making totally independent choices not using the Holy Ghost as a guide or whatever, after making mistakes, boo-boos, being rebellious, being stubborn, or just ‘forgetting’ God, even by ommission, there was the DOUBLE negative of now needed repentance………yes, the Atonement was there to rescue me, mercy of God, etc., but what about…because I deliberately chose wrongly….the lost time? lost energy?…
    sometimes lost money, even retirement funds?……lost self worth?……..the pain and suffering of a broken heart and contrite spirit dragging myself back in humility and shame…
    knowing I had NOT asked God or checked for confirmation on a decision?????…Repentance is a gift, but it is doubly hard when we chose to go somewhere without our Father
    his principles and His proven better way. Sin was never happiness. I just like being happy. There are SO MANY blessing attached to being aligned with law. We all know following the law of the land gives us a better mortal life.
    Sometimes we have to learn the hard way that following eternal laws gives us a much better mortal AND eternal life
    in the journey of mortality. Even God has to follow Law….
    And agency is part of freedom to chose, but with consequences either way. When I chose that which was aligned with eternal law…………much better outcome.

  10. best of luck to you. thanks for sharing.

  11. Thanks John, The best book on prayer I’ve ever read was Richard J. Foster’s ‘Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.’ I first read it many years ago, and have gone back to it again and again. I highly recommend it.

  12. Eric S. says:

    I like Millet. I saw him have one of his “conversations” (as he calls it) with his co-author of ‘Claiming Christ’ shortly after I read it. They were at Mariner’s Church a few years ago in Newport. The program was great, and I had a memorable theological conversation that night with a colleague of mine from Mariner’s who also attended the event. I will add this book above to my reading queue. Thank you, great review.

  13. I like Millet also.
    My own experience with inspiration following prayer has been a bit inconsistent, which is not surprising. I do get nervous about thinking that I’m hearing answers every time I pray. In fact, when I recently re-read Reynolds Price’s _Letter to a Man in the Fire_, I fully related to his statement that–though he had had marvelous experiences with revelation (as have I)–such miracles were rare, and he was glad they were. If they were everyday occurances, he says, he would not trust them quite so much, or would wonder if he was self-deceived, even a fraud.
    The few times I know I have received direct and unmistakable answers to my prayers (usually concerning one of my children) have become touchstones in my faith-journey. But I, like Reynolds Price, find it to be a rare gift, and perhaps more precious because of its rarity. I don’t doubt that others have much more inspiration/revelation than I do, and more frequently. I’m glad to weigh and ponder their words and even to recognize that they might have a gift which I don’t have.

  14. I think that Bro. Millet is less interested in our ability to receive answers (although he would, and I would, say that is important) and more interested in our opportunity to be transformed in prayer. FWIW

  15. Eric S.,
    I was also at that event at Mariner’s. Bro. Millet was great, as you mention, and I had a great conversation with him privately after the event ended. Very kind man.

  16. Paul Bohman says:

    Sharon, I appreciate your explanation of your experiences related to prayer and personal revelation. I’m sure the experiences you have had have shaped your life in meaningful ways, and I would never discount such deeply felt elements of a person’s life.

    My own experiences with prayer have been inconsistent, somewhat along the lines of Margaret’s explanation. While I have felt the intervention of divine providence in my life, it usually hasn’t come while praying. I tend to experience prayer as a thoughtful monologue; a sort of soliloquy in which I monitor what I’m saying and contemplate my words, motives, and ponder my next moves. It’s meditation and self-talk, even though the words are directed at an invisible being.

    If I experience any insight as a result of my prayers, it comes to me as thoughts which, in a less humble or faithful moment, I could probably attribute to my own thought processes rather than to divine intervention. I’d like to think of them as divinely inspired, and so I do.

    This thought-centric inspiration certainly doesn’t seem to me to come in a dialogic format. The word “dialog,” to me, would imply a much more immediate experience of sharing words and thoughts back and forth with someone whose responses are, at the very least, easily distinguished from my own. The ambiguity of the prayer experience is very different from the kind of experience I would call a dialog.

    I’m not saying that communication doesn’t happen. I’m only saying that the word “dialog” gives it a much more tangible and earthy immediateness that is uncharacteristic of the types of communications I have actually experienced.

  17. Paul Bohman says:

    The types of experiences that Joseph Smith claims to have had, in which he was tutored by angelic messengers, would qualify as dialogic to me. But his experiences are so far removed from what I know in my own life that I will reserve the term “dialogic” for experiences like his, and for myself I will make due with less concrete words, more befitting the less concrete experiences I have known.

  18. Paul Bohman says:

    Public prayers are even less dialogic. I’ve certainly heard sincere, heart-felt public prayers, and have been touched by them. Even so, there is an element of performance involved in praying publicly; a public-speaking arrangement. At their best, public prayers are an expression of the spiritual thoughts and desires of those in attendance, and of the collective yearning to have those thoughts and desires be heard by God, and to align the will of those present with the will of God. That is good and right. Still, while there would undoubtedly be some genuine spiritual communication under such ideal circumstances, calling it a dialog seems a bit out of place to me.

    Perhaps I shouldn’t quibble about the word itself. It may not matter too much whether “dialog” or “communication” is the most appropriate word, but to me the distinction is meaningful because for much of my life I have longed for a true dialog in the common sense of the word, and after years of not experiencing this, I was able to come to terms with the reality that God doesn’t seem to want to communicate to me that way. I can accept that. I haven’t always wanted to accept it, but accepting it makes it easier to appreciate the types of communication that actually do occur in my life.

  19. Paul,
    I think that prayer is an opportunity to experience the divine. This experience implies the possibility of a back and forth (at least, it does in Mormonism). But it is more important, I think, that you are spending some thoughtful, heartfelt time with God. For me, time spent with God involves a kind of internal dialogue, which is why it makes sense to apply Dr. Givens’ term to what Bro. Millet is seeking to inspire. But your mileage may vary (it is a connection that I drew, not Bro. Millet). That said, part of what interests me in our (LDS) approach to prayer is our emphasis on answers. Bro. Millet seems to be asking us to instead emphasize being with God.

  20. Sharon LDS in Tenn says:

    I super appreciate the many ways we all have experienced learning to pray, having prayer experiences and pondering such an important way of communication…both in bringing out of SELF, that which needs and wants to express and develop…as well as the efforts at actually hearing back from deity any type of expression or answer…which then possibly confirms our own worth or supplies information to direct, comfort, instruct, reveal, or any other words.
    I realize and emphasize again, that I do know it is HARD work…to develop our own unique personal way of praying and communicating…..and know I am blessed to have found much success in reception & comprehension…not only to the process, but to the end answers / clarity as to what is being “said” back.
    I would clairfy my previous comments on a ‘dialog’ by adding just a tad more details. My opinion of course, but also taken from much advice of GA’s, prophets and scriptures. God is a mystery, yes. But is not to always remain so. We are to ultimately become ONE with Him, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. We can only know WHO WE are by knowing God more. We can only know God more by finding out who WE are more fully. As a glorified resurrected being…….and a real father by all ways possible, Elohim / Heavenly Father has a true personality like ours, just advanced, perfected, FULLY ENLIGHTENED, glorified, etc. Why is it NOT possible to …after effort..practice…ASKING for it…..WORKING for it….pleading…repenting…LOVING him fully….why is it such an impossible thing to think that we could have an inner dialog…asking a question and then listening carefully back, hear a direct answer….back and forth, back and forth?????
    Our mortal fathers (many ARE blessed with such men) do so.
    Mentors / surrogates of ‘fatherhood’ act in these loving and advisory ways…. God WANTS us to be CLOSE. IF WE WANT to be that close, IT IS POSSIBLE. I would feel silly BEING with someone I love and respect…in a designated time period…and NOT exchanging anything or hearing from them, just chattering away and then leaving the room.
    The experience with God is more than just worship. It is to have a compound of the BEST that existence has to offer.
    The highest of every experience and being to being exchange. We are instructed to get to know Him. All that is necessary to know HOW TO DO IT is written down and told…..to anyone who wants to do so. ASK. KNOCK. SEEK and ye SHALL find. Lean NOT unto your own understanding……..you NEED the tutoring of the Holy Ghost to HELP you to do so. Ask Him to teach you HOW to HEAR the voice of God…to talk WITH Him.Develop stronger faith.
    Study. Ponder. Focus on Christ. KEEP TRYING.
    Championship muscles and prowess is not a result of a couch potato-itus. We ALL can KNOW God MORE.
    HOW much DO YOU DESIRE IT??????????
    Dialog has it’s own levels too. There is every level of quality to every thing in existence. The lowest to the highest. Just as there is no space where there is no kingdom, etc.
    I encourage everyone to not set limits. Reach for the ultimate. Do not lower expectations. FAITH IS A KEY.
    LOVE IS A KEY. …..Thanks for letting me share with you all.
    I so appreciate you all giving so much time and heart
    to widen my world!!!
    Love to All.

  21. Can you summarize that in one or two sentences? Also, is it responding to something in particular?

  22. Sharon LDS in Tenn says:

    Ultimate being/experience w/God=Definitive personal understandable exchange of words (DIALOG)… not only possible, but IS / should be thought of as attainable in this life, as form of developed practical prayer.
    Only way to really KNOW God, Know ourselves, make mortal life full, understood, bearable, joyful, peaceful, less mistakes & weaknesses that way…gives true purpose to every day.

  23. Sharon LDS in Tenn says:

    Am undergoing lex-ectomy as we read!

  24. Sharon LDS in Tenn says:

    oooops….. :->…verbum-ectomy.

  25. I can’t wait to read this book. I love the way his mind works.

  26. I have had several “dialogic” conversations with God but they never, or mostly never, happen in prayer.

    My daughter was diagnosed with cancer and had a complex operation to remove the tumor. I was extremely concerned and very upset. In a moment of high anxiety I thought the most prosaic thought possible, that if I could I would take the cancer for her. As soon as I thought that, all of the possiblities crossed my mind, the possible suffering, pain and death which might be the result of my decision. With great difficulty and reluctance I finally agreed that I would accept the cancer, but I shuddered and did not want to.

    As soon as I agreed a voice or thought said, “I could do that for the lowest bum on the street.” I instantly understood and felt stupid and insignificant because it was hard for me to accept that burden for my dearest lovely daughter. I replied, “Oh.” Other people might not need that lesson but I certainly did.

    There have been other times that I have heard that same voice with equally portentous, and personally important, results. I know the voice and it is conversational, always informative and often challenging and difficult.

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