During Vigils this morning we heard the story of the call of Samuel (1Samuel 3:1-20), in which the boy Samuel is awakened in the middle of the night by a strange voice. Three times he goes to the old priest Eli, who finally tells him that if he hears the voice again, he should respond, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." Samuel does as he is told, and grows up as a "trustworthy prophet of the Lord."
The response of Samuel, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening," is a good, short way to enter into prayer, reading of Scripture, or meditation. God is always speaking to us, of course--through his Word and our common worship, through his other servants around us, and in the circumstances of daily life. Sometimes, though, we have to quiet ourselves in private prayer and simply listen for that "tiny whispering sound" within (1Kings 19:12).
This is not easy. Like anything worthwhile and fruitful, it requires time, patience, and perseverance. Moreover, it requires an open heart receptive to God's voice. Too often, our approach to prayer can be more along the lines of "Listen, Lord, for your servant is speaking!"
We need to be still, if not outwardly, at least inwardly. However, a lot of thoughts and feelings can distract or frustrate us. During these times, it may be helpful to simply pray the opening words to Psalm 70, which we chant or recite daily in the monastery: "O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me!" Sometimes, these are the only words I can pray, and I will utter them to myself several times a day.
Perhaps it might be better if I said, "Speak louder, Lord, for your servant can't hear you!" Perhaps I'll try that.
In any case, we do well to keep in mind the words of St. Paul: "Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer" (Romans 12:12). The heart of God which holds us is always open. "This is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us" (1 John 5:14).