We are quickly approaching the end of the liturgical year. Sunday Scripture readings will be reminding us about being alert to God, especially in consideration of our preparedness for God’s coming — not if, but when.

The end of the yearly cycle of the liturgical calendar quite logically invites us to consider the endings of things with which we are familiar, whether they be of merely personal — the death of friends or family members, our own death — or of cosmological significance.  

The attitude of the Christian in the face of mortality or the finiteness of all things created, however, is not one of terror or hopelessness. Our faith counsels, rather, attentiveness to the “voice of God,” for God always calls us to life even in the midst of illness or destruction, even at the end of life itself.

It is true that death or its imminence gets our attention. We need not be caught off-guard if we remember that an essential element in our relationship with Jesus as his disciples is to be attentive to his voice. We have to listen — and, if we listen, he will answer.

We all want our prayers answered. We expect God to listen to us — and we have every right to! Jesus told us to ask and we will receive. It is not a “maybe.” It is a promise! It is not that God might answer our prayers; he will answer them. It is guaranteed.

What is by no means guaranteed is that we will hear the answer, or that, when God sends us an unexpected grace — like a left present — we will bother to open it.

I remember once noticing a large bunch of red roses sitting in the rain on the doorstep of a house next door to the home of friends I was visiting with for a few days. I wondered why they were there. Maybe it was a delivery for someone’s birthday or anniversary, but no one seemed to be home. Who had ordered them or left them? Was it a friend or even a family member? Could the next-door residents be aging or even ill?

I felt a certain sadness, which only increased the following day when I could see the flowers already beginning to wilt. I was leaving later that day and so there seemed to be no purpose in troubling my friends with nosey inquiries about their neighbors. What could anyone do?

Still, it seemed sad that a desired connection would apparently be lost. By the time the occupants returned, the flowers would probably be dead.

I couldn’t help but think: If God sends me someone or something to show me his love, to respond to a prayer or some need of mind that maybe someone else even prayed for, how often have I just not been ready for his answer?

How often am I not “at home” to God, because I just am not listening? Dare I ever honestly complain that God is the problem when I feel my prayers are not answered?

It seems that the best way to have our prayers answered, once we have made our request, is to be alert to them when they arrive. Will we be at least as alert to God as we are to the proverbial check in the mail at the end of the month, or the next text message from a good friend?

Many people pride themselves on knowing “what’s going on:” to be up on the news, the latest stock market trades or sports scores, to know the newest trend in shoes or eye makeup, to have the latest phone apps. Is what we hunt for in our ever-accelerating screen surfing really what is “going on?”

Think a moment: Most of what is in “the news” are ages-old sins, recycled, with few variations. On Monday it is “A” shot “B.” On Tuesday, “C” shot “D.” Some new scandal at another level of government, or on the corporate or hierarchical ladder. A bomb going off in some “safe” or sacred place, or some celebrity entering rehab (again).

Whether you listen to the news this week or the week before, it doesn’t change that much: pretty much the same script with different names and different places, and it’s all bad news. Bad news sells. It gets our attention — and that’s part of its purpose!

The idea is to keep the viewers online, so to speak, so they’ll watch the ads and come back after they’re over. It’s meant to arouse, stimulate and distract. It does just that. It distracts us from the only reality that matters in the world: the incredible mercy of a God who is coming into people’s lives and saving them from all of the destructive patterns that the news reports all the time.

Among those saving acts of God are precisely the answers God wants to give to our prayers!

No one is denying that we need to be vigilant in the face of evil and come to the assistance of those who have been wounded by it. Often, the bad news that commands our attention brings out the best in us, as we come together to reconstruct the broken pieces, like an artist forming a colorful stained-glass window out of so many random shards.

A disaster becomes a prayer in action, as people of good will calm the clamor of the destructive. The answers to our prayers are there for the asking.

Even if our prayer is on a less dramatic or less urgent level, we will not hear or know those answers unless we are listening. In our present culture, this is often extremely difficult to do. It takes a deliberate act of the will to carve out that time to listen.

Ideally, each of us should spend at least an hour in prayer each day. Does an hour sound like a lot of time? Consider how many things we do for much more than an hour each day. Watching TV has to rank at the top of the list for many people. Listening to a game. Surfing the internet (even during company time). Shopping. Driving here and there.

Not that these things do not serve a purpose, but none of them are easy activities for God to get through in between the incessant channel flipping. God has to take his place on line, sometimes even at the risk of being blocked.

The good news is that practice does work. I once heard someone say that “God is an acquired taste.” The same might be said about prayer, our lifeline to God. It takes time and discipline, especially at the beginning. But it pays off with tremendous rewards of peace, insight and strength in our relationships.

That’s right: The more we pray, the more we allow God’s Spirit to weed out the toxic elements in our relationships. The Holy Spirit is the master of relationships! The anxieties that often drive us to another show, broadcast or website are replaced by a firm sense of being rooted in a much deeper and more reliable soil which is, of course, God himself, the “ground of all being,” as ­theologian Paul Tillich put it.

Real prayer, as we learn from experience and reflection, is much more about active listening — spending time with God — than repeating a lot of words passively and robotically. If we take the time to pray, then we will really be in touch with what is going on in the world: grace after saving grace of a God who himself is the answer to all our prayers and offers salvation to every member of the human race — everyone who truly wants to receive it, and is willing to wait and listen for it.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)