Updated: Sep 16, 2022
In his book, Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster writes, “We now have the dubious distinction of being able to communicate more and say less than any civilization in history.” I think many of us would agree with that statement. What I find particularly interesting is that Foster wrote his book on prayer in 1992 – before the internet became public domain, before the first blog was created, before podcasting, and long before Facebook, Twitter, or Google. It seems we are far more adept at using our words and much less disposed to using our ears. Perhaps this is why the practice of Listening Prayer seems foreign to so many.
What is Listening Prayer?
Though the term Listening Prayer is not specifically named in the Bible, the implication that we are to listen to God in our relationship with Him can be found throughout both the Old and New Testaments. If you consider that prayer is communication with God, then listening to Him as well as talking to Him is a very important part of conversation with God.
One of the ways we allow the agenda of the Holy Spirit in our lives is through Listening Prayer. When we engage in listening as a practice of prayer, we are giving control of our prayer to God. When we approach prayer with the intent to listen, we are entering into prayer to pay attention to the One who is most worthy to be listened to. Whether or not God chooses to speak is up to Him. Our part is to show up, quiet our own thoughts, and listen for His. Listening is a spiritual discipline that is at the very core of our relationship with the Trinity.
Imagine the disciples’ relationship with Jesus. What do you envision their day-to-day conversations were like? What if they did nothing but talk for three years without ever stopping to listen? Greater intimacy with Christ requires time spent with him in silence. Creating time and space to be attentive to the voice of Jesus is a way that we lovingly attend to our relationship with Him and deepen our intimacy with Him.
Why is Listening Prayer an important practice for us?
The Lord invites us to listen.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27 ESV)
“And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’” (Mark 9:7 ESV)
Jesus says six times in the Gospels, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15, Matthew 13:9, Matthew 13:43, Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8, Luke 14:35)
It teaches us to trust in the faithfulness of God.
“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.” (Ps 62:1-2 ESV).
It teaches us to practice patience in God’s timing.
“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Rom 8:25 ESV)
It teaches us to rest as we wait.
“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” (Ps 62:5 ESV).
When is Listening Prayer helpful?
When we are seeking discernment or direction from the Lord.
Practicing Listening Prayer helps us learn to recognize the voice of Jesus over all the noise that invades our busy minds. It also helps us practice distinguishing the voice of the Lord over the voice of the enemy.
When we need truth from God’s Word.
I find that when I set aside time to listen in prayer, the Holy Spirit will often bring Scripture to my mind that is pertinent to something I am currently going through or that He wants to bring to my heart.
When we need encouragement.
Listening for the tender, loving voice of the Father is often what I need in times when I feel discouraged.
Daily, we simply need to “be” with Him.
The practice of Listening Prayer requires silence, so like the discipline of silence you can practice Listening Prayer as a way of simply being with God and allowing space for Him to speak if He should so choose. In a previous blog I wrote, “In silence, we intentionally place ourselves in the presence of God with simply one goal in mind, to be in His presence. There is a genuine freedom in spending time in silence with Jesus. No words are needed; just being together is enough. Savoring His presence, wanting nothing from Him, simply choosing to be with Him in love.”
The Practice of Listening Prayer
Combining Scripture with Listening Prayer is a helpful way of beginning the practice of listening to the Lord. Note that discernment is an important part of any type of prayer and/or listening for the voice of the Lord. He will never contradict what He has spoken in Scripture.
For some of us, even if we are accustomed to practicing Listening Prayer, it takes quite a while for our minds to settle and to become attentive to God in quiet so that we can hear him. I have also provided guiding questions below. You can choose to use these questions in your Listening Prayer or not. They are meant to be helpful if you are feeling distracted.
When you notice your mind wandering (and it will wander because that’s the way God made us), simply turn your attention back to the Lord and like Samuel say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
Remember that Listening Prayer is a practice of listening, not the perfection of listening. So have grace for yourself as Christ does. Below is a step by step guide to help you begin a practice of Listening Prayer.
1. Welcome the Lord with you in prayer. If it is helpful, envision Him with you.
2. Read or listen to a passage of Scripture. Notice what words or phrases the Holy Spirit highlights for you. (Use the Psalm 62:1 below or choose another passage.)
"For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken."
3. What do the words mean to you? Invite the Lord to speak to you about why He has highlighted these words for you. Notice and listen.
4. Where does the Scripture connect with your life right now? Notice and listen.
5. Notice if there is an invitation from the Lord. Is there an action He is inviting?
Listening Prayer, Jan Johnson - article
Face to Face with Ourselves and God, Gail Edmonson - blog post
Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster - book
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