The Listening Side of Prayer
Grateful honor is accorded to Stacey S. Padrick’s ‘The Listening Side of Prayer’.
Why is it that when we speak to God, we are called pray-ers but when He speaks to us, we are called schizophrenic? -Lily Tomlin
Prayer without work is not prayer, and work without prayer is not work. -Martin Luther
The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. (Isaiah 50:4)
At its essence, all prayer is intended to involve two-way communication. How do we hear God? There are two techniques:
Through His Word
-God will never speak to us anything that contradicts what has been revealed in Scripture. However, it is so much more than this: Scripture is our means for encountering the ‘Living Word’… Jesus Christ; He said to the Pharisees of His time: You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40)
Journaling Prayers and Responses
-Write out what is on your heart.
-Formulate and write out questions to ask (“Lord… what am I doing wrong?”… “Lord… show me what to do in this situation.”… “Lord… teach me how to humble myself…”).
-Meditate in silence and write down responses that come in answer to the questions.
-Understand that He may speak to you in one or more of a variety of ways… perhaps responding with other questions.
-When you receive a reply, discern (with other sisters and brothers in Christ) that it is truly His response.
Scripture References and Discussion…
Listening prayer can also be called contemplative prayer. It is prayer that is thoughtful and reflective. It is not a passive form of prayer, but one that includes three vital facets: 1) active listening, 2 ) focused attention, and 3) a confident expectation that God will speak.
In listening prayer, we are still before God… reflecting, anticipating, listening and waiting on Him. David is a model, throughout the Psalms, of this prayerful state:
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:2)
My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. (Psalm 62:1)
Listening prayer is being with God, empty-handed, waiting for whatever it is that He will speak, show or do. The empty-handed characteristic is noteworthy: listening prayer is not request-driven prayer. The distinguishing hallmark of listening prayer is that time is reserved to reverently honor God in His glory, power and majesty.
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)
Because we need practical tools and approaches, the question becomes this: how do we put listening prayer into practice?
1) Meditate on Holy Scripture
May the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause; but I will meditate on your precepts. (Psalm 119:78)
-Choose one phrase, verse or word upon which to meditate.
-Ponder it… slowly repeat it.
-Ask the Lord what He wants to speak to you through it.
For instance, in meditating upon the first verse of the 23rd Psalm… the following questions may be revealed through that meditation: 1) What is a shepherd’s role/responsibility to the sheep? 2) Are sheep ever able to help themselves? 3) Do I have want in my life? 4) If so, have I asked God to provide for me? 5) What is God saying to me about my needs?
2) Pray and Sing the Psalms
Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth, sing praise to the Lord, to him who rides the ancient skies above, who thunders with mighty voice. (Psalm 68:32-33)
The Psalms are poetry for the expression of praise, worship and confession to God. More succinctly stated, the Psalms ascribe great worth to God. Reading appropriate Psalms will induce a mindset of stillness before God that will result in awe at His perfection, grace, power and unending love; Psalms 46 and 48 are particularly beautiful.
3) Journal Your Prayers
Writing is a time-honored technique for focus… thoughts are captured, concentrated, capsulated. This is the beginning of a dialogue with God… write what you want to tell God about a situation in your life. Then, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance, listen for God’s still, small voice. Write what you believe God has imparted to you.
Writing is also useful for looking back to see how your prayer life has evolved over time, and will undoubtedly yield further insights that will serve to strengthen your faith.
4) Listen to God Speak Through His Creation
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. (Psalm 19:1-2)
No matter where we may be in God’s creation, it will speak to us in a myriad of ways. In the constancy of wind and wave on a beach, we are reminded of the constancy of God’s love:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
In the sheer vastness of creation, we realize that we cannot rightly comprehend the mind of He who conceived and created it:
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. (Psalm 139:17-18)
We also know that wherever we are in God’s creation we will be cared for; He is forever with us:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)
5) Be Still Before Him
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence. (Lamentations 3:25-28)
In a posture of stillness, we can more easily hear God when He speaks. We honor God when we show Him that we are willing to set aside our own agendas and be still in His presence, so that we can hear what He has to say to us. It is difficult to set aside what we have largely come to make prayer… a needs-oriented exercise. However, we give great joy to God when we come to Him not to ask something of Him, but to simply delight ourselves in Him:
Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
In such an interlude, we should not ask anything of God at all; we should allow Him to express His love and joy over us.
-In a quiet situation, close your eyes, still your body, become aware of your breathing.
-Slowly inhale, meditating on a name for Jesus… Bread of Life, Good Shepherd, Master, Light of the World, the Vine, the Door, the Resurrection and the Life, Alpha and Omega, the Lamb, Savior of the World, the Way the Truth and the Life, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, the Root, the Offspring of David, the Bright Morning Star…
-Slowly exhale, meditating on a name for God… Mighty Deliverer, Rock of Ages, Strong Tower, Ancient of Days, Jehovah-Jireh (Provider), Jehovah-Rapha (the Lord Who Heals), the Great I AM, Abba, Uncreated Creator, Yahweh, Father God, the Majesty…
-Slowly inhale, meditating on a characteristic that Jesus is for you… your hope, your joy, your salvation, your peace, your true path…
-Slowly exhale, releasing a fear, worry or anxiety that is on your mind.
There is power in the Name of Jesus Christ:
to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 25)
We should make a dedicated effort to schedule a longer period of time once a week for contemplation. In the fast-paced world we live in, it is common to “make a date” or “schedule time” with those we want to have quality time with on a one-to-one basis; God absolutely deserves our best intentions in this regard. The importance of this is not in what we do during such times; the importance is that we are alone with God, focused on Him, listening to Him, and enjoying Him.
We know and believe that when we as believers in God pray to Him, we will receive an answer in the fullness of His time. As believers, how can we be assured in the truth of what we receive as God’s answer; i.e., how do we ascertain that the answer is truly from God? Here are some Scripturally-based guidelines:
-Does it exalt Jesus Christ?
He will bring glory to me by taking what is mine and making it known to you. (John 16:14)
And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (1 John 3:23-24)
-Is it Scriptural?
Scripture is our authority, and God does not contradict Himself:
“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar. (Proverbs 30:5-6)
-Do other sisters and brothers in Christ confirm it?
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)
Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain guidance. (Proverbs 20:18)
-Does God cause it to actually take place?
You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)
so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)
“The first and basic act of theological work is prayer… Theological work does not begin with prayer and is not merely accompanied by it; in its totality it is peculiar and characteristic of theology that it can be performed only in the act of prayer,” -Karl Barth, “Evangelical Theology”, 1963, p. 160
“What is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?” -Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”, 1958