As a little girl I was taught to pray…first with simple, repeatable prayers like “Now I lay me down to sleep…” and then later I was challenged on the importance of having a daily “quiet time” – sitting alone to read my Bible and pray. Those times were pretty routine and dry. Something I could check off my “to do” list.
Oh, I had no problem chattering away at God, telling him my problems and concerns. But, a monologue sort of prayer can quickly become boring. Nobody ever suggested to me prayer is a dialogue – a two-way conversation, one in which we both talk to God and also listen for his still, small voice – until I went on a weekend spiritual retreat where they taught us how to listen. (Here’s a PDF of a bookmark on listening prayer from that event.) When I learned to listen, it made so much more sense! After all, a quiet time is about building a one-on-one relationship with God who loves me!
My relationship with God became much deeper when I learned how to listen in prayer, but it took some discipline. Blaise Pascal said, “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his own room.” That was one of my greatest challenges – to not only be okay with quiet, but to look forward to it. With a billion thoughts running through my mind, learning to release all those and still my soul was the first step.
Opening my Bible to read just a few verses (reading a Psalm is good place to start), and then asking God to help me understand what I am reading is one way to begin to quiet myself and listen. Using the model of little Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:9 who learned the voice calling to him was God’s and replied, “Speak, for your servant is listening” has been valuable, as well as spending a little time praising God.
Asking God to search my heart has also been key in learning to listen. If I’m holding anything back or resisting God, it’s much harder to hear. One job of the Holy Spirit is to convince and convict of any sin holding me back. Being sensitive to the Spirit’s leading is always a blessing in my times of prayer.
How does God speak? Sometimes it’s through directing me to a particular scripture. It could be an impression, a phrase, or a picture that pops into my mind. Often it’s a song or hymn. But, I always test what I hear to be sure it’s from God. Does it encourage, strengthen, or comfort? Does it exalt or glorify God? Is it scriptural? God will not contradict himself. Do I always hear? No (read my post “When God is Silent”)… but I know God is there and I’m growing in the process!
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you” John 16:13-14. – Judi Brandow, Communications Specialist