I confess that I am too often quick to speak and slow to listen. You are correct, this is contrary to the biblical admonition of James 1:19!
I’m pretty skilled in talking about active listening, in helping people/couples develop these skills, but I don’t always practice what I preach. I’m still learning and growing. And this applies not only to my human relationships, but to my relationship with my heavenly Father as well.
I can think of some significant moments in my life, where I needed to hear from the Lord. I needed to feel His presence, to have my fears eased, to experience His love and be guided by His Word. I’m so grateful for the times I was able to escape all the noise, to get away alone to a quiet place, and open my Bible and my heart and listen. I need more of these precious moments in my busy life.
When we think about prayer, listening isn’t generally the first thing that comes to mind. But prayer is a two-way conversation, not a monologue. Jesus wants to speak to us. We can miss His voice if we’re solely focused on our own agenda. But Jesus knows me intimately, and so when it comes to prayer, I should be glad to let Him dominate the conversation.
God desires to communicate with His people, even more than we desire to communicate with Him! He is still the same God He has always been, and He continues to speak to us. I spent some time meeting with a spiritual director about 10 years ago. She actually did NOT do lot of directing, which was initially frustrating to me. Instead she helped me to be still and to hear His voice through listening prayer—what some call contemplative prayer.
Contemplative prayer is thoughtful, reflective prayer. How can we, in our world of incessant noise and activity, incorporate it into our daily lives? It requires effort, active listening, focused attention, and confident expectation that God will speak.
Throughout the Psalms, David models someone who waits on God in this way: “For God alone my soul waits in silence.” (Psalm 62:1); “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:2).
Contemplative prayer is being with God, empty-handed, waiting attentively for whatever He wants to say. It is the discipline of being still and knowing that He is God (Psalm 46:10).
Why don’t most of us practice this discipline? Why is simply sitting at His feet with no agenda so difficult—even frightening? Are we simply too impatient? Too busy? Or perhaps it is because we are afraid of what we might hear. When we quietly wait on God, the Holy Spirit often speaks penetrating words—words of conviction, words of love, or no words at all.
With words of conviction, God reveals actions or attitudes we need to confess to Him—and sometimes others—and directs us to seek reconciliation.
On many occasions, as I take time to listen to God, the Holy Spirit reminds me of recent conversations or comments that were not edifying. Only by listening to the Spirit’s conviction can I recognize my sin and hear Him direct me to seek forgiveness from my wife or co-worker or friend.
Surprisingly, I often find myself just as reluctant to hear His words of love. Many of us don’t wait in His presence long enough to let Him love us. We are quick to voice our concerns, seek His guidance, and request His blessing. It must grieve our Father’s heart that we come to Him only in want of something rather than coming simply because we enjoy being in His presence.
Perhaps another reason we don’t practice contemplative prayer is we fear hearing no words at all. We are so afraid of wasting time we become unable to enjoy the delight of simply being with Him. And yet, God delights for us to sit at His feet and enjoy being with Him.
As we lean into this season of prayer as a church, as we ask the Lord to teach us to pray, here are a few suggestions I’ve run across that may help us recover the lost art of listening.
Meditate on Scripture:
After studying Scripture, choose one verse, phrase, or word upon which to meditate. Ponder it and slowly repeat it. Ask the Lord what He wants to say to you.
Journal in prayer:
Write your prayers to God and wait for His response. Writing helps us stay focused and probe our thoughts and heart more deeply. Write something you want to tell God (a statement, rather than a question, about something happening in your life). Then listen and ask the Holy Spirit to provide wisdom and understanding to what you are praying out of His Word.
Listen to God speak through His creation:
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1). I miss the mountains of Colorado. Hiking above timberline (10,000ft), put me out of breath and so often reminded of God’s majesty and might. “I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain” (Psalm 3:4).
Be still before Him:
“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently . . . Let him sit alone and be silent” (Lamentations 3:25,26,29). In this posture of stillness, we can more keenly hear Him speak. We honor God by expressing our willingness to BE still in His presence.
Developing a discipline takes perseverance. We will find every reason not to practice contemplative prayer: things must be done, social media is calling our name, worries crowd our thoughts. As we sit in silence, we will itch and squirm, our backs will ache, and our stomachs will grumble. But as we sit with Him in faith and obedience, He will honor our desire to know and hear Him.
Lord, please forgive me for rushing through prayer and not stopping to hear Your voice. I pray You would help calm my mind and heart to hear You each day. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.