What is listening prayer?
I have noticed a correlation between my anxiety and the amount of time I spend in listening prayer. The less time I spend in silence, in meditation, or in journalling the whispers of the Holy Spirit, the more anxious I become. The busier I get and the less time I make to hear what God has to say about what I am doing, the more concerned I become about whether or not I am doing the right things with my time. It leads to stress which ends out being taken out on those closest to me, even though it is not my intention.
Listening prayer can be any form of prayer that causes us to be aware of God’s presence with us. It can take different forms, but it is a form of prayer that doesn’t involve doing in so much as being. It is a receiving prayer, a dwelling with God prayer, an intimate form of prayer.
Also known as “resting in God” or “soaking” in more charismatic circles, contemplative prayer is when we sit or lay before God, focusing our minds on Him or on a word or Word of Scripture. We might take a word like “holy” or “beloved” and sit with that word for sometime, allowing God to bring to mind different elements of Him connected with those words. We might listen to Christian music or remain silent, but the focus is on leaving the distractions of the day and turning our hearts and minds towards God. Sometimes it can be helpful to have a notebook to write down those things that come up - whether they be distracting thoughts about our day which we can come back to later - or thoughts that have come to mind as we connect with God.
This is a form of contemplative prayer where a short passage (usually Scripture) is read slowly (and sometimes repeated several times with gaps of a minute or so between reading). As the passage is read and in the silence that follows, we quieten our hearts and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the passage or a particular word or phrase in the passage.
I talked about journalling and how it transformed my prayer life in an earlier post this month. When I first began to discern God’s voice one way I found particularly helpful was to journal love letters. I would write a letter to God and then I would quiet myself before God, focus on Jesus (Hebrew 12) and then write a letter back from God to me. Writing it down allowed me to flow without constantly worrying if it was God or not. When I had finished writing I could then go back and line up what I had written with Scripture and weigh any directional thoughts I had with others. Journalling helped me to learn what God’s voice sounded like for me personally.
Practicing the Presence of God
Brother Lawrence, a French monk from the 1600s wrote a short book (which is worth a read!) called The Practice of the Presence of God. In this book he wrote about how he endeavored to call God’s presence to mind as often as he could though out the day - whilst washing up and serving the monastery and going about other daily tasks. His aim was to have a continued flow of relationship with God throughout the day.
This is something we have to be intentional about and yet also be willing to fail constantly at to get better at! Consciously recognizing and calling to mind God’s presence during the day is a blessing and something we must not feel bad about forgetting to do, but keep returning to whenever we remember. Setting an alarm or having a particular meeting place (like at the kitchen sink or in the bathroom!) can be helpful reminders. When I wake up I try and take a moment before the day or my quiet time starts to greet Jesus and call to mind His presence with me. It is like a spiritual embrace first thing in the morning which I try to return to throughout the day. It doesn’t need to take long - just stopping and calling God’s presence to mind can take all of 10 seconds but it makes a huge difference to our outlook on the day.
Another practical way I have also tried to get into a habit of practicing God’s presence is before I buy something. Because the committed money we have coming in each month is less than our monthly budget, we have to spend and give by faith - trying to hear what God wants us to do with the money that comes in until God makes up the rest (which He always does some way or another!). On rare occasions (like once a year!) when a larger amount comes in, we may have more than we need for that month. In those months we have to hear if God has something in particular that He wants us to spend or give the extra money to or if it is to be saved for the next month!
One simple thing I try and do before I buy something online or in the store is stop and ask the Holy Spirit if I should buy it - sometimes it is obvious, but sometimes it is not. Even though I know I ‘need’ something, sometimes the Holy Spirit has told me to ‘wait’. One example was actually a prayer journal. I was coming to the end of one and I knew I needed another one so when I was in the shop I wanted to buy another one. I felt the Holy Spirit telling me I would not need it, (I felt an uneasiness in my spirit) but I bought one anyway. The next week we had a team come and one of the ladies on the team gifted me a journal! I smiled because I now understood God’s prompting, but as God is gracious and the Redeemer I was also able to gift the journal I had bought to someone else!
And that is the point - learning to hear God’s voice is not meant to paralyze us. I am not saying we should never buy anything without first asking God or be paralyzed by what to wear in the morning until God speaks, but what I am saying is that there is a level of intimacy which we can develop with God where He will speak into the details of our lives and guide us if we ask. I don’t ask God what to wear each morning (I live in a desert where the climate is very predictable), but there have been times when I have felt the Holy Spirit tell me not to wear something or to wear something and I haven’t understood until later why. The only way we learn to develop this type of listening prayer is being open to hearing Him speak in our thoughts, guided by His peace.
Resting in the Lord
There have been many afternoons or before an evening meeting that I have been exhausted and managed to get half an hour rest before I get going again. In those times I often put on some worship music and just rest in the Lord. I don’t come with an agenda - I just recognize His presence and ask Him for His peace to flood over me. I may sleep or I may not, but either way I experience rest and communion with God. Often in those half-awake, half-asleep rest times I have visions or dreams where God speaks into situations I have been wondering about and I awake refreshed and renewed.
These are just some examples of listening prayer. How can you set some time aside this week to intentionally be mindful of God’s presence this week and listen to what He has to say to you?
Recommended resources for learning more:
Both of these books really helped me go deeper in discerning God's voice. They are both highly recommended:
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