Listen UP

October 5, 2022 | Rob Bloss

I confess that I am too often quick to speak and slow to listen. You are correct in pointing out that this is contrary to the biblical admonition of James 1:19!

I’m fairly practiced in talking about active listening, in helping people (couples and small group leaders e.g.) 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 many significant moments in my life where I needed to hear from the Lord; to feel His presence, to have my fears eased, to experience His love and be guided by His Word. I’m so grateful for those times where I made the intentional choice to escape all the noise, get away by myself, 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 supposed to be a conversation, a dialogue rather than a monologue. I think if anyone should do more of the listening in this conversation, it’s probably us! I just wonder how often we miss what He is saying because we are so focused on our own agenda. We’re talking and talking and talking then we have things to do and places to go!

I spent time with a spiritual director years ago. In practice, she did NOT do a 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 this kind of spiritual habit into our daily lives? It requires effort, uninterrupted time, focused attention, and confident expectation that God will speak. And He does want to speak to us!

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 present to God’s presence, 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? Are we simply too impatient? Too busy? Or perhaps it’s 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 He directs us to seek reconciliation. That’s not often fun or easy, but it’s needed and helpful. The Spirit can convict us of things that we may look past, things I need to acknowledge, confess, and seek forgiveness from God and others for. The path is hard, but the destination is worth it.

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 that 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.

Like the disciples, of all the things we could ask for, we ought to ask the Lord to teach us to pray. That’s where connection is made, and real power and peace are experienced.

Here are a few suggestions 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 love hiking in the woods, along a stream, to the top of a mountain. It reminds me 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 patience and 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 be known. He will speak. May we have ears to listen!

Prayer: 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.