The critical skill of listening to God

Every day I work as a pastor, I become more convinced that developing a better ear for listening to God is one of the critical skills we Christians have to develop. Jesus indwells us through the Holy Spirit, and he wants to lead and guide us in a living relationship. We are to read the Scriptures, but we are also to listen for the real-time voice of the Spirit. The trouble is, most Christians have difficulties listening to God. I know I do. We don't spend the time to listen, and besides, we feel a lot more comfortable talking than we do listening, especially when our conversation partner (God) speaks to us on his own timetable, not ours.

At any rate, listening to God is a critical skill, and most Christians in America don't do it well. If we were getting letter grades for listening to God, what would yours be today?

This Lent I am deeply grateful to have Laura Jenkins, one of our Sanctuary family members, lay out 40 Days of Listening Prayer for us to use as a church. She set up a blog (sanctuarylent2012.wordpress.com). On the opening post, she shared her story, and it is engaging, honest, and instructive. I quote it in its entirety below. Thanks, Laura! This Lent, let us grow in the critical skill of listening to God.

The prayer journey is open to anyone who wants to learn to hear God's voice better and is looking for other learners to share the experience with.


Every year at this time, I am faced with the question of what to give up for Lent. There are never a shortage of options, many of which I have tried: coffee, sweets, retail shopping, tv, social media…one year I even tried to give up complaining. Yet for some reason, in the past few years, none of the usual sacrifices have seemed to fit. Not that they’re bad, and not that a person cannot benefit from engaging in any of these sacrifices for the 40 days before Easter…on the contrary, I know I have grown from these types of exercises in the past, and I know many others who have too.

For me, I think the heart of the matter is centered in the fact that none of these sacrifices have drawn me into the deep communion with God that I desire. All too often, I struggle during the first few weeks of the fast, but as I grow used to life without whatever I decided to give up, I stop needing it so desperately and therefore stop noticing that much is different. In other words, fasting during Lent has gotten me to a certain level of depth with God, and has definitely helped me to feel less ruled by material goods and physical appetites, but it has done little to actually deepen my relationship and communion with God, which is really what I desire.

So last year I decided to try something different. Instead of giving something up for Lent, I decided to commit myself to listening prayer. I started with one minute on the first day of Lent and added a minute each day, ending at 40 minutes. I have to admit, I had rather high expectations as I started out. I was excited as I thought about being able to spend 40 minutes in listening prayer at the end of the Lenten season, and I was anxious to hear what God might have to say to me.

Not surprisingly, since this is God I was dealing with, this exercise turned out differently than I was expecting. First of all, I began by trying to empty my mind of all thought so that I could “hear” God more clearly. This did not work…the more I tried to empty my mind, the more the distracting thoughts seemed to take over. After about a week or so, I decided to change my approach. I was following Sanctuary’s Scripture reading plan for the Lenten season, so I decided to start by reading the passage for the day and then focusing my mind on whatever stood out to me in the passage. This approach was much better…I still struggled with distractions and my mind still tended to wander at times, but in general I grew in my ability to sit for a significant amount of time, “being” with God as I pondered His word. I became much more comfortable sitting and waiting for insights to come to me, and if they did not come, I learned to enjoy spending time with a quiet heart in God’s presence. At the end of Lent, I had come to look forward to my daily time of listening prayer. I noticed more depth in my prayer life, as well as in my ability to be still in my heart throughout the day, regardless of the challenges I faced.

This year, I’m going to venture on this journey again, and I’d like to invite you to join me. I have created this blog where I will post thoughts and insights on being with God through listening prayer each day…some days will be thoughts from my own experience, and other days will be wisdom from others who are far wiser than I am. Also included in this blog is a Scripture reading plan for the season of Lent that is taken from the Book of Common Prayer. I’m hopeful that the others who feel led to commit to this will post their questions and comments on a regular basis so that we can all learn from and support each other as we strive to make ourselves more available for God to pull us deeper into relationship with Him.

Let me end with a quote from Mother Teresa:

“We need to find God and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is a friend of silence. See how nature — trees, flowers, grass grow in silence; see the stars, the moon and sun, how they move in silence. The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life. The essential thing is not what we say but what God says to us and through us.”

-Laura Jenkins, Sanctuary Covenant Church, Lent 2012

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