Have you ever sought to be still and simply "listen" to God? Sometimes I must confess that my "prayer time" (if I can call it that) seems like little more than a rushed time of intercession where I try to offer up request after request for those people who have asked me to pray for certain things. Yet, having fallen prey to that on more occasions than I care to count, I'm convinced that's not what prayer was intended to be. At least it's not ALL that prayer was intended to be.
When Jesus would go off alone to pray in an isolated place I find it hard to believe that all he did was bring His list of things people had asked Him to pray for and offer them up to God. I believe he spent as much time listening to God as He did speaking with God. It goes back to a definition of prayer I heard as a young believer: "Prayer is an intimate dialogue of speaking and listening which takes place between two persons who love each other."
Today's "thought" deals with the listening part of that prayerful dialogue. It comes from Gary Thomas' book, "The Beautiful Fight." I trust it will encourage you to go to God in prayer with a seeking heart, intent on talking less and listening more. Enjoy.
"When man listens, God speaks... We are not out to tell God. We are out to
let God tell us... The lesson the world needs most is the art of listening to God."
"God has spoken, and God speaks; by Himself as well as through his heralds, prophets, and preachers.
There is no doubt about this basic fact. The problem is that people, even God's own people, do not listen."
"You [God] are Truth, and you are everywhere present where all seek counsel of you. You reply to all...
The answer you give is clear, but not all hear clearly. All ask you whatever they wish to ask. But the answer
they receive is not always the answer they want to hear. The man who serves you best is the one who is less
intent on hearing from you what he wills to hear, than on shaping his will according to what he hears from you."
"Some teach that God speaks only indirectly today through preaching and the motivating of people to apply the Bible's "timeless principles." To be sure, Scripture is the only infallible record we have of God's true message and revelation to humankind. Yet this same Bible bursts with stories of God communicating to individual men and women. Every Old Testament patriarch, as well as the writers of the psalms, not only heard from God, but begged him to keep speaking. The book of Acts overflows with accounts of God speaking to individuals -- to Peter, Stephen, Philip, Ananias, Paul, Cornelius, and many others. Jesus himself set the example of humble listening: "I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world... I do nothing on my own, but speak just what the Father has taught me" (John 8:26, 28). I love how my spiritual mentor, Dr. Klaus Bockmuehl, summarizes Christ's stance: "The common denominator in these passages is a God-inspired, fundamental, and comprehensive suspension of judgment; I will not judge, decide, speak, or do anything on my own, but I will first listen to God. This reservation represents the end of human autonomy or self-governance and establishes, in practice, the primacy and reality of God's kingship in the earthly life of Jesus."
Some earnest believers have taken this "listening to God" to an unhealthy extreme, making mundane tasks (for example which road to take on the way home, or whether to order beef or chicken) take on a cosmic importance. On the other hand I've known some staunch believers who insist that we hear God only through sermons or through Scripture. In their understanding God doesn't speak to individuals today. Instead of trying to listen for and understand God's voice, we're simply supposed to use our own reasoning and understanding to apply the general principles given in Scripture.
In my mind such believers risk falling into practical atheism. Dr. Bockmuehl, would agree with me: "Jesus words, 'as I hear, I judge' (John 5:30 NKJV), signal the end of the rule of religious principles that we often assume and then apply independent of God. To do so is a religious version of human self-rule, a kind of practical atheism that assumes that once the starting pistol sets the universe spinning, God has no further input and human designs are called for to fill in from there. Jesus, over against this, uses the present tense to indicate his ongoing, constant, teachableness and availability for divine directives"...
Scripture goes out of it's way to contrast our living and speaking God with dead and lifeless idols (Psalm 115:2). Bockmuehl observes, "Only the pagan idols are mute, and Christians have been liberated from their service. So we have no reason, unless we mean to defy the teaching of Jesus, to turn the Holy Spirit into another mute idol." The writer of Hebrews warns us, "see to it that you do not refuse him who speaks" (Hebrews 12:25). In 1 John, the beloved disciple tells an early church that, "[God's] anointing teaches [present tense] you about all things" and reminds them emphatically that, "that anointing is real, not counterfeit" (I John 2:27).
The Word is essential, but we also need the ongoing "anointing" of God's Holy Spirit, His presence, which animates the Word. Renowned scholar John Stott puts it this way: The Word is an objective safeguard, while the anointing of the Spirit is a subjective experience; but both the apostolic teaching and the Heavenly Teacher are necessary for continuance in the truth. And both are to be personally and inwardly grasped. This is the biblical balance too seldom preserved by men. Some honor the Word and neglect the Spirit who alone can interpret it. Others honor the Spirit but neglect the Word out of which he teaches. The only safeguard against lies is to have abiding within us both the Word that we have heard from the beginning, and the anointing that we received from Him."
I would encourage you not only to consider what Gary Thomas has written, but would also encourage you to practice the art of asking, seeking and listening in prayer. His spiritual mentor is right -- even as Christians we can tend to be people who speak but do not listen. Yet, it should never be so when we consider that in prayer we as believers are coming into the presence of a Father who loves us (One Jesus called "Abba" or in English, "Daddy"). He is not a heavenly Santa Claus waiting to receive the long list of wants we have for us and others so he can "get right on them." Prayer consists of speaking and listening; seeking and listening. And I have to say that most people I know (and I fall into this on occasion) tend to be better at the first than the second.
Thus, I would encourage you to strengthen the art of listening to remedy that common imbalance. You may actually be surprised at what you "hear" or learn from the communicating Holy Spirit, who is more than just a source of power (like electricity), but a "Person" (the 3rd person of the divine Trinity) who guides, enlightens, speaks and comes to us (in keeping with Jesus promise) to "lead us into all truth."
Cherishing the Endless Abundance of His Care and Grace, Pastor Jeff