Praying is Listening

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

This past year I realized that I'm really, really good at fooling myself into believing that I have intimacy with God. 

I've worked in ministry for the past 12 years and did "kingdom work" every single day. I spent hours pouring over God's Word and writing about my studies. I was involved with a really awesome small group that met weekly and to date hasn't even taken a single week off because we love living life with each other so much.

But as far as spiritual growth is concerned, all of these were fake indicators on my barometer. I was deceiving myself.

A little over a year ago, God humbled me. He taught me how to listen to his voice. I'm far from an "expert," mind you, and I'm still learning how to cultivate this every single day. But here's what I do know: actively listening to God has been the biggest factor for me for spiritual growth. Not studying God's Word, not working at a church, not living in community with other believers. Listening.

I used to think that prayer consisted of just me talking to God about my life and going through my list of concerns and anxieties. It might from time to time also include words of praise and thankfulness. And this is a very good start. Communicating like this is an important part of prayer, but it's missing something. It's only when we listen to God's voice that we can really cultivate intimacy with God.

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard says it best:
As my prayer become more attentive and inward
I had less and less to say.
I finally became completely silent.
I started to listen
– which is even further removed from speaking.
I first thought that praying entailed speaking.
I then learnt that praying is hearing,
not merely being silent.
This is how it is.
To pray does not mean to listen to oneself speaking,
Prayer involves becoming silent,
And being silent,
And waiting until God is heard.
This listening thing sounds great, but here's the dilemma I face: I want to be close to God... but I also often resist it.

That's because prayer, especially when we spend time during prayer listening, is hard. It takes time, it's often discouraging and frustrating when we don't feel some sort of connection, it can illicit feelings of shame (particularly if we haven't prayed in a while), and let's be honest, it's just downright awkward.

It reveals just how much we might be fooling ourselves into believing that we have intimacy with God.

But the good news is that prayer is a learned practice. No one is automatically good at praying right when they become a believer; it takes discipline, perseverance, and humbleness.

Spending time listening to God requires that we deliberately create time and designate space to hear from him. This means keeping Sabbath, not just as one full day a week, but as a way of life every day. It means being okay with being uncomfortable. It means waiting in silence until God speaks.

And it's so, so worth it.

Next week I'll be sharing some basic practices I do when I pray. Go ahead and subscribe to the blog so you can be notified when it's published!

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