Those who read my previous post may have been surprised that I suggested scripture reading may be the most transformative spiritual habit. I’m sure there are those who would argue that prayer offers more opportunities for the Spirit’s injection into our lives. However, so long as the average prayer is a monologue, it’s unlikely to be a means of transformation. Hence, the second foundational spiritual habit is prayer that listens more than it talks.
When I introduce this spiritual habit in most churches, I regularly get questions on what exactly I mean. It turns out that the church in general hasn’t been adequately prepared for two-way communication with God. Some of the reluctance to engage in listening prayer may be related to the cultural derision toward those who “hear voices” and the skepticism toward those who claim they’ve been given a message from God. There is also a third group of churched folk who picture God as a distant deity who rarely gets personally and directly involved in individual lives.
On the other hand, I’ve found that when a church gets serious about teaching and practicing prayer, amazing things begin to happen. Perhaps not surprisingly, those changes are less in the “answered prayer” department, though great things happen there too. Instead, the greatest changes are in the lives of those who are praying.
Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes him who prays.” However, those who experience personal transformation are generally those who have learned how to listen. It’s beyond the scope of this post to go into the details of how to hear the voice of God, but let me share something a spiritual director once said to me. “There are only three voices in your head. Your voice, God’s voice, and the voice of darkness.” Though the voice of darkness can be deceptive, it’s normally pretty easy to pick that voice out. That normally leaves you trying to discern between your voice and God’s voice. In my experience, God’s voice is the one calling me to the greatest good and my voice is the one rationalizing why that’s not such a good idea.
Often I’ve found that there is a much easier – and often more effective – way to help people hear God. Get them to go into prayer, visualize themselves sitting down in a room where Jesus is, and then just listen. However it’s taught, prayer that is spent listening to what God has to say, rather than the other way around, is one of the most foundational and transformational spiritual habits. Get your leadership practicing it and the change will be palpable.
Question: How do you encourage your church members and leaders to engage in listening prayer? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.