As I’ve spoken on the different prayer types with folks, there are two that seem especially remarkable to people. More than any others, these two seem to stop people in their tracks and draw them to say, “I need more of that.” In this post, we’ll unpack listening prayer.
You may remember the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus (and probably his disciples) visit the home of these two sisters. True to custom, sister Martha busies herself to serve her guests, but Mary sits with Jesus and listens to him. Martha acts like a host, Mary acts like a guest.
Martha gets frustrated that her sister isn’t doing her part and tattles to Jesus, “Don’t you care that my sister is doing nothing and I’m doing everything alone? Tell her to help me!”
But Jesus replies, “You are worried about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
In other words, it’s better to sit and listen when Jesus is around. He is more jealous for your presence than for your service. The one who is listening for God has trained her heart to be satisfied in him.
Listening prayer is sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening for him. He might speak; he might not. He might act; he might not. That’s not the point. The goal of listening prayer is being silent so that God becomes your only noise. It’s to be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10).
Listening prayer is quieting yourself to the hush of the Almighty so that your soul is satisfied by him. You feast in his presence. But it’s not so easy.
Today’s way of life demands constant online connectivity, accessibility by all, and frenzied productivity. We believe we’re worthy because we’re busy, wanted by others, and accomplished. Space and silence are not much rewarded these days.
Richard Foster writes, “But whether in the ‘desert’ or at home, hold in your heart a deep, inner, listening silence and there be still until the work of solitude is done.” (Celebration of Discipline)
Is there space in your life for listening prayer?
Listening prayer is perhaps one of the most challenging prayer types because it requires you to strip attachments, let go of performances, and just be with God. He might speak, he might not. He might act, he might not. It’s just you and God. You’re naked before your maker. It’s not entirely comfortable.
But listening prayer helps to restore your true self. Normally, you’re running around and proving yourself, but now none of that. In listening prayer, you realize you’re nothing more than a child, and there’s no higher place to climb.
In Christ, there’s nothing to prove, nothing to do, nothing to lose, but be a fully approved, accepted, and loved child of God. You’re in your daddy’s arms. What better place to be? Sitting at his feet reminds you of who are you.
Listening prayer also cultivates the fear of the LORD. You wait for the greater one to speak. When you do, you gain wisdom. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” says Psalm 111:10. If you want to become wise, start listening for Jesus.
Sure, it can be unnerving sitting in a room alone. At first you reach for something to thrill you. But when you listen for Jesus, you learn to wait on God, which births patience. And once patience has its way in you, you’ll be able to wait on God.
Listening prayer positions you to receive from God. Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” If humanity’s problems stem from that, perhaps man’s joys derive from being able to receive from God.
When you learn to sit with Jesus and be content in that place, you learn to trust him. And once you trust him, you’ll follow him anywhere.
When we slow down for listening prayer, Jesus becomes our great reward.
Questions on Listening Prayer
What do you think of listening prayer?
Do you relate more to Mary or Martha? Why?
When has service become an obstacle to connecting with Jesus?
What are some benefits of listening prayer?
When has silence been challenging for you?
How can you incorporate some listening prayer into your life?