Good listening is not passive, it is active.
- When we listen well, we listen expectantly; prepared to hear what the other has to say, not simply waiting our turn to talk again.
- When we listen well, we deliberately make ourselves open and receptive, prepared for the possibility that what the other has to say might change our own point of view, not simply waiting our turn to push our own argument.
- When we listen well, we review what we have heard to make sure we have heard it properly.
All these aspects of listening apply equally, whether we are listening to God or to the people in our lives.
Intentionally listening to God is prayer. We often give it the name ‘contemplative prayer’. We sometimes don’t give it the same attention as intercessory or confessional prayer, or time spent praising God, but it’s a very important discipline. Sometimes contemplative prayer is where we find our other prayers answered!
Contemplative prayer is hard for us, though, because the first thing we need to do as we attempt to listen to God, is to be silent and still ourselves, and that does not come naturally. Even five minutes of quiet can be a challenge!
Some practical ideas that can help:
- Find or create a space where you can be quiet for at least a little time each day, in your home or maybe your garden.
- Use a physical reminder of God, like a candle or flowers, a cross or a picture.
- Begin by meditating on a Bible verse.
- Journal for a few minutes to start if it helps you settle down.
- Physical stillness isn’t always necessary. The repetitive movement of walking can be calming and prayerful, though it might be best to take a quiet route that you don’t have to think about very much.
If we have no habit of silence before God, it will be challenging at first. It’s best to start simply and go from there. Don’t be discouraged. Just be faithful. Ask God to meet you in the silence and understand that the practice good listening is just that: something we have to practice.
Psalm 46 describes God as “an ever-present help” in the midst of the chaos of the world. In verse 10 He invites us, in the midst of all that chaos: “Be still and know that I am God.” As a community of believers, whether we are together or on our own, let’s take up the practice of being still before God and listening for His voice in our lives.