I lead a lot of day retreats that have at the heart of them a number of hours to be alone and quiet in listening prayer. I led one on Friday. Earlier this year, one participant shared a conversation she had with a pastor who suggested that “There is no biblical precedent for listening prayer.” I found that an interesting comment. Below are some “bullets” of initial response I journaled later that day:
- The whole of the scriptures are an extended story of conversation after conversation between God and people. Such a conversation obviously involves listening as well as speaking. Why would we expect things to be different in our era when we believe that God is now fulfilling everything the scriptures have been about? Why should we resist the expectation that God would speak today?
- If there is no listening to God’s voice, there is no real need for the biblical practice of discernment.
- We theologize away gifts of the Spirit that imply hearing God’s voice. Is this really biblical, or might it actually be an argument from lack of experience?
- Ecclesiastes 5 speaks of drawing near to listen to God.
- Why do we translate biblical occasions of the word “listen” into the practical equivalent of “read” (i.e. “The Bible”)? The scriptures speak of both reading and listening.
- To make ourselves comfortable that listening to God is a misguided idea, we highlight the weirdest, most distorted stories we can find of people hearing and trusting weird things that they attribute to God.
- Jesus said he only spoke the words the Father said. How did He know what those words were if He did not hear them from the Father, presumably in prayer? Is it not possible (likely?) that part of our following Jesus involves expecting something similar in our own experience?
- There are those who would say that we have the scriptures, so we don’t need God’s voice today. Why do we think this? Do we not see God speaking even in the book of Acts? Do we not see evidence of God’s voice in the church fathers? Seasons when the word (read “voice”) of God was rare were not good seasons for the people of God, but times of great distance from God. Why would we think this different today?
- Even some who don’t believe in listening prayer will seek to authorize a decision or action by speaking of “feeling led.” How does one discern this “being led” apart from some variety of listening?
- Even with all the misguided stuff that was going on at Corinth in terms of their “hearing God’s voice” and such, Paul never urges them to stop listening or stop practicing certain spiritual gifts, but rather gives strong direction for how to do so properly and rightly.
- What human-to-human relationship ever comes to a point where conversation is no longer needed? Why do we expect that our relationship with God would come to such a point (as in a theology of God’s ceasing to speak to His people)?
- Without some sense of the voice of God, even in our engagement with scripture, I don’t see how you don’t end up with the Christian life as mostly knowing about God rather than knowing God Himself and personally.
- Without some element of the mystery of hearing God’s voice, I don’t know how knowledge does not eventually puff a person up instead of building them up.
I’d be grateful for your interaction here. What has been your experience of listening to God? Positive ones? Negative ones?
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