Note: This was originally posted on

Over the years, I have led hundreds of retreats that have at their center a few hours to be alone and quiet in listening prayer.

At one such retreat, one participant shared a conversation she had with a pastor who suggested there is no biblical precedent for listening prayer. I found that comment interesting, and as I reflected on it, I had many thoughts in response. Here are some bullet points that came to mind:

  • The whole of scripture is 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 resist the expectation that God would speak today?
  • If we are not listening to God’s voice, then there is no real reason 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 a lack of experience?
  • Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 speaks of drawing near to God and listening.
  • Why do we interpret biblical occurrences of the word “listen” into the practical equivalent of “read” (i.e., “the Bible”)? The scriptures speak of both reading and listening.
  • To convince ourselves that listening to God is a misguided idea, we highlight the weirdest, most distorted stories we can find of people hearing and trusting strange things that they attribute to God. This doesn’t help.
Unity: holding hands and praying together
  • Jesus said he only spoke what he heard the Father saying. How did he know what those words were if he did not hear them from the Father, presumably in prayer? Is it not possible (even likely) that part of our following Jesus involves expecting something similar in our own experience? He does say that his sheep follow him because they know his voice (John 10:4).
  • There are those who say that because we have the scriptures 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 lives of the early church fathers and mothers?
  • Seasons when the word (read “voice”) of God was rare were dark times in which the people of God experienced great distance from God. Why would we think this is any different today?
  • Even those who don’t believe in listening prayer will seek to authorize a decision or action by saying they “feel led.” How does one discern this “being led” apart from listening?
  • Even with all the misguided stuff that was going on in the church at Corinth in terms of “hearing God’s voice” and such, Paul never urges them to stop listening or practicing certain spiritual gifts. Rather, he 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?
  • Without some sense of God’s voice, even in our engagement with scripture, the Christian life ends up as mostly knowing about God rather than knowing God personally. Without some element of the mystery of hearing God’s voice, that knowledge eventually puffs a person up instead of building them up.

Reflection

What has been your experience of listening to God? Has it been positive? Negative? I’d welcome your responses to these thoughts.

Alan Fadling serves as a spiritual director, frequent speaker, consultant, and retreat leader with local churches and national organizations such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Halftime Institute, Apprentice Institute, Saddleback Church, and Open Doors International. He speaks from the intersection of spiritual formation and leadership, with content that is approachable, usable, and transferable.

For more information about his ministry, visit him and his wife, Gem, at www.unhurriedliving.com.

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