Post Author: Bill Pratt
Oftentimes you’ll hear pastors or priests tell us to listen to what God has to say to us, but how exactly are we supposed to do this? Should we expect God to communicate in a booming voice, much like he spoke to Moses on the mountain? If not like this, then how are we to understand this command to listen to God?
Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft introduces the concept of listening to God in his book Prayer For Beginners. An important step in learning how to pray is learning how to listen to God. So, how do we go about listening to God?
In a conversation, if you are the wisest, it makes sense for you to do most of the talking. If the other person is wiser, it makes sense for you to do most of the listening. The wiser the other is, the more listening you want to do. Well, prayer is conversation with God, and it makes no sense for us to do most of the talking. We ought to be listening most of the time.
But, you may object, we cannot hear God’s voice as we can hear the voice of another human being. True, but we can hear God’s voice in other ways. We hear him in nature, which is his art. We hear him in his providential directing of our lives, and in the lessons in human history, and in the “still, small voice” of our conscience, God’s interior prophet. We hear him loud and clear in Scripture, his inspired Word deliberately given to us. One way of praying is listening to God’s voice in Scripture, reading Scripture as God’s Word—which is exactly what it is!
And the best listening, the listening that gets the closest to God’s heart, the listening that hears the most total revelation of God, is listening to Christ, God incarnate, God in the flesh, “very God of very God”. “The Word of God” means the Bible only secondarily; primarily it means Christ. In the words of the Catechism, Christ is “the Father’s one, perfect, and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one” (CCC 65). Praying by reading the Gospels prayerfully and “listeningly” is one of the very best ways to pray.
Let’s review the ways we listen to God. Kreeft introduces 6 ways of listening to God in order of their effectiveness and importance:
- providential directing of our lives
- lessons in human history
- Christ in the Gospels
The implication of this ordering is that those who listen primarily in ways 1-4 are missing out on the 2 best ways to listen to God. They are starving themselves of his fuller revelation. There is nothing wrong with ways 1-4, but we mustn’t stop there. If we are going to hear the most from God, if we are going to get the “closest to God’s heart,” we must take seriously the reading of Scripture, and especially the reading of the Gospels.