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How Do We Listen to God?

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 How Do We Listen to God?.  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:

  1. nature
  2. providential directing of our lives
  3. lessons in human history
  4. conscience
  5. Scripture
  6. 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.


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  • Anonymous

    Nature? Come on. Where is there evidence that nature comes from god rather than natural selection writ large? (attribution)

    Providential directing? Except for all the accidents and unnecessary deaths and injuries that result. (assumption)

    Lessons in human history? We take from history what we put into it. (attribution)

    Conscience? Account for the bicameral brain, please and show this ‘ghost’ in the machinery. (attribution)

    Scripture? Why so many factual errors in each of the supposed Holy Books? Please account for the lack of a coherent message, delivered in a timely fashion, to reveal a concise divine agency. (assertion)

    Christ in the Gospel? You mean Jesus? The hater of fig trees and bringer of eternal damnation and everlasting torment? (assertion)

    None of these reveal a kind of message that can only be explained by a divine interventionist agency. But we DO know is that intercessory prayer is not efficacious. This is a important clue…

  • Cedric Katesby

    The beauty of such profound advice is that it works for inanimate objects too or even invisible beings made up purely from fantasy.
    Behold:

    “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 a jug of milk, 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 a jug of milk’s voice as we can hear the voice of another human being. True, but we can hear a jug of milk’s voice in other ways. We hear it in nature, which is it’s art. We hear it in it’s providential directing of our lives, and in the lessons in human history, and in the “still, small voice” of our conscience, a jug of milk’s interior prophet. We hear it loud and clear in the labeling on the jug, it’s inspired contents and fat level deliberately given to us. One way of praying is listening to the jug of milk’s voice in the label, reading the label as the jug of milk’s Word—which is exactly what it is!

    And the best listening, the listening that gets the closest to the jug of milk’s heart, the listening that hears the most total revelation of the jug of milk, is listening to the cream at the top, the jug of milk incarnate, the jug of milk in the flesh, “very jug of milk of very jug of milk”. “The Word of the jug of milk” means the label only secondarily; primarily it means the cream at the top. In the words of the dairy company, the cream at the top is “the jug of milk’s one, perfect, and unsurpassable Word. In it, it has said everything; there will be no other word than this one” . Praying by reading the label prayerfully and “listeningly” is one of the very best ways to pray.”

    The best optical illusion in the world!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jk6ILZAaAMI

  • Pilgrim

    Christian prayer is a lot different than any other kind of “prayer” because Christian prayer is connected to the life and work of Christ. If Christ did not continue to function then our prayers would be in vain and void of reality.

    Jesus Christ lived the only perfect life and God intended for Him to live this kind of life on earth, but Jesus did not live it on His own. He abided in His Father’s love and His Father’s will. “I can of mine own self do nothing:” (John 5:30; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10), Jesus said, “but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.”

    Jesus lived the life of the perfect man for every minute of his life for 33 years because He loved His Father’s word and chose to receive His Father’s word…All of His Father’s word, regardless of how painful receiving His Father’s word and obeying it might be. He loved and trusted His Father.

    Psa 40:8 I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.

    Psa 40:9 I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O LORD, thou knowest.

    He became as One who had absolutely nothing thereby putting Himself in the position of having to receive everything from His Father. He emptied Himself of everything (Phil 2). He trusts that He will receive everything He needs from His Father and Jesus entrusted everything to His Father. This is how He lived every minute of every day. His life was controlled and upheld by the grace of God. In taking the position of a branch who willingly abided in His Father’s will, He became the Tree of Life to all who trust in Him. God triumphed in His Son and He wants to triumph in many more sons through Jesus Christ. But we must all take the position that Jesus took in order for God to triumph in and through us (thereby bringing answered prayer).

    Jesus asked and He received, he knocked and it was opened to Him, he sought the Father and found Him every single time.

    John 8:29 And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.

    This is how God triumphs in us. He triumphs in us through our asking, knocking and seeking. Our asking, knocking and seeking is a triumph in itself of God in man. And we always find Him when we ask and seek. He has promised that.

    Pro_8:17 I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.

    Jer_29:13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.

    When our Lord was on earth as a man, He lived in faith and He prayed in faith and in all that He did and said and thought, He expressed the character of the One He was abiding in… His Father. In like manner, we are to express the character of our Father. As we express the character of our Father, our prayers are being answered, and we are finding the One we seek. We are being transformed into His likeness. His life of prayer was so that He may be obedient to His Father pleasing Him in all things unto the ultimate end, a spotless sacrifice for your sins and mine.

    In this life of abiding in Him (through the Spirit and prayer), the Christian life is not about what we do but what He does in us and through us. Everything in our lives is supposed to be Jesus Christ in action as we abide in Him and all that we are and do is BY HIS SPIRIT.

    This is the life of daily answered prayer.

    The Bible tells us that “Christ is our life” (Col. 3:4) and so as “Christ lives in me/us” (Gal. 2:20) He is also praying in me and through me. We have been joined to Him and are one spirit. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. 1Co_6:17

    Our prayers are not some concept of praying to a separated deity as unbelievers do. To unbelievers, there is a painful recognizable distance or chasm between them and their deity, but on the contrary, to the Christian there is the reality of Christ’s indwelling and immanent presence. That is spiritual union with Christ, “Christ in us the hope of glory.”

    As we remain one with Christ abiding in Him, He is expressing adoration and love and praise to God the Father through us. We have “been filled with the fruit of righteousness through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11) “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15).

    Christian prayer is nothing like non-Christian prayer. Christian prayer are the deep longings of a life joined with Christ. And the prayers of righteous men are answered every day. The evidence of answered prayer is the continual triumphant and daily work of God in His sons.

    The work of the Spirit of God within man is a daily testimony of God, answering prayers.

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