Sunday, 4 March 2012

Listening Prayer (Part 1- God speaks?)

A several years ago I was at a weekend retreat hosted by Horizon College and Seminary . They begin each year with a three day time of prayer, worship and fellowship.   It’s a great way to begin a year. I love getting away to seek God. Some of the most significant  times of spiritual growth in my life have happened at camps and retreats.The speaker at this particular retreat was Brad Jersak. Brad spoke on his personal journey into something that he affectionately called “Listening Prayer”. The teaching really left an impact on me for years to come. 
So what is listening prayer?

Simply put, Listening Prayer is the opening of our spiritual ears to listen to the voice of God, and the opening of our spiritual eyes to see behold the face of God. This approach to prayer is more than a one sided conversation or a grocery list of items. Listening prayer expects a dialogue with the Creator. Listening prayer seeks to hear and behold Christ, the voice of the Living God.

How does God speak to us ?

General Revelation– indirectly

God's revealing of Himself to humanity has come about in a couple of different ways. One of these ways is known as "general revelation" or "natural revelation." General revelation is something that all humanity has received. It is general in that it reaches all people in all times and in every place—nobody is without general revelation. There is some debate as to an exhaustive list of what constitutes a ‘general revelation’. I am not sure on some of the examples I’ve read in the past, such as ‘providence, circumstances and traditions’, but it when I think of general revelation I primarily think of the following two examples:

 a) Creation. 
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” -Psalm 19:1
God speaking through creation or the natural world means that when we look at the ‘cosmos’ around us we see the fingerprints of God. The more we fix our eyes on the wonder of creation, the more we must conclude that these things could not make themselves. Both the intricate design of creation and the way the universe appears to be fine-tuned for life declare that this couldn’t happen by chance. For more in-depth discussion of the revelation of God in creation check out the work of Dr. William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharis (  to name a few.

b) Conscience

General revelation also includes that which God has placed in our hearts; for example moral law: "Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law do by nature things required by the law ... they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness" (Romans 2:14-15).

Special Revelation-directly 

Special revelation can be defined as a supernatural communication from God that has been given to humanity. This communication can come in either oral or in written form. The truths revealed by special revelation could not be known through looking at unwritten tradition, nature, providence, history, our conscience, or any by reasoning process. God must reveal directly them to us. How then does God directly reveal Himself to us?

a) Scripture
I cannot conceive of daily communion with God without scripture at its centre. ~ N. T. Wright

Scripture is the telling of God’s interaction with humanity. It is the by-product of God stepping into the story of humanity and humanity preserving the story for future generations. Scripture is given by inspiration of God by which the whole Bible to be inspired in the sense that men were moved by the Holy Spirit to write the very work of Scripture. When we read Scripture we partner with the authors and voices of the past to see the God of all history. We share in the experiences, the struggles and the questions of authors long ago. Scripture is full of God’s ‘love letters’ to past generations. Reading scripture with an open heart is one of our primary ways of meeting with God of the cosmos. The practice of reading Scripture with the purpose of devotion and encounter is called Lectio Divina. This spiritual discipline follows this basic format:
Lectio Divina
Silencio – Preparation for spiritual reading, inner shift from control to receptivity from information to formation, from observation to obedience
Lectio – Reading/receiving
Meditatio – Processing, Nurture the thinking
Oratio – Response to God from the heart
Contemplatio – yielding and waiting upon God 
Incarnatio – Living out the text
Christ followers today receive spiritual illumination to enable them to understand the Scripture,(John 14:26) but God does not grant new revelations which are contrary to the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.(Jude 3) God does however grant revelation that is in step with the faith once handed down. (more on this later) The question every believer need to ask is... When did God once and for all hand down the faith? Was Jude talking about only scripture? Paul can help out here when he echoes Jude’s statements in the letter to the Colossians.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,  and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; - Colossians 2:9-11
Christ is the ‘once and for all’. The incarnation is God’s final word on His character, His substance, His essence. If you want to know what the fullest picture of God looks like, then keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. All of the words scripture must be read through the lens of The Word made flesh. Jesus is our hermeneutic!
Jesus is The Word made flesh. (John 1:1)

When we go to the Bible (the words of God), we learn about Jesus who has authority over all scripture. Scripture contains the words and revelation of God. We must remember that Jesus is the ultimate end goal of the book that tells his story – its telos.  The book is not the destination for a believer in and of itself.  This book is the place where I learn about Jesus who claims to be the final destination for our Christian lives. The whole of scripture is about one thing: Jesus.

The writer of the book of Hebrews puts it like this:

 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4) 
B) Beyond Scripture
You study the Scriptures, because you think that in them you will find eternal life. And these very Scriptures speak about me! Yet you are not willing to come to me in order to have life.- Jesus

An excerpt from “Can you hear me”- Brad Jersak 
Not so long ago, much of the church considered it offensive and even heretical to suggest that God might speak outside the bounds of scripture. The notion of extra-biblical revelation was suspect, maybe even cultic. The doctrine of cessationism taught that once the cannon of Scripture was complete, God had delivered his final word; when the last word of the book of Revelation was written, God ceased to speak....(however) The bible itself testifies and models how God’s voice may be heard through messengers , circumstances, and direct messages to our hearts.

We must allow scripture to inform our approach to special revelation. The most amazing thing about scripture is that scripture itself points us to an experience outside scripture! This is to say, Christians are not just people of the book, but people of The Person of Jesus; who is illuminated by the work The Holy Spirit. We follow the risen Lord, who is still active and speaking. We are not, as Paul says, ‘led by mute idols’ (1 Cor 12:2), but the God who speaks! 
So what does scripture teach us about hearing from God today? 

1. GOD is speaking! 

There are countless biblical promises that God will speak to us. (i.e. Jer. 33:1-3, John 10:1-5; John 16:12-16; Rev. 3:20)  

These passages and scores of others suggest, model and even command us to listen to God’s voice and converse with Him. It's not just a one side conversation either!  Note those texts that describe conversation with God, especially where they are embedded within the New Covenant promises. I.e. What has been provided for every believer because of Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension and the outpouring of his Spirit. 

2. Believers have the ability to hear the voice of the Lord. 

"My sheep hear my voice”- John 10:1-18  
It is easy to be critical of the statement “believers can hear from God”. Anyone who has spent some time in the church could probably give you a few examples of the misuse of hearing from God. (i.e. ‘God told me to marry you) I don’t think Jesus lets us off the hook! Jesus makes it clear that hearing from God is not just for ‘special people’ but for ALL that are apart of the flock. Jesus is our Good Shepherd guiding us by his voice. Jesus is speaking in creation, messengers, circumstances, and directly to our hearts.
 A really cool case study of God speaking to directly to a situation is found in Acts 16. 

“They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; 7 and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; 8 and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” - Acts 16:6-10
The Holy Spirit forbids them to speak the word in Asia, and Bithynia but sends a vision to Paul to go to Macedonia. Talk about divine revelation! This account in Luke-Acts is a beautiful example of the Holy Spirit partnering with people ready to hear the voice of God. Paul and his companions where open to letting the Spirit change there steps even though going to these places seemed like a perfectly logical thing to do. 

3. Believers have the ability to NOT hear the voice of Lord. 
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”- Revelation 3:20-  
It is important to point out that Jesus is speaking to a church, a body of believers, in Laodicea. You would think that the people of the church of Laodicea by all accounts should be hearing from God. Sadly this is not the picture we are given. Jesus presents Himself as standing outside a house and knocking on the door. When Jesus approaches this house, He finds the door shut. He takes the initiative to break down the barrier to fellowship. His "knock" is His initiative to break that barrier. Jesus invites us into fellowship with Him not only with His hand by knocking but with His voice. He is calling out to meet with us!
What is so intriguing about this story is that Jesus is not willing to preform a B&E (break and enter) to get inside the house. His love and respect for humanity's free will is so great that Jesus is not willing to force someone to fellowship with Him. BUT....Jesus is knocking! Jesus is calling out to us to come and fellowship with him! Are we willing to listen? 

4.The Holy Spirit is the voice of the Lord

I will send you the Helper, the Spirit of Truth- John 14:16
Holy Spirit is with us forever and dwells within/empowers us- John 14:17, Acts 1:8
Holy Spirit teaches and reveals to us Jesus’ teachings.  (John 15:26; 16:14-15)
Holy Spirit points to, uplifts, and glorifies Jesus the son. (John 16:14; 1 Corinthians 12:3)
“...that He (the Father) would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;” Ephesians 3:16-17

5. Community is key in helping believers in discern the voice of God. 
“As for prophets, let two or three speak, and the others evaluate what is said.”- 1 Corinthians 14:29 (KNT) 
The entire thrust of NT thought points to God's working through community. Paul even goes as far to say that individuals are members and parts of the greater body. (1 Corthinians 12) We need each other! 

6. We are encouraged to behold the Lord with the 'eyes of our heart'

Behold' and 'Lo,’ words which most often mean, 'Gaze, on purpose and with love, using the eyes of your heart' and especially 'at the Lord Jesus.' Beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus is an invitation and prescription found in John 14, John 16 (the words 'see'), Eph. 1 (eyes of the heart), Heb. 12:1-2 (fix your eyes on), or Col. 3:1-3 (set your 'minds' on). In Rev. 3:18ff, we are commanded to ‘get eye salve so you can see. 

MORE TO COME- My next blog will deal with some practical examples  and exercises of listening prayer. 


  1. A friend once told me he was talking to a pastor who insisted that God does not speak anymore. He asked the pastor "Do you feel called to ministry?" He replied "Yes, of course." My friend then asked, "Who called you?" The pastor had no answer.

    One college president I knew defended the notion of listening prayer by actually pointing to the Bible: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). In citing this verse he explained, “The Bible is our measuring rule for exploring the wisdom and communication of God not recorded in Scripture.”

    Great topic Paul!

    1. Thanks for sharing. Wonderful examples

    2. Thanks for sharing. Wonderful examples

  2. God bless you! God bless you! God bless you! This is one of the richest readings I've ever come across. I know the Holy Spirit lead me to this. If not for anyone, I know this was right on time just for me! This brought so much clarity,understanding and peace. Thank you so much and may God continue to favor you!