How to Listen to God
We often come barreling into prayer with our lists and plans and agendas as if the purpose of prayer is to get the things WE want accomplished.
“Lord, bless me,”
“Lord, give me,”
“Lord, help me,”
“Lord, do this,”
“Lord, do that.”
For most of us, prayer is overwhelmingly a one-way street, a monologue instead of a dialogue.
But the key to true prayer—deep, sweet prayer—is the same as the secret of dancing well: one person leads, and one person follows. Guess which one is you?
That’s why the prayer of reflection is such a wonderful way to pray. It is the practice of listening to the Shepherd’s voice. It’s obeying the command of Scripture as we enter the presence of God:
Guard your steps… Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.
Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2, NIV)
If we do not cultivate the discipline of reflection, we do ourselves–and God–a great disservice. As one writer has said, “Prayer is a dialogue, not a monologue recited by men in God’s presence” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer, trans. by A. V. Littledale, Geoffrey Chapman, Ltd., 1961, p. 12).
And Robert Benson agrees. He says,
I need to listen, listen for the prayer of God that is rising in my heart, perhaps for the prayer that I should be praying rather than the one that I am praying (Robert Benson, Living Prayer, p. 134).
I think that is a large part of what it means to pray “in the name of Jesus”: to think God’s thoughts after Him.
But it doesn’t happen by accident, or even on the way to anyplace else. It happens in the silent moments. After reading, sometimes. Or while listening to birdsong. Or brooksong.
To an onlooker, the prayer of reflection may look suspiciously like a daze, or like daydreaming or even napping. But author Avery Brooke expressed it well:
Deeper, wordless contemplation is something that we may experience either in church, in those blessed pauses between words, or in quiet times alone when we cease our words of prayer, put down our Bibles, and realize that God is both very near and familiar and yet beyond all knowing. We feel that we would like to know God so well that we could sit still for an hour in silent companionship, as with an old friend. (“What is Contemplation?” Weavings, July/August 1992, p. 9)
If you’ve experienced the prayer of reflection, you know what she means. If not, you are in for a wonderful treat, a sublime discovery…if you will take the time, enter the quiet place of your own heart and mind, and sit with God for a few minutes, praying the prayer of reflection.
When God Says ‘No’
How to adjust when the answer to a prayer isn’t what you wanted.
by Bob Hostetler |
My mother was hospitalized with breast cancer the summer of my 14th year. Day after day that summer, I knelt at a crude altar at a church camp in Missouri, praying for her healing, begging God not to let my mother die.
God answered my prayer. The answer was “no.” She died on September 29 that year.
Maybe you can remember similar moments when you prayed, and God answered…with a “no.” And no matter how many testimonies of answers to prayer you may hear, no matter how many books you read extolling the power of prayer, it’s the times when the answer has been “no” that stick in your mind–and in your throat.
But you are not alone. In fact, the Bible records instances when the prayers of even the greatest saints of God were answered with a “no.” And they can teach us a thing or two to help us adjust our prayers at such times.
1) Make sure your heart is right.
Moses was a man of great faith. But after leading his people out of slavery in Egypt right to the very threshold of the land of promise, he prayed, “Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan” (Deuteronomy 3:25, NIV). And God said “no.”
Why? Because the children of Israel–and Moses himself, in fact–had disobeyed God, and that disobedience blocked the answer to Moses’ prayer.
When the answer is “no,” ask yourself if your prayers are being hindered because your heart is not right.
2) Consider whether the time is right.
Few names in the Bible shine as brightly as the prophet Elijah’s. After he routed the prophets of the false god Baal on Mt. Carmel, he took off for the desert and, after a full day’s journey, came to rest under a tree.
There, Elijah–the great champion of God, the great man of faith and prophet of Israel–prayed, “Let me die.” God said “no.”
Why? Apparently God still had things for Elijah to do (1 Kings 19:15-17). And God did eventually answer Elijah’s prayer, in a manner of speaking, by suddenly taking him up to heaven in chariots of fire (2 Kings 2:11, NIV).
Sometimes, when the answer is no, you might consider whether God said no because the timing wasn’t right…and find hope and encouragement in knowing that He knows best.
3) Ponder whether the prayer is right.
More than anyone else, the Apostle Paul was responsible for the rapid and effective spread of Christianity throughout the civilized world of the first century. His inspired writings form the foundation of the doctrine of the church. But he got a “no” from God, too.
He asked three times for God to take away a “thorn in the flesh,” something that caused Paul much trouble and frustration. But God said “no.”
Why? Paul answered the question himself. Because the prayer was not right. Paul did not see–until God pointed it out to him somehow–that his “thorn in the flesh” was being used by God for a purpose.
Sometimes the answer is “no” because the prayer itself is not right. Such instances call for surrender–and revision. There may be a different prayer we need to pray instead.
The solution to unanswered prayers lies not in changing God’s mind (for He is wise and always doing what is best) but in adjusting how we pray.
Here are some prayers that God can’t resist.
by Bob Hostetler |
7 Prayers God Always Answers
Like everyone, I have experienced many answers to prayer. As the axiom goes, “Some were answered ‘yes,’ some ‘no’ and some ‘not now.’”
But I have learned that there are some prayers God can’t resist. Some prayers He answers with alacrity. Some prayers seem to spur God to act. Here are seven such prayers:
1) I surrender.
Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37, ESV). God honors and accepts any act of surrender, large or small.
2) Bring Your kingdom; have Your way.
Jesus taught his followers to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, ESV). Learning to pray this sincerely—and specifically—can transform your praying and your living. It is not only a prayer He taught us to pray, it is one He is anxious to answer
3) Forgive me.
No one who has sincerely asked for God’s forgiveness has ever been denied. He is “good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon [Him]” (Psalm 86:5, ESV).
4) Lead me.
Do you need guidance in making a decision? Do you crave strength to face a challenge? Do you want God’s purpose to be accomplished in a specific area of your life? Pray like the psalmist: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing” (Psalm 143:10, NLT). Though you may not always feel His hand holding yours, God will always answer when you ask Him to lead you.
5) Draw them to You.
The Bible says that God doesn’t want anyone to perish; He wants everyone to come to repentance and experience new, abundant life in Christ (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, whenever you pray for God to have mercy on someone and draw that person closer to Himself, He will answer. It may not seem that way. It may not happen as quickly as you would like or in the way that you had in mind, but when His will and your praying agree with each other, He will answer.
6) Use me.
The Bible records the earliest Christians praying, not for deliverance from hardship or persecution, but for God to “enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness” (Acts 4:29, NIV). And God answered their prayer, as He will respond to any of His servants who pray to be used. However, a warning is in order: Brace yourself when you pray to be used, because you may be surprised at how He answers.
7) Make me like You.
God loves to answer when a follower of Jesus prays to be made to look and act more and more like Jesus Christ, because that is what He wants and a work He has already begun in you (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, 1 John 3:2).
These are not the only prayers God can’t resist, perhaps. But I’ve never known Him to turn down a single one of them. He has told us to pray these prayers, and over and over again has proven Himself willing and anxious to hear and answer them.