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The case for listening prayer

Get a Free eBook: Do you want to grow closer to God in your prayer times? I’ve written a free guide called The Three Day Listening Prayer Devotional and I’d love for you to download it. Click here to download the free devotional. Vicki Gross was struggling with the concept …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Get a Free eBook: Do you want to grow closer to God in your prayer times? I’ve written a free guide called The Three Day Listening Prayer Devotional and I’d love for you to download it. Click here to download the free devotional.

Vicki Gross was struggling with the concept of listening prayer, and described a breakthrough that the Lord gave her.  “I was on a school bus full of jabbering, yelling kids.  My son was in the back of the bus.  There were 20 rows of children making noise between us, but as I listened, I could make out the distinctive voice of my boy in the back.  To anybody else who didn’t know him, his voice would have blended into the cacophony, but because I know him, I recognized his voice.  The Lord showed me, ‘That’s how you recognize my voice, too.  Because you know me, you recognize my voice, even above life’s noise.'”

God’s voice is distinctive.  He promises that we, his sheep, will hear it.  The more you pause and listen for his voice, the more you will find that your ears tune in to it – you become familiar with it.  It just requires your listening.
Over and over we see the example of a God interacting with people, a God who is endlessly creative in how he has communicated with people, a God who implores us to seek him with all our hearts, who declares that in doing so we’ll find him.  Scripture gives multiple injunctions to listen for his voice.  Jesus asks his disciples to listen to his voice. We see many examples of the New Testament church receiving direction from God as they do so.  Paul gets visions and dreams, the Holy Spirit speaks to him in multiple ways, and He gives instruction in Scripture as to how we’re to listen.
The Bible is the record of God speaking to man. He’s a communicator. He made us for fellowship with him. He communicates in ways we can understand. Most instances do not involve Scripture, and why not? Most people at the time didn’t read and didn’t even own copies of Scriptures.
But then layered on top of that issue is a rich history of God speaking to man extra-biblically from the time of Jesus till now – people like St. Patrick, Teresa, Brother Lawrence, and the like.
And then what are we to do with your experience and mine – experience that lines up with Scripture? I’ve interacted with hundreds of Christians around the world.  We are told to judge people by their fruit as opposed to the rightness of their beliefs.  What do we do with those who are bearing the greatest fruit, adding new believers and churches at incredible rates, a group that testifies it is largely because of the specific direction of the Lord that they have borne this fruit?
Or what do we do with our own personal experience that, again, lines up with Scripture?  A critic says, “Experience is by nature subjective and unreliable.”  But all of us are influenced by our experience to some degree!  There is an empiricist in all of us.  There is an entire state (Missouri) whose motto is, “The Show Me state.”  Many disbelieved Christopher Columbus’ testimony about the new world.  Why?  He had experienced it and they hadn’t. No theology can remove the subjectivity inherent in the way we process our experience. Scripture itself repeatedly appeals to experience as a source of credibility:
  • “We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty,” (2 Peter 1:16),
  • “We testify to what we have seen,” (John 3:11)
  • “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)
I’ve been fortunate as a missionary to see the church growing at an incredible rate in places like China, Latin America, and Africa.  In most instances, this spectacular growth has been shepherded by men who not only trusted God to speak in many ways, but followed his guidance in praying for blind eyes to be opened and the dead to be raised.  And the fruit has been amazing!  Pupils have been miraculously formed where before there were only blind eyes.  Dead people have been resuscitated.  One of my best friends is a man who was judged dead by a top U.S. doctor, and then after being prayed for, came back to life.  And more importantly, the resulting testimonies are a large part of what has fueled the growth of the church.  It looks very much like the New Testament church.
So, we’ve got these four sources of data:
  1. Examples in Scripture,
  2. The injunctions of Jesus and the New Testament writers as to how to listen,
  3. Personal experience,
  4. The experience of those followers of Jesus around the world who are bearing the most fruit (as judged by the growth rates of the particular kinds of churches being planted).
Most of us believe God loves us not because of exegesis, but because we have actually felt that love in some way.  I’ll bet the main reason people don’t believe God speaks outside the Bible is because they’ve not heard Him.  If they were to have the experience, their theology would change.  Paul heard him and he believed.  I wasn’t looking for him, but He spoke to me and I believed.  He spoke to me initially through my mother, then through Scripture, then through His voice that appeared to me as audible as if my ears had heard Him.  What am I to do with that?  The Bible vouches for its credibility because it was written by those who saw and heard Christ.  We’re encouraged to share our experience with one another by testifying because it helps bolster our faith.  
In contrast, critics use one passage – Hebrews 1:1-2 – that has been taken out of the context of its Hebraic Christology to try and prove that God has changed the way he interacts with humans.
It’s an argument that would never stand up in court. And what critics advocate doesn’t resonate with the relational character of God.  Suppose, for example, you had a son. And in raising him, you communicated verbally with him until he reached the age of 16.  During that time he came to expect verbal communication from you.  But then one day, instead of speaking to him, suppose you laid your journal before him as your new form of communication and that you did so without ever explaining why. 
Wouldn’t your son be confused? He’d wonder not only why you changed your method of communication, but also, why you didn’t explain the switch.  Your son would struggle to understand you.  That’s what the critics of listening prayer want us to believe.
I’m so glad that God spoke to me and told me he loved me. I knew from the Bible that he did, but when he spoke to my heart, it didn’t violate the canon in any way – rather, it confirmed everything I’d hoped about a personal God.
For more on why listening prayer is normal for Christians, go here.
Get the free devotional: Deepen your intimacy with God as you pray through this three-day devotional on Listening Prayer. Click here to download the devotional.

The Art of Listening Prayer

Comments (9)

  • Ma. Gay R. Maruyama

    This is very well thought article! The examples are easy to relate with and one can really understand what the writer is explaining about.You are indeed a very good communicator and I wish you more power to write more articles about man’s relationship with God.I have been raised a Catholic and in my young days I felt so close to God, thanks for the nuns in my school who really taught us so patiently in our Religion class. I remember how good it felt when I know that God is so close to me that I can easily talk to Him, and even ask Him whatever I need to have!Sad to say I lost the connection along the way…but now I am trying hard to reconnect and indeed this article is a very appropriate material to read!God Bless You SEth and of course Vicky Gross for sharing your experience and using your gift on communication to spread the knowledge that there is indeed GOD who is just around waiting for us to approach Him anytime!

  • Those reading this will interpret this through one of two ways: The western world view, or the eastern world view. As a westerner, I grew up thinking there had to be a scientific answer to everything.

    After meeting Jesus in college, my life changed but my world view stayed the same. It wasn’t until later on while pastoring that God rocked my world. My eyes and heart began to view things differently.

    Oh how things have changed! It is so good to hear His voice and to see things more through His perspective. I encourage those of you out there who might not adhere to “listening prayer” and regular supernatural events in your life, CRY OUT TO GOD!

    WE REALLY ARE HIS SHEEP AND HIS SHEEP HEAR HIS VOICE (Jn.10) and for that I am so grateful.

    Bless you all!

    The Norwegian Easterner from Boise, Idaho!

  • I’ve always believed I could hold a conversation with GOD. My 1st experience with GOD was Him speaking to me. I’ve heard Him several times since then. I look forward to hearing from in the very near future.

  • Great blog Seth. It took a lot for me to push past my fears of hearing from God, brought on by a view of God as a Judge and not a Father, but when I did it changed my life. It’s still opening me up to the deeper places of who He is, the love behind the words on the pages of my Bible.

  • To think that God would sacrifice His Son so that He could have relationship with us…and then choose to be mute is unfathomable to me! You really need to decide for yourself if you believe that the following statements where meant for just His disciples of for us too:

    “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” (John 16:13-15)

    If you believe that this is our birthright as sons and daughters of a relational God, He will begin to speak to you through Scriptures, other believers, non-believers and whatever else He chooses to communicate His love.

    If you believe that this kind of relationship has ended, or was only for the 12, then you are relegated to a life of nostalgia, pining after your beloved through “love letters” and recollections. Your Lord does not live in your heart, but only in your mind.

    I live the former and I can’t imagine it any other way.

    Paul told the Romans of a new way of living, not by the written code, but by the Spirit: “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6)

    Why would God free us from a written code, write His Law on our hearts…then after centuries, go back to life by the written code?

    In the words of Nicole C. Mullins (My Redeemer Lives):

    “I know He lives…I spoke with Him this morning!”

  • Thanks for your encouragement, Kelly, Scott, Glenn, Bob (and others who’ve commented). I think Jesus speaks to most frequently through his body – people like you!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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