Many of the methods of prayer being presented in these devotions have a lot of cross over. The importance isn’t in what they are called or how they are categorized. Our prayer is simply to present ways to draw near to Jesus in order for you to grow in your prayer and spiritual journey. Remember, pray as you CAN; not as you can’t. Try a few prayer practices on for size and see how they “fit” with you, your schedule, temperament, personality, etc. Listening prayer is sometimes called contemplative prayer, and some people use the term centering prayer. It involves - as you might expect - more listening than talking or doing.
When we think about prayer, listening isn’t often the first thing we think of. But prayer is communion with God and involves some silence to listen to His heart as well as expressing things on your heart and in your mind. It takes some practice to strengthen our listening to God muscles, but it is oh so worth it!
I used to think, “If God would only speak more clearly, I would follow Him more closely.” Does that sound familiar? Then I noticed at unexpected times - when I was still and quiet - I could hear/sense God’s still, small voice within me. Through the years and with much practice, listening prayer, or contemplative prayer, has become my primary prayer practice. I find closeness most often with God in silence. It is coming to God empty handed, ready for whatever He has for you. It is the discipline of slowing down to be poised and ready to hear HIS still, small voice. Throughout the Psalms, David models someone who waits on God, and I have found it very rewarding in my life on many levels. In fact this type of prayer has been called the only type of prayer that has “muscle memory.” I find in my life it helps my overall focus, it helps me listen to everyone better - not just God, it helps me trust when the Holy Spirit is speaking to me vs. simply my emotions or desires, it helps me see God’s activity around me more acutely and it calms me down and soothes any anxieties I might have. Even secular literature touts the benefits of meditation and silence and solitude.
Sitting at the feet of Jesus is not a popular practice. In fact it can even seem frightening. Perhaps that is because we are often afraid of what we might hear, or learn about ourselves. When we quietly wait on God, the Holy Spirit often speaks penetrating words - some of conviction, or love, or even no words at all. Sometimes the Spirit reminds me of conversations or comments I made that were not edifying. I may need to ask forgiveness from God and even from another person or group of people. We don’t often like these types of convictions, so avoid making space in our lives for the Holy Spirit to speak regarding them.
Just as often, I find myself reluctant to hear His affirmations of love and acceptance. I am His beloved. So are you. Many of us don’t wait in His presence long enough to let Him love us. We spend our prayer time “doing” things rather than simply being with God. I’ll never forget one time around 2000 my Spiritual Director at the time made the invitation for me to spend my personal retreat time (1/2 day) just allowing Jesus to love me. What? What does that look/sound like? How do I “do” that? What about all the books I brought, and the Bible study and the journal and the praise music??” What about you? How would you spend time simply allowing Jesus to love you? Brennan Manning says, “Simply showing up is a kind of loving. The readiness to conscientiously waste time with a friend is a silent affirmation of their importance in our lives.” This is a great description of what listening prayer is like. Just try showing up to hang out with God. Give it multiple attempts, and let go of your expectations of God and of yourself.
Another reason contemplative/listening prayer isn’t regularly practiced is we fear no words AT ALL. In fact, Richard Foster writes, “In the beginning it is wise to strive for uneventful prayer experiences." Most people are so afraid of wasting time, we become unable to enjoy the delight of simply being with Jesus. And yet, I submit God DELIGHTS for us to sit at His feet and simply be with Him. Having said that, be aware of “forcing” a word from God. While I believe strongly in a connection between practicing silence and hearing God, there can be problems when we come with the approach expecting God will speak at a certain time and in a certain way and we force something which may not be from God at all. Let yourself and let God off the hook.
INVITATION: Again, there is no formula, and pray as you CAN; not as you can’t. Below are some ways to get started into silence and solitude and listening prayer. Perhaps you might even give some time to considering if there might not be some intention behind the order of this verse: BE STILL……and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10. Might there be a promise from God in that verse?
Meditate on Scripture. This was discussed in the last devotion. Perhaps you have a favorite verse or phrase…..maybe its even the name of “Jesus.” Maybe its “The Lord is my shepherd.” Ponder this and meditate on your word, verse or phrase, going back to it as your mind wanders (and it will). Ask the Lord what He wants to say to you (Psalm 119:78)
Sing praises or psalms to God. Some people can focus and listen better with bodily involvement such as singing, or…..
Journal. Start by writing your prayers to God and wait and listen. Consider writing things you wish to tell God - maybe things going on in your life and family. Then listen and ask the Holy Spirit to provide wisdom and understanding. Some people like to write their own Psalm.
Pray and meditate using creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. (Psalm 19:1). Consider taking out your earbuds, turning off your phone and experiencing nature with only God as company. Take a long walk (more bodily involvement), or perhaps like the line from the movie Chariots of Fire: “When I run I feel His pleasure.” When do you feel God’s pleasure? Perhaps that very place is an invitation into enjoying the presence of God and prayer together? A few years ago I met with a young lady in Spiritual Direction who was thrilled to realize she could use her times of practicing ballet as prayer time. She somehow thought that wouldn’t “count” as prayer.
Developing ANY discipline or spiritual practice takes perseverance. Maybe all you can pray for at this point is the discipline to strengthen your prayer life - in whatever form it might take. Our flesh does not like to be trained and controlled. We want to be our own gods and masters. We are selfish. Our culture values busy-ness and we have learned this lifestyle. Its easy to find every “important” reason not to practice contemplative prayer. We feel more important and useful when we are busy. As we sit in silence, we will itch and squirm, our backs will ache, our stomachs will growl. Just like a toddler, we will be thirsty or need to use the bathroom. But as we sit with Him in faith and obedience, HE WILL HONOR our desire to know and hear Him. He did with me as He has with many people throughout the world and in many different cultures. Silence and listening prayer has been the most rewarding and enriching spiritual exercise I have ever put into practice. In fact, I would say it is my “bottom line” message to people - - - the power of silence and solitude in finding your true self and in finding intimacy with God. The journey is not always roses because typically there is some “housecleaning” to be done, but it is worth it!
Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird
When the Soul Listens by Jan Johnson
Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton