Listening Prayer

John EldredgeBy John Eldredge5 Minutes

Before Elijah’s triumphant prayer vigil, which called down the rain that broke the three-year drought, the mighty man of God had the famous showdown with the prophets of Baal, resulting in the execution of every one of them. Elijah then called down the rain, and after that we find him…running for his life from the evil Jezebel. (Don’t you just love the humanity of these characters? It makes the Bible so much more real, and their example so much more accessible to us!) God then spoke to Elijah again:

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11–12 NIV).

What a lovely phrase—”a gentle whisper.” A “still, small voice” as other translations have it. To hear that gentle whisper, we need to calm ourselves down. We quiet our hearts and do our best to shut out all drama. I do believe that as we grow in our intimacy with God, our ability to hear His voice grows, and we can recognize Him speaking in times of great trial. But it is not a good idea to start there or only reach out to hear from Him in urgent moments.

I will then take a simple question to bring before Him.

To be clear, I am not listening for an audible voice, as I would if you and I were talking. I am listening for His gentle voice within, for that is where Jesus dwells—within our very hearts (Ephesians 3:17).

These are the basic steps: Start with small and simple questions, yes or no questions if possible. Quiet yourself; pull away if you can to a quiet place and shut out all other distractions. Repeat the question as you pray and listen—that helps dial you in and keeps you focused. Bring your heart into a place of surrender.

Now, if l am having a hard time hearing God’s voice, or being certain that I have heard, I will sometimes try on one answer, then the other. Still in a posture of quiet listening, I will add to my prayers, “Are you saying yes, Jesus? Are you saying you want us to go?” Pause. Listen. “Or are you saying no—you don’t want us to go?” Often as we try on one answer or another, our spirit can feel the guidance of the Holy Spirit through a confirmation or a strong sense of reservation.

One other thing I have found helpful as I cultivate conversational intimacy is to first ask God a question I know the biblical answer to. For example, I will ask Him, “Do you love me, Jesus?” because I know the Scriptures have answered that, yes, beyond all doubt He does. It helps me warm up to the practice of listening because Jesus is able to say immediately, “Yes,” or, “Of course I do.” It also helps me address any fears that might come between God and me as I come back to the essential truths of our relationship. I am His son. He loves me.

Excerpt from Moving Mountains: Praying with Passion, Confidence, and Authority, courtesy of Thomas Nelson Publishing.