By Deana Rogers
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message). The Word that spoke the palm tree into existence sat down at the dinner table for conversations with his friends. Do you ever wish you could have had a seat at that table?
Or, on the other hand, how many times have you heard someone say, “When I get to heaven, the first thing I am going to ask God is . . .”?
We long for the intimacy of a face-to-face conversation. Oh, the things we would talk about if only we had that kind of access. The season of Advent reminds us that we live in the middle of Jesus’ first coming and when he will come again. We hear a lot about the tension of the “now, but the not yet.” I wonder, though, if sometimes we limit our middle-ness to something that it isn’t—especially when it comes to hearing from God.
There are lots of words in the Bible for prayer. One of my new favorites is intercession. The definition of intercession in the original languages of the Bible is to “meet together,” “to fall in with,” “to go to meet a person, especially for the purpose of conversation.”
Talking and listening. Asking and pausing to hear. Paying attention to the One with whom I am speaking.
I grew up thinking prayer was pretty much about me talking to God. I adored, confessed, thanked, and made my requests. “In Jesus’ name, amen” was the end. Up from my knees and into bed. Done with the service and out to meet my friends. I don’t remember being encouraged to listen. I thought it was my responsibility to ask and then go figure out the answer.
But what if there was an answer to my ask? A nudge to my request to bless others? A “love you more” to my “I love you”?
What if prayer is not only the privilege of speaking to God, but also of hearing from him?
I have been hanging out lately with friends who are teaching me to be more intentional about listening. It is so good. We pray together, often with our palms open, and ask God to speak his truth to us. And then we are quiet. We listen. We often hear.
Can I just say that it is a million times better than trying to figure out the answer in our own heads?
A quick word about posture. There is nothing magical about the posture of our bodies when we pray, but there is something beautiful about how it reflects the posture of our hearts. If you are in a place when you pray where you can get down on your knees, do it. We have been invited to the throne room of the King. And open your hands, lift them up if you want to. If you search the Bible for “folded hands,” the only place you will find those two words in the same sentence is in Ecclesiastes 4:5, and the reference is to fools. Folding hands so you don’t goof around when you pray is an old Sunday school tactic. Search again for “hands” and “prayer,” and you will find that hands throughout the biblical narrative are lifted up in prayer. No one prays with their hands in their pockets.
It’s not that I have gone my whole life so far unaware of God’s voice. My consistent place to hear it has been his Word, which is a really perfect place to grow accustomed to the things he says. But pausing to listen during prayer is a discipline that I am learning to practice with intention. Listening for God’s voice might sound kind of mysterious at first, but we have to get over that. If your mind is immersed in Scripture, you will recognize his voice. He has been speaking to his people since Genesis, and we are in the same story those people were in. God wants us to know his heart. He wants to answer our questions. He wants to nudge us toward those in need so we can be his hands and feet.
Maybe you have noticed lately that after Riccardo has finished teaching, he has been inviting us to stay in the silence and be attentive to what the Holy Spirit may be saying. Before we respond in our usual ways of singing, giving, praying, and participating in communion, we are being invited to listen. We are learning to be attentive to the Spirit’s promptings.
How do we hear God’s voice? How do we discern between what he is saying and what we want to hear him say? My dad tells a story about a time when he was invited to take care of his friend’s sheep while his friend went on a trip. Several weeks before he left, the friend asked my dad to come over at feeding time. He instructed my dad to call out to the sheep, “Baaa . . . .” Puzzled, my dad did as he was instructed—with no response whatsoever from the sheep. When his friend, the shepherd of the sheep, called “Baaa . . . ,” the sheep responded to his voice and came to be fed. It took weeks of consistent hearing for the sheep to recognize my dad’s voice. When the time for his friend’s trip arrived, my dad was able to call the sheep to eat because, over time, they had grown accustomed to his voice. Later in life, after my dad became a Christian, he was awed to come upon Jesus’ words in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” We grow accustomed to Jesus’ voice when we consistently live within earshot of it. We read his Word. We listen. We respond to his promptings. We listen to the way he speaks to others in our community and learn from them. We give attention to our Shepherd.
We have not been left alone in the “now, and the not yet.” The Holy Spirit is in the room with us. He is the presence of God in our going-to-work, studying-for-exams, doing laundry everyday existence. He meets us for coffee.
The One True God has made his dwelling among us and has invited us into a daily, hourly, moment-by moment conversation. We long for the “not-yet” when our eyes will see that God has made his dwelling with us, but in the middle, let’s become listeners, attentive to his voice, and continually aware of his presence.