Listening to God
Listening to God; What on Earth does that Mean?
One of my favourite stories about Jesus is Mark 1, where soon after calling his first disciples by the Sea of Galilee Jesus finds himself overrun by people wanting to be healed. His big heart goes to all of these people who are suffering and he wants to heal them all. But I think Jesus never imagined that there were so many needing healing and just how time consuming and draining it could be. He is challenged by the big question, “Is this what my ministry is going to be from now on?” He needs to sort it out but he hasn’t got a moment to think about it because the sick are still around at bedtime and they are queued up at the door at sunrise.
At this moment, I think Jesus sounds like so many contemporary Aussies. So busy with so many important and good things to do and people to see but not enough time to actually answer the question, “Is this what life is all about? Am I doing what is most important or merely what is most urgent?”
Jesus’ way of dealing with this is revealed in Mark 1:
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
Jesus got up before everyone else did (let’s call it 4.30am for the sake of the argument) and went off to a “solitary place” where there was no passing foot traffic or other accidental human encounter, and prayed. But his prayer was not merely talking to God about his questions but involved listening to God for answers. Jesus received his answer from God. This is it: ‘I will not become merely a healer of the sick because my prime purpose is to tell people about the grace and forgiveness of God shown in me. Therefore, I will have a traveling ministry focussed on preaching. Healing will illustrate my preaching about grace, it will not be allowed to replace it.’
Jesus received his answer but I doubt he heard it with actual literal words. Instead, I believe he ‘heard’ it as many millions have since that time; through a strong sense of ‘rightness’ about something whilst dwelling in the quiet presence of God. Have you ever allowed enough space and time in your life for this to happen you?
Our lives are so pressured and even when they are not we fill up the space and time with TV, radio, sport, conversation, games and other pleasures. In Frost’s book “Surprise the World” he recommends that we find 20 minutes once a week to be totally on our own and silent before God. He recommends 20 minutes because most people cannot slow down their mind and its endless distractions in under 10 minutes. Like an athlete pushing through the pain barrier, we must push through 10 minutes or so of agitated thinking in order to still enough and silent enough to actually hear God. The “still small voice” that Elijah heard that changed the future direction of his life.
Up to now, it sounds like we should be using such a valuable form of prayer only when we have big issues going on in our life like Jesus in Mark chapter 1. But you would be wrong. Jesus, Paul the apostle, and many others used this style of prayer to help them in their day to day following of God. Paul in particular often asked God who he should bless next. He listened and God showed him. Acts 16:6-10 is a good example.
Frost suggests that this 20 minute, once a week solitary listening prayer can become a habit in your life that will complement and inform your other new habits of 3 x blessings and 3 x meal fellowships. After all who will you bless and who will you break bread with? Perhaps God will lead you to particular people amongst all those you encounter?
Once this prayer is habitual, the desire to listen for God’s voice will enter into other times and places in your life and you will discover what many have before you, that God is working all the time right beside and before you. Such is God’s great love.
May you hear the ‘still small voice’ every week,