Prayer: You Need to Take the Time to Listen

When I wanted to develop a deeper prayer life,

I chose as my mentors the praying people of the Bible. Their words gave me a language for my own prayers. They also taught me the need to listen to God—to wait on Him—before and as I pray.

This attitude of listening was a challenge to my activist tendencies. But as I studied my mentors from Scripture, I became convinced that the habit of waiting on God was key to a transformed prayer life.

Waiting in Silence

“My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation…. My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him” (Psalm 62:1, 5, nasb). There are different ways to wait on God, but perhaps the most intense is the one described here by David: waiting in silence. When we wait in silence, we give God an opportunity to communicate His thoughts to us. David closes Psalm 62 with two thoughts that God spoke to him during his silence: “Power belongs to God” and “Lovingkindness is Thine, O Lord” (verses 11,12, nasb). Though distressed by his circumstances and the wickedness of men, David found assurance in the character of God because he took time to listen to God.

A group of us were trying to learn to pray from God’s heart rather than from our own thoughts and emotions. One person shared a very difficult home environment. Our first inclination was to rush into prayer to ask God to rescue our friend from her painful circumstances. Instead, however, we spent several minutes in silence, asking God to prompt our hearts and minds to know what He wanted us to pray.

After waiting in silence, it was amazing how united we were in our asking. For about 15 minutes we built upon each others’ prayers. When we finished praying, I turned to our friend and asked, “Did you notice what God did not lead us to pray?”

Her immediate response was, “I certainly did. I think God must want to change me rather than my circumstances.”

We had entered the silence expecting God to use our prayers to change her circumstances, but God had something more important in mind for her. To accomplish His purpose, God changed what we asked of Him.

A Listening Attitude

Asking is the easy part of prayer; knowing what to ask is the difficult part. That’s why waiting on God is so critical when we intercede for one another.

How can you learn to listen to God before you rush into asking? Begin by placing yourself in a listening attitude. Think of a time when you were listening intently to someone. You focused your attention on them, you were quiet, and you absorbed their thoughts. That’s what you can do with God.

Solomon urged, “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God” (Ecclesiastes 5:2). Instead of blurting out your list of requests, enter into silence and stillness with one question: “Lord, what do You want me to ask of You concerning the need before me?” Expect God to remind you of a Scripture passage or to put a thought in your mind. If you have already decided what you think God wants to say, you will close your heart to any other thoughts from Him, so give Him the opportunity to say anything He wants to you.

Where’s your focus?

Another key to listening to God is to focus your attention on Him. One way to focus on God is to look at how He has acted in biblical history. In Acts 4, Jesus’ followers faced great danger. Their lives were threatened by the same people who had condemned and crucified Jesus a few months earlier. The disciples were told “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).

What would you pray in these circumstances? I can imagine asking God, “Protect us from these evil people. Don’t let us get caught proclaiming Your name.” But listen to what the disciples prayed (verses 24-30):

Sovereign Lord … you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.” Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

These threatened believers recalled a time in biblical history when people made threats against God. Then they traced God’s response in history. After reviewing how God’s victorious plan had involved suffering, the disciples did not ask God for safety, comfort, or an easy way out. They made two requests: one for boldness and one for miraculous works to give their bold words credibility. God answered their prayer.

From God’s Heart to Yours

If we are to co-labor with God through intercession, we need to learn to listen before we ask. Silence and waiting will not come easily at first, but as you practice this discipline, you will grow in it.

This week during your time of intercession, wait silently before God before you speak. As you become more comfortable with waiting, you will discover that your prayers are coming right from the heart of God.

“My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation…. My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him” Psalm 62:1, 5 (NASB)

Lee and his wife, Marilyn, recently retired after 59 years of ministry with The Navigators. Lee coauthored the Bible study guide Praying from God’s Heart (NavPress).

D! Excerpted from Discipleship Journal, Issue 111, May 1999. Used by permission of NavPress.

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  1. Such a simple yet awesome reminder that as we stop moving, talking, take time to be still, wait on Him and listen expectantly. Jesus demonstrated this as it is recorded in Mark 1:35. Thank you so much for this focus on hearing His voice.

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