More of the Holy Spirit: Listening Prayer
By Cameron Silsbee
Begin with prayer
Gather together as a Community in a comfortable setting with minimal distractions. Once everyone is settled, take a moment of silence in the presence of the Spirit and one another. After a moment, have one person read Luke 11v9-13 and then pray, asking God’s Spirit to grow you all in the coming weeks.
Read this overview
The story of the Scriptures opens with these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Gen. 1v1-2).” From the beginning of the story, the Spirit of God is present and active while also shrouded in a bit of mystery.
As we read the Scriptures, we learn more about the Spirit. The Spirit empowers people, comes upon people and leaves people, speaks through people, enables the miraculous to happen, shapes people, and is also a person. The fact that the Spirit is a person means that we have a relationship with him as we would another person.
Prayer is one of the avenues we can use to connect with the Spirit. Most people are familiar with prayer that involves asking God for things. That’s a valuable way to pray, and Jesus taught his disciples to ask God for things. However, if we limit prayer to just things we say to God, we are missing out on what God may want to speak to us through his Spirit as we pray. Listening prayer is one way we can learn to listen to the Spirit and what he has to say as we pray.
Talk through the following discussion questions:
If listening prayer is new to you, it can sound both daunting and fraught with legitimate questions: What’s it like when the Spirit speaks? How do we know if what we think we hear is actually from God’s Spirit? What if I don’t understand what the Spirit is saying?
If you’ve practiced listening prayer for a while now, these questions may not be as pressing. Your questions may sound more like this: How do I respond faithfully to what the Spirit is saying? Why isn’t the Spirit directly answering my questions? What if I don’t like what God’s Spirit tells me to do?
Talk through the following discussion prompts to understand where the Community is at with hearing from God’s Spirit.
- Is the idea of hearing from God’s Spirit part of your apprenticeship to Jesus? If not, how does that idea strike you? If so, how long has it been part of your apprenticeship?
- For those who have experience with listening prayer, briefly share what that experience is like for you.
- Whether listening prayer is new to you or is familiar, share what question(s) you have about hearing from God’s Spirit.
Talk about this week’s Practice as a Community:
For this week’s Practice, set aside three times to practice listening prayer and write down what you think you hear (at least 10 minutes each time). As you do this Practice, remember that God’s Spirit always speaks in a way that agrees with the Scriptures (both in tone and in substance). Also, remember that hearing from God’s Spirit is both an individual and collaborative practice. In your time listening, what you think you hear is best shared with trusted people around you. In this way, we can help keep one another accountable and grounded in the way of Jesus.
If you’re new(er) to listening prayer, approach it with the understanding that it might be a process to become comfortable doing it. Remember that you are trying a new way of connecting with God; even it’s awkward, you are still taking time to draw near to God, and that’s valuable.
We recommend those who are new to listening pray to try following this outline:
- Start by acknowledging the Spirit’s presence with you. Ask him to quiet your mind and increase your awareness of what he’s doing and saying.
- If anything is weighing on your mind, share those things with the Spirit. If it’s helpful, picture yourself handing over those burdens to Jesus to hold.
- Invite the Spirit to speak to you and then sit in silence as you listen. It can be helpful to ask him a specific question. Feel free to ask him something specific to your life or any of these questions:
- What does the Father think of me?
- Is there a lie that I believe about myself or God?
- What does Jesus want me to do today?
- Is there an encouragement Jesus would like me to say to someone close to me? (e.g., a friend, a spouse, someone in your Community, etc.)
- When something (a word, a phrase, a Scripture verse, a moving picture, a song lyric, etc.) comes to mind, write it down, even if you’re uncertain it’s from the Spirit. If the meaning seems clear to you, write it down as well. If it’s not clear, ask God’s Spirit what he wants you to know about it. Write down anything you think the Spirit says.
- If you get to this step, and you don’t think you’ve heard anything consider the following:
- Are you particularly distracted right now? If so, this happens to everyone at some point. Consider whether this might be a way God is pointing something out to you (e.g., overcommitment, anxiety and stress, avoidance, etc.). Or it could be a reminder that listening prayer takes practice to get proficiency and confidence.
- If you’ve heard something you consider “obvious” (e.g., “God loves me,” your favorite Scripture verse, a recurring idea you’ve previously had), don’t immediately discount it. Hold it with an open hand, viewing it that it could be just your idea, or it could be something God’s Spirit brought to mind. Try asking the Spirit, “What do you want me to know about this?”
- If nothing comes to mind or you just see “blackness,” ask the Spirit, “What do you want me to know about this?” Perhaps this is a way the Spirit is simply inviting you to rest in his presence.
- Before you end your time, take a moment to reflect on your experience of listening prayer. Do your best not to regard your time in terms of success and failure. Approaching God and wanting to hear from him is never a bad thing, even if we leave the time a bit disappointed.
- End your time by thanking the Spirit for his presence with you. Express gratitude for anything specific that stands out to you about your time.
Be prepared to share with the group next week what you heard. If it’s something sensitive, feel free to be as vague with the specifics as you’d like to be.