Cultivating a Lifestyle of Listening, a guest post by Samantha Miller
This is the third post in our series, A Contemplative Approach To Christianity, dedicated to introducing the quieter side of Christian practice, through historical practices and personal testimony. The goal is to hear from different Christians ways they connect with God–these are very similar to ancient practices of the Christian church–and to share a few details about what that looks like for anyone who wants to dip their feet in a more quiet spirituality. We’ve already started with Contemplative Prayer. Now let’s move on to listening.
Listening may sound repulsive to the ear at first. We are not much of a listening culture. But the pathway of Christ beckons us against the grain to a lifestyle that resembles Samuel’s innocent posture to the Lord: “Speak, for your servant hears.” (1 Sam. 3:10, ESV). There is no shortage of noise in our lives. But there is lacking a word from God in our ears. Perhaps there’s a connection between the noise of life and the shortage of God’s presence. Amos’ warning resonates with many of us,
The days are coming— this is the declaration of the Lord God — when I will send a famine through the land: not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11, HCSB)
Do you experience this famine? Then read on, friends.
My friend, Samantha Miller serves in our local gathering in the areas of prayer and biblical counseling. It is because of the inner joy that she so gracefully wields despite the heaviness that sometimes accompanies intercessory prayer and counseling that I believe Samantha has some worthwhile things to share. So I asked her to share about the practice and importance of listening to God. The rest of this post is in her own words…
In my life with God, I have consistently encountered him in the secret place.
Christians often talk about “the secret place” like this magical land where all your problems go away and you experience perfectly undistracted unity with God. Honestly, my secret place is pretty messy! All it is, is placing a value on time with God and positioning myself to receive from Him. On some days I may need to deal with some heart issues before I can really connect with Him, or I need to plan a little extra time in my schedule cause I know its going to take a while to quiet my distracted mind. Yet whatever it looks like, I am simply setting aside a time and a space to sit in solitude, surrender my emotions, thoughts and needs, and let God show me who He is.
Jesus says in Matthew 6:6 “And when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret will reward you” (ESV). We find the Father in the secret place. When we separate ourselves, go into our room and close the door, he rewards us in secret. However, learning to sit in solitude and quiet is very counter-cultural, so it can be hard work to develop this type of lifestyle. But let me tell you, when you seek Him, you will find Him.
Spending time alone with God is a process.
I remember in high school, I made a commitment to my Dad that I would spend time alone with God (my “quiet time”) every morning or I couldn’t watch TV for a week… Let’s just say, I did a lot of reading in that season! Eventually, setting aside time with God became easier and a part of my normal routine, but honestly, I felt so dry spiritually and often like I was just praying to the ceiling. Right before going off to college, I worked at a summer camp and the leadership there encouraged all the staff to spend time with the Lord every morning. So, I continued my practice of this, not really feeling much. Then we all had to take a full day to go off by ourselves in the woods on a 24-hour solo- just me and God, undistracted for a whole day. It was so hard. I literally built a tree fort to sleep in. But in this season, I learned the value of setting apart time to be with God.
The more I spent time with God and laid aside my agenda and desires, He began to speak to me. As I stilled my heart, His voice became clear. It was all about building a history with God, learning that I could trust Him, and Him building a faithfulness in me so I could steward the things He wanted to give me. I have since done many 24-hour solos and they have become some of the most significant hinge-points of my life and favorite memories with God. Time invested communicates value.
We show God that we are choosing Him above our comfort or our desires by taking time out to be with him.
Connecting with him should always be our motive, rather than just the obligation of something we “should do” (although its ok if some days it feels like that). For me, this has looked like choosing a time and a place where I will spend time with Him (i.e. first hour of my morning on my porch with a cup of coffee). Sometimes I’ll start with worship, or thanking Him and remembering what He has done, or reading the Psalms, but I always end up taking time to sit still and let Him talk. I don’t want to dominate the conversation, because honestly, He has better things to say than I do!
This looks like asking Him good questions and waiting for a response. Sometimes I’ll ask,
“God, how do you see me”
“God what are you doing and how can I partner with that”
“God what season am I in and how can I steward that well?”
“God, what do you want to show me about who you are today?”
“God what promise do you want me to hold onto today”
“God, what do you want to speak to me today?”
Then, I just wait.
Sometimes, a scripture will come to mind, or a song will rise up in my spirit. Or, I’ll hear that still small voice, which speaks with wisdom and always brings peace.
Whatever it looks like, I let Him show me whatever He wants.
And yes, sometimes doubt creeps in and I question if it’s really Him.
And sometimes I feel like I hear nothing at all.
But, I trust that He wants to speak to me more than I want to hear from Him, so I’ll ask Him to remove anything that may be in the way of me hearing Him.
Sometimes, we so want to hear what He is saying about something specific, that we can miss what He really wants to show us. So, it is important to be constantly surrendering our agenda and let Him lead us.
Sometimes, he just wants us to rest, to be with Him and to enjoy His presence. And that is just as successful as receiving a life-changing revelation.
Listening to God is not just a practice to add into your repertoire of spiritual disciplines, it’s a lifestyle.
Hearing the voice of God requires a greater level of responsibility and obedience. He is outside of our control and bigger than the boxes we like to try to keep our lives in. There have been times where God has asked me to step out and take risks and everything in me wanted to say no, but because I valued intimacy with him, I knew the risk was worth it and I responded in obedience. This may look like making decisions others don’t agree with, or going out of your comfort zone to speak into someone’s life. In this process, God is building an ability in us to value and steward what he shares with us, as well as a confidence in us that we hear him.
Recently, I was serving on the prayer team in a church service and a woman came up and asked me to pray for her daughter. Immediately, I felt like God said “It’s not the daughter you need to pray for, it’s the mom. And she needs to know its not her “fault.” I felt pretty sure that it was God, but at the same time knew I could totally be wrong, but in faith I asked her if I could pray for her as well. I told her I felt like God was saying that its not her fault. Immediately she crumbled to the ground sobbing. As I kept praying for her, God showed me that she had lost people close to her that had died and had been carrying the responsibility for that every since. She confirmed that all this was true (her sister and husband died in an accident 3 years before that). She repented for carrying the guilt around and God showed her the truth about how He saw her. That woman was set free and able to receive healing in an extreme place of pain. A life of listening, joined with responsibility and risk, is a powerful tool that God can use to set captives free and bind up the broken hearted.
Does your heart desire to cultivate a life of listening to God? I hope so! Here are some things that I have felt helpful on my journey of learning to listen:
- Plan out a time and place, free from distractions, to intentionally meet with God
- Remember times when you felt God has spoken to you in the past and write out the ways you think he communicates specifically with you (What did it feel like? How did you know it was him? etc…)
- Take time to ask God questions and wait for his response
- If you feel like you can’t hear, see or feel anything, ask God to remove anything that may be in the way and ask him to open your spiritual eyes and ears
So, dear friends, enter into the secret place, take the time to listen and position your heart to receive, but above all, enjoy your Father enjoying you! ~ Samantha
Posted on July 7, 2014, in spiritual formation and tagged Adele Calhoun, contemplation, contemplative, contemplative approach, introversion, introvert, introverted, lectio divina, prayer, Ruth Haley Barton, silence, solitude, spiritual disciplines, spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.