Listening to God - How it Works

A little while ago I was working on a study guide for the 90 day listening prayer exercise we’ve introduced at Forest Brook and I came across a book on the subject, which I had originally read in 2001. It was a bittersweet moment for me, as I remembered that time in my life, when I was first introduced to the spiritual discipline of practicing the presence of God. I say bittersweet because I recall trying it out for a time, but dropping it quickly because I found it didn’t produce the results I wanted. 

You see, I’m a bit of a results-oriented guy.  I’m not usually one for process. I remember trying to practice the presence of God, but without really experiencing anything – so I gave it up. I told myself that it was something for the mystics and contemplatives, not a busy pastor like me. I needed results. 

All of that changed for me a year ago. During our leaders’ annual planning meeting last March, as I listened to the litany of challenges we were facing as a church, I was struck by how often I had heard this list vocalized over the years. In fact, I was dumbstruck as the morning unfolded. It was like I had gone back in time ten years and was hearing the leaders share the same frustrations, desires and lack-of-growth pangs that I had heard back then. As I listened I asked myself, “Have we really made so little progress in all this time?” 

It was then that I heard it. That still, small voice that I’d heard a few times before in my life, yet I recognized instantly. God said, “This is what you can accomplish in your own strength. You need to learn what can be done in mine.”  I was crushed, and I seriously wondered whether my tenure at Forest Brook was over!

But God, in His mercy, had other plans. Over the next few weeks I wrestled with God, sharing my experience with the elders and other leaders at the church. God showed me that, instead of replacing me, we could try another approach – we could actually learn how to listen and be led by His Spirit. So we set our hearts to understand how to do that better. 

I’ve been practicing the presence of God, and listening prayer, every day for six months now. And I can tell you it works. Not because God has changed. I have. This time I’m listening for God on His terms – because I know I need Him, and I both want, and need, what He wants to say to me. And another thing – God speaking to me really hasn’t been what I expected. It’s a conversation but He’s the One in charge and He gets to decide where to start and what’s the thing which is most important on His mind for me. 

But that’s okay. I can’t tell you how much more peace I have, and confidence, that God’s got this. I am so much more aware of His Presence, His Spirit at work around me all day, every day. And that’s making a huge difference in my life! A mystic is a person who opens up to God’s Presence, and as Jesuit Armand Nigro says, “God wants us to be normal, ordinary, everyday mystics.” I get that now, and I’m happy to be on my way at last.