Prayer can be a dialogue with God–if we’re listening. Here are some tips.
Posted in , May 9, 2017
Sometimes in prayer we really need to speak what’s on our minds and hearts. Other times, we really want to hear God speak.
For a student who’s struggling to choose a school, sweethearts contemplating marriage, a parent who’s worried sick for a child, an entrepreneur considering a new risk, for nearly anyone who is hurting, or floundering, or fearing . . . hearing from God becomes important. Urgent.
It so happens that an incident from the Bible may help you listen. It’s an account from the life of Samuel, recorded in 1 Samuel 3, and it offers 7 helpful tips for hearing from God.
1. Get humble.
The story begins:
The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli (1 Samuel 3:1, NIV).
Notice that God spoke not to the grown-up priest, Eli, nor to the priest’s haughty sons or anyone else. Just to “the boy Samuel.” Maybe because he was a boy. Maybe because he was the lowest on the totem pole, so to speak.
The Bible says:
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, NIV).
It is a grace to hear God’s voice. So if you wish to hear God’s voice, humble yourself.
2. Get quiet.
The story continues:
One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel (1 Samuel 3:2-4, NIV).
God spoke when “Samuel was lying down.” That’s probably not incidental.
They say that Londoners who live in the shadow of St. Paul’s Cathedral never hear the church’s great bells, because the ringing blends in with all the noise of that busy city. But on those rare occasions when streets are deserted and shops are shuttered, the bells can be heard.
Do you want to hear God’s voice? Get quiet.
3. Get into God’s presence.
Did you notice where Samuel “was lying down?”
Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel (1 Samuel 3:3-4, NIV).
Samuel’s mother had dedicated him to the service of God, so he was in the temple. But the account says more. He was “where the ark of God was.” That is, he was in the place of God’s presence.
For you, that may signify a church service. But that is far from the only place to get into God’s presence. Some people have a “prayer closet” where they spend time with God. For others it’s a city park or a forest path. For some, it’s not even a place, but a song, a silence, a state of mind.
4. Get counsel.
Verses 4-8 of the story relate how God spoke repeatedly to Samuel, even calling to him by name. But Samuel was slow to catch on at first. It’s likely to be the same with you. But notice verse 9:
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place (1 Samuel 3:9, NIV).
Though Eli was not the one hearing God’s voice, he nonetheless gave wise counsel to Samuel.
If you believe God is speaking, but you’re not sure, go to someone you respect, someone who knows God, someone who is spiritually mature.
5. Get into the habit of saying, “Speak, Lord.”
The story continues:
So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9b-10, NIV).
It is one of my favorite and most frequent prayers. Oswald Chambers wrote:
Get into the habit of saying, “Speak, Lord,” and life will become a romance. Every time circumstances press, say, “Speak, Lord.”
If you face a decision, large or small: “Speak, Lord.”
When you lack wisdom: “Speak, Lord.”
Whenever you open your mouth in prayer: “Speak, Lord.”
As you greet a new day: “Speak, Lord.”
6. Get into a listening attitude.
When God finally spoke, He said:
“See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle” (1 Samuel 3:11, NIV).
Samuel heard it because he was listening. Not talking, not singing, not reading, not watching TV. He was listening. And God spoke.
If you want to hear God’s voice, get into a listening attitude. God is a gentleman. He does not like to interrupt, so He seldom speaks unless we are listening.
7. Get ready to act on what God says.
When God spoke to Samuel, it wasn’t great news. In fact, it was a message of judgment on Eli (Samuel’s “boss”) and Eli’s family.
If you want to hear God’s voice, you must prepare for the possibility that He may not say what you want to hear. And that you may have to act on what He tells you.
As someone said, “Hearing should always be for heeding.”
If you intend to hear God’s voice, and then decide whether or not you will heed it, you’re not likely to hear God’s voice.
But if you are ready to act on whatever He might say, you may truly hear His voice. And then life becomes a romance.