When many of us were taught to pray, myself included, it was kind of like leaving a message on God’s answering machine. We dialed up God, told him our list of requests, and said “amen” to hang up. It wasn’t overly satisfying, but it didn’t seem that there was another option.
In John 10, Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd. We can get caught up in the imagery of shepherd and sheep and miss some very revolutionary statements Jesus made there.
“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” – John 10:3-5 NIV, emphasis added
Jesus has a voice! And we can hear it! Not only that, but we can recognize the difference between Jesus’ voice and other voices that might try to speak to us. This is really good news!
When we realize that we can listen to Jesus in prayer instead of just talking and hanging up, that opens the door to conversations and a growing relationship with our God. This is what we call listening prayer.
So how do we hear God? Recognizing God’s voice takes some practice, but once you get the hang of it you will hear God everywhere. You probably already hear God in some of the following ways:
- A song played at just the right time
- A trusted friend who says something you needed to hear
- An inspiring sight in nature
- A Bible passage that jumps out at you
- A teacher you hear or read that addresses exactly where you are at
There are many others and these are all legitimate. But to take us further, God gave us a very special gift: our imagination.
Our imagination is like a screen that pictures can be projected on. We can put pictures there, things we watch and listen to can show up there, and the devil can try to project things. But the best use of an imagination is as a meeting place with Jesus.
Try this: think of a place where you would like to meet with Jesus. Now ask Jesus where he would like to meet with you. Go with the first thought that comes after you ask because that is usually Jesus slipping something in before our brains have time to dismiss it. Did the picture change from one to the other?
Then start asking questions and paying attention to the first though that comes to your mind or the first change in the picture. Here are some useful questions to get you going:
- Why did you pick this meeting place, Jesus?
- If you had a gift for me today, what would it be? Why?
- What game would you like to play with me today? Why?
- What do you see when you look at me?
- What do you like about me?
- What is on your heart today, Jesus?
Often the answers Jesus gives prompt new questions from us. Follow that! Now you’re having a conversation!
Sometimes people are afraid that they will be deceived by the devil talking to them and pretending to be Jesus. Remember that Jesus said that his sheep recognize his voice and will not follow a stranger’s voice. Here are some ways to be sure that the voice you are hearing actually belongs to Jesus:
- Does the message match with the character of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels? Think fruit of the spirit here. If what you are hearing has love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, it’s a good bet that it’s Jesus. On the other hand, Satan has none of those fruit. Someone who has no love or patience is not going to be able to pretend to be loving or patient for very long. Condemnation, guilt, shame, anger and hatred are good hints that this is not Jesus.
- Does your gut tell you it’s Jesus? We have the Holy Spirit in us and we know Jesus’ voice. Your feelings will often tell you if this is Jesus or if something is off.
- Do other Christians agree with the message? Other people who hear God can help you check what you are hearing.
- When in doubt, ask. Jesus is not going to let another voice speak when you are asking him to and not say anything about it. I sometimes say something like “Jesus, real Jesus, Son of God who died and rose again on the third day, is the only one allowed to speak right now”.
The more you practice, the easier it gets to hear Jesus and the deeper your relationship can go. At the risk of going all Christianese, hallelujah! this is amazing!
If you want to read more about this, I recommend the book “Can You Hear Me?” by Brad Jersak, available at bradjersak.com
Please share your questions or your experiences with listening prayer in the comments. Cheers to chatting with the God of the Universe!