Listening to God
We’ve talked in the last couple of articles about the side of prayer that’s to do with our speaking to God. Prayer is meant to be a conversation, though, and it’s good to spend time listening as well as talking. That’s not a bad thing to remember for any relationship, with God or with the important people in your life…
Starting with the Bible
One of the most reliable ways to listen to God is through careful and prayerful reading of the Bible. Christians believe that this is God’s word – not dictated by him, but inspired by him and written by human authors over a period of more than a thousand years. Another time I’ll write more on reading the Bible, but there are lots of resources to help you if you’re interested.
For now I’m concerned with using the Bible as part of your prayers. One thing to do first is to get a good translation to read. In church we use the New Revised Standard Version. You might like this or the New International Version, but some others are easier to read. If you don’t have a Bible you’re comfortable reading, do ask me for advice or call in to a specialist Christian bookshop and ask them to explain the differences between different translations. You’ll also find that you can buy Bibles with all kinds of ‘extras’ (notes, maps, indexes etc.), but the most important thing is that the text is accurate and readable.
Then you need to decide which bits to read. It’s better for this kind of reading to concentrate on a short passage. You could use the readings we hear in Church on Sunday – if you’re able to get to Church they’re printed on a sheet, or you can buy a booklet called a Lectionary which will tell you what they are (again, ask at a Christian bookshop, or ask me for a list of readings).
You could decide you’d like to read through a book of the Bible (I suggest starting with one of the gospels). In this case, you might like to make sure that your Bible has section headings added to the text, and read one of them at a time.
A good way to begin, though, is with one of the many series of Bible reading notes which you can get (yes, Christian bookshop again!) Look through a few and decide which one is going to suit you best. These notes will suggest a Bible passage, and give you some background, a few thoughts on it and often a prayer or suggestion for something you can do. One of Bishop Tom Wright’s books on ‘the Bible for everyone’ would give you the same sort of material.
However you choose a passage, set aside a few minutes to read and pray with it. First sit comfortably and let yourself rest. Then pray that God will help you to hear what he wants to say, and read the passage slowly and carefully. Try to be aware of your thoughts and feelings as you read it. Take a moment just to let it sink in, and to think about what it says.
If you’re using notes, now is the time to read them, and give yourself a bit more time to absorb what they tell you or suggest to you. (You don’t have to agree with them!) Try to decide what God wants you to do and to pray as a result of the passage, and ask his help to do it.
Now turn to the part of your prayer which is about speaking (see the last couple of weeks) and let what you’ve read shape what you pray.
Keep going with it, and before long you’ll be amazed at how much of the Bible you come to understand, and at how God helps you to pray as a result.
Rev’d Nick Watson