Raising two small children and observing them has really helped me to differentiate some things that are human nature and others which are taught. Now that my kids are four and two, I feel qualified to say that listening is a learned skill because it certainly does not seem to be something which comes naturally. Or at least being a good listener. Which leads to the question, what is a good listener? It is not just someone who can sit there quietly and nod their head. It is not simply processing information. Good listening also involves knowing how to respond appropriately.
Listening is such a simple thing, yet why is it so tough to do? Let me give an example: Asking kids to wash their hands before dinner seems reasonable right? When I ask my kids to do that I expect them to listen to me and as a response, wash their hands. But how would you feel if you asked your kids to wash their hands and as a response they came back to you saying that they memorized what you said? That they did a word study and learned about the historical context of hand washing. That they can now say “go wash your hands” in Greek and Hebrew. Hey, those things are fantastic but I could care less if there was still dirt on their hands. What if they completely ignored you and pretended you weren’t there? Or ran away to the other room? Or turned the TV up so they couldn’t hear you? Or even said “yes I’ll wash my hands” and then got distracted by toys on the way to the sink? Get where I am going with this? Unfortunately, these are all responses my kids sometimes give me when I ask them to do something simple like wash their hands. And for many people, this is their response when it comes to listening to God.
But there is good news, we can learn to be different. We can learn to be good listeners. My personal prayer life was revolutionized as I learned to listen to God instead of throwing everything I wanted at Him. There was nothing wrong with the things I wanted, it just wasn’t what God wanted. Being a good listener, as easy as it sounds, isn’t something which happens right away, I had to learn how to shut off my own junk. I had to learn how to listen when I prayed, listen when I read Scripture, and listen to counsel from brothers and sisters in Christ. And then, if it went along with the teachings of Jesus, I had to learn how to respond appropriately. Not to respond by saying “wow, that was powerful” or “I really feel convicted” and then do nothing. I responded by taking action. By following where God led me. My life is completely different than I would have predicted ten years ago because I let go of my own dreams and listened to what God desired for me. Listening in prayer frees us, it frees us from our own hopes and desires. It lets us get past the things that we want and get a perspective on the bigger picture of what God wants. Go and practice listening in your prayer, not asking God for something you want, asking God what HE wants.
It’s that simple: listen, and if it is reflected in the teachings of Jesus, go do it.