There was that question again, only this time it was from a fraternity student who had rededicated his life the week before at our fall conference. After his first five minutes ever in a posture of listening prayer, he turned wide-eyed and exclaimed: “I grew up in the church, why has no one ever taught me how to listen to God before?”
It was a question I had asked myself back in college as I learned to discern God’s voice, and it is one that I have run into countless times in my years on staff with InterVarsity.
Listening prayer — a form of prayer focused on making more space for God’s voice than our own — is so prevalent in scripture that we would have a hard time finding biblical characters who didn’t at least once have an encounter with God that involved hearing him. God speaks in moments of triumph, despair, frustration, panic, and confusion. He speaks at the top of mountains and through burning bushes, to a large crowd gathered for baptisms and during intimate times of prayer. Moments (and lives) even hinge on his very words.
This past semester I set out with Danielle, a staff worker in our area, to check out two prospective campuses where she could potentially plant new ministry: Humboldt State and Southern Oregon University. Strategically, I have been itching to get staff on the ground at SOU, but as part of the discernment process we were committed to prayer walking both campuses with a posture of listening. So we hopped in the van for the four-hour drive to Humboldt.
It was a beautiful, clear day on campus and as we prayed outside of the library at Humboldt State, I distinctly sensed God asking me, “Will Danielle make this place her home?” The moment caught me by surprise and I was unsure I wanted to share what I had heard lest it influence her process too much. However, later that night as we debriefed our day on campus, Danielle, a bit hesitant and with some emotion, shared that God had clearly spoken to her: “Welcome home, Danielle.” There have been details and further conversations, but in that moment God made it clear which campus Danielle should pursue.
Listening prayer has become such an integral part of my own leadership and formation that I cannot imagine a day going by without it. Don’t get me wrong: years and growing competence in doing ministry come with an ever-increasing temptation to lean on my own thoughts, ideas and skills. Yet, strategies and methodologies will never replace a timely word from the Almighty Creator of the universe. In fact, there have been countless times when I’ve made a decision (major or minor) that would not have gone the way it did had I just made a pros/cons list.
I was fortunate to have staff workers in college with a deep, developed sensitivity to God’s voice, and I can still hear their apologetic now: “If students graduate knowing how to hear God’s voice, then they are set for a lifetime of discipleship.” I pray, just as they did, that as a movement we will become increasingly sensitive to the voice of God.