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Listening to God in Prayer: Ben's story

Thursday February 8 2018

Listening to God in Prayer: Ben's story

Ben is 56 years old, and he works as an administrator at a university. He describes the way he learned to listen to God in prayer, and what he listens for:

In my twenties and thirties, I was a history professor and department chair. I always loved studying and learning and teaching, and I always kept very busy doing it. There simply wasn’t a lot of time for reflection. Or, to be more accurate, I didn’t choose to take any time for reflection during those years. When I’m honest about it, I can see that in my forties, I didn’t have any fewer pressures to do things, it’s just that I could no longer resist the pressure from within to spend some amount of time reflecting.

In my forties, I pastored a church and I had to preach every week. Week after week I found myself preaching about the inner journey of faith. What a surprise to me!

I had known about contemplative prayer for years, but I never felt drawn to it until I experienced this irresistible drive to spend time focusing on my inward journey. That’s when contemplative prayer began to make sense to me.

Some people call it midlife, but I don’t want to trivialize this huge shift that I experienced by giving it such a trite label. To me, it was an earthshaking change, to shift my focus from the outer world of teaching and activities to the inner world of feelings and reflections.

I can see now what a gift it was that I was able to be a pastor when that shift was going on. Each week I had time to study for my sermon. Sure, as a professor I had studied to prepare for my lectures. But that was study of something out there -- history. My sermon preparations were truly a study of what was inside, my own personal journey with God.

I began to see the centrality of grace. I had always believed grace was at the heart of the Christian faith, but through contemplative prayer I began to experience God’s grace for me. For me! Just for me!

My quiet times changed. Before the shift, I had focused on Bible study and intercessory prayer. Those are both good things, and I still engage in both. After the shift, the center of my quiet time became sitting in silence, waiting for God to speak to me. I’ve learned that I’m not listening for words or even guidance; I’m looking for an assurance that I am loved. When I take the time in the morning to wait until I have that assurance, my day is transformed. I find I can act out of the abundance of God’s grace rather than out of a need to prove myself. This sounds like a small change, but it is a revolutionary difference.

In my fifties, I’ve returned to a university setting. From the outside, my life looks a lot like it did in my thirties when I chaired the history department at the university where I taught. Every day I’m busy meeting with people, teaching, creating vision, making plans. But now everything is different because I have an attitude of listening to God that permeates everything. 

I still try to spend time each morning in the university chapel, waiting until I hear God’s word of love and grace for me. All the activities of my days are centered in that voice of love and grace. I’m living my life much more in response to God’s initiative now. Before my big shift I lived my life based on what I thought I should be doing.

For me, that’s the main point of contemplative prayer: listening to God so our lives can flow out of his love and grace.

This is the 13th post in a series on growing in listening to God in prayer. The previous posts are:

Listening to God in prayer        
My journey         
Alone or with others         
Breath prayer         
Distractions in silent prayer        
Noticing God’s presence         
Looking back at 2017         
A new approach to the Bible         
Key questions about listening to God         
Lectio Divina: A pattern for letting God speak through scripture          
Imagining yourself in a Bible story       
Praying the Psalms               

(Next week: Availability. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “Subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Lent this year begins next week on Valentine’s Day. If you’d like a devotional for Lent, you may enjoy the one I wrote a couple of years ago with reflection questions on a psalm for each day of Lent. I've had good feedback from people who have used it on their own and also from others who used it in a small group. My husband Dave’s beautiful paintings provide illustrations for it. Available here.



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