What is listening prayer?
Question: "What is listening prayer? Are listening prayers biblical?"
Answer: The Bible speaks often of prayer, but it does not mention “listening prayer” as a type of prayer to practice. The idea of “listening prayer” is to spend some time talking to the Lord and the rest of the time listening to His response. Or, sometimes, the listening comes first and the prayer second. Listening prayer is based on the concept of prayer as two-way communication—we talk, and God talks.
Proponents of listening prayer point to verses such as Psalm 46:10 (“Be still, and know that I am God”) and John 10:27 (“My sheep listen to my voice”) to assert that the Bible teaches listening prayer. Some even use Jesus’ words in John 7:16 (“My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me”) to claim that Jesus Himself engaged in listening prayer, and that’s the reason He knew what to teach.
We should point out that in none of the passages mentioned above is “listening prayer” mentioned. In fact, no kind of prayer is mentioned at all. Trying to use these verses to teach the modern concept of listening prayer goes beyond what the text of Scripture says.
But going beyond what Scripture says is what listening prayer is really all about. The practitioner of listening prayer seeks “new revelation” from God on a daily basis and about the most mundane things: don’t eat the sushi today, follow the man with the red scarf, withdraw your money from the bank, etc. Listening prayer involves receiving “inspiration” from the Holy Spirit and new, specific messages from God.
It’s hard to overemphasize the dangers inherent in believing that one is receiving “inspired” messages from the Spirit. Scripture is inspired and therefore authoritative (2 Timothy 3:16). But the “nudges,” “feelings,” intuitions, and random thoughts a person has while meditating cannot be put on the same level as Scripture. To assume that the voice a person hears in his mind is the voice of God is to leave the door wide open for self-delusion and even demonic deception.
To practice listening prayer, people are told to “clear their minds” (something the Bible never tells us to do) and spend concentrated time listening for “God’s voice.” The divine message may come through images in their minds, through words, through ideas, through physical sensations, or through “gut feelings.” The goal of listening prayer is to “think God’s thoughts with Him,” “discover God’s specific truth,” and “receive new revelation.” This type of subjectivity bypasses the objective, written Word of God as our sole rule for faith and practice. The passive receptivity of listening prayer has more to do with New Age and occult practice than with biblical prayer.
Biblical prayer, as opposed to listening prayer, follows the biblical instructions concerning prayer. We are to pray in faith (James 1:6), in direct address to God (Matthew 6:9), in Jesus’ name (John 14:13), offered with reverence and humility (Luke 18:13), with perseverance (Luke 18:1), and in submission to God’s will (Matthew 6:10). The Bible refers to prayer as beseeching the Lord (Psalm 118:25); pouring out one’s soul to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:15); crying out to heaven (2 Chronicles 32:20); and kneeling before the Father (Ephesians 3:14). The Bible never instructs us to empty our minds and listen for special words of revelation from God. God expects us to open our Bibles and study what He has said there. The Bible is the Word of God and is sufficient for our needs (see Revelation 22:18).
Recommended Resource: The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution by R. Albert Mohler Jr.
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