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Techniques to Listen to God

I offer this article in response to a comment posted by Brennan to my article, “Is God Angry With Us?”.  I thank Brennan for his comment, which follows:

“Well said! Like you have said in previous posts, you would think now would be a good time to try and LISTEN to God? I know on one of your first posts during the shutdown you mentioned that.  Are there any specific techniques you use though, to slow down your thoughts in your mind in order that you can listen to God? With so much going on in society, all this mass media and all these voices, what are some good ways we can silence our mind so we can truly hear God? It almost reminds me of the Mass reading from yesterday in the book of Kings where Elijah went to the mount in Horeb and there was the great wind, earthquake, but God’s voice was not in those powerful forces, rather in a small silent whisper.”

The passage he mentions in yesterday’s reading is 1 Kings 19:9a, 11-16, which is one of my favorites with God coming in “a tiny whispering sound.”  His question asking about specific techniques to slow down our thoughts in order to listen to God is right in line with hearing God in the tiny whispering sound.

I’m going to frame my response in three parts, remote, proximate, and immediate.  Most people want to know the immediate part, how do I slow down the thoughts, preferably stop the distracting thoughts so I can listen to God right now.  I’ll give a suggestion or two in a moment but first a word about remote and proximate preparation.

Remote preparation is the lifelong part.  We need to cultivate a life of prayer.  God is always with us.  God is always ready to listen.  God is always willing to speak to us.  We need to work on being open to hearing God.  Here I think about what St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing.’’  This doesn’t mean that we pray by saying words of prayer 24 hours a day.  It means we need to strive to always be aware of God, to have an ongoing relationship with him..

Proximate preparation is leading up but not the immediate moment of prayer.  Here I think of two things.  First, is to have a place dedicated to prayer in our homes.  The second is to do what we can to not overload ourselves with too much information.  For example, I have heard multiple times during this Coronavirus time, that it isn’t good to watch the news all the time.  It is good to watch enough to be informed but not so much that it consumes us with too many thoughts.

Now, the immediate part.  First, we should realize it can be difficult to leap right from the busyness of our lives to expect to hear God in the silence.  The remote and proximate preparation help but we still need help to focus ourselves, asking the Holy Spirit to help us quiet our thoughts.  There’s the first immediate step, asking for the Holy Spirit to help us listen.  Depending on how long you intend to pray, a devotional prayer (Rosary, chaplets, etc.) may help slow your thoughts down. 

For my final suggestion, I first make a distinction about meditative and contemplative prayer.  Meditative is using spiritual reading, from the Bible or other spiritual source in prayer.  However, we in meditative prayer, we do not read it like one reads a book (several pages at a time).  Meditative prayer invites to read a few lines, maybe even just one or two, and then pause to reflect on it as inspired by the Holy Spirit.  This gives us something spiritual to focus our thoughts on. 

Contemplative prayer uses no material.  It invites us to set aside all our thoughts and, instead of thinking, just focus on being in God’s presence.  I think what Brennan is asking about lies more in the area of meditative prayer but with a hint of contemplative prayer. 

The form of contemplative prayer that I am most familiar with is known as “centering prayer.”  You can search for “centering prayer” and find lots of material on the Internet.  I actually have an app on my phone for centering prayer.  In very basic terms, one starts with an opening prayer (the app provides one), a bell chimes, and the phone app counts for twenty minutes.  At the end of twenty minutes, the bell chimes again, and a closing prayer is offered.  PLEASE do NOT start with twenty minutes if you try centering prayer.  Start with a couple of minutes and work up to twenty.  Of course, one will want to know what to do for the twenty minutes.  This brings me to my specific suggestion in answer to Brennan’s original question.  One chooses a sacred word (I use “Jesus”).  You slowly repeat it, handing your thoughts over to God.  When a distracting thought comes into your head, ignore it.  In true centering prayer, you ignore all thoughts and focus on God’s presence.  If your goal is to listen to God, then you do need to listen to the voice that is his.  If you are doing this for centering prayer, as your thoughts calm, you stop repeating your sacred word and simply sit in the presence of God.  If distracting thoughts came up, simply start repeating your sacred word again.

I hope this helps you in prayer.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff 

3 Comments

  1. Brennan Mix says:

    Thank you very much Father! I found this very helpful, and informative, answered my question in great detail and something I can apply to my prayer life!

  2. Wanda Crowley says:

    Thank you Father Jeff for additional commentary. I hunger to hear our Lord. I welcome the Holy Spirit. I’m praying to hear the whispers of God. I also downloaded the app. for some assistance. Thank you.

  3. Fr. Jeff says:

    May the Lord fill the hunger of your soul.

    Peace,

    Fr. Jeff

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