by Kevin Looper
There once was a man who hated his job. Every day as he pulled into the parking lot of his work, he would pray, “God, I hate my job! My boss is a jerk. My coworkers are foul-mouthed, lazy, and selfish. The work is pointless and I wish I could do something important. This job barely gives me enough money to pay my bills and every time I am here, I wish I were anywhere else! I would rather be at the dentist office getting my teeth pulled. Please, give me a better job!” Each day after work, the man would go home and look at the want-ads, apply for other jobs and go for interviews. The next day he would start it all again, but he never got another job.
Why didn’t God answer his prayers? Perhaps the man’s prayer did not get answered is because he was not really praying—or at least, he was only partly praying. Real prayer is a conversation. It is talking with God about what the two of you are doing together. When you order food at fast food drive-through, you can hardly call that “talking.” In the same way, when you simply tell God what you want and do not listen to what he has to say to you, you can hardly call that “praying.” This man was not trying to hear what God said about his situation, he just wanted his order taken.
Imagine what a difference it would make if the man would simply listen to what God had already said to him in the Scriptures. What if he listened and obeyed what God said about how to deal with difficult employers and jobs: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col 3:23).
What if he took this word from the Sermon on the Mount to heart, “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). He might realize that his coworkers are more than an annoyance to put up with and that his purpose at work is bigger than his job title.
His fears about money could turn into joyful reliance and trust if he would only listen and believe the voice of Jesus, who says, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and everything else you need will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33). And even if the struggle continued and his situation did not change, he could be filled with peace and anticipation when he read verses like Romans 5:3-5; “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character hope.”
It is true that asking is an essential part of prayer and there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for a new job. But the real effects of prayer do not come from what you say to God, but from what he says to you. Richard Foster said, “to pray is to change.” Prayer can change our minds, our hearts, our feelings, and our situation—it can even change other people. But it is God’s words that create the change, not ours. God spoke a word and the universe was created. God still speaks today and his words hold the same power to bring about change in us and in the world. Any spiritual growth we have, we owe to God speaking to us.
God still speaks to people in many ways, but if we are to grow in our ability to listen to him speak, we first need to learn how to hear him in the Scriptures. Here are five ways to be sure that we are listening to God through the Scriptures:
- Begin your reading by asking God to speak to you through his Word. It is easy to depend on your own understanding to guide you toward insight, but we read the Bible to hear God, not to have deep insights. What you hear from him may be quite simple—something you have thought about many times. On the other hand, you do not need to “force” God to speak to you. If your daily reading does not lead to some life altering revelation, do not be concerned. Your job is only to have ears that hear and a heart that obeys.
- Be careful not to come to the Bible with your own agenda. Motives matter when it comes to hearing God speak. If we read only so that we can teach others or impress them with our knowledge, it shows that we are not actually listening with humility. If we read in order to confirm our opinions or combat the opinions of others, we are not likely to listen well either. Your only aim must be to nourish your soul on God’s Word to you.
- When you first start learning to listen to God speak in the Bible, begin with passages that are already very familiar to you. Come to your chosen passage as a place where you will have a holy meeting with God. Don’t approach the passage as something to know, but as a place to be together with God.
- Talk to God as you read! It is more beneficial to read through one verse of Scripture prayerfully than to read a whole book of the Bible without prayer. The Bible is meant to be prayed through, not just read through. By “pray through,” I simply mean, talk to God about what you are reading. Ask him questions about the text. Stop on certain words and phrases and talk to him about what you are thinking. Turn the commands, rebukes, and encouragements into prayer requests for yourself and for others. Turn the stories and the Psalms into praise and thanksgiving. There is no other activity that can so increase your wisdom and your love for God as praying through the Scriptures.
- Memorize Scripture. How are you supposed to learn to listen to God speak to you in the Bible when you only have five distracted minutes a day to devote to Bible reading? By memorizing parts of it! Committing portions of Scripture to memory helps us listen to God’s voice throughout the day, even when we do not have a Bible with us. To the person who is willing to listen, God can speak through the same verse again and again in many ways and situations.
Kevin Looper is the youth pastor at Lockwood Community Church. He holds a BA from Taylor University and an MA from Wheaton College.