Tom Arthur


I hate listening. I’d rather talk. In conversations, when I’m supposed to be listening, I prepare what I’m going to say when you’re done talking.

My prayer life is similar. For many years, I’ve taken time each morning to talk to God. I tell God what’s on my mind. I call God’s attention to my prayer list. I say prayers for myself, other people, and the world. Sometimes my prayers take on the flavor of a committee meeting: “OK, God, let’s begin with item number one: my friends . . . Next, let’s move on to item number two: all the poor in my community . . . Now on to item number three . . .” You get the idea.

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What if I treated my friends as I treat God? What would happen if I spent all our time together naming people I wanted them to help and situations I wanted them to fix? What if our time was entirely filled with my talking? Soon I might not have any friends.



A journalist once asked Mother Teresa what she said to God when she prayed.

“I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I just listen.”

“And when you listen,” said the interviewer, “what does God say?”

“He doesn’t say anything,” she replied. “He just listens.” Before the bewildered journalist could say anything more, she added, “And if you can’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.”



I grew up in a church where prayer was always active. For me to sit still and silent and to keep my mind from wandering for any length of time would be quite a challenge. Yet I was determined to give it a try. I decided to take the time I usually set aside for talking to God and to spend it sitting silently and listening.

devozine Reflective Guy FTR TS 80467216I’ve been practicing silent listening prayer for about four months now. I can’t say that I’ve heard God say much, but I’m encouraged to know that Mother Teresa didn’t hear God say much either. Maybe God is giving to me exactly what God wants from me: a listening ear.

While I haven’t heard God talk while I’m listening, I have learned several lessons. First, sitting silently and listening in prayer isn’t as hard as I imagined. Second, I don’t have to do this perfectly. It’s OK if my mind wanders. Third, the entire world doesn’t rest on the shoulders of my prayer life. God is ultimately in charge.

I don’t think that my prayers will always be just listening. Maybe in the future, it will include both listening and talking; but right now I’m learning how to listen in prayer—and God is listening right back.



Read 1 Kings 19:11–13. When did Elijah hear God’s voice? Make time this week to pray by listening for God in the “sheer silence.” Begin with a couple minutes of silence and work your way up to five or ten minutes. Don’t get stressed if your mind wanders. This is an experiment. If you need something to do while listening, focus on your breathing. This might help calm your mind and open your ears.

Centering prayer is one way of silencing the soul, resting in God’s love, and listening for God’s “still, small voice.” You may want to practice this method of listening to God in prayer as a part of your experiment.

Tom Arthur is the pastor at Sycamore Creek Church in Lansing, Michigan.

—from devozine (November/December 2010). Copyright © 2010 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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