The Listening Prayer
January 28, 2007
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
4Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
6Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy."
7But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you,
8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord."
9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! I’d like to ask you a question. Imagine that someone came up to you and said, “I’m new to Christianity and the whole idea of church, but I like it, but I’m confused by this idea of prayer. What is it? What is prayer?” What would you say? Take a moment to think about that, won’t you? What would you tell that person that prayer is?
[People are given time to think and talk with each other.]
Prayer is many things, and there are many kinds of prayer. There’s the desperation prayer – “Oh, help me now, please, God. Help me through this.” That’s a valid form of prayer. There’s the prayer that says, “Dear God, let everything within me go before You to ask for help for my friend.” That’s a very valid form of prayer, too. One of the best forms of prayer that I know is the ‘thank you’ prayer – “Thank you, God, for everything. Amen.” There are all kinds of prayers for all kinds of situations.
But I want to talk with you today about one particular kind of prayer, the listening prayer. And I’m going to ask you to make a personal commitment with me today, to make a personal commitment to the Lord that this week each and every one of us will spend some time – hopefully everyday, but if not, as often as you can – in listening prayer. Listen for God as we pray.
You know, a lot of times folks will say that prayer is talking to God. That’s a very valid definition. But prayer is also talking with God, and listening for what God has to say to us. So I invite us to do some listening prayer this week.
It’s important to listen for God’s response when we pray. Did you ever have the experience of sitting down with your family and friends and having grace before the meal and immediately you’re into conversation, having some food, and somebody will say, “Did we say grace?” Well, if it happens at a table I happen to be at, I say, “No, we didn’t. Let’s do it! Let’s join hands and say grace. I’m so glad you remembered.” We’ll do that as often as we need to, because sometimes folks are there in body but not in spirit. And it’s happened to me, too.
It’s important to focus on God and to listen to what God has to say. Even if you’re doing a very short prayer at mealtime, take a moment to think about God. Don’t just dive into the words, because God has something to say to you. God has blessings to give to you. And that’s what I want us to think about today.
We have such a beautiful scripture to think about this morning. In 29 ½ years of preaching, I have never preached on this scripture before. But it is so beautiful, it takes my breath away. I want to share it with you. It is our Old Testament reading from Jeremiah, Chapter 1, verses 4-10. This is a beautiful example of listening prayer. Jeremiah tuned his ears in to listen for the Lord when he was praying. Let’s see what happened, and what can happen for us:
“Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” When we listen in prayer, what is the first thing that can happen? We can receive a word of affirmation from God. Don’t you need a word of affirmation from God? I sure do. When you pray, take the scripture seriously that says, “Be still and know that I am God,” and be still enough to listen, because God is saying, “Child of God, I love you! Child of God, relax. Child of God, you are special to me.” The first thing that can happen is a word of affirmation. The Lord said to Jeremiah, and He says to you and me, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were ever born, you were on my mind. Before you were ever thought of, you were a thought in my divine mind.” Isn’t that beautiful? God held you as a gem in His mind, before you were ever in physical form. That’s an affirmation, if I’ve ever heard one.
The first thing that God wants to do for you in a listening prayer is to affirm you and let you know how wonderful you are and how special you are. “Before you were ever formed, I knew you. You were precious to me. I have a plan for you. I appointed you a prophet to the nations. I had something in mind for you, whatever it may be, for each and every person in this room and everyone reading this.” There is a plan for you in the mind of God; that’s what God tells you when you take the time to listen.
And now, watch Jeremiah’s response (can we identify with this?):
“Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I don’t know how to speak, for I’m only a boy.’” Isn’t that what we tend to say? “Lord, how can I live up to your expectations? How can I do anything really significant? I’m only one person. I’m only this age. I have this limitation.” We tend to respond that way. That’s our human response.
But, what happens then?
“But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a boy.’” Do not put yourself down. Do not say ‘I am only one person’ or ‘I’m limited in some way’ or ‘I need a lot of forgiveness’ or whatever. “Do not say that,” says the Lord. That is the word of the Lord.
“…for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.” When we are still enough to listen, my friends, that’s the kind of thing that God says. First there is affirmation, and the second thing He says is encouragement.
“Do not be afraid of them.” What are the fears that you have to get up and conquer everyday when you get out of bed in the morning? God says, if we listen hard enough to hear His voice, “Do not be afraid of them.” Do not be afraid of those fears. That is the reward of listening prayer. We can hear God saying words of encouragement to us.
And what is the third thing? “Then the Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth” – your mouth, touched by the hand of God – “and the Lord said to me, ‘Now you have my words in your mouth’” – now you have the potential that I put in you, within you. Don’t think you have to rely on your own power. “See, today I appoint you over the nations and over kingdoms’” – I appoint you to be over many people – “‘to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’” And isn’t that the power that we have when we deal with other people? We have the power to lift up and encourage or to smack down. We have the power to encourage growth or to cut it off. Which will we do? God says you’re a person of potential. Be strong. Do not fear. Have great courage.
And so, my friends, let’s make a personal commitment, right here, right now, in the Lord’s church, that this week, some time, in a moment of silence, in a moment you set aside for your time with the Lord, you are going to pray to God and talk with God, but then you’ll take time to listen. You’ll say, “Speak, Lord; your servant heareth. What message have You for me today? What message of affirmation and encouragement, of fearlessness and potential, do You have for me?”
And the Lord who never imposes but always waits for an invitation will fill you and bless you and lift you up for the tasks of the week. May it be so for you, because God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2007 Anthony J. Godlefski