The Art of Listening Prayer

A Book by Seth Barnes

The Basics of Listening Prayer: How to Hear God’s Voice

Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

I don’t know about you, but for a long time, this verse bothered me. I was supposed to be listening for his voice, but mostly all I heard was silence.

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The Basics of Listening Prayer

The silence pointed to a deeper frustration. All my life I had struggled with this problem: I had accepted Jesus as my savior and was supposed to have this personal relationship with him, but it didn’t feel very personal.

How Most of Our Prayer Times Look

As a teenager, my mom would ask me the same question every morning at the breakfast table: “Did you have your devotions?”

She meant, had I read the Bible and prayed?

My devotions were dry, routine affairs. I’d whip through a chapter in the Bible. I’d run down a list of prayer requests, and I’d check that part of my day off the list. What a contrast with, say, a date with my girlfriend. When I took her out for dinner and a movie, sometimes we missed the movies because we couldn’t stop talking. Our conversations had a momentum all their own.

How discouraging that the relationship that was supposed to be the most exciting and wonderful in my life had become a check on my to-do list.

Our Daily Prayers Can Be So Much Deeper

Maybe you are like me—you grew up having monologues with God and have never heard before that he wants to talk to you. You’ve not really learned how to hear his voice.

I remember the first time I heard his voice. It was years later; I was desperate. I had been betrayed by someone very close to me and I needed to know that God cared. I asked him if he would share with me what he thought of me. The next thing that happened changed my life forever. God spoke inwardly to me in a way that might as well have been audible. He said, “Seth, I love you.”

That did it. I was a junky, ruined for anything that smacked of a tame, compromising faith. I shared with my children what they called “praying the new way.” One of them heard God say, “I love you more than the flowers and the trees.”

After that, we all began to grow in our ability to listen. We would ask the Lord questions, then listen, and he often spoke.

What Does Listening Prayer Look Like?

In 1998, Allie Pohlmeier traveled with a team from Judson College to do a project in Matamoros, Mexico. As so often happens, her heart was touched by what she experienced, particularly by one family for whom her team built a home. They painted it green.

Before leaving, she took a picture of herself with that family in front of the home.

In the spring of 2005, she returned to Matamoros on an AIM project. One day, she asked the Lord what he wanted her to do. Then she waited and listened. Allie felt the Lord saying, “Find the green house.”

“But God,” she said, “Matamoros is a huge place! There may be a million people living here. I have no idea where that house is—how in the world would I ever find it?”

God said, “Find the green house.”

“But God,” she said, “that’s a crazy thing. I don’t even know the name of the neighborhood. I have no idea what the family’s name is. I’ll look stupid!”

God said, “Find the green house.”

Eventually Allie gave in, and taking the picture of the house with her, started off.

She looked up and down the first street—no green house. She felt ridiculous, but knew she must obey. She saw a girl walking down the street, so she approached her.

“Could you look at this picture and tell me who these people are,” she said to the girl, “or where this house might be?”

The girl studied the picture and slowly a look of amazement came to her face.

“That’s me!” she exclaimed, pointing at the picture. “That’s our house! I’ll take you to it. It’s just around the corner.”

As it turned out, she was only a block away from the green house!

What Allie experienced shouldn’t be unusual for those of us who listen for God’s voice. Christianity is a personal faith. God wants to talk to us. He wants to guide us, but we have to listen.

How to Listen to God

How do you listen to an all-powerful but invisible God?

The Bible has a lot to say about it. Over and over God interacts with people in a variety of ways. Our God is endlessly creative in how he communicates with them.

God spoke to Daniel through visions, Balaam through a donkey, Peter through a rooster, and of all things, he spoke to Moses out of a shrub.

He is a God who says, “Listen for my voice.”

Examples of Listening Prayer

There are hundreds and hundreds of examples of God speaking to people in the Bible. It’s his modus operandi—and he gives detailed instructions for this in both the Old and New Testament.

We also have a rich history of God speaking to man from Jesus’ time until the present—people like Augustine, Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, and Brother Lawrence.

In our relationships, we are so distracted and busy that it’s often the exception rather than the rule that people listen to one another, much less listen to God. We need to learn how to listen.

Listening Prayer Can Transform Your Church

Recently I spoke to a church. They asked me to ask for the church’s missions faith promise offering. I asked, “How did you do last year?” The answer came back, “Not so well, people gave just 46 percent of faith promise monies they had pledged.”

I thought, “That’s interesting. I’ll bet the reason the figure is so low is not that they don’t have the money, but that they didn’t hear the Lord correctly. If they heard him clearly, then the figure would be 100 percent.”

So I did a survey. “How many of you feel as though you hear clearly from the Lord?” The answer came back: 46 percent. The same figure!

I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Frankly, almost everyone struggles to hear God and many people have never heard him.

Listening Prayer Exercises

Learning to hear the Lord’s voice isn’t complicated. But it does require some discipline to find a quiet place and to allow some time just listening.

Perhaps the hardest part of listening prayer is clearing your mind. With all the noise of life regularly cascading through your mind, it can be hard to hear God’s voice. There’s no formula, but let me share a few principles that have worked for me:

  1. Set aside at least half an hour to start. When you are ready, quiet yourself. If stray thoughts come through your mind, write them down on a separate piece of paper.
  2. Read some scripture. Ask the Lord to speak to you through it in a way that you can understand. Ask God to protect you in Jesus’ name from deception.
  3. Then write down your question for prayer. Pause. This is where you wait and listen. God may direct you to another passage of Scripture. He may share a tender word. Whatever you feel he may be saying to you, write it down.
  4. Ask him to confirm anything he shared with you.

Simple Strategies for Better Prayer Times

  1. Use a journal; it will help you focus. Plus it’s a great resource to look back and see the journey the Lord took you on. It also helps fine-tune your spiritual ears to better hear him. Writing down your impression of the Lord’s responses creates in you an expectancy that he will respond.
  2. Use two different pens. I like to use the first color to record my thoughts and the second pen to record what I sense God is saying. The different colors clarify “who’s talking.”
  3. If, when you sit down to pray, you often have a to-do list pop up in your head, then have another piece of paper handy to make a list with any other thoughts that pop up. It’s okay and it’s natural. Just let them come out so you can focus.

Questions To Test What you Hear from God

  1. Was it a clear word or just an impression? God may give us different degrees of confidence in what he has said. We therefore need to humbly admit our fallibility. Get someone you trust to check your impression and to confirm it or not.
  2. Does it exalt Christ? (John 16:14)
  3. Is it scriptural? Scripture is our authority. God does not contradict himself. (Proverbs 30:5-6)
  4. Do other Christians confirm it? (Proverbs 20:18, Proverbs 15:22)
  5. Does God cause it to actually take place? (Isaiah 55:11, Deuteronomy 18:21-22)

Can You Really Know the Voice of the Lord?

Vicki Gross was struggling with how to recognize God’s voice, and described a breakthrough that the Lord gave her.

I was on a school bus full of jabbering, yelling kids. My son was in the back of the bus. There were 20 rows of children making noise between us, but as I listened, in the back, I could make out the distinctive voice of my boy. To anybody else who didn’t know him, his voice would have blended into the cacophony, but because I know him, I recognized his voice.

The Lord showed me, ‘That’s how you recognize my voice, too. Because you know me, you recognize my voice, even above life’s noise.”

God’s voice is distinctive. He promises that we, his sheep, will hear it. The more you pause and listen for his voice, the more you will find that your ears tune in to it—you become familiar with it. It just requires your listening.

Get the free devotional: Deepen your intimacy with God as you pray through this three-day devotional on Listening Prayer. Click here to download the devotional.

The Art of Listening Prayer

This post is by Seth Barnes. Seth is the author of The Art of Listening Prayer, a month-long devotional that will help you hear the voice of the Lord more clearly and apply his direction to your life. You can click here to purchase the devotional.

33 Replies

  1. […] There is this discipline called “listening prayer”, which, in essence, is like prayer, but you are at the other end of the line – receiving words from God instead. I will not attempt to replicate good material that can already be found on the subject. You can view these articles here, and here. […]

    1. Eric

      Hello friends, context is so important. The John 10 passage about sheep hearing God’s voice is referring to salvation, not our ability to hear or listen for his voice. His Word so richly gives us the direction we need for Godly and faithful lives. If you look at the whole section and not just grab one verse it will help you see the point of that important message. The “hearing” being referred is talking about all who have heard the call of salvation and become followers of the Good Shepherd, Jesus. Dig into this deeper, you’ll find great stuff. Check out http://www.str.org

  2. HK Hwang

    I tried for several years to listen to God’s voice… But can’t. I am giving up now.

    1. Sam

      Is it that God isn’t talking or you aren’t getting the answer you want? That was a struggle I had for a long time. Remember, God doesn’t always speak to you in the ways you think He will. He may use someone around you, an unrelenting notion in your heart, scripture, or a plethora of other methods. God often speaks to me through songs. Don’t give up because He hasn’t given up on you. It will happen. Just be still.

    2. Oh don’t give up dear! God wants to talk to you. It just takes time and practice. A lot of the time its not that hes ignoring you. Or he doesn’t want to talk to you. Its just that a lot of people don’t know how to listen to him

    3. Carla

      Don’t give up here is a place you can learn how. Mark &Patti Virkler have videos and books on how to hear God. I have been trying also with that video below and have trouble.

      http://www.cwgministries.org/galilee

      1. lynn

        I read Mark Virkler’s book and heard his preach/video,but still cannot hear Lord’s voice, maybe I am a fool.

        1. Eric

          You’re not a fool Lynn. God’s Word is what speaks so clearly to us. It’s so rich that we need not look for anything outside of it. Check out this https://www.gotquestions.org/listening-prayer.html

    4. Teachers never talk during a test. If you give up, you will not pass the test…this time.

    5. John

      It depends on what is going on in your mind. Sometimes I hear nothing because there is something going on. For me, the best way to listen is to wait until something happens, then pray about it.

    6. Neci

      Please dnt…just think right whn u do. He could be around the corner

    7. Deb

      Don’t ever give up.. God will never give up on us.. I pray for you to hear Gods voice just don’t ever give up

    8. Liz

      Don’t give up. He’s listening, you have to hear through life’s noise what he is saying is your path!

  3. […] It just takes practice.  Check out this site that gives a great overview on hot to get started: http://artoflisteningprayer.com/listening-prayer-101/ You can also check out Walking with God by John Eldredge  I will stress again as I have in other […]

    1. Carla

      That link you gave him is the same place we are on right now.

  4. Joseph Sanguedolce

    I have been a believer since May 26th 2003 and I have probably only gotten lucky in knowing something was from The Lord but now in my life I am really really working on my walk with him but I don’t hear him if it says my sheep know my voice but I can’t hear him or don’t recognize it does that mean im not saved? I struggle with this :/

    1. Thomas Wirth

      We are saved simply by accepting Jesus Christ as our lord and saviour. The steps we take after accepting Him only help us to grow in our relationship with Him. Anything we do or don’t do after honestly and truly accepting Him, does not change the fact that we are saved, because being saved means all our sins and shortcomings are forgiven.

      I used to hear God’s voice very clearly, but in recent years, it has become muffled. I blame nobody else but myself for that, but I believe that I am still saved. I encourage you to pray, to seek Him, and in time, according to His plan, He will reveal Himself to you. I also encourage you to understand that if you have been a believer since 2003, you are most definitely saved.

    2. Peaceloving

      There is no luck or accidents with God. Its God’s grace working in your life. “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

    3. Deb

      Maybe you aren’t listening like you should or expecting something big. It might be just a thought or feeling that may be how God is speaking to you

  5. Taylor

    I have been a sinner all my life I have lied to my family and my girlfriend, and it was because of my current girlfriend that brought me back to God. I was an atheist for a while about a year ago. I thought he didn’t exist and was just a made up character. Question is am I saved now? I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my savior and thanks to lovely girlfriend. Will He forgive me?

    1. Ken

      Yes Taylor He forgives you! :) He forgives all our sin as we come to Him sorry for what we did. The power of His forgiveness is greater than any sin because He was without sin and died for our sin. One drop of Jesus’ blood is sufficient to cover all the sins for all of mankind for all of History. Hard to comprehend but He truly died for your sins because of His great love for you!

      1. Ils insultent Marca, organe puissant du pays dont la version papier est une grosse merde, car la finale de la Liga de foot et le Nadal Fed se déroule en même temps. Impératif financier impossible dans d’autres pays. Connaissant l’Espagne, quelques décideurs ont dû baisser leur froc contre un chèque. Cela pouvait être aisément évité. Et 2de raison, Santana, paraît qu’il est trop pro-Nadal, enfin je sais pas.5 finales d&l2f17;a8fi#ée, c’est un record Franckie?

    2. Carla

      Yes, He will He is real good at forgiving. I know if i was you get baptized and ask them for the Holy Spirit. You know what the best thing to do is ? Confess all your sins to Him. I confessed all my sins and He forgave me. I have the Holy Spirit but for some reason I bought books on how to hear Him and I can not still hear him. So if you do not hear the HolY Spirit you can not do the Healing heart wounds you know generational sins and curses,Severing Ungodly soul ties, replacing negative expectations and renouncing inner vows, receiving divine visions(People that could not forgive)Breaking word curses and casting out demons. We all have demons in us. But we have to get rid of their home by doing all those prayers first. The book is called Prayers that heal the Heart. But if you can not hear God I do not think you can do them. Cause you have to ask the Holy Spirit what is in your heart. You know like ,anger, Depression, etc.

    3. Deb

      If you gave your life to Jesus you are saved just have faith

  6. Jessica

    may I borrow the “listening prayer exercises” portion of this post to share with my congregation to provide a bit of a guide for them?

    1. There is also a slim book called God Guides that was written by a missionary that has The Listening Prayer. This prayer is especially powerful as you are binding everything that is not God and asking for his wisdom.

  7. […] I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. – Philippians 4:13 Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” http://artoflisteningprayer.com/listening-prayer-101/ […]

  8. Phil

    I believe God is faithful to his word.all we need is to pray,be patient,read the word of God,focus and always get connected with the spirit of God in us.

  9. joy karney

    I believe prayer is about God being a part of my life and his trans-formative power to make me into the person I am meant to be.. That I am becoming more like Him and that I bare the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22) in my life that can be seen by those I meet: love, joy, peace patience,kindness, gentleness, self-control..It takes a lifetime to see perfection in this and in Jesus I have hope. If you are looking for a quick miracle, I think you will be disappointed, but if you are looking for new life in Jesus, you have come to the right place. II Corinthians 5:17

  10. Jenny

    Ask God to help you hear His voice, and then have FAITH (believe) that He will do it. Faith is the key. He is faithful!

  11. Terri

    Hello…when you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior…You heard his voice…He called you…you heard him!!You became his child…now stop making excuses!! Stop the sin!!Get right with him ask for forgiveness and walk with him..Read his word,witness for him,do it all in faith…you will hear his voice..If you don’t have the Holy Ghost pray and ask God to fill you with the power!! Take care and God Bless.

  12. Thanks god you are really live in this World

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