Recently, I was talking with some friends struggling to know how to listen to God’s voice in their lives. They prayed regularly and had a solid relationship with Christ, but hearing God’s voice, listening to what God was saying to them in this moment was a challenge. Someone mentioned that they sometimes look in Scripture to listen to God’s voice, but, he confessed, didn’t know how to pray with Scripture.
Maybe you've heard before that God wants to speak with you, and you only have to pick up the Bible to find out what God's saying. Commence the search for your Bible, close your eyes, flip it open to a random page, and smack your finger down aaaannnd.... Huh. Not sure what God's trying to say? No surprise. Often we expect God to work in flashy ways: dramatic conversions and events so big they knock you off your feet. But often, God works in quieter, subtler ways. Think about the story of Pentecost; normally we hear how a driving wind came down with tongues of fire that rested on those gathered. What we forget is that the faithful followers of Jesus had been gathering in prayer for some time before then. Even Jesus's closest followers had to prepare themselves before receiving such a great grace. When we search Scripture for what God is saying to us, we need to do so slowly, deliberately, and go in for the long haul.
Indeed, when we try listening to God's voice, we should always take the time to enter God's time. As much as praying with Scripture is about hearing God's voice in our lives, it is also about slowing down, opening up, and bending the ear toward God's voice. Thus, in the ancient tradition of prayer with Scripture, Lectio Divina, the first step is to stop. I know, some people will tell you the first step is lectio, or reading, but before you start reading, stop. Remember you're in God's presence. Remember you're reading God's word. And then rest in that comfort for at least a moment.
And then pick up the Bible
It can be helpful to start with familiar passages, such as those from the Sunday lectionary, but the main goal is to simply pick up the book and read. Find something short, a handful of verses, no more. Read them as you will; no need to agonize over each word. If God is speaking to you through this verse, God will. You can't force God's hand. You can miss hearing God's voice though, so take care not to skim, but to really read God's word, hear the words of Scripture. Read it again if you think you went too fast.
Next, take time to meditate, or wonder on the passage. Did anything strike or surprise you? How did hearing these words make you feel? Enter into the world of the text if it's a story. Picture yourself there and let the images wash over you. Or, if there's no story, find a word or phrase to chew on, repeating it to yourself over and over and over again. Maybe there's some deep meaning in the words that begins to arise. Maybe not, but an image, a word, or feeling begins to cut a groove in your heart. Hold onto this.
Offer it up
Whatever comes to you through this reflection, offer it back to God. Talk to God about what came to you, ask God for something based on your meditation. Maybe you feel frustrated because nothing seemed to come of this time. Offer that to God. Maybe you are drawn to the need to cultivate a new habit of kindness or courage. Maybe you hear God calling you to act in a specific way. If God is calling you, what do you need from God to live this out? Or, if your mediation left you frustrated, why not ask God to clear the way?
Once you start asking God for something, it can be hard to stop, but praying in Lectio is about aligning our will to God's. We read Scripture to hear God's voice, we meditate on Scripture to find how God is pulling our hearts, and we pray to find out how our lives fit into God's will. If you find yourself turning away from the fruits of your meditation as you pray, you may want to recall the words of the Lord's prayer to draw you back: "Thy will be done, thy will be done, thy will be done..." Or turn to the phrase, feeling, or image that came up for you in meditation. Repeat it so you might return your prayer to focus on God's will.
Rest in God’s love
Finally, after you've listened to God's word, let God's word sink into you, and you've talked to God, let God love you. Simply rest in God's presence, knowing that you are his beloved child. No matter what happens in your prayer, God keeps calling you back and delights in spending time with you. So, after you've taken time to pray, relish in that time.
Lectio can be like a conversation with a good friend. You listen and talk, taking your friend's words to heart. Sometimes the conversation is intense and you feel pulled in one way or another. Sometimes you want your friend to say something, anything, but there's nothing to be said, or, on later reflection, you find you were too wrapped up in your own world to listen. Often it's just conversation, something quiet and doesn't seem to go anywhere but leaves you at peace. But, over time, you find these quiet conversations have changed you, shaped your vision of the world and how you live your place in it.
Like any prayer, Lectio asks to be done again and again. It's through the constant habit of prayer that we hear God's voice. So, the next time you look for God's voice in your life and you pick up the Bible, remember to stop. Read God's word and wonder at what God said. Pray that your will might be one with God's and rest in the love of God, the love he offers you even now.
Philip Lomneth is the Director of Formation at the Co-Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.