Prayer as Listening
This is a preview for the first sermon in the series “Longing, Listening, Love: A Series on Prayer.” To watch the recording of any of the sermons in this sermon series, visit our website.
“The gatekeeper opens the gate for [the Shepherd], and the sheep listen to his voice.”
-John 10:1-6 (NIV)
In the classic game of Telephone, kids gather in a circle to pass along a secret message. The goal of the game: listen well so that the message at the end matches the message given at the beginning. Seems simple, right?
Too bad kids aren’t always the best listeners. Plus, there’s always at least one person who gets great joy out of changing the message on purpose. By the end of the chain, “You gone and done it” has become “You got a golden nugget!”
If we’re honest, isn’t this kind of how we are as the children of God? When it comes to our prayer life, how many of us are quick to talk but slow to listen? And in the process, we acquire some mis-messages. I wonder how our faith and lives might be changed if we learned to view prayer, first, as an opportunity to listen.
As it turns out, children aren’t the only ones who naturally struggle with listening.
In John 10, Jesus is trying to reveal who he is–the Christ who has come to give his life so that they may live. Of course, this message is a difficult one for anyone to hear, but especially for the Jewish religious leaders who have been waiting for a particular kind of Messiah for so long. Jesus doesn’t exactly fit their job description. The Pharisees aren’t ready to hear Jesus’ message.
So Jesus does what he does best: he begins to teach them using a parable. Jesus explains that he is the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd shows up, day after day, and builds a relationship with his sheep. And over time, the sheep come to recognize the voice that goes with the Shepherd who is always caring for them. In fact, the sheep come to know the Shepherd’s voice so well, that they learn to focus all their attention on listening to the Shepherd’s directions while tuning out the voices of the thief or stranger. It’s because the sheep learn to listen to the Shepherd’s voice that they are able to live life to full under the caring watch of their keeper.
For those of you who joined us last week for Rev. Sarah Jane Nixon’s sermon, you’ll remember how dumb sheep are. Like the video we watched, sheep will literally jump from one ditch straight into the same ditch! Sheep are just that helpless.
YET, in Jesus’ parable, even the dumb, helpless sheep are able to learn the sound of the Good Shepherd’s voice. And the sheep’s desire to listen to the Shepherd changes everything about their quality of life.
If sheep can do that, how much more can we–the chosen people of God–learn to recognize and listen to God’s voice? And just like the sheep, when we do commit to regular prayers of listening, it changes everything about our quality of life.
Have you ever thought about prayer as listening? Why or why not?
How often do you take time to intentionally listen for the Good Shepherd’s voice? What does that listening prayer practice look like in your life?
What can FBCM as a congregation do to help each other discern the Good Shepherd’s direction in our lives?