22nd March 2009

Prayer as Listening

Exodus 2:1-11

Luke 1:39-45

    Prayer is our side of our relationship with God. It is not merely asking God for help; it includes everything that goes to make up our side of the relationship.

    One important aspect of this is listening. There is no real relationship if those involved do not listen to each other. That is as true of our relationship with God as it is of our other relationships.

    God speaks to us in many different ways. Much of what he wants us to listen to are words spoken in the past which still are relevant today – if he has already told us, we do not need him to keep repeating himself! Many of the teachings and instructions in the Bible are as relevant today as when they were given, and we need to listen to them and respond.

    Much of the Bible is in the form of stories, and those need a different kind of listening. We are not just to hear the words, but to think about the point behind the words – why is this in the Bible? What does God want us to learn from it? The same approach is needed for those passages which were obviously relevant at the time, but not so easy to relate to a different age and a different culture. Why are those passages in the Bible? What is God saying to us?

    When we start asking what God is saying to us, we often find that we become aware of something that God wants us to take note of for our present circumstances. It may be that through the story we realise that we need to change our behaviour or our plans, or that we need to look at things from a different perspective. We may feel that God is giving us a specific instruction or warning, guiding us into a particular path that we might not have chosen. So in our reading we are not only listening for messages from God that are relevant for all time, but we listen out for anything God may be saying specially for us today. And when we hear what God is saying to us, we can respond appropriately by attitude, words and/or action. Our relationship with God grows, and God’s purposes are furthered.

    The readings above illustrate this. Mary’s visit to Elizabeth gives an example of listening: Elizabeth listens to Mary, and also to her own body and the baby within her. She is open to God, and responds with a blessing given her by God for Mary. Our listening includes awareness of our own feelings and intuitions and circumstances, as well as what is on the printed page – God’s ‘voice’ comes in many forms.

   The passage about Moses in the reeds is not obviously one about listening. Nevertheless, on Mothering Sunday it is a good passage to listen to. The context of the story is that Pharaoh had decreed that every Israelite baby boy had to be thrown in the Nile. Moses’ mother was in an impossible situation; but she listened to her instincts and to her own ideas, and put him in the river in a home made boat! She had no idea whether the baby would be rescued or not, but she had done all she could and the rest was up to God. It may be that she knew where Pharaoh’s daughter would go to bathe, and briefed her daughter about what to say if she found the baby – but that is speculation. The result was that one whom Pharaoh sought to kill ended up in court, and eventually became the deliverer of his people. And all because his mother, at her wits’ end, listened to other voices than that of Pharaoh.


1) In the story of Moses in the rushes, do you identify with any of the characters? Does anything in the story ring bells with you in your situation? What speaks to you personally?

2) How can you be more attentive to God?