How do I listen to God in prayer?
‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” (1 Sam 3:10)
"Sometimes I have trouble hearing what God is telling me. Any advice? I want to learn how to really listen with an open heart and mind."
The question is an important one, one that many people have wrestled with. Even Saint Teresa of Avila — a Doctor of the Church in the Roman Catholic tradition because of her teachings on prayer — struggled with prayer and listening to God.
First, the very desire to be closer to God is itself a clear indication that God is working within you, drawing you close. As Thomas Merton, the great spiritual writer and Cistercian monk, wrote in a prayer, “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you and I hope that I have this desire in all that I am doing.” He continued, saying, “And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road although I may know nothing about it.” One of the key things to listening to God and responding to God’s call is to tap into that God-inspired desire within oneself to please God, to respond to God in love, to reverence and stand in awe of God.
One of the best ways to do this is to spend time with God as much as you can. Practice Saint Paul’s injunction that we “pray without ceasing“. That means to have a spirit of prayer in all that you do, as you go about your daily life. It also means taking time just to be with God, alone and without distraction. This can be tough to do, and it is also a very intimate and vulnerable thing to do. But just as we would in a relationship with a loved one, we grow into these moments, we’re able to behold a sunset together without words or to gaze into one another’s eyes with great love. These experiences with God nurture us and help us be more in tuned with what God’s desire is for us, what God’s voice “sounds” or “feels” like.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola teaches that there are some other specific ways to get in tune with God’s call to you and to help you better listen to and respond to God. The overall term for this is “discernment." Ignatius developed a simple method by which you can review each day in a way that will help you grow in self-understanding and free you to follow God’s will. This practice is called the Daily Examen.