Listening in Prayer

In 1988, Bill Hybels penned a book whose title alone is worth the price. The book is Too Busy Not to Pray. As spiritual leaders, we find the busyness of our lives—the pace of decisions and deadlines—overwhelming at times. In these seasons of hectic pace, we tend to drop items off our schedules that we believe can be postponed or passed over without significant loss. The aforementioned title of Hybel’s book reminds us what can’t be dismissed without grave spiritual consequences. The grammatical and logical shift in the title is shockingly critical. When we become busy, even too busy, we must appropriate significant time to pray. The busier we become, the more diligence is needed in prayer.

I just returned from my morning prayer walk. My mornings in the NAB International Office regularly begin before six. The quiet of the early morning in my office—before staff arrive for the day, the phone starts ringing, and emails start popping up—allows me to get a jumpstart on my ever-growing task list. But somewhere near seven thirty, I take my prayer walk. In that time, I practice the habit of praise and intercession. Well, most of the time. You see, there are days when I succumb to the temptation to become “too busy to pray.”

The apostle Paul sets for us a personal example of prayer. Gordon Fee, in his nearly one-thousand-page book on the Holy Spirit, God’s Empowering Presence, reminds us this about Paul:

What is clear from Paul’s letter is that he was a pray-er before he was a “missioner” or thinker. His life was devoted to prayer; and his relationship with his converts was primarily sustained by way of thanksgiving and prayer. To eliminate prayer from Paul’s personal piety would be to investigate the workings of a gas-combustible engine without recognizing the significance of oil. Paul did not simply believe in prayer, or talk about prayer. He prayed, regularly and continuously, and urged the same on his churches.

Following Paul’s example, we believe that prayer is essential in our daily practices. We talk to God in prayer, but we also listen to God in prayer. And sometimes listening in prayer is harder than even talking in prayer. As evangelicals, we believe we hear God through His Word as He speaks through scriptural truths. We believe we hear God in the voices from the community of faith surrounding us and that brothers and sisters in Christ help us in discernment. We believe we hear God in the quietness as His Spirit directs and guides. But listening to God, much like talking to God, requires time and space set aside for that very purpose.

So, let me edit Hybel’s title ever so slightly and suggest that you and I are “too busy not to listen” to God’s voice.

Here are some questions that might provoke you to think about how meaningfully you are leading your life and your people toward listening in prayer.

—How much time do you set aside in your worship services when people in community can quietly reflect on scripture?

—How much time do you spend in your leadership teams listening and discerning together how God is leading and directing you as a group?

—How do you regularly practice listening to God in your own spiritual disciplines?

—How are you teaching others—in Sunday School, at small groups, through discipling relationships, etc.—to hear God’s voice as He counsels and guides?

May we continue to become spiritual leaders who are grounded in the practice of prayer, both talking to God and actively listening to His voice.


“Nowhere is it more important to be in a conversational relationship with God than in our prayer life.”

―Dallas Willard, Hearing God