Almost every one of us are born with the gift of hearing. While we are able to perceive sound, not all of us listen. Hearing is passive while listening is active. I’ve spent many years training people on how to listen. It requires removing or blocking distractions. It also demands that you give your attention to the one speaking. Listening is not an easy task. It’s one of the greatest ways you can show someone that you value them. When people don’t listen, it causes a breakdown in the relationship. When they listen intentionally with the intent to understand, it causes the relationship to grow. All of us could get better at listening.
In John 10, Jesus was talking about the Shepherd and the sheep referring to Himself and to us. In verse 14 He said, “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know [without any doubt those who are] My own and My own know Me [and have a deep, personal relationship with Me]” (AMP). It’s important to note that Jesus points out that His sheep have a relationship with Him. Because of that relationship, He listens to us and we listen to Him. He went into say in verse 27, “The sheep that are My own hear My voice and listen to Me; I know them, and they follow Me.” We must be alert daily to hear His voice and to listen in to what He is saying so that we may follow where He leads us.
God is always speaking to us, but we are not always listening or hearing. We have such busy lives that are full of distractions, it’s hard to hear or listen in. This isn’t just a phenomenon of our modern world. Throughout history people have failed to be intentional with their quiet time. That’s why Jesus told us to go into our prayer closet to pray. Your prayer closet is simply a place where you can get alone, free of distractions to hear God’s voice. You must be able to hear Him before you can listen to Him. If it’s been a while since you have heard Him, find a quiet place today, free from distractions and interruptions so you can listen with intention. It won’t be easy because you will also have to learn to quiet your mind. When you are intentional about listening to your shepherd, you will have a deeper, more personal relationship with Him.
For the past few months we’ve been driving to Dallas. Along the way, there is a stretch of farmland where people are growing fields of corn. As the summer has progressed, some of these fields went from green to having some brown spots to turning yellow. The drought did a number on some fields. In a few instances, we’d see a dry field next to a green one. We would be sad about them losing an entire crop, but also see that the neighboring crop was full. They both went through the same drought, but one farmer watered their crops and the other didn’t.
Through the New Testament, Jesus often referred to us as farmers and seed spreaders. He talked about our return on those seeds as well when it came to harvest time. However, there may be some fields you’ve tilled and planted without seeing a harvest yet. I’d like to encourage you to take the step of watering them. 1 Corinthians 3:7 says, “It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow” (NLT). Watering is part of the process many of us forget about. Seeds don’t grow to maturity and crops don’t produce unless they’re watered regularly.
Years ago, I heard Doug Stringer with SomebodyCares.org say, “Prayer is water for the seeds you plant.” In Jewish tradition, after Passover, they pray for dew to cover the ground where their crops are planted. Then as Sukkot passes, they pray for rain at harvest time. These festivals were created by God and remind us that we need to pray for God to water your seeds and to cause them to grow. He’s reminding us that our work isn’t done once we’ve planted seeds. If you’re waiting on a harvest from seeds you’ve planted and are wondering what’s taking so long, start watering them through prayer. Your seeds are not dead. They could be just waiting on some water.
I love how Luke 18 starts out. “One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up” (NLT). Jesus knew that not only would they give up after praying for something for awhile, but so would we. He didn’t want us to stop asking just because it’s been a while. I wish I understood why some prayers are answered immediately, some take a while, and others are never answered. No matter what though, Jesus didn’t want us to give up.
He told the story of a widow who was suffering injustice from someone. She went to a judge who didn’t fear God or care about people. When she didn’t get her justice, she went back to court begging him fir it over and over. Finally, in verse 5 the judge says, “This woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”
When our answers come slowly, we can take courage from this story. We can bombard Heaven with our requests until we drive God crazy. I heard the story recently where Leonard Ravenhill told a friend of mine, “God doesn’t answer prayers. He answers desperate prayers!” When we seek God desperately for an answer, the way this widow did, we can expect answers. And just as the woman believed that the judge would respond, we need to believe that God I’ll respond.
Jesus finishes this parable out just as strongly as He opens it. In verse 8 of The Message, Jesus asked, “But how much of that persistent faith will the Son of Man find on earth when He returns?” That’s our challenge. We live in a world where we can get same day deliveries on things we buy online, but God is looking for a persistent faith. He’s looking for people who will call to Him in prayer the way they would to Amazon if they didn’t deliver their package. He wants us to drive Him crazy and never give up.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
I grew up in a church where all forms of gambling (including Bingo) were considered taboo. When my next door neighbor, who was a little, old lady who had been in the church since the 1920’s, wanted to tell me a gambling joke, I was all ears. She said, “There was a man who wanted to win the lottery real bad so he prayed, ‘Lord, if you let me win the lottery, I’ll pay my tithe and give another 10% to missions.’ Do you know what the Lord said back to him?” I said, “Depart from me, I never knew you?” She shook her said and whispered, “Buy a ticket!” I laughed then because it was out of character for who I thought God was. I laugh now because we all do something similar to Him when we want something big.
In 2 Kings 3, the armies of Israel and Judah went to attack Moab because they quit paying tribute. They took the wilderness route so as not to be seen. When they got close, the men were tired and out of water. They called for Elisha to ask God for help. He told them to dig ditches and they would be filled with water even though it wouldn’t rain. It didn’t make sense, but the army complied. The next morning a pool of water ran through the valley filling all the holes giving the men and animals enough to drink. The opposing army showed up, saw the red morning sky reflecting in the pools and thought it was blood. They went down to plunder on,y to be surprised and were defeated.
One of my favorite quotes says, “Pray like it depends on God. Work like it depends on you.” We are good about asking God for things like it depends on Him, but we’re not always good about digging those ditches like the armies of Israel. Sometimes the ditches were asked to dig won’t make sense. Dig them anyway. God’s actions are motivated by our faith in action. That’s the pattern of the Bible. God doesn’t always answer big prayers, but He does honor big faith in action that accompanies those prayers. What ditches do you need to be digging right now to prepare for God’s answer? Pick up a shovel today and start digging ditches. Don’t wait. Put some action to your faith. Do your part and expect God to do His.
There are some incredible prayers recorded in the Bible that I’m sure you’ve read and or prayed. The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-12) is one that nearly everyone has memorized and prayed at one time or another. The prayer of Jabez (1Chronicles 4:10) is a great prayer to increase the things you have in order to be a blessing. I’ve prayed David’s prayer (Psalm 51:10-12) for forgiveness before in order to have a changed heart. The last one I’ll mention is Mary’s prayer of submission (Luke 1:38) right after she was told she would carry the Savior of the world. She simply asked God to have His will and to do what He said.
All these prayers have something in common. They’re pretty short. They are some of the most powerful prayers in the Bible, yet they’re not long or complicated. Sometimes I think we overly complicate prayer thinking that we have to say the right words, speak to God in King James or impress Him with the length of our prayers. While there’s nothing wrong with praying that way, God is simply looking at our heart. All these prayers I’ve mentioned are heartfelt prayers that touched God and resonate with us. You can pray them, but if you do, make sure they’re coming from your heart and not your memory.
Just before Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer, in Matthew 6:7 He reminded us, “And when you pray, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (AMP). Heartfelt prayer isn’t about repetition. It’s crying out to God in your moment of need. It’s being vulnerable about your insecurities. It’s conversing with God on a personal level. While these memorized prayers have their place, they cannot replace your conversations with God entirely. You must be real with God, and He will be real with you. Open up to Him today, speaking from your heart. He doesn’t measure our prayers for their length or flowery words. He honors heartfelt prayers no matter how long or uncomplicated they are.
I heard a friend of mine say, “Our prayers don’t evaporate, they accumulate.” I loved it the moment I heard it, but my mind went to a negative place. I started thinking of all the prayers I’ve given up on before they’ve really accumulated. I’ve prayed for some things in my life where after a week or so I’ve thought, “Well, it must not be in God’s will,” and I’ve quit praying for it. I’ve had other times where I’ve prayed for something a few times and then prayed, “God, I’ve asked for this several times now. I don’t know why you haven’t answered, but I’m tired of asking. You know what i need. Answer when you’re ready. I’m done asking.” Those prayers didn’t accumulate much in Heaven, and i could have used an attitude adjustment.
In Genesis 32, Jacob was headed back to the Promised Land. The night before he was going to face his twin that he had wronged, God Himself came down to meet him and they wrestled. All night long they fought. When God saw that He couldn’t get free of Jacob, He told him to let Him go. But Jacob answered, “I will not let go unless You declare a blessing on me” (verse 26 GNT). God then blessed him and changed his name to Israel because he struggled with God and prevailed. The attitude he had with God that night is the same we’re to have with Him when it comes to praying for things. Don’t let go until He answers.
In Matthew 7:7-8 Jesus told us, “Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking receives, and he who keeps on seeking finds, and to him who keeps on knocking, it will be opened” (AMP). I believe many times our prayers go unanswered is because we haven’t wrestled with God over them to the point we won’t let go until He does. They’re not answered because we quit asking and quit accumulating them for this situation. Whatever you’re needing God to do for you, keep asking, seeking and knocking until God answers. It may take years of wrestling with God over it, but don’t give up and don’t let go.
I take a spiritual growth assessment a couple of times a year to get a snapshot of where I am. It helps me to visualize the different aspects of my disciplines, see where I’m gaining ground and where I’m losing ground. I’ve noticed when certain disciplines, like listening in my prayer time, are low, there are fewer experiences with God. There’s a direct correlation between my listening to His voice and experiencing His power and presence in my life. If I want more of it, I have to make time to listen instead of just talking through that time to Him about my needs. Listening is a great way to honor God’s presence.
In 1 Samuel 3, Eli was the High Priest of Israel. He was their spiritual leader, but the first verse says, “Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon” (NLT). The reason why the messages and visions were rare is because Eli had quit honoring God’s presence. He no longer slept in the tabernacle tending to the candlestick, he allowed his sons to steal God’s offerings and turned a blind eye to their promiscuity. God had enough of it and spoke to Samuel a prophetic message of how He was going to remove Eli and his sons from their positions.
In Matthew 13:57-58 it says, “Then Jesus told them, ‘A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family.’ And so he did only a few miracles there because of their unbelief.” Our belief and honor have a lot to do with how much we experience the power of God in our life. If it’s been a while since you’ve heard God’s voice or experienced Him in a real way, take a close examination of your life. Are you honoring Him in all aspects of your life? Have you been relaxed on your spiritual disciplines? When we honor God, He shows up in our life in real ways.
I was talking with a friend recently about how technology has been both a blessing and a curse. On the blessing side, we have so much information, entertainment and communication in the palm of our hand. Never before in the history of the world have we had such access, but along with that comes the curse. We’ve lost the ability to be alone to think deeply and to pray. We’re constantly interrupted by it going off, lighting up or us using it out of habit. In times past, people had the ability to process, break down and understand the information they had because they had the ability to truly be alone with their thoughts. That ability also provided them with opportunities to be alone with God.
Exodus 3:1 says, “Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro (Reuel) his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb (Sinai), the mountain of God” (AMP). Notice how Moses was in the wilderness alone. It was then that he noticed the burning bush. Verse 3-4 says, “So Moses said, ‘I must turn away [from the flock] and see this great sight—why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he turned away [from the flock] to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’” Moses turned away from his distraction, and when he did, God called out to him and met with him.
You will even find this pattern with Jesus. Luke 5:16 says, “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray [in seclusion].” How often do you slip away into seclusion, away from all distractions, and pray? It’s difficult in today’s world. We must be intentional about it. Our minds will give us the fear of missing out or of being out of connection with others, but the truth is that those fears have made us miss out on encounters with God and out of connection with Him. Jesus made it a practice to break away from the crowd and noise of life to be alone with God. With all of our connectedness today, we must be even more intentional about it. God is waiting to meet you, but you must turn away from the things that distract you first and get alone with Him.
I’ve always had a heart for missions and missionaries. I love when they visit our church and share their stories. The church organization I grew up in would have missionaries return to The States every few years to share what they were doing with the sending churches and to raise more funds. They would pass out these business cards that usually had their picture on it and the words, “Pray for us.” I remember hearing several tell stories of when they were in certain situations and they could feel the prayers of someone on the other side of the world. I knew then how important it was to pray for missionaries and others whom God put on my heart. I decided at a young age to make it a point to pray for someone at the moment they asked or in the moment God brought them to mind.
Paul started off in 2 Corinthians 1 reminding Christians that when we go through painful times, God is right there with us giving us comfort. He does that so that we can come alongside others who are going through difficult times to bring comfort to them. He reminds us that he experienced a lot of suffering for Christ and therefore had lots of comfort to offer others. When we go through a season of difficult times, it’s often an opportunity for God to fill us up with empathy that others will need. It also shapes how we pray for someone. When we’ve gone through something painful or traumatic, it shapes how we pray and what we pray for. Those prayers are felt by those whom we pray for because they’re born out of the comfort we’ve received from God in our time of need.
In verse 11, Paul writes, “Because there are so many interceding for us, our deliverance will cause even more people to give thanks to God. What a gracious gift of mercy surrounds us because of your prayers!” (TPT) Your prayers surround others with gifts of mercy. Who has God laid on your heart to pray for? Don’t pass up the moment to pray for them or try to dismiss what God is asking you to do. Your prayers matter and have a powerful effect (James 5:16). Whether it’s a missionary in another country, a friend or family member, when God asks you to pray, do it. Just like there are moments when you need someone to be praying for you, others need you to pray for them. Sometimes it’s the difference between life and death. Don’t discount your prayers and the effect they can have.
How much time do you spend in prayer each day? I once read that D.L. Moody spent up to 8 hours a day in prayer. That has always challenged me. I’ve been on church trips where the men would take a two day trip to spend them in fasting and prayer. There would be times when you would see people nod off. When they woke up, they would snap their head back up and say, “Amen!” On those trips I learned how hard it was to spend a lot of time in prayer, even with prayer a focus each hour. It’s also where I learned that prayer was a conversation with God. Can you imagine an 8 hour one way conversation? It was then that I learned to tune into God’s voice by giving Him time to speak in my prayer time.
You can’t read the Gospels without seeing how much time Jesus devoted to prayer. Sometimes He would spend an entire night in prayer, alone with God. The disciples were intrigued by how much time He prayed and even asked Him to teach them how to pray. They saw that prayer was important to Jesus and were challenged to pray more. Prayer became a cornerstone of the Early Church. It actually was birthed from a ten day prayer meeting. Can you imagine praying for ten days straight? I’m convinced that that kind of prayer is the missing element in today’s Church. We must return to being people of prayer. We have to make spending time with God a priority bot privately and corporately if we want to become effective in this world.
Colossians 4:2 says, “Be persistent and devoted to prayer, being alert and focused in your prayer life with an attitude of thanksgiving” (AMP). Have we lost our persistence in prayer? Have we made prayer a priority? It’s not too late to return to this foundational principle of our faith. I don’t know if God is asking you to give Him 8 hours, but you can start with at least 8 minutes. We need to have time set aside each day where we spend it in prayer without being interrupted. We need a place to meet with God where we won’t fall asleep or have distractions that will cause our mind to wander. I believe God is calling you and I back to being people of prayer. Not just rote prayers over meals and bedtime, but real conversations with God. He’s waiting for us. Will we make spending time with Him a priority? Only you can answer that.