Don’t “Listen to God’s Spirit” When You Pray

Listening Prayer is Not PrayerI came across an article this morning that gave what the author called eight keys to understanding God’s will for your life. As knowing God’s will is, in my opinion, extremely important to the life of a Christian, I was interested in what the author had to say. A few of the points were very good ones, but then I got to key #6 which was Listen to God’s Spirit.

I was immediately cautious as I read the authors explanation. I was hoping that perhaps he was using that in some metaphorical way. Maybe he was going to say that as we pray we should keep good biblical principles in mind. A fraction of a second later, my anticipated disappointment turned into real disappointment. The author was saying that we need to ask God for the next steps in the different major areas in our lives and then wait, pen in hand, and write down everything God tells us.

My friends, this is an extremely dangerous practice. In New Age vernacular this is called channeling. Not only is it a dangerous entry into occult practices, it’s completely unbiblical. There is nothing in the Bible that tells us to seek words from God other than the words that he’s already given us: the Bible.

At the end of each key in the article, the author includes a Bible verse, and this one was no different. The verse he included was John 10:27 which says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

The context of this verse immediately tells us that this has nothing to do with prayer. All you have to do is read the paragraph that contains that verse. Take a look at John 10:22-29 (emphasis mine).

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

From the context, we can see that verse 27 is talking about people coming to know Christ for salvation. This is not a command or a statement about the prayer lives of his followers.

(Though not in the article I read this morning, another common verse that people will often use to justify what’s called Listening Prayer or Contemplative Prayer is Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” I wrote about that last year.)

Despite the popular notion that prayer is to be a dialog, there’s nothing in the Bible that commands us to seek that. If God wants to speak to you he certainly can, but that is not a normal practice and we shouldn’t be looking for it; in fact it should be viewed as exceedingly rare. God’s will for us has been clearly laid out in the Bible. Using those principles, we can be sure that our actions will please him.

In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul tells us that it is the Scripture that is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, and that by the Scripture the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. It’s in the Scripture that we should be seeking his will and his words to us. The Scripture is sufficient and authoritative for our lives as followers of Christ.

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11 thoughts on “Don’t “Listen to God’s Spirit” When You Pray

    • Thanks for the comment, Chyna, and the question.

      I think Jesus’ promise of answered prayer in Matthew 7 is one of the greatest in Scripture. In fact, when we think that the God of the universe cares enough about us tiny little humans to hear when we pray and to promise to answer, we should be filled with a deep awe and worship for him. Throughout the Bible, one of the promises (and commands) that is most often mentioned is that we can pray to God and that he’ll hear us.

      But of all of those statements on prayer, including Matthew 7:7-8, nowhere are we commanded to pray and then sit quietly, pen in hand, and listen for his response. God has already spoken to us in his Word. There is nothing else for him to tell us besides what’s there.

      I do believe, however, that the more we study the Bible and hide God’s Word in our hearts, the more the Holy Spirit will bring those passages to mind when we pray, especially as they pertain to what we’re praying about. For example, if I pray about a problem I’m having at work, God may bring to mind a passage of Scripture—a passage that I’ve studied—that pertains to that problem.

      One more thought about Matthew 7:7-8 is that this promise doesn’t say that I can ask for anything at all and expect that God will give it to me. The Scripture is clear that when I ask for something in prayer, if it’s in his will to give it, then I will have it. Otherwise his answer will be “No”.

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      • I completely understand all that you wrote me. I see it and acknowledge it and accept it.

        Yet, if God is forever constant, everlasting and ever present…wasn’t him and his word around before the bible. Jesus came and completely contradicted a lot of the old testament in order to show new light on what God is.

        I personally believe that if a word can be interpreted in many ways (sometimes harmful and other times beneficial), it shouldn’t be taken too literal. I have read the bible several times and have witnessed (each time) a different message exposed to me. Sometimes, I would read a passage and get something and the very next day I would read the same passage and experience brand new wisdom and insight.

        If I said: The sky is big. No matter how many times you read that, it is read as the same sentence. Yet, the bible isn’t black and white. The bible is constantly changing even if it’s physical form just as God is a new experience every time you encounter him.

        If we are made in God’s image and in his likeness, would that mean we could do just as Jesus did? Speak to God and find new insight on what truth and light is? A bible, though it is vast in it’s teachings, cannot contain God’s word. God cannot fit inside anything. He is far greater than all that we have seen combined. His word is far bigger than 1,189 chapters. God is the creator of the box, which means he isn’t defined by it. He defines it.

        The same way I create a poem, it does not completely define me. Only a piece if I say so. It is my creation and I am the one who says what it is.

        I would like to end with this: The bible may have truth in it, but it is not the only truth. Same as the old testament for Jesus. It had truths in it, but he brought more light on what truth is.

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        • I agree that the Bible doesn’t hold all of the truth of God. I also agree that nothing could. God is infinite in his complexity, beauty, knowledge, wisdom, etc. But the Bible does contain everything that God wants to tell us. If we have to seek out new messages from God, then that means that the Bible is not sufficient. We have everything we need for life and godliness right there in those 1,189 chapters. It is completely sufficient and authoritative for all of our needs.

          I disagree that the Bible doesn’t contain God’s word. It doesn’t contain God, but it does contain his word. The passage in 2 Timothy says that the words of Scripture (the Greek says it’s the words of the Bible) are God’s inspired words. Those words don’t change. The more we dig the more we can get out of it, but the words themselves don’t change. And if I get one thing from a passage and you get something that’s the opposite of what I got, we can’t both be right. We can both be wrong, or you can be right and I’m wrong, or I’m right and you’re wrong, but we can’t both be right.

          I also believe that there is only 1 interpretation of a given passage of Scripture. We can usually find many applications, but there is only one correct interpretation. As followers of Christ, our first goal should always be to figure out what the original author was trying to communicate to the original audience. (By “author” I mean the human author—I know God ultimately wrote it.) In the case of 2 Timothy, we have to figure out what Paul was trying to say to Timothy. Only then can we seek to apply it to ourselves and our lives. As the saying goes, “It can never mean what it never meant.”

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  1. When people were reading the Old Testament (OT), they were not seeking new word from God and yet here comes Jesus with a new word. He was put to death because the bible was only the OT or the “truth” that was accepted at the time.

    No where in the bible does it say “read and accept ONLY the bible”. Rhemas and logos were added into the bible to try and distinguish the word of God (which is Jesus) and the bible (which is man-made) 50+ years ago. The first thing that is wrong with this: how can the bible talk about the bible before it was even thought to be created at the time? The other problem, the way to distinguish it is by capitalization and lowercase. The original translations were only capitalized/lowercase (?). Research it.

    Also, even if you look it up right now, there are tons of verse/books/chapters that have been taken out of the bible (excluded) or altered. The bible was put together by man and not by any holy spirit. We never met this people nor do we know where their hearts were. So thousands of bible stories/verses we should have had weren’t added into the bible; and are still being discovered till this day.

    Each time that you translate anything from one language to another, something is lost. Look into how many times it has been translated before you got your hands on it. How much do you think was lost during this process?

    If God is (which he is) abundant, generous and loving of all things (regardless of religion), there would be no lacking of the world. There would be no pain or suffering. But, because there is, we obviously do not have all of the answers just yet (or at least inside them [personally] and also inside the bible).

    Inspired does not mean that’s it. People can be inspired by God, but that doesn’t mean you listen to them 100% (follow them blindly). The bible also states to test our teachers. The bible says to test everything. Why would the exclude the bible?

    Also, who says we can’t both be right? Technically, when Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, he never said “I’m right! You’re wrong!”. Of course, he called them closed minded and foolish, but never did he say they were wrong in their belief system. He came to open minds to a newer way of thinking. He said he was the truth, the way and the life. Never did he say, “I am the only truth, the only way and the only life”. He continued to say “no one comes to the Father, except through me.” If we look at what Jesus preached and what was the most important in his eyes, it was simple. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself (which means you would have to love yourself, of course). The bible is documents or notes of what happened during the time of Jesus and before his time.

    Also, 2 Timothy is technically what being inspired by God is. He wrote a letter to his friend, for his friend, and now we have to evaluate this (and many more) document(s) and apply to our lives. Okay.

    Men who put the bible together were sexist, racist, slave owners, polygamists and you can see in the bible that they weren’t all just changed or willing to change. In the bible, it clearly states that the construction of the bible was put to a lot/random selection (who was replacing Judas in the process). The men weren’t allowed to leave until it was decided . Think about jury duty….people get away with things all the time because they are forced to all agree. Regardless of beliefs or backgrounds, if you don’t agree with the majority, you don’t get to go. Isn’t the path narrow?

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    • Chyna, our personal views of Scripture are very different from one another. You’ve brought up a lot in your comments and I won’t answer them all here. We have gone very far from the point of the original post and perhaps in another venue this conversation would be better placed. I’ll make a couple of statements here and then I’ll need to be done with it for now.

      I believe that God is the ultimate author of the Bible. I believe that the Bible that he authored includes the 66 books that we have now in the Protestant Bible. God wanted to communicate to his creation and he’s done so directly at first, and now through the Bible. It’s our sole source of authority and has the final say over our life and conduct. It cannot be added to and it cannot be taken away from (which would be logistically impossible anyway). I believe that the Bible I read today was translated 1 time from the original languages; it’s not a translation of a translation of a translation as some like to claim. We have what is almost certainly the original text, though not the original documents, and our modern translations are translated from that original text.

      I appreciate your comments and your desire to seek the truth of these things. I can tell from your writing that you are passionate about the truth, but you and I come down on different sides of this. I hope you will continue to seek God and the truth as I also strive to do.

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      • Alright. Before I dismiss myself: seeking the truth means to question the truth and not to be afraid that your truth could be wrong because if it is truth it will continue to be so. Even if it isn’t truth, you would be excited to find deeper truth.

        Yet, you do not know the history of the bible–so I have no choice, but to also end it here.

        I appreciate the time and energy you put into this conversation with me. I love you and have a wonderful day!

        “It does take great maturity to understand that the opinion we are arguing for is merely the hypothesis we favor, necessarily imperfect, probably transitory, which only a very limited minds can declare to be a certainty or a truth.” – Milan Kundera, Encounter

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