Praying but not listening — St. Peter's Fireside | Vancouver, B.C. 

by Alastair Sterne
March 12, 2012
4 min read

Have you ever had moments where the unresolved nature of life becomes such a burden that it plunges you headlong into frustration and stress? I have, even in the midst of consistent and focused prayer. We can’t always expect congruency between our prayer life and our circumstances. But shouldn’t praying at least bring solace to our burdened souls? Especially if much of life, if not all of life, is lived unresolved, in-tension, in-between there here and there, and never quite knowing the full picture?

As Julia and I have continued to settle into Vancouver and engage our new context, it has brought up a lot of questions, and has challenged per-conceived notions we had about the city. There are so many scenarios and possibilities laid out before us that I often find myself desperate to know which one will play out, and how. My mind gets restless, and my thoughts get caught up in a knot.

So I pray, and pray, and then I pray some more. I don’t say this to boast, but to actually point out a fault: my dialogue with God often becomes one-sided. I cover him in the sticky-notes of my anxiousness, but only find some relief.

I took some time this past Friday to seek God through Scripture and prayer with my trusty journal. As I took time to still myself, to be in solitude, and to really seek to hear from God, the first thing I heard wasn’t so much comforting as it was convicting:

“Your heart is restless for good reason: you have not been seeking me in your decisions. You have been praying—but not listening

I was struck to the core when I felt the Holy Spirit convict me of this. I realized that in all my praying I had given God no time to respond. I had treated him like some sort of cosmic vending machine. But not even a well functioning vending machine. I treated him more like the one when the candy gets stuck on its way down, where you end up striking the machine in frustration.

You have been praying—but not listening.

I had to ask myself, “Alastair why haven’t you been listening?” Perhaps the truth is that I don’t always want to hear what God will say. I get attached to an idea, or an expectation for things to play out the way I desire. I don’t want to hear God’s voice because it might be contrary to my own.

This is the first, and the most key, lesson of learning to hear from God. If you want to hear from God, you must resolve to say ‘yes’ before knowing what He will say. A ‘yes’ before knowing is so liberating. It frees us from our self-centeredness. It plunges us into uncertainty. Yet what emerges in the waters of uncertainty is the peace of trusting in God and not ourselves.

It’s easy to find this resolve within ourselves. I had to get to this posture through way of reminder:

It is more important to follow you than man
… to please you than people,
… to seek you than my gain,
… to turn around than head forward in disobedience,
… to know your heart than my own,
… to trust you rather than circumstances,
… to be faithful than anything else.

I can heap words upon words in hopes that God will answer. That is one option. Alternatively I can pray knowing that God delights in my prayers and is eager to speak with me—which is a much better option. When we cease to speak, and create space to listen we are inviting God to help us rest in his truth. He may lead us to a place in Scripture and assure us with his Word; he may help us remember a conversation throughout the week which we overlooked; and he may even speak through a donkey if he so desires.

How can I say that it is in the uncertainty of what God is going to say that peace emerges? Paul writes “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). No matter how well I pray or how well I listen, Jesus is praying for me in ways far more perfect than I can imagine. I can rest in this fact. Paul reminds us of the assurance of Jesus’ care for us.

Regardless of what I ended up hearing from God, I left my time of listening to him with peace that had not come to me despite my many words and prayers.

about the author
Alastair is the lead pastor at St. Peter’s Fireside. Once upon a time he was a touring musician of a forgettable indie band, and a Creative Director at a few design agencies. He is the husband of Julia, the father of Ansley and Maggie, and quite skilled with "the photoshop." If you're feeling up for it, you can follow him on Instagram.

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