By Carolyn Carney

Listening Prayer as Hearing the Word

It was Sunday at church. Ayelish and Aziz stood up as the ushers to receive the offering. Ayelish is pregnant and showing. I looked over at her standing with her rounded stomach and I knew immediately there was a message here for me. How did I know? It’s as if she jumped up and was floating over our heads. How many pregnant women have I seen in my life?! Hundreds, thousands maybe. But why was this different?  It was like the burning bush—I felt an inner “nudge” from the Holy Spirit. Like Moses, I had to turn to see this, to pay attention at a deeper level, for I knew that this was more than met the eye.

I Listened

And so I did. I was so drawn to this image of the pregnant woman, but didn’t know why. So, as Ayelish went down the aisles taking up the offering, I prayed expectantly, asking God what this was about, what was he trying to say to me. And something came: here was this woman collecting our offerings and bringing them to the front of the church—to the altar—to God—where they are given for the flourishing of the ministry at the church. The offering gives birth to ministry! Hmm! That’s beautiful. And so I shared it with Ayelish after the service. We were both overjoyed at the wonder of God in communicating this. But there’s more.

That afternoon I spent some time praying and listening more to God about this image and word. And God spoke again, by changing the imagery a bit. This time there were no offering plates—but I WAS THE OFFERING!! Being brought forth, arms extended, palms turned upward, offered to God for the flourishing of his Kingdom! 

The Holy Spirit brought Romans 12:1 to my attention: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…” Then I began to ponder and dialog with the Lord: how do you want me this week to offer myself to you, to present my body as a living sacrifice? I began to think about desires I had that needed to be offered up. What were the things I could say “no” to this week in order to say a greater “YES!” to Jesus?  How have I been resistant to God lately?

The Kind of Listening

Simone Weil said, “Attention is the only faculty of the soul which gives us access to God.” In Listening Prayer, we attend to God’s still small voice. Jesus gives us a good model of listening prayer. He often responds to a time of prayer by a determination to go and do something—to act. Or he gains something by listening to his Father’s voice that strengthens him. We see this at his baptism and then, immediately after when he is tempted by the devil (Luke 3, 4) and also in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26).

Listening Prayer is a form of Hear the Word in the discipleship cycle. The kind of listening that we do here is rooted in the Scriptures.  In fact, it is important to test a “word” that we feel we have received from the Lord. The word should always be consistent with biblical principles, and consistent with God’s character. When Listening Prayer is done correctly we can move out into an active response with greater faith and boldness.

For a fuller explanation of listening prayer visit the Discipleship resource page.


with left-aligned textCarolyn M. Carney

Carolyn Carney is Assistant Regional Director for Spiritual Formation & Prayer in NY/NJ Region. Carolyn has served with InterVarsity for over 30 years, including two+ years in South Africa. She serves locally and nationally, influencing the work in Spiritual Formation, Prayer and Discipleship. Nationally, she serves on the Discipleship Steering Committee where she provides leadership for the development of resources in the area of Sexuality and Relational Health. She lives in Jersey City with her husband,David.