Most of us talk to God a lot. We tell Him what we need and what we want. We describe our lives, complain about our troubles, and exult over our joys. We confess our sins and ask God's forgiveness. We pray for other people and commend them to God's loving care.
All of this is good, for it means that we are living in an intimate relationship with God. But sometimes, in all our talking, we forget that listening is also an important part of prayer.
Today's readings emphasize the importance of listening to God.
In the first reading, the young Samuel hears someone calling him. Three times he goes to Eli only to discover than Eli had not summoned him. Eli finally figures out what is going on. God is the One calling Samuel. Eli tells Samuel to respond to God with the words, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.” The Hebrew word for “listening” means more than just sensing sounds with the ears. It refers to hearing intelligently, with connotations of paying attention, consenting, and obeying. With these words, Samuel is placing himself at God's service. He is opening his mind and heart to accept God's message and to do God's will.
Psalm 40, verse 7, reads, “Sacrifice and offering You do not want; but ears open to obedience You gave me.” In the second part of the sentence, the Hebrew is literally “my ears You have opened,” and the verb used for “open” actually means “to dig” or “to excavate” or “to bore.” God has dug out the psalmist's ears so that he might truly hear what God has to say and so that he might listen and obey Him. This is an odd image, but it shows us that sometimes God has to dig His way into our ears and into our hearts and minds.
In the Gospel, John the Baptist is walking with two of his disciples. He points to Jesus and says “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The disciples hear him. The Greek verb “to hear” also means to pay attention, to consider, and to understand or comprehend. The disciples hear and act. They understand what John says and change their behavior to match their understanding. They follow Jesus.
Learning to listen to God isn't easy because we're used to doing the talking. These three ideas might help:
1. Read the Scriptures. In the Bible “the invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends and lives among them, so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself,” (Dei Verbum 2) and “the Father Who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them...” (Dei Verbum 21). The Bible is God's love letter to us. It is His message, His mind, His will, and His love. Try to spend fifteen minutes a day reading the Bible. Focus on a few verses, maybe one of the daily Mass readings, and think about what is God telling you through His Word.
2. Be silent. After you talk to God in prayer, quiet your mind and sit silently in His presence for a few minutes. Close your eyes, lean back, be aware of God's presence around you, relax in Him, and listen.
3. Pay attention. God speaks to us through our daily lives, through events, through nature, through other people, and in countless other ways. Open your mind and your heart, and take time to listen to and reflect on what God is trying to tell you.