The Quiet Listener
At least twenty years have passed since I read the novel, The Listener. I remember little of the story line, but a minister talked to troubled people and then sent them into a room. Once inside, where they were alone, they were to open themselves totally and talk to the Listener. No answers came to the speakers except the voices they heard within their own hearts. Yet the people had profound experiences that changed their lives.
The Listener in the quiet room was a metaphor, so far as I could figure out, of the author's concept of prayer. It was a bit simplistic, I thought at the time. Yet, even twenty years later, I still remember that part about going into the silent room and speaking to the Listener.
I've remembered, I suppose, because the idea intrigues me. Few of us grasp the value of listening—total concentrated listening. We may sit in silence, but too often we're pondering our own thoughts or figuring out what to answer.
Sometimes God is that Quiet Listener; he doesn't speak—not a word—and yet somehow we know we've been heard.
"We are certain that God will hear our prayers when we ask for what pleases him. And if we know that God listens when we pray, we are sure that our prayers have already been answered" (1 Jn 5:14-15, CEV).
"The Lord watches over everyone who obeys him, and he listens to their prayers" (1 Pt 3:12, CEV).
What do we learn from these references? God hears us even when we don't feel as if we've gotten through. When God chooses to listen in silence, it doesn't mean pleasure or displeasure. It means only that God hears but doesn't speak. Sometimes the lack of words is more profound than any message. In the quietness, we turn inward, to ponder our own hearts. We search deeply and hear the sounds of the silence.
That may sound like some mystical statement from a New Age groupie or what a sixteenth-century quietist might have said. Despite the possibility of being misinterpreted, I think they were on to something.
Probably most of us want to talk to God without always speaking words. We want to hear God's silence. We know about God listening and answering. That makes prayer meaningful. We speak and know we're heard. Or as the psalmist says, even before we think it, God already knows our thoughts (see Ps 139:4).
Maybe we should rethink praying to the Quiet Listener. We get filled with telling God things or waiting for God to speak, act, or direct us. Were too busy pumping out requests, praise, and thanks to give God a chance to do much except listen. We seldom pause long enough to experience the Quiet Listener. Is it because we're afraid of the power of silence?
Instead of assuming that silence is disapproval or God turning away from us, maybe it's God's most powerful way of communicating. The Quiet Listener may simply want us to experience the stillness.
That stillness is something like the value of silence between close friends. When I'm with my friend David Morgan, we occasionally sit in silence. It's not because we have nothing to say. In some ways it may be the most articulate of our communication. We're comfortable being with each other. It's a time of peace, and neither has the burden to keep things going. We don't always have to use words or need an agenda. Being together is enough for both of us.
Once in a while I've experienced the Quiet Listener that way. I've come into the holy presence, and didn't need to have anything to pray about. I listened to the silence and enjoyed the moment. I used to say I was basking in the presence of God.
It took me a long time to figure out how meaningful such an experience can be. Experiencing the Quiet Listener may be more profound than many of the times I've heard God's answer.
I open my heart to God, tears flow, and in the silence, there is consolation. It comes from God the Quiet Listener.
The LORD is kind to everyone who trusts and obeys him. It is good to wait patiently for the LORD to save us. When we are young, it is good to struggle hard and to sit silently alone, if this is what the LORD intends. --LAMENTATIONS 3:25-26, CEV
I'm so used to words,
and sometimes I get uncomfortable when I can't
speak or hear words.
Teach me to enjoy your presence,
to value the stillness. Amen.
For more from Cec, please visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey has written more than one hundred books on a variety of topics with an emphasis on Spiritual Growth, Christian Living, Caregiving, and Heaven. He enjoys preaching in churches and speaking and teaching at conferences around the world. To book Cec for your next event, please contact Twila Belk at 563-332-1622.