I sat in the pew feeling proud because my grandma was proud. It was a rite of passage in my family to be confirmed in the church. Just like the expectation to be baptized as an infant. Just like the expectation to take your first communion in second grade. Confirmation was what every good Lutheran kid did when they turned fourteen. After two years of boring dreaded catechism classes, I was finally becoming a member of the church.
The rote prayers and call and response rhythms subsided and the pastor did something unusual. He pulled up a chair and sat in front of the confirmands to deliver the sermon directly to us. However, my mind wandered to a different word of Truth.
“Bethany, you need to get off of the fence,” God spoke clearly to me. I would even say it was audible. Not audible in that I heard it with my ears, but in that I heard it with my heart.
“What are you talking about?” I responded rather taken aback that God was talking to me.
“You need to make a choice. Are you going to follow your own path or are you going to follow my Son who died for you, Bethany Ann Ferdinand?” He said point blank.
Now, even though I grew up going to church every Sunday and I knew the story of Easter, no one told me about the relationship with God offered me through Christ on the cross. I didn’t know the whole gospel. I didn’t know it was a choice.
I was an awkward teenager with low self-confidence, low self-esteem, and was very lost. I was wandering and looking for some kind of truth to hang onto.
“I choose Jesus,” I told God. Then an indescribable warmth came over me. It was many years later when I finally learned about the baptism of Holy Spirit and I am sure that’s what I experienced.
My conversation with God ended along with the pastor’s sermon. Then, each in turn, we went up to make our confession of faith. In two years of catechism this meant nothing to me other than to make my family proud. At that moment, it was suddenly a meaningful moment.
This was my first experience with “listening prayer.” It happened again when I was called into full-time youth ministry. And again when I was called out of full-time youth ministry.
Then I met a woman that explained what this kind of prayer was – in a business meeting of all places. The more I spent time in Dawn’s workshops, the more I leaned into this type of prayer. And the more I leaned in, the more I saw others in the workshop struggle with the exercise, the more I realized that it’s not a practice many Christians do.
What is it?
This friend, Dawn Whitestone, wrote a book entitled, Strategic Business Prayer. While the premise is about business strategy, it really applies to all of life. In her book, Dawn outlines five levels of prayer. With my interpretation, they are –
- Rote Prayers – Prayers we memorize and repeat in church, at dinner, or before bed.
- Specific Requests to God – Examples being prayers in Psalms or when we pray for a missionary overseas.
- Conversation: Listening to God for Myself – An interactive connection with God as we listen for Him to speak to us.
- Conversation: Listening to God for Those I Know – Not just, “God please heal this person,” but “God, what is Your will for this person?” and hearing a response.
- Conversation: Listening to God for Those He Knows – Midnight awakenings where you feel burdened to pray for a specific person or group of people.
Dawn’s book helped me get to the next level of understanding when it came to listening prayer (And it just so happens that I have an excerpt in the book, so you should read it). Listening prayer is the practice of connecting with God through intentional two-sided conversation.
I like to journal my prayer conversations with God. This helps me stay focused on the conversation but I can also look back to revisit that same prayer or see how God has moved in my life since that conversation.
These practices of sitting down and listening to God may look rather formal at first. Over time, it will become more natural. Then, you will find yourself having these conversations with God as you go about your daily life. When I have a spontaneous conversation with God, I will recount it in a journaling session later.
A recent listening prayer conversation I had with God ended with the same repeated phrase – “I’m not done with you yet.” I asked him a few times what He meant.
A good structure to follow is to connect with God’s presence, connect with God’s character, connect with your relationship to God, ask him about your worries, frustrations or confusions, then ask for clarity and call to action.
Here’s a compilation of how the conversation went:
God where are you?
I’m here, sitting beside you, with my arm across your shoulders. How does that feel?
God, I feel comforted and safe.
What do you want me to know about you?
I am steadfast, ever-present, all-knowing.
What do you want me to know about myself?
You are my daughter.
God, why do I continue to be in this deep dark place? Where is the end of my suffering?
I am here with you through thick and thin. It may be a journey, but I am not done with you, yet.
What does that mean – “I am not done with you, yet?”
Your suffering will lessen, but your story is not over. I am going to use your story for My glory.
Share your story. Use your gift of writing to help others to know that they aren’t alone. Encourage others to embrace their story. Leverage your vulnerability to draw people to My Son.
Wow, that seemed like a tall order, but it was also freeing. It helped me to see all I suffered as part of a bigger purpose.
But how do I know it was really God’s voice?
Testing The Spirits
This is the part of prayer that is uncomfortable for many Christians. We like to keep our eyes focused on the positive aspect of Christianity – the saving grace of Jesus Christ. But we wouldn’t need Jesus if it weren’t for Satan. We wouldn’t need Jesus’ sacrifice if the serpent hadn’t confused Eve in the garden and convinced her to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Satan’s manipulation didn’t end in the garden. Satan’s deception continues to weave itself through the lives of God’s children. The enemy wants to confuse us — to think we are doing right when we’re really turning from God.
C.S. Lewis, in his preface to The Screwtape Letters says, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”
While we need to acknowledge that Satan is continually at work, we also don’t want to focus so much on him that we don’t forget to experience the glory of God and all His wonders.
When we listen to God in prayer, we need to confirm that it really is God who has spoken to us. There are a few things that can give us confidence.
After I hear from God, I will ask Him, “God, in the name of Jesus Christ and His blood that covers me, is this from you?” If there’s not a resounding “yes” then continue to pray through what you discovered in your prayer session. Continue to bring yourself to the presence of God with that topic until you have clarity.
“1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”1 John 4:1-3
Next, go to the scriptures. God’s Word is our compass to all of life. If what came to you in prayer aligns with the Word, then it has likely comes from God. My prayer above happened during a time when I was in a Bible Study group studying the book of Acts. The prayers I was experiencing lined up exponentially with what God was revealing to me through the life of Paul and his charge to Christians.
Finally, if what resounded in your heart was from God, He will continue to show you in many ways. He will use other believers to bring it to light.
In the repeated phrase, “I’m not done with you, yet,” I heard a few other believers say those exact words in a short period of time. One of them even told of a conversation she had with God after a suicide attempt where he impressed upon her, “I’m not done with you, yet.” If God had said it to another person, then surely He could say it to me, too.
I read in the scriptures stories of the roughest, most sinful, most broken people where God used them for something great. Abraham. Mary Magdalene. The Apostle Paul.
Several times I asked God if that word was from Him. Each time He resounded to my heart, “yes.” In the coming months, I asked Him what that meant for me. Again, through scripture, other believers, and repeated prayer, he showed me He meant that I should use my brokenness to leverage my vulnerability in helping others realize they weren’t alone in their struggles.
But there’s one last thing. If you begin to lean into what God has shown you, His glory will pour forth through your life. As I’ve begun to embrace this calling to be authentic, I’ve seen and heard people express how God used my vulnerability to share my story in their life in a positive way.
Recently, I shared something vulnerable in a Bible study and one woman stopped the conversation to say, “Wow! God’s presence is really with me right now. I’m feeling very convicted by your vulnerability. I have realized how fake I can be and that I need to show more authenticity in my life.”
What she said was exactly what I knew God had called me to do. To show people they aren’t alone in their story, encourage them to live vulnerably, and draw them to Christ in and through my open heart.
Prayer In Action
As explained in the Five Levels of Prayer, connecting with God through listening prayer can be impactful for you, those you know, and those He knows. But it’s not enough for you to only have these conversations. You also need to act on them. What benefit is there to have a talk with God in the presence of His Spirit if you don’t do anything with what He’s told you?
During an 18 months stretch of going through many very hard things in that short time, I experienced a long dry spell when I could not write. Then I started to write again and what I learned about these very difficult experiences poured onto the page in a vulnerable way. I was nervous, but felt God’s pull to click “publish” each time. As I shared my blog posts on social media, people started to engage in conversation with me. They were encouraged. They learned how to have empathy for people with my story.
This was the final confirmation I needed assuring me that I truly heard from God — that when I acted on what He said, He was glorified.