Emma Tanner

A Work in Progress

Prayer is Pivotal (Part 2): Learning to Listen

on May 24, 2013

Aylesford Priory

Aylesford Priory, photo  © Copyright Ian Capper and  licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

I like to talk. I talk at work (I’m a vet, some of the time, and on a work day might spend up to 7 hours consulting- that’s a lot of talking). My daughters and I like to talk at home. I talk to my friends. I talk to my husband (whether he replies or not!) I talk to my cat. I even talk to the washing machine if it’s misbehaving, or to the meal I’m preparing. Some might say that at times I can be a little bit too fond of the sound of my own voice. Lately I have started to realise that this is often true of my prayer life, too. I’m so busy talking that sometimes God doesn’t get a look in. I so easily forget that prayer, like all conversations, is a two-way affair.

Listening is not something that comes as naturally to me. A communication skills module in a professional qualification I undertook a few years ago has helped me to make a conscious attempt to listen more, and practise reflective listening  in a work setting. The parenting children course has taught me the benefit of using  similar techniques at home. And recently I’ve been prompted to do more listening and less talking where God’s concerned, too.

Last week I wrote about how the importance of prayer was the take home message for me from this year’s HTB Leadership Conference (Prayer is Pivotal (Part 1): Lessons from #LC13). I have been reminded of this verse from Psalm 46:

Be still, and know that I am God.

I have been challenged to be quiet, and listen. To quote Pete Grieg, speaking at LC13 “God is not looking for a hyperactive people, but a holy people.” I definitely have a tendency towards hyperactivity. At home there is always so much to be getting on with, and so many distractions. I really felt prompted to be still and quiet before God, and so, when a morning last week presented itself, free of meetings, and with nothing so pressing needing to be doing that it couldn’t wait for a couple of hours, I decided to jump in the car and drive a few miles down the road to Aylesford Priory.

Aylesford Priory is a beautiful place, home to a community of friars belonging to the ancient religious order of the Carmelites. There is always such a feeling of peace and tranquillity at Aylesford. It’s not that God is any more present there than anywhere else, but that everything at the Priory- the gardens, the architecture, the chapels themselves- are designed with God as the focus, to point people towards Him and help them to discern that still, small voice. There is less competing ‘background noise’ to drown Him out.

I sat in one of the chapels, entirely on my own. It was absolutely, completely quiet. I looked at the images around the walls, and the stained glass, and reflected on the wonderful diversity in our worldwide Christian family. We may worship God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit- in different ways but we have much to learn from one another. I opened my Bible and my thoughts were directed towards Psalm 123:

I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven. We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal.”

Psalm 123: 1-2

That passage really spoke to me that day. It struck me afresh that we need to keep our eyes fixed on God, all the time. Not to have our eyes on each other, or our problems, or the projects we’re involved with (no matter how worthwhile they may be), or on our goals- but on God. Only then will we be able to see, hear, and listen clearly. If we were all to focus on Jesus, we would be more likely to become united in purpose and heart with those who are journeying with us.

The challenge for me now is to get better at hearing the still, small voice of God the rest of the time. To make time to be quiet, and rest in the presence of God in my normal, pretty manic and full-on existence. After all, lovely as it is, I can’t really pop into Aylesford Priory every day, and in reality I shouldn’t need to.

I have just downloaded ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’ by Brother Lawrence onto my e-reader, to read on my holiday next week (I love the fact that I can download the works of a 17th Century monk onto my Kobo for free! It seems rather a wonderful contradiction- but I digress.) This has been recommended by a few different sources, so I’m looking forward to learning from this godly man- a great reminder that God, and his relationship with human beings, does not change, no matter how much our human societies may do. I don’t know how much stillness I’ll be able to achieve whilst sharing a tent with a husband and two excited munchkins, but I’ll keep you posted.


One response to “Prayer is Pivotal (Part 2): Learning to Listen

  1. Thanks for this Emma as it reminded me of a surprise visit to the priory a few decades ago. Had intended commenting but Bank Hol and other things took precedence.
    Driving by on a business trip with my manager (a Catholic) he decided to drop in and show me around. Altho’ then in the adversary’s camp, I recognised the deep sense of peace saturating the whole place. I recall seeing a large mural of Elisha catching Elijah’s white mantle when he was caught up into heaven. I guess I was inwardly struck with the importance of true prophets, and perhaps the Lord was drawing it to my potential gifting after my being born again years later.
    Trust you’ve been blessed by Bro Lawrence’s practice.


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