Generally, in a conversation, I would put the burden for ensuring understanding on the shoulders of the speaker. The one who has something to say is mostly responsible for making his message intelligible. If he uses a word that the listener doesn’t know, or uses a metaphor that they don’t get, he needs to explain himself in order to make sure that his intended meaning gets across.
Sure, listening is also an active process, with the hearer(s) needing to pay attention, absorbing the content of what’s said, asking questions and preparing to respond.
But fundamentally, if a speaker wishes to communicate something, it’s their responsibility to connect with the listeners.
However, communication with God seems a bit different: there are no language barriers, He knows what we know and what images will communicate to us. So, unlike with human speakers, misunderstanding is not a result of any deficiency on behalf of Him who’s talking.
Then why does it seem so hard to hear from God?
In dialogue with God, there might be an even greater need to listen with intentionality. The environment can distract us, we can be guilty of not pausing enough to actually hear Him, we can come in planning to hear a particular message.
So often in life, we emphasize the skill of communicating clearly. I recall one workshop leader’s mantra: “Be clear! Be clear! Be clear!” We put a great deal of effort into polishing our presentations, varying our vocabulary, and understanding our audience.
But you rarely hear an emphasis on honing our hearing. You might get a pointer or two concerning trying to read your listeners’ body language, but otherwise, it’s all about putting out the right content. There’s little of listening.
I’m not much of a conversationalist. Most people do not identify me as someone with deep insight, penetrating questions, or powerful persuasion.
But I’ve often been thanked for being a good listener. I may not know what to say or what to ask, but I can sit and listen, attentive to whatever the other person would like to share.
And yet, I don’t find this skill naturally translating to my conversations with God. Why is that?
When we talk about prayer, we talk about communicating with God, and many people do mention the importance of taking the time to listen. And I think that’s exactly it. When I’m with someone, if I don’t know what to say, I just listen. I sit. I let them talk. Maybe I give a nod of understanding or a brief comment to encourage them to continue, but I often say relatively little–especially in a group of 3 or more.
However, I rarely take this approach in times with God. Is it because I have (or find) so much to say? I don’t need to resort to silence because I’ve got plenty on my wish list to bombard Him with?
God’s a person, and maybe it’s time for me to talk to Him like one. If my conversational strength is listening, maybe I need to bring a little more of that into my dialogue with Him.
Who knows what He might say…given the chance to be heard. I might actually get the message.