Hearing God and Reflection

Thirty years ago I lived and worked in London with several other men. We were involved in campus ministry and the charismatic renewal. One housemate—let’s call him Tom—spent a couple hours in discussion with Rev. John Stott. When Tom returned from his visit, he was incredulous.

During Tom’s meeting, they discussed prayer. Stott claimed that his most significant times of prayer involve prayerful reflection with God. As a charismatic, Tom preferred exuberant worship with contemporary songs and praying in the Spirit.

We considered Stott’s “prayer” of reflection to be too intellectual, too shallow, too unenlightened, and perhaps unspiritual. We chuckled.

In fact, I’d say we snickered.

By the end of his life, Time Magazine identified Stott as one of the 100 most influential people in the world; he had written over 50 books; and he had helped hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of people. And we twenty-something neophytes snickered at his shallowness.

Thirty years later, I’m rethinking spiritual reflection, and I’m finding it rich. Stott was oh-so-very right, and I—once again—was oh-so-very wrong. Spiritual reflection is one of the deepest ways to connect with God that I’ve ever experienced.

I love to brainstorm, to whiteboard ideas, and to creatively go after innovative thoughts. I love doing this with friends for practical decisions, so I tried it with God.

I find I love it. Spiritual reflection is moving me closer to God, and I’m hearing his voice.

What’s the point?

Dallas Willard once wrote that a huge problem for all humans—believers or not—is our denial of reality. We live in shallow realities while denying or ignoring deep realities.

The primary purpose of prayerful reflection is to connect with God deep in our hearts. C. S. Lewis said that we are content to play in mud puddles while God invites us to the seashore. Prayerful reflection is a visit to the coast. And Jesus loves to speak to us at the beach.

The solid external world seems more real to us than our intangible inner life; our external senses seem more alive than our inner senses. I “see” the reality of stains on the carpet; I “hear” the grind of the garbage truck; I “feel” the soreness in my bad knee. They seem more tangible than the elusive inner life of God’s love and presence.

It’s like our reality merely consists of our five physical senses. They are on video while our inner life with God is on audio.

Most prayers consist of: Asking (Could you help me with my test tomorrow?), Worship (God, you are so great!), Thanksgiving (Thanks for the food), and Repentance (Please forgive me for snapping at my kids). These prayers are great. But they are one sided monologues, us saying something to God.

Discussion and Connection

Prayerful reflection is like discussion, a connection to a friend. There is back and forth, questions and answers, clarification and interpretation. It is a personal, conversational connection to God, the Ultimate Reality.

Prayerful reflection requires curiosity and a heightened personal awareness. We become aware of an inner anger at a negative comment, and in curiosity we ask God about it. Our curiosity is not satisfied with shallow answers like, “I’m angry because they said something negative about me.”

Of course comments may trigger anger, but why do the opinions of others matter so much? We ask God, and he speaks. He says that their opinion is more “real” to us than his own. And then God offers a heart sense of his reality, and our hearts are calmed.

Questions and Reflection

With increased inner awareness and in curiosity we go to God with questions, like,

  • I’ve read this passage a hundred times, but this time something quickened in my heart; God what is that quickening about?
  • I just watched a movie and during the ending I began to tear up; God, what about that ending is moving me?
  • I’m feeling anxious about my children; God, why do I think you are less concerned for them than I am?
  • God, what does it really mean that you love me?

Here’s the thing: when we go to God in prayerful reflection it empowers our ability to Ask, Worship, Thank, and Repent. Let’s look at that anger. As we discuss this with God—as we practice prayerful reflection—God speaks, and all of a sudden we,

  • Ask: God, may the magnitude of your majesty eclipse the opinion of man.
  • Worship: As I see the beauty of your reality, I am moved to adore you.
  • Thanksgiving: Thank you God for your opinion and care for me.
  • Repentance: I repent that the molehill of human opinion overshadows the mountain of your greatness.

Prayerful reflection is a conversation with God that connects us to ultimate realities, the reality of a relationship with the person of God.

One of the greatest lessons in hearing God that I’m learning is to prayerfully reflect. Try it; you’ll like it.

Hey! Did I just hear someone snicker?


For more on hearing God, see Hearing God and Controlling the Conversation, and Hearing God and Making Decisions.

© Copyright 2012, Beliefs of the Heart, Ltd. All rights reserved.


22 Responses to Hearing God and Reflection

  1. Billie says:

    wow.. thanks so much for your writings…. they are moving and inspiring!

  2. Michele says:

    I totally agree with you. It was Socrates that said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

    • Hi Michele,

      I love the quote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

      And for us there is the added benefit, we are examining our lives in connection with our Father. We’re praying, and conversing, and connecting.

  3. Randy says:

    Awesome! Another great one to pass around through email! Thank you!

  4. Mark says:

    Thank you Sam! I was talking with two Twenty-Somethings recently who said it was much easier to reflect and discuss life and issues with people than to reflect in the quiet moments with God. They admitted that what was holding them back was that it might take them to deep places (even mentioned anger like you did) in which they had to be vulnerable with themselves and with God. Yet, as you beautifully write, it is there with our loving Father that we can simply “be” and end up “deeply connecting.”

    • Hi Mark,

      Great point. We often neglect deep reflection for the fear of what we might find in ourselves. Of course, ignoring the rats in the basement doesn’t help them go away, does it.

      As you say, our prayerful reflection connects us with the Father. He goes into that basement with us and we turn the basement into a really cool place to hangout!

  5. Roz says:

    Very good. Why was God made man if not to enter into real fellowship with us? And how much fellowship is going on if I’m constantly muting him so it’s just me talking?

    • Thanks Roz,

      I’m guessing here, but I suspect that the reason we “mute him” is because we really don’t believe that he’ll talk with us.

      We hide that deep belief–that he doesn’t want to speak with us–behind our talking to and at him; not giving our Father a chance to speak.

      But he really really wants to talk with us.


  6. Dan Bumford says:

    Sam, thanks for this post! It’s speaking to so many places in my heart. I’m hoping to take this further in my own life.

    • Hi Dan,

      Try it; you’ll like it. Really. I’m finding that a simple heightened awareness (of what is happening around me) leads me to go to God with questions that allow Him to speak instead of me speaking all the time.


  7. Andy Williamson says:

    Your comments on spiritual reflection fits in with your theme verse about how the springs of life flow from the heart. I’m anticipating, any thoughts on Scripture meditation for busy people?

    • Hi Andy,

      Yes you are anticipating. I once read somewhere how to do Scriptural meditation–Not Transcendental Meditation, but true Christian Scriptural Meditation. Here is what I’ve been learning to do. Now note, this is not exactly scriptural STUDY, it is meditation. It’s like a bridge between scripture study and prayer.

      Nearing the end of a time of scripture study (and before prayer), I ask myself which verse or verses especially moved me, and I begin to meditate (or think furiously!) on those verses, what do they mean, how would my life look different if I really believed they were true, what do they say about God, what do they say about me, etc.

      Then I end the meditation by looking at these questions:

      Truth: what is the truth I see in these verses (about God, me, the world, sin, etc.)?
      Adoration: what in these verses can lead me to adore Christ more?
      Confession: what area in my life does this verse (verses) lead me to confess?
      Thanksgiving: what in these verses can I thank God for?
      Supplication: what in these verses can I ask more of God for?

      I find the verses haunt me (in a good way!) all day. Even on a busy day.

  8. Martha says:

    Jim just sent me this. I had no idea you had such a cool blog! And what a refreshingly decent bunch of commenters you have! Not like most… May that continue. Amen.

    I’m also refreshed to hear someone share about something I identify with so strongly. Sometimes I go to gatherings—where out-loud ‘charismatic’ prayer is the habit—and I just wish everyone would stop sometimes and BE. Also, the habit of asking the Lord to come bugs me. He said yes a long time ago and has been attending ever since. I hear him inviting us into HIS presence now, and somehow I think that if everybody stopped running the routine machine they’d hear it, too. We wonder where the prophetic direction is these days, but I think God has greater spiritual maturity for us and is just refusing to enable the old “method.”

    Still, I don’t think we were “wrong,” exactly, back then. Spiritual maturation is a natural process, and charismatic-style prayer brought a deeper level of connection—for me, anyway—than the way I prayed before it. I’ve read that when a person successfully matures from one level to the next he first goes through a disillusionment/outgrowing process and then he transitions into the new level. But the development process is not fully successful unless he completes it by reconciling and re-integrating the strength of the last level at the new one.

    I’m in the second year of a spiritual direction internship at Vineyard (adapted Ignatian) and have been getting spiritual direction myself in the process. What a gift. And very much to the point.

    Finally, I’d like to say that I LOVE your sample questions at the end. I’ve wondered lately what questions one could ask the people of Ann Arbor as a group (like in a regular little blurb in the paper or something) that might enable the kind of reflection that could open the city’s heart to God’s voice. Haven’t figured it out, though.


  9. cryptopur says:

    Sam, this is great. I’ve been blessed to spend the last ten years in a church where they blend to contemplative with the ‘expressive’ in a very fulfilling and natural way. But I confess that the first times I was invited to sit quietly with God I was…well…reluctant.

    There was this great interview years back where Dan Rather is interviewing Mother Teresa and he says, “When you pray to God what do you say?” and she says back, “I listen.”
    And poor Dan has this long pause like he has no context for an answer like that and she just sits there in his discomfort.
    Then he asks something like, “Well, what does He say?”
    And she replies. ‘He listens.”

    Contemplative prayer has been some of the best time I’ve ever had with God. And I’m really glad to see you talking about it here.

    • Chris, as always, there is so much good in all you say. Here is what strikes me:

      – I love your line about being “reluctant” to sit quietly with God. Yup, that expresses me. (But now I’m loving it!)

      – I love the two Mother Teresa lines, “I listen” and “He listens.” Those lines are just perfect. I’m going to quote you on them someday.

  10. John says:

    Something tweaked inside when I read the part about where you say you began to “brainstorm / whiteboard” with God. I like to brainstorm and look at all the angles, but I typically do this all alone. Would you share some points about how you started this with God, and any obstacles etc. you encountered. This is a place I want to go.

    • cryptopur says:

      Hi John, I certainly don’t want to hijack Sam’s blog here but I know the first road block I experienced was grappling with the basic concept of whether or not God even spoke at all.

      Once I got my head around that basic concept what came next was whether or not God spoke to ME…and that was a heart issue. All the messages like “I’m not worthy.” or “God has better things to do.” (which is really just the worthy lie in a different dress.).

      Next was a struggle with what amounted to a religious hangup. I had to get rid of the pent-up expectations about HOW God would speak. In my past was all the kind of King James language and High Church liturgy that colored this experience. Allowing God the latitude to speak in his own way was a big step for me.

      All of this might be elementary for the readers of this blog, perhaps there’s nothing new in my answer, but your question really brought me back to a process I’ve been trying to live in for most of ten years and I just guess I don;t take the basics for granted. 😉

      • John says:

        Thanks, good stuff Cryptopur. I realize God has a smile on His face when He looks at me (or any other believer), and I realize He would welcome a talk with Him. It’s just that talking with God/prayer and moving to brainstorming seems very different and new from my past way of doing things.

    • Hi John,

      As one brainstorm-er to another!

      When I brainstorm about an issue, I do at least three things:
      • I encourage the group (even if it’s just me alone!) to say anything, any idea or solution, no matter how crazy or wrong; and the group isn’t allowed to criticize the idea during this process (This no-criticism part is very important—it allows more freedom for creative thought).
      • Second, we evaluate the ideas and solutions in discussion. We choose the best or most likely.
      • Third, we expand and pursue those ideas and solutions in more detail, innovating, creating, or even “brainstorming” more on those smaller issues.

      Depending on the size of the issue or group, I like to do this on a whiteboard, but sometimes it’s just in discussion.

      With God I do the same thing, except in prayer, in His presence, asking him to guide my thoughts and to speak.

      Let’s say I want to be more intentional with the time I spend in ministry; I want to know WHAT to do and how to spend my time.

      WHILE PRAYING, I begin to list possible things to do:
      • Talk with guys more one-on-one who need personal pastoring, spend more time reading books, spend more time writing or speaking, working with college kids, working with men my age, working more in the church, taking seminary classes, working more with a ministry I know of, working at a local soup kitchen, etc
      • I’m asking God to be involved in this process, giving me ideas, prompting my mind and memory, giving me scriptures.
      • (All these ideas an more – I actually did this one on a whiteboard)

      Next, WHILE PRAYING, I ask God which are the top two or three. Here again I’m asking God to be engaged. I ask him to stir my heart in some issues, or to speak through a friend or a passage or book I might be reading.
      • Note, sometimes brainstorming takes place over many days (like this one did for me—I actually took a month), and during those days I try to be aware of all the ways God speaks. Sometimes a conversation with someone else stirs, or it’s the passage for the day, or it’s a movie, or sometimes I simply sense God speaking directly.

      When I narrow it down to a few items, I ask God to expand on that item, to innovate, show ways I could do it better, or find times to do it, or for help in doing it. Sometimes this leads to ANOTHER brainstorming session, but more limited to the topic or two that I’ve chose.

      I have more on this, but how is this for a start?

      • John says:

        This is a great start. I see you are open to many ways to hear from God, and most are not immediate. That’s good to know, it helps to paint a new picture (originally I had envisioned sitting at the whiteboard with a marker in my hand and waiting….and waiting….).

      • Hah! That would be cool. You know, God grabs your hand magically and writes the words: GO BE A HERMIT!

        But I think God likes the process–just like you and I do–it is a process of conversation and intimacy.

        Try it and tell me what you think of it.


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