Almost every day, I tell Penny, our two-year old, to "listen with your ears." For some reason, that four word phrase is more effective than the shorter command, "listen." It makes it more concrete, I suppose, to identify listening with a part of her body. So as she tottered away from me this morning, naked, carrying the clothes she was supposed to be putting on, I finally said, "Penny, listen with your ears and turn around." It stopped her in her tracks. She came back to the bedroom and got dressed.
I'm very similar to my daughter.
I've been a Christian for quite some time now, and for all those years I have said that prayer is important. That prayer is our way of talking to, and listening to, God. I would also say that reading the Bible is important, for similar reasons. Reading the Bible I do pretty well. I know lots of verses and my seminary education has allowed for plenty of thoughts on various texts throughout Scripture. But my prayer life, generally, lags far behind. And mostly, I think, because I fail to listen with my ears.
In my life, prayer–be it individual or corporate–tends to be an opportunity to list my needs and walk away. Or, in a group setting, generally we talk about our "prayer requests" for thirty minutes, and then spend five minutes formally listing those requests to God with our eyes closed. But I don't think prayer really works that way.
I think prayer is meant to involve listening. That we're meant to offer up a thought or a request and then wait with expectation. Expectation that God desires to speak to us, and guide us. Expectation that God will do so–through an image, through Scripture, through other people. The two times I've actually taken the time to listen in prayer recently, an answer has come within the same day, although not in the actual moment of listening.
When Penny runs down the hall, away from me, she generally isn't being willfully disobedient. She's just not listening. Similarly, when I pray in a rote manner, listing my needs, I'm just not listening.
But every once in a while I remember, and I listen with my ears.