The Best Listening Prayer I've Ever Experienced
I was invited to spend an extended time of listening prayer in January of 2015. I was at The Uprising leadership training event hosted by the Central District of the Alliance. I was scheduled to spend 2 hours praying with a man named “Dr. John.” He was an expert in guiding us through listening prayer.
After a brief initial time of asking the Lord to use this time of prayer to speak into my life, we asked Him to show me what He wanted me to see. I instantly saw a vision of the living room in the home I grew up in. I was about six years old. My parents were fighting and I was huddled behind the couch, very afraid that I would be next in my dad’s sights. I physically reacted to the emotions that were flooding my mind.
Dr. John said, “Where in the room is Jesus?”
I looked around my vision and didn’t see Him. “He’s not there,” I reported.
“Oh, He’s there,” Dr. John said without hesitation. “Look for Him.”
“Ask Him to show you where He is.”
I did - and all of a sudden I saw Him standing at the door. He opened the door and indicated that I was to run out the door. I hesitated. I looked at my parents, saw the look in my father’s eyes, and froze with fear.
“What are you afraid of?” Dr. John asked, seeing my physical reaction to the vision.
“I’m afraid my father is going to see me, stop me, and keep me from being with Jesus.”
I saw myself looking at Jesus, then looking at my father, then back to Jesus. As I fixed my gaze on Christ I realized that He wasn’t looking at my parents at all. He was only looking at me as He beckoned me towards Him. He wasn’t worried about my dad.
After what seemed like hours, I made the decision to make a run for it and I was able to sneak past my parents unnoticed. As soon as I made my way through the door and stepped onto the patio outside the entire atmosphere changed. The anxious atmosphere cuased by the conflict with my parents was replaced with a very relaxed atmosphere. My wife and children were relaxing on lounge chairs on a bright, sunny, beautiful afternoon. They were smiling and laughing as they were talking with Jesus on the patio.
Suddenly I realized that God has saved me from being like my father and had made me into a much different father. My children weren’t afraid of me – they loved to be with me. My wife invited me to come and sit next to her. She reached out to hold my hand as I saw beside her. We were all relaxed, smiling, and having fun. We were all with Jesus together.
As I shared the thought of how different I was from my father with Dr. John, I suddenly began to feel compassion for my father like I’ve never felt before. I know that my father didn’t want to create an atmosphere of conflict. I know that my father wished his family could have all sat together in peace. I know that his issues in life had all gotten out of control and he didn’t have the hope of life with Christ to depend on. I began to weep for all of the good things in life and relationship he had missed out on – and the Lord began to show me what other family members were missing out on as well.
Dr. John helped me pray for my father. “True Lord Jesus, forgive me for the anger, resentment, fear, embarrassment, hurt, and pain I have when I think of my father and thank You for the gift of relationship I have with my wife and kids. That is a gift from You and I thank You for it.”
As I process through these feelings in prayer I asked Jesus for the next thing He wanted to teach me today. Like a camera swiveling from one stage to another my vision changed to a large field full of green grass and beautiful flowers. There was a waterfall off in the distance. I saw Lizzie playing in the field as a young child. She was dancing around Jesus. The two were smiling as they played together. I saw Jesus notice me as I approached. He invited me to join He and Lizzie.
I wanted to join them. I knew that I wanted to join them down, deep inside. As I began to walk towards them, with the intention of joining them, I felt an urge well up inside of me to NOT join them. Suddenly, I realized that I had so much to do – things that I had accomplish before I was able to join them. As I made my way off to the tasks that were at hand I promised to return as soon as I had completed the tasks.
“What task that you have to do is more important than spending time with Jesus?” Dr. John asked, with that “no answer to this question is ever going to sound good enough” intonation in his voice.
“Just ministry stuff,” I said. “I’m always thinking of people to visit, messages to prepare, notes to write, blogs to post – that kind of stuff.”
“Do you think that is more important than spending time with Christ?” He asked.
“No way!” I responded, knowing that it was the right answer.
“Then why are you choosing it?” He asked.
“I don’t know.” I knew my answer sounded lame, but it’s all that I had.
“Why don’t you ask Him to answer that question for you?” Then he began the prayer and I followed. “True Lord Jesus, why would Jim choose to do ministry things for you rather than just be with you?”
The words were still hanging in the air when I started to blurt out – as if talking to myself more than anyone else:
“Pride is the act of hiding the insecurity that we feel deep inside. I experienced pressure for such expectations as I was growing up, both those imposed on my by others and those I imposed on myself. I strive to hear others tell me that they’re proud of me and that I’m good at the job or task that I’m doing. I particularly strive to gain the acceptance and approval of those who are my peers and those who are above me in a job.”
“How much of your seeking approval from others is really you seeking approval of yourself?” Dr. John asked. As soon as he asked this question I realized that I was trying to convince myself, my mother, my father, and everyone else who had ever told me that I wasn’t good enough that I really was good enough. I also realized that there wasn’t any level of accomplishment that I would achieve that would satisfy those voices from my past.
It was time for me to stop seeking the approval of others and focus on obedience to Christ.
Dr. John had me admit that there are many, many things that I am insufficient at. As I was confessing this to Christ and asking Him to forgive me, Dr. John corrected me. “Don’t ask Jesus for forgiveness,” he said, “Thank Him for forgiving you. He has already forgiven you for anything that you’ve ever done or will ever do.” Of course, I knew that, but I was allowing my disapproval for my own behavior to drive my perceived disapproval from Christ.
Point made. Lesson learned. I again asked Jesus to show me what He had for me next.
Suddenly, I saw myself sitting on a bench in a jail cell. My back was against the wall. I saw myself sitting there with my shoulders slumped, my head down, my hands resting between my calves. This was a sitting posture that I often took when I was a child – pouting, off on my own, waiting for someone to notice me and come to me. Then I would have their attention. Then I would receive their comfort. It was a safe place to be and it usually ended well for me.
I knew that this practice had carried over into my adulthood. No, I didn’t sit in a corner and wait for someone to come over and talk with me, but I did believe that I was always going to be second best. I often tried to become friends with those who were better than I by gaining their sympathy. Perhaps Jesus was trying to root this false view of myself and practice to gain others’ attention out of me.
I noticed that the door to the jail cell was open and that Jesus was standing outside of the cell. I saw that He was beckoning me out of the cell. I didn’t move. I looked up, saw Him, and put my head back down again.
I had this great feeling of apprehension that I wasn’t going to get up and leave the cell. I found myself urging the child in the vision to get up and leave the cell behind. But I didn’t move. Jesus came and sat down next to me and comforted me, just as I remember many adults doing when I was a younger child.
I began to feel hope that I was going to leave the cell as I saw myself looking up into the face of Christ. Then, even as Christ was talking to me as a child, I just knew that I was going to leave the cell. Jesus was still sitting there talking with me, and I didn’t know what He was saying, but the knowledge that I was going to go with Him became more and more certain to me.
After a few minutes I got up and walked out of the jail cell with Jesus.
As soon as I stepped outside of that cell my vision was swallowed up in blackness. It was as if someone had taken a wide paintbrush and was wiping the screen, removing the vision that I was seeing and replacing it with utter darkness. Then, once the entire vision was swallowed in darkness, the black swirled into a small grey rectangle that resembled the doorway to a tomb.
Dr. John sensed that there was a demonic presence that had taken ownership over my pride and insecurity and was fighting against the freedom that Christ was about to give me. As he asked the demon to identify itself I felt my tongue get twisted and an incredible feeling of dread came over my body. I leaned forward as a response to the feeling that came over me. I sensed that I was moving into a position of retching, with a feeling that I wanted to shed this presence from me. I felt as if it was a cloak that was all-encompassing and I didn’t want it anymore. I wanted to just throw it off. I felt the weight of it increase as Dr. John began to pray me through this.
We asked Jesus to remove this presence from me. Suddenly I could sit up straight, I experienced a great sense of peace, and the image of seeing Jesus and Lizzy in the field returned. This time I was able to dwell there. I saw the rest of my family joining us as we casually walked about in this beautiful setting with Jesus.
My time there was interrupted by Dr. John saying that our time was up.
“Why are we quitting early?” I asked, feeling as if we had spent about 30 minutes in prayer.
“No,” he replied, “that was the full two hours.” We got up and headed back to the main conference area. As we made our way back, Dr. John mentioned that in all the years of helping others pray this way he has never heard anyone describe Jesus as being angry, hurried, or that he gives the person praying a task to do – but that Jesus is always seen at peace, in a posture of rest, and He has a smile on His face.
I wish I could say that those in my life could describe me that way.
This prayer journey has helped me come to grips with my pride, insecurity, fear, and sense that there is always more work that has to be done. I know that I still have a long way to go, but as Dr. John taught me to pray, “Lord, thank You for forgiving me of this already and help me to learn to walk with You in this restful way every day of my life!”
James E. Bogoniewski, Jr.