Although listening during a prayer session can be work at times, it could lead to something eternally valuable.
I have a conflicting view on the idea of conversation: I hate small talk but love deep conversation. In my opinion, small talk is like junky fast food and deep conversation is a like a healthy 5-course meal, and although I understand that fast food is more convenient and available than the meal, this type of food wasn’t made to replenish your body and make you stronger. However, I still participate in it because I understand how it “breaks the ice” and leads to deep conversation. Therefore I still listen to others during small talk, since listening is an essential part of two or more people exchanging ideas and we get the most out of this exchange when we pay attention. This truth also applies to prayer: in order to get the most out of our conversations with God, we must also listen as we speak.
During Dale’s sermon on “prayer as listening”, he explained that listening for God’s “voice” while praying is just as important as merely talking to God. He also gave some tips on how to get rid of distractions and to “tune into God’s signal” so one can be able to listen to Him, and he used Mary from Luke 10:38-42 as an example of why we should listen to God.
In this passage, Jesus visits the home of two women, Martha and Mary. While Martha was busy serving, Mary sat by Jesus’s feet while listening to His teaching. This frustrated Martha and she complained about it to Jesus, although He explained to her why she had the wrong attitude while Mary had the correct one.
So what do we learn from this story? On the surface, we learn that if Jesus visits our house, He cares more about our attention towards His teaching than us stressing out about serving Him a meal! There’s so much we can learn from God and He obviously can’t teach us if we aren’t listening. However, this passage is more about just learning from God, for Mary wasn’t merely listening to Jesus teach, but she was also enjoying His presence.
This can be best shown in the ESV translation, where Jesus tells Martha that Mary has “chosen the good portion” (v. 42) as Mary sat by His feet. This phrase “portion” comes from the Old Testament, and when God is labeled as a “portion” it means He is an object of worship and fellowship (portion means “ration” or “share of property”, so labeling God as your “portion” is like comparing Him to a piece of valued property which you own).
To put this into context, Moses states in Deuteronomy 10:9 that the tribe of Levi (the priestly tribe) had no “portion” of land with the other tribes because “The Lord is their inheritance”. This shows that priests of Israel were to value God and His fellowship as their prized possessions (this idea of God being a “portion” can also be found in Lamentation 3:24 and Psalm 16:5, 73:26, 119:47, 142:5)
Back at Martha and Mary’s home, Mary had chosen to make Jesus her most prized “possession” as she decided to spend time with Him. The extremely stressed Martha didn’t understand that Mary had chosen the highly valued activity, so Jesus had to explain it to her. He then concludes His explanation with the fact that this fellowship is necessary and will never be taken away from her. (This is similar to how nothing can separate us from the love of God, Romans 8:38-39)
Mary’s attention towards Jesus’s teaching was an important component of this fellowship, and she serves as a great example of why listening to God is valuable. Unfortunately, Jesus is not physically with us at the moment so we must fellowship with Him “spiritually”, and prayer is one of the ways we accomplish this since it’s a conversation between us and God. However, we’ll get the most out of this activity if we give God a turn at speaking and listen to what He has to say, just as Mary did when she was with Jesus. This leads to fellowship with the Lord, a gift so valuable that Jesus referred to it as “necessary” and “everlasting”.
Therefore if we want to “choose the good portion” we must take the time to listen to God during prayer.