Desert Wisdom: The Context of Examination

They used to say about Poemen that when he was ready to go out to the meeting for prayer, he first sat by himself for an hour in self-examination, and then he went (11:22)

If we ask the saints of the ages to define prayer, almost all of them will begin with the statement, “Prayer is listening.”

I still remember how I felt when I first learned that truth.  I was surprised, because at the time I was trying to figure out what to “say” when I prayed.  I was thinking about how to speak, not how to listen.

Listening is primary because prayer is a disposition of the heart before it is a declaration of the mind or the mouth.  It’s what the Bible means when it instructs us to “incline your hearts to the Lord.”

Poemen’s hour-long self-examination gave him the right attitude for prayer—humility.  And with an “inclined heart,” he could receive from God the things to pray about.

I am a simple person, and what all this says to me is this:  it’s interesting (and sometimes amazing) the things that come to mind to pray for when I begin with listening rather than speaking.  The context for our praying is a well-examined heart.


About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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2 Responses to Desert Wisdom: The Context of Examination

  1. Warren Lynn says:

    Again, thanks for your wisdom. I’ve linked to this particular blog post on my Well-Fed Spirit Website for spiritual practice resources, from the Prayer page:

  2. Tom Pope says:

    Thank you. For one who earns his living running his mouth, I need this reminder to listen. It is far easier to “do” than to “be.”

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