“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, listens to my words, and acts on them. That one is like a person building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when the flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built. But the one who listens and does not act is like a person who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, it collapsed at once and was completely destroyed” (Luke 6:46–49).
Last night, for bedtime prayer, my four youngest children and I prayed lectio divina (“divine reading”) with the Scripture passage above. We read the passage three times out loud. The first time I asked them to listen for one word that stood out to each one of them. The second time I asked them to identify one phrase that stood out to each one of them. And the third time I asked them to listen to what God was saying to them personally through these inspired words of Scripture.
I, too, chose a word, then a phrase, and finally shared how I felt the Lord was speaking to me through this biblical text. The word that stood out to me was “act.” The phrase that stood out to me was “comes to me.” And the Lord taught me something new about prayer through his parable of the house laid on a foundation of rock.
Jesus seems to suggest that there is a threefold movement of prayer:
- Come to him
- Listen to his words
- Act on his words
The first and third stages of this movement of prayer are active while the second stage is passive. Yet it is the first step that has caught my attention: come to him. If I am to have the privilege of listening to the life-giving words of Jesus, I must come to him. I must take leave of where I am and go to where he is.
Though he is with me wherever I am, he calls me to follow him to new territories of listening to his voice. In order to hear his words, it is necessary for me to be displaced, dispossessed, dislodged. Perhaps the one who “listens and does not act” fails to act because he neglected to come near to Jesus at the start. Coming near to Jesus simultaneously involves departing from the self.
The saving movement of ethical prayer begins with an intentionality to go to where the Master is through the virtue of self-mastery. Yes, I must come to him like Saint Peter who, at the command of the Lord, evacuates the pseudo-security of the boat and treads upon the waves. And all of this is made possible by the grace of his voice that bids me to come.
© Donald Wallenfang, My Interior Castle, 2022
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