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The other day I overheard my husband, Tony, practicing listening prayer with our three-year-old daughters. I was walking up the stairs when I heard their conversation and, needing fodder for this post, I stopped to listen.

Tony told them that in the quiet they might hear Jesus talking to them. He invited them to close their eyes and listen for one minute. I think they lasted about thirty seconds, which Hazel said was “hours.” Then Tony asked if they had heard anything.

Mae said, “I heared…I heared Jesus say, ‘Mae, I love this whole world.’”

Hazel said, “I heared Jesus say, ‘It is good!’”

Then, getting excited, Mae said, “I heared Jesus say, ‘I love everybody!’” and Hazel shouted, “Me too!”

Later that evening we did the same exercise at dinner, and my son, Oscar, said that God had told him that he loved him and that he should be nicer to his sisters.

So what do you think: Did my children hear from God or where they just trying to please their dad? Their words certainly sound like things that Jesus would say, and they also sound like things they might have heard at school. They could be both.

In my experience in the Reformed tradition, most “words from the Lord” tend to be treated with suspicion, and sometimes with good reason. I remember hearing a male pastor say that no less than four women had told him that they had heard from God that they were supposed to marry him. He told them that if that were the case, then God would have also told him about their coming matrimony. I think his good looks and charisma were interfering with his would-be-wives abilities to hear clearly.

There are certainly times we get it wrong, but I still believe the Spirit speaks. I have experienced the Spirit speaking to me in gentle nudges, in timely words from friends, and, a handful of times, in words spoken directly to me, though not audibly.

I am inclined to believe that we should listen especially carefully to words that come from those on the margins. So often God chooses the poor, the foreigners, the children, the outcasts to communicate himself to us, and it is often the people with all the power, education, and money that can’t seem to hear him clearly. I fit much more in the latter category, so it makes me want to pay special attention to voices that I can easily disregard.

One day at a church potluck I was blessed by a word from my friend Tommy. Tommy has some cognitive disability so that he thinks like a seven or eight-year-old child, though he is in his late thirties. On that particular day, I hit a low point in a season of depression, and was feeling like I didn’t deserve to eat.

Tommy came up to me and said, “Sis! You eat?” I assured him that I was going to go get a plate of food, just not yet. But then he got insistent, “You eat, Sis! You eat!” I was a little irritated at being harassed and said, “Yes, Tommy, I am going to eat!” Then he said, “You know who tol’ me? Jeezee.” Tommy has not, before or since, insisted that I eat, in the name of Jesus. It was a word specifically for that moment.

Rumor around the church is that God speaks through Tommy regularly. Some people even believe that he can tell a pregnant woman the gender of her baby. It’s a little strange, honestly, and sometimes I think Tommy likes the attention and just makes things up. But sometimes he doesn’t. I had a profound experience of the love of God in that moment. Jesus spoke love to me in Tommy’s voice.

I bring all of this to my consideration of my children’s words from God. I don’t know if they are trying to please their dad or really hearing from the Spirit, but I want to listen extra closely when they speak. It might be that their little ears are more tuned to the kingdom, and that they can hear things that I can’t.

As Jesus says in Matthew 11, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

Jen Holmes Curran

Jen Holmes Curran is a pastor at Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She co-pastors and co-parents with her husband Tony.


  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    It was our first Easter Vigil service, years ago in Hoboken. Little Brian Welch–often a behaviour problem–was there with his parents and his older brother. The sanctuary got darker and darker through the readings. When it got quite dark he suddenly told his mother: “Jesus is coming in.” She whispered, “What does he look like?” He scolded her, “You can’t see him!”

  • So very well said, as usual for you. Thank you.

  • Thanks. I liked your conclusion: “So often God chooses the poor, the foreigners, the children, the outcasts to communicate himself to us, and it is often the people with all the power, education, and money that can’t seem to hear him clearly.”: Thanks for listening and thanks for sharing with us.

  • Mike Weber says:

    Thought provoking but it raised more questions than answers for me.

    1. Is listening prayer something that can be “taught” to children? After all Eli didn’t teach Samuel to listen to God. Rather the initiative came from God who called out to Samuel in the middle of the night. Eli helped Samuel to recognize that God was speaking, but he didn’t engage him in listening “exercises.”

    2. Does God speak on demand when we seek to listen to him? While there is value in setting aside time to listen to God, isn’t God free not to speak when we seek to listen? Indeed doesn’t God often remain silent and shouldn’t we respect his freedom to do so?

    3. Shouldn’t listening be rooted in Scripture? The problem with the 4 would be suitors is that their listening was rooted in their own desire and not the word of God. How do we teach children to listen to the Spirit through scripture?

  • Sherri Priestly says:

    I love this!
    I have been dying for someone to write a decent book about spiritually parenting our kids.
    The way it always has been done just doesn’t seem quite right. I love listening prayer with 3 year olds! I think you should write that book.

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