Interview with Pete Greig, author of How to Hear God
Your new book, How to Hear God, publishes this March. When you wrote your previous book, How to Pray, did you have a follow up in mind?
No, I was kind of blown away by the way that the last book, How To Pray, took off. It's been so amazing to hear from people almost every week saying that it's helped them to grow in their relationship with God. And so when I sat down to write the next one I was actually contracted to do something completely different and it just wasn't flowing. I went to the Lord in prayer and He made it clear to me that I was to write on this particular theme which happened to work really well as a follow up to How To Pray! When I told the rest of the 24-7 team that this was what I was thinking of doing they all said "Thank goodness! What took you so long?". Really listening to God is the other side of the conversation when it comes to prayer. I now realise that it's the most natural sequel in the world and I'm really hoping it's going to help a lot of people in this really important but complicated arena.
You're one of the instigators of the 24/7 Prayer Movement. How did that come about and what moved you to help start this?
We started the first 24-7 Prayer Room way back in 1999. We weren't trying to start a movement at all. We just finally acknowledged that we were really bad at praying but that this was the key to pretty much everything in life. And so we started praying round the clock to see what would happen in a warehouse on an industrial estate down in Chichester. Suddenly everything went crazy. And then the prayer room began to multiply all around the world. It was - and is - a genuine movement. No-one could have been more surprised than us! Suddenly I found myself being approached by people I'd never met in countries I'd never heard of asking me for advice on things I'd never done. It was scary and exciting all at once. And now today, all these years later, we're in well over half the nations on earth and we've been praying non-stop for more than 20 years. The prayer movement has given birth to a family of communities (both churches and Houses of Prayer/Monasteries) and to many other ministries committed to prayer, mission and justice. It's been a wonderful ride!
What do you think is one of the biggest struggles Christians have with prayer?
I think one of the biggest struggles most people have with prayer is dealing with disappointment. The bible is so much more honest about this than the church. From the book of Job (which may actually be the oldest book in the entire bible) through to more than half the Psalms, through to Jesus' own unanswered prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane the bible is startlingly unembarrassed about unanswered prayer. But then all too often at church we feel we have to pretend. This has very much been my own personal story. Many people will know that a year after the birth of the 24-7 prayer movement (which was thrilling) my wife Sammy became extremely ill and nearly died on a number of occasions. Suddenly we personally found ourselves having to make sense of the agony of unanswered prayer. That's why I wrote a book called God On Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer. It's my strong conviction that we wrestle with disappointments in prayer not because we are struggling with unbelief but because our faith is genuine and sincere. We need to be more honest about that.
What's the hardest prayer you feel God hasn't answered (in the way you wanted)?
Personally, the most painful unanswered prayer continues to be the fact that after all these years Sammy (although she's alive for which we thank God) continues to struggle with a chronic illness which effects her daily. I don't really understand why God doesn't just intervene and perform the miracle but we have definitely learnt to experience his presence and his faithfulness in the midst of our questions. And there is definitely something about suffering that is common to all humanity and enables us, I hope, to minister from a place of greater vulnerability and empathy. Sammy herself has retrained as a counsellor and is now using her own struggles and difficulties to help so many other people. It's wonderful.
In what way has your new book spoken to and challenged you?
This was the hardest book I've written so far. I thought it was going to be easy because I've done a few talks in my time on the subject of hearing God. But when I sat down to write it I realised that this one of the most important and complex topics in the world, and there is surprisingly little written about it. Nothing matters more than learning to hear God for ourselves - it's the key to a real relationship with him - and yet we've all been hurt by those claiming to have heard God's voice falsely, or confused when we try to hear God and got it wrong. One of the things I do in this book is try to embrace three of the great Christian traditions who all have such valuable insights into hearing God: firstly, the wonderful evangelical emphasis on hearing God in the bible. Secondly, the charismatic re-discovery of the prophetic and supernatural revelation. And thirdly, the contemplative celebration of "the still small voice". We seem to be so tribal and I believe we miss out if we don't celebrate all three of these ways in which God speaks. The backbone of this book is the wonderful Emmaus Road story which I think is one of the most beautiful in the whole bible. In it we see all of these ways in which God speaks: firstly, Jesus unpacks the scriptures at great length "beginning with Moses and the prophets". That fascinates me because most charismatics would think it a bit unnecessary for Jesus to do that. Couldn't he have just revealed to them that it was he, perhaps with an amazing word of knowledge or a little angelic insight? But no, he revealed himself through a lengthy exegetical bible study! But then we also see the strong contemplative and charismatic aspects in the way that the hearts of the two people on the road to Emmaus burnt within them as they heard Jesus teach, and particularly when they saw him break bread in their home later on. This story is loaded with revelation for all of us and I really help it can help us all to learn to hear God in a way that is true to the way that he has made us. It's such an important topic.
What's next in the pipeline?
In May we've got the Wildfires Festival at the Wiston Estate and I'm really excited about that. The whole world is resurfacing from so much tragedy and this will be an opportunity to gather, just before Pentecost, with the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, and to renew friendships, disciple our kids, worship our hearts out, and hear from God. There's never really been a moment like this one and I believe it's vital that the church dares to believe for more. Every major revival through human history began out of a time of great trauma and disappointment. Tragedy doesn't inevitably create a movement of the spirit, of course. Quite the reverse. But this is a moment that could be a great opportunity if we will respond with real faith. And also very busy with Lectio 365, our daily devotional, which is used by tens of thousands of people every day. It's an extraordinary privilege to be able to create this material that impacts so many lives. So there's plenty going on to keep me busy!