Jan Johnson
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Spiritual Disciplines Set

Look Inside!
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“Look Inside”

Through Prayer and Listening

Session 1: Conversation with God
Scripture:  Genesis 15:1-17; 17:15-22;  18:1-15

If you want a picture of what it looks like to connect with God, you might start by looking at  how God interacted with someone God called a “friend.” One such friend was Abraham (Is. 41:8;  see also 2 Chron. 20:7, Jas. 2:23).

Abraham’s friendship with God was characterized by ongoing conversations. Recorded in Genesis 12-22 (perhaps many more were not recorded), these conversations are filled with the back-and-forth elements of close communication -- questions, guesses, reassertions, incredulity, calculated pauses, statements of fear and doubt, and careful restatements of each other’s thoughts.

Yet Christians sometimes neglect to learn the art of conversation with God. Perhaps they don’t feel they are “good enough” to converse with God. But if goodness were a qualification, Abraham would have been excluded. For example, just after Abraham had a conversation with God laced with miracles and visions, he showed lack of confidence in God. He agreed to Sarah’s scheme of conceiving a child with Hagar instead of trusting that God would miraculously provide a child through Sarah (Gen. 15, 16). But after Abraham’s attempt to “adjust” God’s will, God continued to converse with Abraham. Righteousness is an outgrowth of conversation with God, not a prerequisite.

Turning Toward God.

What elements make for good conversation?

  • being honest, asking unguarded questions
  • tracking each other’s thinking
  • genuine listening
  • reassurances, saying, “Know for certain . . .”
  • clarifying one’s thoughts, perhaps saying, “Yes, but . . .”
  • asking penetrating questions
  • other: 
  • other: 

Hearing God Through the Word

The three passages below record a few of the many conversations between God and Abraham. In previous conversations, God gave Abram (his earlier name) vast land and promised him offspring (Gen. 13:14-17). In conversations below Abram asked God questions about these promises.

Read Genesis 15:1-17.

1. What is the first question Abram asked?

How does Abram’s question fit with God saying to him, “Do not be afraid” (v. 1)?

We are taught by his grace in the science of conversing with God!  -- Jean-Nicholas Grou

2. What did God do in addition to answering Abram’s question (vv. 4-5)? Why?

3.  What does Abram’s question in verse 8, “how can I know . . .?” tell you about Abram and his relationship with God?

Prayer is intelligent conversation about matters of mutual concern. -- Dallas Willard

4.  If you were in conversation with God, and God said, “Know for certain that . . .” (v. 13), how might God finish the sentence? What do you believe God has been trying to help you “know for certain” lately? (This is often one of these truths below.)

  • God will never abandon you or leave you helpless.
  • God wants you to change your ways about . . .
  • You don’t need to be afraid of . . .
  • God would like to use you in a certain situation.
  • God loves and forgives, no matter what.
  • other:

Read Genesis 17:15-22.

5. What details of the covenant did Abraham question to himself and to God?

6. When has God answered you with, “Yes, but .  ..” (v. 19) or “I have heard you” (v. 20)?

Read Genesis 18:1-15.

7.  How did God appear to Abraham this time?

8. When, if ever, has God confronted you with penetrating questions? (perhaps ones such as “Why did . . .” (v. 13) or caught you denying the truth (“Yes, you did laugh,” v. 15)?

We will never be “in charge” in prayer if it is real. --  Thelma Hall

9. Conversing with God means the Holy Spirit leads you and you are no longer “in charge” of your prayer. In what ways are you tempted to be “in charge” of your prayers:

  • always following a pattern in every prayer: first, you pray X kind of prayers; then Y;  then Z.
  • prattling on until you run out of things to say
  • Other:

10. The premier mark of Abraham was his complete confidence in God (faith). How might his conversations with God developed such a faith?

11. God’s conversations with Abram were full of drama -- starry nights, smoking firepots, mysterious visitors (Gen. 15:5, 17; 18:1-2).  These were all “props” that God chose for their conversations. How open are you to letting God set terms for prayer conversations with you? What decisions for openness do you need to make?

  • to ask God questions, believing that God will somehow answer them.
  • to quit dictating to god how to answer your prayers.
  • to quit filling your prayers with non-stop jabbering, just in case God might want to answer you.
  • to be open that God might speak to you through someone else -- including strangers or ordinary household objects (such as a “firepot”)

Transformation Exercises

Experiment with one or more of the following:

  • Take a walk and try to think of al the questions you would like to ask God.
  • Pray about the self-talk that goes on in your head. Compare it with the kinds of things God often says (see question 4 above.)
  • Read the back-and-forth conversation in Genesis 18:20-33 and ponder why God engaged Abraham in conversation this way. Journal about whether you believe that God is really interested in your ideas.
  • Read Genesis 22:1-18, in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (the son he waited twenty-five years for). In a sense, God was asking Abraham, “Am I enough?” and Abraham answered affirmatively. Take a walk and consider this question from God, Am I enough?  Answer God as honestly as you can. Consider other questions: How would you be better off if God were enough?  Are you willing to let God ask you this question for the rest of your life?


Conversations with God involve hearing God too. To learn more about hearing God’s side of the conversation, see the book in this series, Connecting with God through Silence and Solitude, especially Sessions 3-5 about delighting in God, waiting on God, resting in God and hearing God’s surprises.

Question 1.: Note that this first question (v. 2) seems to verbalize the fears God was trying to allay.  After God said, “Do not be afraid,” verse 2 says, “But Abram said.” God had said, Do not be afraid. Apparently his fear was childlessness and he stated it clearly with God’s permission.

“After this” refers to Abram’s rescue of Lot, Melchizedek’s blessing of Abram, and Abram’s standing up to the king of Sodom.

Question 2.: Perhaps God knew the stars would be helpful because Abram, a rich nomadic herdsman, would no doubt see the stars every night. Each night he would be reminded of this conversation and God’s promise.

Question 3.: Abram must have been unafraid to express real feelings to God. Although he “believed” God (v. 6), he also wanted assurances (“how can I know?”) about taking possession of the land. Yet Abram didn’t have a God-is-my-buddy attitude either, but addressed God: “O Sovereign Lord” (vv. 2 & 8). Having conversation with God, then, does not mean a person demeans God’s position or has license to be impertinent.

Question 4.: This question isn’t asking what participants they would LIKE God to tell them is certain. This question is not about putting our words in God’s mouth, but based on God’s character and what God has been communicating to participants, what does God want each person to “know for certain that . . .  .”

Question 5.: While Abraham’s questions and laughter may have expressed doubt, Leupold commented that Abraham’s laughter and talking to himself was one of “joy and surprise” to match his falling on his face, an “act of worshipful adoration.” He also suggested that v. 18 is not Abraham’s substitute suggestion for God’s idea, but an additional plea. It’s difficult to know.

Question 8.: These questions cannot be answered quickly. Allow sufficient time for participants to think. Prepare your own answer ahead of time so that your response can jar participants’ thinking. God usually catches us lying when we’re pretending to be better than we are.

Question 9.: If you have time, ask participants how letting God lead them in prayer makes them feel. It can be scary to consider encountering the divine in prayer and having a conversation.


  1. Jean-Nicholas Grou How To Pray (Cambridge, England: James Clarke & Co., 1955),  p. 15.
  2. Dallas Willard The Divine Conspiracy  (San Francisco, CA:  HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), p. 194.
  3. Thelma Hall, Too Deep for Words:  Rediscovering Lectio Divina (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), p. 32.
  4. H.C. Leupold  Exposition of Genesis  (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House, 1977), p. 527.


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