A number of years ago this question was posed to me by a friend: “To whose voice are you listening?” As I reflected on this question, it penetrated my mind and my heart in a way that I’ve never forgotten. There is a 3×5 card on my bedroom mirror and another in my office to remind me that I need to practice the discipline of listening, and lean into doing something that is not easy.
Like most leaders, I would rather talk than listen and multi-task instead of enjoying silence. I often find that my lifestyle contributes to noise that prevents me from listening.
Noise can take different forms in the life of the leader. As ministry leaders we often have more responsibilities than time, which can create the “noise” of doing and going, talking and problem-solving, caring and studying, etc. These are all good things that we need to do in order to be effective leaders.
But doing all of that begs the question:
Does my schedule, my time, my life look like that of a person who wants to hear God’s voice?
For the past decade, I have taken time before the beginning of the New Year to ask the Lord to give me a word for the upcoming year. As I prayed about it for this year, I sensed that He was giving me the word, listen. If I’m being honest, I didn’t want that to be my word for 2020. I wanted a more spiritual word like discernment or wisdom or vision (after all, it is the year 2020!).
Listen sounded so challenging and humbling. My first thought was, “Did God want me to learn to listen to him, or was he asking me to do a better job of listening to others?” Either way, it sounded difficult because I like being busy; I’d rather work to accomplish something than take the time to listen. Listening requires silence and silence isn’t my forte! But, I couldn’t escape the reality that I sensed that listen was my word for this year.
Why do many of us find it challenging to choose a posture of listening? I’m speculating that it’s because we believe that leaders are doers. They see problems and circumstances and charge into action. After all, people have expectations of their leaders, and those expectations include decision-making and progress in the ministry. But what if we’re leading out of a vacuum and not from a place of discernment?
What does it look like to be a leader who listens? Luke 8:18 summarizes it well, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” I think there are a few simple, but profound steps that we as leaders need to take every day to be better listeners and better leaders.
1. PRACTICE SILENCE
Daily quiet your mind and your heart before God because you believe he is for you and with you. Believe in the presence of his presence.
2. LISTEN WITH EXPECTATION
You may not have “ah ha” moments every day, but the likelihood of hearing His voice is far greater when we expect Him to speak.
3. READ SCRIPTURE FOR RELATIONSHIP
As leaders and pastors, we can have a tendency to read the Bible because we need to prepare a sermon or a lesson, and we lose the vibrancy of His word to us. Read the Bible for the pure joy of being with God.
As Christian leaders, there is nothing more important than our ability to hear God. Instructions from God inform our journey as we lead others to a place of mission and purpose. Without God’s direction, we are left to our own devices, which often prove futile. God’s voice brings discernment, direction, strategy, wisdom, correction, and even comfort. Hearing from God is essential to our leadership and to the mission of the Church.
Take time NOW to go and LISTEN.