What just happened?
OMG! That’s a disaster!
We’re going bankrupt!
God, how could you let that happen?
Time after time, as leaders, we’re confronted with circumstances, situations or news to which our immediate response may be one of those listed above. Or worse. Incredulity that something so egregious, so callous or unfair could be happening. Something outside our control. Something that didn’t demand, or much less invite our involvement and thus, must undoubtedly end in unmitigated disaster.
So, the question of the day is, where is God in these moments?
Actually, the real question is, do I trust God in these moments?
And a valid follow-up might be: What are you doing, Lord, in this moment of crisis? Will you speak to me? Give me a clue? Why are you so silent all the time? What are you expecting of me?
In circumstances like these, how do True North leaders, those of us who desperately want to be honest, authentic and truth-seeking, hear, discern and internalize the Voice of God?
First, a disclaimer.
This is a difficult topic for me to tackle. As I mentioned in last week’s post, too often my own imagination has “sounded like” the Voice of God. And why not? It’s far more to my liking. Far more of what I want/need to hear at the moment. Far more exciting to run the movie in my mind of how I’d like to see the matter resolved, attribute it to God, and be merrily on my way.
But hearing and listening are two very different matters. One is physical: you hear with your ears. It’s a response to audio stimuli. Either you can, or choose to hear something. I was often amused when my father-in-law conveniently used his years of factory-induced-hearing-loss as the excuse for not attending to his wife’s voice.
But listening always requires hearing. First. And sometimes as Will Rogers opined, “…it’s a good chance to shut up!” or, realizing that the word listen has the same letters as the word SILENT.
But listening is also always an act of the will; a choice to internalize what we’ve heard by way of the heart and the brain. A good listener is a willing participant. Ready, able and desirous of this more difficult auditory task. A good listener is practiced in the art: able to focus on not only what is said, but more importantly who is speaking and why that communication is meaningful.
So, listening to others is part science; more a learned skill.
But what about listening to God? How do True North leaders learn to do that?
I remember a line from a sermon (sorry, don’t remember much else from that Sunday): We learn to recognize God’s voice just like, as children, we learned to hear Mom’s voice above all others. Or, in our family, when we were outside, my kids’ heads instantly turned my way when they heard Dad’s unmistakable whistle. Still works, BTW.
Not dissimilarly, we need to:
· Desire to hear God’s voice with the intention of listening (implies, also wanting to obey)
· Develop an awareness of His desire to communicate with us
· Cultivate our practice of attending when/where He speaks
· And then, practice divine hearing and listening
I love how Frederick Buechner says it in the introduction to Now and Then, “…however faintly we may hear him, he is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, his word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling.”
Look. If the God of the universe determines He needs to tell you something, don’t you think it’s worth hearing, understanding and responding? Or are you, as Oswald Chambers puts it, “… constantly humiliating God by ignoring Him, while He lovingly continues to treat you as His child?”
The question then is, how do we hear God’s voice?
Consider these. How have you interacted with God in these ways?
· The Bible
If we believe that God’s Word is alive and powerful for us today (Hebrews 4:12) and effective in doing so (2 Tim. 3:16), then we can confidently, reverently and expectantly approach this source of communication.
When our spirit is tuned to His in prayer, we should practice finely tuning in to His voice. When in the darkest moments we don’t even know how nor what to pray, Paul reminds us He does (Romans 8:26–27). In my experience, when I am intently asking and then listening for His reply, the first thought that comes into my mind is often the answer (of course that presumes it lines up with the Bible). And in a very practical way, I have often uttered a silent prayer going into an interview, counseling session with a student or when in a confrontation, “Lord I have no clue here…help!” Far too often to be coincidence, what came out of my mouth next was miles beyond my natural ability. Far too helpful, wise or brilliant. Far too perfect for the moment. That’s a True North leader’s secret weapon.
This one seems the least holy, for me. It’s certainly the least supernatural. And yet we find confidence that God has distinguished Himself as constantly moving on our behalf (Romans 8:28) because He can’t help Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). I’m sure you have myriad personal examples of God using circumstances to show you a pathway forward, a means of rescue (think Joseph on multiple occasions). But I do love the reminder of God intervening to speak in spite of all obstacles a human could devise. Remember Balaam. Rehearse all the ways God spoke in his circumstances (Numbers 22–24).
· Friends’ wise counsel
Space here does not allow for how many examples we have of God using others to speak on His behalf. I can tell you one short story from my experience. During a heavy pitch for a job I had no intention of accepting, my friend across the dinner table was “selling ice to Eskimos” as the old phrase says. Miraculously and in an instant, he said something to the effect of, “When are you going to take a step of faith so huge that it could only be God?” From that point on, all I heard from him was the sound adults make in the Charlie Brown TV shows (that iconic trombone wah, wah, wah…). I was arrested knowing God’s voice had just spoken to me — piercingly in a single sentence out of an hour’s worth of conversation.
· Internal sense of peace
I happily rely on this one. If we believe God invades us with a sense of peace that exceeds our own brain’s ability to comprehend (Philippians 4:7) and that it can abide with us through the greatest challenges and pressures (Colossians 3:15), we can safely accept this is a powerfully effective way by which He speaks to us.
· Dreams and visions
Start with this premise: God is actively pouring out His Spirit on us (Joel 2:28). Then recall the stories of Abraham. Daniel. Joseph. Peter. Oh, and my mother. Years before we conceived a child, my mother dreamt that she saw a little girl twirling around a kitchen wearing a ballerina’s tutu. Much later when she visited us in our new house she exclaimed, “This is the kitchen from my dream!” And indeed, that was the house in which our daughter twirled and danced daily.
Each way He speaks is miraculous. Especially when you consider that the Most High God deigns to speak with us at all. Rather than pointlessly debate IF God speaks, I find it far more intriguing to marvel that He does.
True North leaders, truth-seekers whose greatest desire is honesty and authenticity, should be those most adroit at practicing the presence of God through active hearing and listening.