As I mentioned yesterday the idea of listening for God's direction in ministry and mission is something that is critically important, but quite difficult.
In thinking about how we are to listen it seems like there are three components that have to be grappled with.
The first one is captured in the word, Immediacy.
When I say immediacy, what I'm referring to is the imperative of obedience. The requirement for the Nation of Israel was to respond appropriately to whatever the “pillar of fire or the pillar of cloud” was doing. If it moved, the people were to move. If it stayed put, the people were to remain still. I think an axiom of this component might be: if we ever expect God to speak to us, we must be willing to unreservedly respond by saying, yes to what we hear. An example of this happened to me a few years ago while I was seeking God’s guidance as to whether I should take the presidency of Christian Associates or not. It was something I emotionally really wanted, but was still honestly seeking God's direction as I much as I possibly could. My process included seeking advise from loving friends, engaging in what the Mennonites call, clearness committees (click the link to see how they work). I was personaly praying and listening as well. It was a hard, but good process. During one of those nights of seeking God I actually heard audible voice in the middle of the night. Just so you know, I can count on one finger how many times this has happened to me in my life. The voice said, “You're not done yet.” Well, that was not the message I wanted to hear, so I sought to rationalize it several different ways. The realty was, New Community, the church I was pastoring at the time simply wasn’t ready for that profound of a transition. After a few hard days of trying to justify the message to fulfill my emotions, I concluded that I shouldn't expect God to continue to speak to me at all if I'm not willing to obey when he does speak to me. The upshot, I pulled my name from the application process. One year later, I was re-approached by Christian Associates and got a green light from God that time.
The second aspect of listening is that of Intimacy.
The very nature of listening is intimate, isn’t it? To listen to someone is a wonderfully loving and honorable act. Intimacy reflects both relationship and trust. In John 10, Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd.
“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all his own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow him because they know His voice.” (John 10:3-4)
Ok, here is a toughie - shouldn't it be normal for a follower of Christ to be able to recognize the voice of their Savior, of the Good Shepherd? Isn't that the promise that we receive as Christian? The challenge, however is, many of us do not have our minds and hearts attuned to the voice of the Spirit. I find on a practical level that the Spirit normally speaks through sublte promptings in my mind (like Elijah's still small voice). Over time I've had to sensitize my thinking to recognize and discern what is just my crazy brain spinning in circles, making stuff up and what is the gentle, loving voice of God's Spirit.
Lastly, there is the aspect of Time.
We are all so used to receiving what we want immediately. Whether it is fast food, or pizza delivered to our house, or the reconciling of a difficult relationship. We all want instantaneous results. The reality, however, is in the area of listening it just takes time. And that is where I struggled the most. If you know me well, you know that I am seriously ADD. I know, many people say that. In fact, recently I was bemoaning the fact that I am ADD to my wife (a therapist) to which she responded back, like talk’in trash, you are not any worse than anyone else. Well, at that, she dug up a test for me to take. I have never been good at test, but I "aced" this one. I crushed it!!! Anyway, holding still and listening is just east of torture for me…at least for much of my life. I will admit that I am getting better at it as I get older. The real challenge for all of us is our minds have so much “spinning” going on, that it is very difficult to hear! We must learn to stop, to rest, to suspend input (that suspending includes FB/Twitter/iPhone/email) long enough to begin to parse out the voices in our mind.
That is the charge this new little band of brothers and sisters are attempting to live into…together. To listen for the good voice of our loving Lord to direct us into mission in our city. I can hardly think of a more challenging or privileged calling for a community to have.