Hurrying to Listen


not-listeningDuring a recent day of solitude and silence (what my mentor, Wayne Anderson, called an “EPC” for a time of Extended Personal Communion with God in solitude, silence and prayer, I had some thoughts about listening.

I had been reading in James 1, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…(vs. 19).”

I was challenged by the practical counsel to be quick to listen, but unhurried to speak. It really is the opposite of many of my instincts. I find in group settings that people are often talking over each other, seeking to be heard. What about the wisdom of listening? How can we know what is worth saying if we haven’t listened well to others—really heard their hearts?

In the context of James 1, the listening is about:

  • “Humbly accepting the word planted in you, which can save you.” (21)
  • Listening with the intent to follow (22).
  • Listening intently to the perfect law that gives freedom and continuing in it” (25).

I can cultivate a posture of listening with God in both solitude and in my work place. I can learn to listen better to my family, friends and co-workers rather than always saying what’s on my mind. I can listen to those who cross my path over the course of the day.

I’ve come to realize that listening takes time, but it’s time well invested. When I listen well, I am enabled to then speak more to the heart of matters and act more in keeping with the heart of God. I can actually learn to have a listening heart in the midst of conversations where I am speaking. I can practice the reality of God’s presence right in the middle of things. When I listen, I hear the Father’s heart and will, and can then speak in keeping with it.

Reflection: When have you seen the fruitfulness of listening well in your relationships or your work? When have you paid the price of rushing past listening to speaking?

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The Power of Leaders Who Listen


I’ve been doing more and more ministry consulting recently, especially focused on helping churches and other ministry organizations work on the transformation of their leadership cultures. Most leaders emphasize talking over listening. The assumption is that more words will always win the day. But we are discovering the transforming power of listening:

  • Listening to God for myself and for our ministry.
  • Listening with God to our past (and the good to be kept or the harmful or worthless to be turned from and left behind).
  • Listening to one another in leadership teams.
  • Listening to God for the people and the ‘program’
  • Listening to people we serve.

When we fail to listen, we may also find ourselves failing to keep first things first. We forget the words of Jesus that are rich not only in personal wisdom but in leadership wisdom as well:

Matthew 6:33 NLT, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Instead of being attentive to the reign and the way of God, we find ourselves seeking first:

  • To be different
  • To be attractive
  • To be relevant
  • To be cool
  • To be liked

Are these God’s invitations to us? Are these evidences of His loving reign and His good way? Everything good is a fruit of making our seeking of God a first response instead of a last resort. When God is truly reigning in our lives, we are different in ways we cannot manufacture directly. We love one another from the powerful center of sharing Christ in common. Our lives actually display God’s glory in increasing measure. And what could be more relevant than a community of people living a truly caring, joyful, relaxed way of life together?

For Reflection:

  • What are you tempted to seek first these days in your life and ministry before God’s gracious reign and His life-giving way?

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Spiritual Direction Is..


I’m very grateful for the opportunity to serve many pastors and Christian leaders in person and over the phone as a spiritual direction. I love how this ministry of listening often enables another to discern God’s voice of loving guidance in their lives and leadership. David Benner provides a very helpful description of spiritual direction in his book Sacred Companions:

“Spiritual direction is an ancient form of Christian soul care that goes back to the earliest days of the church. It has never really gone away. It is just that large sectors of the Christian church have forgotten their own heritage.

In its classical form, spiritual direction is a one-on-one relationship organized around prayer and conversation directed toward deepening intimacy with God. As we shall see, spiritual directors are not experts, nor do they direct. They do not follow a standardized curriculum or implement a prepackaged program. Rather, they journey with others who, like themselves, are committed to the process of spiritual transformation in Christ. And most important, they seek to help those with whom they journey discern the presence and leading of the Spirit of God-the One Jesus sent as our true Spiritual Director.” (David G. Benner. Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002, p. 17.)

Reflection questions:

  • Who has served as a spiritual director in your journey with Christ, whether or not they would call themselves one?
  • With whom do you have regular conversations about your conversational relationship with God?

(A repost from April 2010)

Levels of Listening


(An edited journal excerpt from January 22, 1991, which was Gem’s 27th birthday. Where does 20 years go?)

How well do I listen? To whom do I listen better than to others? I’m finding different levels at which I listen:

  1. I just don’t listen
  2. I have to listen (authority power)
  3. I feel like listening (fits my feelings)
  4. I choose to listen (willing service)
  5. I actively initiate the opportunity to listen

What moves me to listen at these more intentional and heart-full levels? I’ll go to listen to those I respect deeply, those I feel have something significant to say. I seek out opportunities to listen to those who have demonstrated their love for me. I’ll travel far to listen to those who speak words that touch my deepest needs in a spiritually rich way. I go out of my way to listen to those who are profoundly simple in their speaking and thinking. In what ways am I becoming such a person? To what degree does my life inspire or attract others to listen?

I believe that this will happen as I am intentional in cultivating a life of listening continually to the Lord in scripture and in those quiet, reflective moments of solitude and silence.

How is God inviting you to grow as a listener today?

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Looking Back: A Little Treasure Hunting


As I continue my work on the Unhurried Time writing project, let me share links to a collection of posts and a quotation on the theme of unhurried time. I pray that you are allowing the grace of God meet you in the midst of your holiday preparations.

CLICK for “A Little Treasure Hunting”

 

A Good Word: Spiritual Direction is…


I’m very grateful for the opportunity to serve many pastors and Christian leaders in person and over the phone as a spiritual direction. I love how this ministry of listening often enables another to discern God’s voice of loving guidance in their lives and leadership. David Benner provides a very helpful description of spiritual direction in his book Sacred Companions:

“Spiritual direction is an ancient form of Christian soul care that goes back to the earliest days of the church. It has never really gone away. It is just that large sectors of the Christian church have forgotten their own heritage.

In its classical form, spiritual direction is a one-on-one relationship organized around prayer and conversation directed toward deepening intimacy with God. As we shall see, spiritual directors are not experts, nor do they direct. They do not follow a standardized curriculum or implement a prepackaged program. Rather, they journey with others who, like themselves, are committed to the process of spiritual transformation in Christ. And most important, they seek to help those with whom they journey discern the presence and leading of the Spirit of God-the One Jesus sent as our true Spiritual Director.” (David G. Benner. Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002, p. 17.)

Reflection questions:

  • Who has served as a spiritual director in your journey with Christ, whether or not they would call themselves one?
  • With whom do you have regular conversations about your conversational relationship with God?

Buy a copy of Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction on Amazon.com

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Why Do We Resist Solitude?


I lead many retreats these days with solitude and silence with God at the heart of them. It feels like a fringe benefit of my ministry role. I love guiding others in vital encounter with an unfailingly loving God. Nothing encourages me more. Along the way, I’ve noticed different kinds of resistance people have to spending time alone and quiet with God.

Last November, I experienced the cultural resistance of the Dominican pastors. They are rarely if ever alone. A few American missionaries were very doubtful as to whether the pastors would be able to handle two hours alone…let alone with God. There is a cultural sense that if you are alone, there must be something wrong with you. In fact, on the day retreat I led for them, one of the pastors walked to the end of the retreat center driveway and sat on a rock. Someone walking by actually made a point of walking over and asking him, “What’s wrong?” This is the “we just don’t do that here” form of resistance. It can happen in churches as easily as in countries. .

Some Christian leaders feel a temperament resistance. They may say, “Solitude is for introverts, but I’m an extrovert. I prefer to be with others. I grow most in community.” Solitude doesn’t devalue community, but is a rhythm that enriches community. My experience is that the deepest and most united community is a fruit of a deeper communion with God cultivated in solitude. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the one who said, “Let [the one] who cannot be alone beware of community…. Let [the one] who is not in community beware of being alone.”

Finally, there is what I’d call a productivity resistance, like the CEO who says, “I’m a driven person. I don’t have time to waste in solitude like that. Solitude is for less productive people.” Leaders think that solitude is for monk-like people and not activist leaders. They think time spent alone with God will somehow reduce the fruit of their ministry. I would simply suggest that Paul the apostle was a great leader and a great pray-er. He experienced solitude on long walks between cities and in seasons of imprisonment along the way. Did he have a fruitful ministry?

And who is going to argue that Jesus was a weak leader? It is said that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Lk 5:16).” Often. Not rarely. Or occasionally. Or at times. Often. What might that mean for our own rhythm of life as Christ-followers?

What kinds of resistance rise up in you to “often withdrawing to lonely places to pray”? Busyness? Fear? Guilt?

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A Little Treasure Hunting


The blog has been pretty quiet, visitors-wise, over the extended weekend, so I’m posting links to the last six posts and inviting you to choose one that sounds fitting for you today. If you’ve already read them all, I’ve included a good word from my recent spiritual reading at the end of this post:

  • A Victory of Transforming Love” – A great word from Elton Trueblood about how Christ and his kingdom won not by muscle-power, but by love.
  • Love at the Only Starting Point” – The great saints haven’t been the one climbing highest on the moral ladder, but the one who have let themselves be loved most by God (and loved Him back).
  • Practicing God’s Presence in the Midst” – No matter what we are doing, even if it is our spiritual practices, Brother Lawrence invites us to stop here and there to simply adore God in the depths of our hearts.
  • The Transforming Power of Remembering Our Stories” – When our lives, our communities, even our ministry organizations, begin to grow spiritually stale, remembering our early faith stories can be a source of refreshment and renewal.
  • The Problem of Functional Atheism” – When and where in my life do I forget God, assume God doesn’t care much, or even deny Him? It may not be where you think…
  • A Good Word: God Loves Beauty” – Frank Laubach reminds us that God created, and therefore loves what is beautiful. You might be surprised where God sees the greatest beauty in creation.

And, as I promised, here’s something I came across in my recent reading on the theme of unhurry:

“It is related of St. Catherine of Siena that one day she asked Our Lord why it was that God has so often revealed Himself to the patriarchs, prophets and Christian of early times but rarely did so in her own time. Our Lord replied that it was because they were devoid of self-esteem and came to Him as faithful disciplines to await His inspiration, allowing themselves to be fashioned like gold in the crucible or painted on by His hands like an artists canvas, and letting Him write the law of love in their hearts. But the Christians of her time acted as if He could not see or hear them, and wanted to do and say everything by themselves, keeping themselves so busy and restless that they would not allow Him to work in them. Note that Our Savior has already tried to warn us against such excess in the Gospel when He said When you pray, do not multiply words as the Gentiles do; for they think that by saying a great deal they will be heard. So do not be like them for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Saint-Jure, Fr. Jean Baptiste and Claude de la Colombière, S. J. Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence. Rockford: TAN Books and Publisher, 1983, p. 77-78.)

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The Right Kind of Hurry


As I continue to think, read and write on the theme of Unhurried Time, I see new insights in familiar passages. For example, I saw this James recently:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (1:19-21)

James says when it comes to speaking and losing our temper, unhurried is the way to go. But when it comes to listening, we should jump at the opportunity. Is this how you regularly function? Me either. My pattern is too often the opposite. I can’t wait to say what’s on my mind. I can be very quick to lose patience. And when it comes to listening, I’m as sluggish as honey on a winter morning. I have a definite bias for speaking over listening. And my anger level is one measure of which I’m doing more.

As an introvert, you’d think counsel like this would be right up my alley. But as a leader, I usually solve things by talking. I’m a speaker, a teacher, and a presenter. I speak for a living. Slow to speak can feel unprofitable. But maybe following this counsel would be more fruitful than I expect. Maybe listening better would reduce the anger that jars my relationship with God and with others.

Where is my listening focused? James says, “Humbly [accept] the word planted in us which can save us.” I’m listening especially when it comes to what God is saying to me through scripture. Listening and salvation are working partners. I tend to seek rescue through saying something. But listening is a receptive mode of life. It’s a way of acknowledging that I need to hear what God and others have to say, that I need help from another. Do I believe this? Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t.

Reflection Questions:

  • In the very next conversation you have (live or on the phone), experiment with listening more than you speak. Trying asking a few more questions and making a few less statements. Seek to really understand the person you are speaking with. What might God have for you through what they are saying?
  • When it comes to reading scripture next time, perhaps read a few less verses and read them a few more times. Slowly. Receptively. As a listener. What is God saying through the scripture by the Spirit to your heart? What help is He offering?