Leaders tend to see the world from a different perspective than everyone else. If you are a leader in your church or business, you tend to see the present needs and the future possibilities before many others will. Seeing these needs leads to all kinds of planning and activity. But there is one activity you will do that matters more than anything else – listening.
The need for leaders to listen is not new. We have surveys and conversations to help us listen to the people we serve and other systems to help us listen to our team members.
In the world of spiritual leadership, there is one type of listening you must master if you have any chance for success as a leader – listening to God. As much as you serve people, it is always important to remember you serve God first. Listening to him is critical but is often forgotten in the busyness of planning and organizing ministry activities.
In 1 Samuel 3, we read the story of a young man named Samuel who would grow to become a significant spiritual leader in the nation of Israel. In this story, he takes some specific actions to prepare himself to hear from God.
Prepare yourself to hear from God by turning your attention towards God
The story of Samuel begins with a young man who has never heard God speak to him before. In 1 Samuel 3:1, we see Samuel ministering to God.
This description may sound strange because most of us see ministry as something we do for people in need. But at its core, ministry is about serving. Samuel focused on serving God by performing the duties of Levite priests. He would have spent time doing everything from praising and worshipping God to practical tasks like removing ashes from burnt offerings.
In the busyness of your life, make sure you have the intentionality to turn your attention towards God.
Prepare yourself to hear by having a posture of wanting to hear
In verses 4-10, Samuel hears a voice calling to him in the night. He thinks it is Eli’s voice, but it is God’s voice. What we see in Samuel is an eager desire to hear. On multiple occasions, he says, “Here I am,” and then finishes with his famous words, “Speak Lord – your servant is listening.”
Telling God you want to hear from him is not the same thing as genuinely listening to him. It is possible to become so busy doing good things for God and fool yourself into believing you hear from God.
Social science researchers have demonstrated what is called the Closeness Communication Bias. The big idea of this bias is that you can fool yourself into believing you know what someone is saying because you think you already know them well. We tend to not listen effectively to people we are close to compared to how we listen to strangers simply because we believe we already know them well. If you are married, then you understand the reality of this bias.
This type of bias can happen in your relationship with God. You can go to church, serve somewhere, and do Bible studies until you no longer have a pulse, but it does not mean you have a posture to hear from God. You can assume you already know what God says without intentionally understanding what he wants to say right now.
You can assume you already know what God says without intentionally understanding what he wants to say right now.
Prepare yourself to hear by identifying false voices and distractions in your life
Samuel thought he heard Eli’s voice, but he didn’t. There will be all kinds of voices speaking into your life. But Jesus promises us that his sheep know His voice. Ask Jesus to help you hear His voice above all others.
And then there are the distractions. God came and spoke to Samuel not when he was worshiping or serving but in the silence of the night. A Harvard study suggests we spend 47% of every hour distracted from being fully present in whatever we are doing. What are the distractions you need to put away so you can prepare yourself to hear from God?
This week, as you think and pray about the challenges in front of you, take time to ask God to speak before you ask God to act. Listening to him will change you and change how you lead.