Henri Nouwen, toward the end of his life, articulated a core struggle for every leader. He described the two different voices that come to each of us.
One voice constantly pushes us to succeed and achieve. It was the voice he spent most of his life heeding. It led him to make decisions and plans without God. He taught at prestigious Ivy League universities. He wrote a book a year. He kept an active speaking and ministry schedule. But his spiritual life was suffocating. He was praying poorly and living isolated from people.
The other voice invites us to listen to God’s voice. This voice reassures us we are loved without conditions or performance. We have nothing to prove. Our primary goal is to recognize the Lord’s voice, his face, and his touch in every person we meet. Only in the last ten years of his life, Nouwen said, did he truly listen to this second voice.
With the multiple demands and unrelenting pressure of leadership it is very difficult to pay attention to God’s voice.
Like the apostle Peter, when we stop listening to Jesus, we too can move from being a saint to a devil within the space of a few minutes! (e.g., Peter’s rebuke of Jesus in Matt. 16:22ff). Like the apostle Peter, we too can initiate programs without waiting and listening because they seem like good ideas (e.g., Peter’s building program in Matt. 17:4–5). And like Peter, we too can pull out our swords when people threaten the way we think things should go (e.g., Peter’s cutting off of a servant’s ear in John 18:10).
Listening to Jesus in a holy reverence is more important than any person, project, program or cause in the world. Peter teaches us that when we don’t pay attention to what Jesus is doing or saying and when we forget that God’s way of working in the world is very different from our own, relational breakdowns and chaos inevitably follow.
A few of the ways I know I’m listening rightly, and deeply, to Jesus are I’m relaxed and unhurried; I’m content even in setbacks; I’m not quick to give opinions and judgments; I’m not fearful about the future and I’m present with people.
What are a few of the top ways you know?
And may we hear the voice of God our Father interrupt us when we stray, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love…Listen to him!” (Matt. 17:5).
Pete Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, and the author of two best-selling books: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and The Emotionally Healthy Church. This story was originally posted on Scazzero’s blog at EmotionallyHealthy.org.