Henri Nouwen, towards 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, and comes from beneath. 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 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! Consider for example, Peter’s misguided rebuke of Jesus (Matt. 16:22ff). Like the apostle Peter, we too can initiate programs without waiting and listening because they seem like good ideas, like Peter’s idea for a “building program” (Matt. 17:4-5). And like Peter, we too can pull out our swords when people threaten the way we think things should go (John 18:10).
Listening to Jesus, in a holy reverence, is more important than any person, project, program, or cause in the world. And Peter teaches us that when we don’t pay attention to what Jesus is doing or saying, 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 is 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 ways you know that you are listening well?
And may we hear the voice of God our Father interrupt us when we stray!
This is my Son, whom I love … Listen to Him! (Matthew 17:5).