As a result of a leader’s prioritization of the care and nurture of one’s own soul, through the practice of spiritual disciplines and the honoring of Sabbath rest, a third focus of prayerful intention is “to listen.” Listening first and foremost to God, through His Word, creation, community, life experiences, disappointments and joys, the leader develops a heart for listening and noticing God. But, when a leader emerges from the prayer closet and enters the world of service, it’s important that a leader listen to those s/he serves. An additional person to listen to is oneself…self-awareness comes from internal listening and the “aha” of the conscience.
Listening to the joys, hurts, and needs of others is an acquired skill. We aren’t naturally inclined to listen to another. Instead, most of the time we’re actually not very focused on anyone but self. So much of life is about self-protection and self-promotion, that to earnestly listen to others we must put aside our own selfish needs and attend loving and compassionately to others. This requires humility of heart and openness of mind, attributes of our personhood that we only acquire through prayerful intentionality. When distracted by our own inner compulsions to self-reference, one can whisper a simple prayer, “Lord, help me to listen with empathy at all times and with all persons.”
Listening to oneself is by far the most challenging. We may consider ourselves self-aware, but in fact most of us are pretty skewed in our self-perceptions. We may think of ourselves as loving, kind, and gracious (for example), but it’s not up to us to evaluate – what does your spouse, children, or significant others have to say about you? Have you ever asked and truly listened? And, in your own personal time with the Lord, are you free to inquire of Him regarding an attitude or action, such as “Why did I respond that way, Lord?” Showing interest in your own responses will enlighten you for the way forward. Practicing healthy self-examination is good for the soul.
Leaders who choose to increase their attentiveness quotient in all areas of life will undoubtedly be the healthiest spiritual leaders. Begin by noticing God in His Word, His still small voice in prayer, through times of corporate worship or service, and in the beauty of His creation. Notice God in your everyday experiences with others, seeking to develop an ever-deepening awareness of those around you. Then, don’t forget to stay attuned to your own joys, needs, aspirations, and frustrations, and seek greater clarity to the “Why’s?” of your reactions and responses to all that life delivers to you.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” James 1:19.