It’s been said that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we will listen twice as much as we talk. However, pastors probably need about ten or twelve ears in order to best function. (And no, that’s not a joke about how long their sermons are!) Because they constantly have staff, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, tithers, and members who basically own their own pew speaking into their ear about all the things they claim would be best for the church.
And by no means do I mean to dispute a pastor prayerfully considering any advice given to them by a brother or sister in the church. Listening to and working with others is simply part of being the body of Christ as the New Testament explains many times. But as with all decisions, listening to the body of Christ should always fall under the umbrella of listening to God and allowing him to speak into your heart and lead your church.
So how do we best filter through all the different voices in our ears and hear what God is trying to speak into us?
Begin and end your day with God. At this point in your life and ministry, I know you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you to spend at least one private moment in prayer and Bible study each day. The Bible is God’s main means of communication to us today, and more than likely you try to begin each day reading out of it and praying about the day to come. With all the voices you’re going to hear that day telling you how “it must be done,” it only makes sense that the first voice you hear is God’s. But in that same regard, doesn’t it also make equal sense that the last voice you hear from be also God’s? Would you rather go to bed thinking about the angry e-mail concerning the guest speaker from Sunday that someone didn’t like, or about God’s reassurance that this speaker spoke biblical and gospel-centered truth that needed to be said, no matter how uncomfortable it made some?
Ask God to “prune” you. I know you’re familiar with Jesus’ vine and branches metaphor in John 15. Pay special attention to verse 2, where he says, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Have you ever noticed a tree immediately after it has been properly pruned before springtime? It looks devastatingly bare, almost as though it’s been stripped of everything fruitful. But then in no time, it’s flourishing greater than ever!
Throughout your day, many of the voices in your ear are going to be meant to build you up and speak your praises. Other will be intended to tear you down so that they can feel better about themselves, and their intention is to keep you down. But God’s voice will seek to prune you—to strip away everything that is dead and useless and make room for his fruit to grow inside you. Filter through the voices in your head by seeking out what God is using to prune you for the blooming springtime to come.
Daily, get away from it all. The key words here are “daily” and “all.” Do not underestimate the work you as a pastor are doing in your community and just how eternally vital it all is. You need to daily have a time away somehow—running, a quiet picnic lunch, drinking tea on your back porch—where you have no distractions whatsoever and can reflect on how God is leading you that day. Because he didn’t just tell you to go to that new church to preach and then leave you alone for the rest of your days there. He intends to give you daily guidance and support. And when I say “all,” I truly mean all, including the daily prayer and Bible study you may be doing every morning and evening. During this designated “away time,” allow God to simply speak into your heart, without needing the MacArthur study you’re going through or the read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan you’re faithfully trudging through. If prayer is communication with God, then allow him to communicate with you. Simply be quiet and listen.
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, his most recent being All You Want to Know about the Bible in Pop Culture. He also writes at BibleInPopCulture.com and can be found on Twitter under the handle @PopCultureKevin.