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Leaders Have Listening Souls

“In the end, you cannot do the work of Christ without the heart of Christ”

Jan Johnson, When the Soul Listens, p. 33

Seven years ago, I read Jan Johnson’s When the Soul Listens and recently pulled it off the shelf (yes, an actual paper version but true confession, I have it on Kindle too).  Some days I need to remember that listening is not just being still but putting myself in a posture to engage with what might be said.

Johnson’s book is a call to live as apprentices (disciples) of Christ not based on religious performance but rather living from the posture that the reality of God’s Kingdom invades every moment of our lives.
And from this reality, Johnson encourages us to learn how to live (apprentice) our lives with the mindset Jesus is living in us and through us.

Throughout the book, it confronted that my need to do the work of Christ must begin with my desire to do so through the knowledge of the heart of Christ that being should always precede doing.

Throughout Johnson’s book, she gives you various disciplines of prayer, such as listening prayer, wordless contemplation, practicing His presence, and engaging in abstinence and engagement. Not only are these ideas carefully explained they are also given practical exercises for the reader to implement. Again, ultimately the concept of moving the reader beyond a prayer life that seeks only personal benefit but a prayer life saturated in Christ that results in what is beneficial to the Kingdom, helping the reader to know and hear the voice of God and deepen our spiritual formation for the benefit of others.

Later in the book, the author quotes Bernard of Clairvaux, which reminded me of the challenge we often face in leadership and life,

“O Lord, you are so good to the soul who seeks you, what must you be to the one who finds you?” (pp. 103-104).

WOW, just sit with that for a moment!

Here are a few more takeaways from When the Soul Listens to help us with that challenge:

Contemplation Combats Scatteredness: 

It often seems that the most significant obstacle in pursuing Christ’s heart is all that is scattered within our own. Understanding that contemplation creates a practice in our lives that doesn’t negate all of our thoughts but rather orders them in light of Christ’s presence and wisdom regarding them. 

As life pulls us in many directions, contemplation centers us amid the tugging. Furthermore, I appreciated the broadness of ‘scatteredness,’ including spiritual dryness, guilt, shame, lack of direction, and lack of purpose. Knowing that my ‘scatteredness’ is often a guise of other more serious heart issues centering my spiritual life solely upon my own wants and needs. 

In contemplation, we bring all these to bear the more we allow Christ to move and reveal our hearts in awareness. Recognizing that my ‘scatteredness’ is not just the symptom of a busy life but also the means of how I view God and interact with him was insightful. 

Ultimately, contemplation is about addressing who is in control of my life. Is that true in your life?

Personal GPS:

 One of my favorite illustrations from the book was the retelling of Tony Campolo’s insight on giving directions:

There are two ways that I can tell you how to get from [wherever you are] to Eastern College, where I teach. I can give you a map that charts out the route for you to take. With such a map, you might or might not get there, depending on how good you are at reading maps [and whether roads are closed]. The other option I can offer is to get into your car, sit beside you, and direct you as we go along (p. 25). 

How often do we just want the map and directions (information), not the cartographer? Contemplation allows us the beauty of both. When I began to reflect on the idea that the author (Jesus) of the map of my life does not want to sit idly by as I try to navigate solely but would prefer to be immanent, it seems foolhardy not to have this relationship with Christ. After all, Jesus did promise to get us home and be with us on the journey (John 14:1-13; Matthew 28:20)

Furthermore, it is vital to recognize that having Him navigate personally and intimately does not guarantee that the road He chooses will not be complicated or character-forming. It may be in our best interest that He guides us through the valley as we discover more of ourselves, revealing how little of Him we may have. 

Johnson states to live so closely to Him amid a busy, active, sometimes scattered, and difficult path that ‘Our hearts become like quiet cells where God can dwell, wherever we go and whatever we do’ 5 (p. 144). 

11th-hour people: 

They’re eleventh-hour people, not only because some of them come to God late in life but also because out of a “twenty-four-hour” life, they had only “one hour” of being loved and valued. (pp. 102-103). 

I found this quote out of the many remarkable insights as a stand-alone revelation of God’s heart. I was deeply moved by the idea of how, once again, my timeline and expectations for others are so inept. 

What an overwhelming thought that instead of judging those who come late to recognize that they have had only ‘one hour’ of being loved and valued is humbling. How true this can be in so many areas of my life that a value is placed on an unmet expectation or perceived spiritual achievement or duration of spiritual sacrifice. 

Without stretching the metaphor too far, could it be that most of us move throughout the twenty-four-hour period daily in struggling with value and worth? Again an incredible insight that has unprejudiced my heart towards others and myself. 

Who might that one-hour person be in your life that is overwhelmed by being loved and valued without our criticism or judgment?

How have you been the one-hour person, and where do you need to apply His grace?

In reflecting on my own life, I recognize that I am just now coming into my 11th hour of value and love in some areas. 

Here are a few Life and Leadership Questions to help our Souls Listen:

The practical questions provided throughout the book are worth continual use of examen at the end of the day. The following have been particularly meaningful for me.

How open to God are you? How open would you like to be?    

You may believe God listens, but do you believe God speaks?    

What are the greatest distractions that keep you from believing God is always present?   

What would make prayer more attractive to you?

What are You (God) telling me about my relationship with You?    

What are You telling me about how my character needs to change?    

What are You telling me about how You want me involved in advancing Your kingdom?  

As Tilden Edwards says, “A contemplative is not a special kind of person; every person is a special kind of contemplative.” (p. 133)

This quote has been incredibly freeing for me in releasing the pressure of what a contemplative soul-listening leader must look like. Isn’t allowing God to work uniquely within each of us liberating? It’s a journey; enjoy it.

Finally, Pastor Peter Lord, author of Hearing God challenges us to test ourselves with this final question: 

If God gave you nothing but himself, would you be satisfied? 

The answer reveals whether you love God for Himself or for what you hope He will do for you. When you find yourself no longer enjoying the presence of God and your prayers are limited to asking for things for yourself, you are in a hurry to get answers for your needs when leadership or ministry becomes the all-important thing in your life. There is the subtle danger that you are using God for your ends (p. 24).

Again, would you be satisfied if God gave you nothing but himself? Shouldn’t this be a question we add weekly to our devotional times to become leaders with listening souls? And shouldn’t we always start with Him being enough?

You are loved!



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