Dear Pastor: Listening to God
If you struggle to connect with God and to feel as though you are growing in your relationship with him, let me assure you that you are not alone!
Many pastors have difficulty connecting with God. This is odd, if you think about it--we spend most of our time helping others to connect with God. We teach about it, counsel people, pray with people. All of these things help others connect well with God. Yet, we can leave these interactions happy that we’ve helped someone else grow but disappointed and frustrated that we don’t experience that growth ourselves.
The truth is, we have created our own barriers that prevent us from connecting with God. Our busy-ness and approach to ministry, while helpful for others, often prevents us from connecting with God.
Consider this: How often have you taught or counseled someone that a relationship with God takes time, that we have to carve out time to spend with God in order to grow and develop that relationship. And then you’ve dashed from one meeting to the next, having already lost out on your morning devotional time because of someone else’s emergency. We don’t take our own advice.
Or this: As pastors, we spend a lot of time in the Bible, preparing for messages, writing devotionals, offering a word to others. We mine the Bible for our ministry needs, but we don’t let God mine our hearts with his words for what our souls need.
There is a simple solution for this problem: You need to take your own advice to carve out time and listen to the words of God in the Bible. As I’ve written about before, there is nothing more important for a pastor than to shepherd him- or herself first. Self-care is not selfish! The demands of ministry wear pastors down. Pastors must abide with God and create space for their souls to heal and receive from God before they give to others. Pastors who give, give, and give without receiving burn out. It happens every time.
At a minimum, pastors must take around 30 minutes each day for reflection and quiet. I’ve previously recommended a leisurely walk, with no music or podcasts, to quiet your mind and listen to God.
I also recommend that you reflectively read the Bible. Find a comfortable, quiet space and take only your Bible and a notebook and pen. Read a selection from scripture--around 10-15 verses, so it’s neither too short nor too long. Take three passes through the scripture: The first time, listen for which words or images pop out to you and write them down. On your second pass, read asking what God might be saying to you through those words or images and write down your thoughts. For your third pass, read asking how God wants you to respond to what he is saying to you and write down your answers. Finally, pray through what you wrote down and ask God to anchor his words in you and to empower you to respond.
I encourage you to try both a leisurely walk and reading the Bible reflectively! Block out an hour and begin with a 30-minute walk. Follow that up with 30 minutes of prayerful, reflective reading of the Bible. Write down what you are hearing as you listen to God. This is how you learn how to listen to God.
By carving out time for this, you are saying “yes” to God and creating space to rejuvenate your soul.
Imagine how this practice could transform you! Rather than rushing from one thing to the next, you are proactively blocking out time for yourself. Instead of managing the Bible for ministry needs, you are letting God speak to your soul about matters of your heart. Rather than believing the lie that “busy is better,” you are slowing down and bringing more sanity to your ministry.
Do you yearn for a simpler but fuller expression of ministry? Do you desire a stronger walk with God? Both begin with the habit of listening to God.
Will you begin today?
As always, let me know how I can serve you.
P.S. It’s not always easy to identify space in our lives to build new habits in. We have many blind spots. If you’d like a guide to walk you through a process of discovering where and how you can build these new habits into your life, please reach out to me. I specialize in helping ministers make transitions, avoid burnout, and work through leadership challenges.