The Listening Heart Revisited
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A listening heart is bedrock to a solid walk of faith. Likewise, sound leadership, the type that makes a difference for good, will have the same attribute at its foundation. A discerning listening heart is also the gateway into the true depths in one’s journey with the Lord.
Yet, today’s world is filled with a jumble of voices blurring the distinctions of whether it is God, just oneself or the devil. This jumble waters down the potential of a listening heart.
The efforts of SIGN targets spiritual leaders. Yet within the ranks of those in leadership and those reaching for leadership, are ones who have bypassed one or more of the Kingdom standards designed to nurture a mature, listening heart. These standards involve a discipline, a cost and a grasp of the subtleties of the Kingdom playbook.
With spiritual seasoning, the snares and distractions challenging ones’ discernment become increasingly complicated and subtle. Jesus observed that the access for the Kingdom would be narrow and the way difficult. In this pathway, the need to nurture a listening heart never ceases. It is why Jesus warned that as the end approaches, even the elect would be subject to deception. That is why the fruit of a listening heart will always be defined by the balance of the mixed application of the discipline, the cost and the playbook.
An undefiled listening heart will never be driven by either one’s brilliance or one’s feelings. Some of the saddest spiritual leadership shipwrecks recorded in Scripture fit into one or the other of these categories. In each case, the listening factor — both to God’s Spirit and to the choice of those listened to around them — became clouded and distorted, sidetracking the potential in their destinies.
King Saul was never able to get past his need for the approval of men. Shebna, in Isaiah 22, was unable to see beyond his own lusts and polluted desires. Judas was blinded by the idols that controlled his passions.
The Relationship Dynamic
Listening hearts are at the core of enduring relationships. Enduring relationships, not only between ourselves and God, but between one another are progressive. This progressive dynamic underscores both the cost and the discipline, as well as the gap to be bridged between the spiritual and the natural, to walk the way of the Kingdom.
Whether it is our relationship with God or with one another, Jesus defined the highest level to be that of a friend.
In the natural, open communication is the defining factor between friends. Yet, friendship with God goes deeper and involves higher levels of commitment and a cost. Spiritual friendships are not casual. Jesus punctuated this point in noting that we should be willing to die for a friend. The needs of true friends are put before our own. Jesus’ specific words to this point were: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
The pathway leading to friendship with Jesus involved being a believer, then a follower. Next was the discipline of a disciple before becoming a servant. Bypassing any of these steps was not an option to hearing the words: “I no longer call you servants, but friends.” The cost and the discipline to bridge this gap in a spiritual relationship is defined by God’s higher levels of truth, not the culture around us or our own thinking. The progression toward spiritual friendship doesn’t take place without a listening heart.
The Art and Elements of Listening
I have a close friend who will sit quietly for hours in the presence of the Lord. He has learned the art of listening.
This art of listening applies not only to God, but to those from whom he derives spiritual nourishment, as well as those to whom he imparts. I’ve heard him frequently describe his response to the depths of the truths he discerns as being: “Above my pay grade.” This wisdom is not only the recognition of the level at which he is receiving, but his willingness to wait at the Lord’s feet for the Lord to unfold the truths being entrusted to him.
On a personal basis, I have many times defined my walk with the Lord as involving a series of times in which, being gently enticed by the Lord, I’ve found that I’ve bitten off more than I could chew. Then knowing that I was in over my head, allowing the Lord to bring me into the realm for which He had drawn me and to which I had reached.
While you might consider these examples a dimension of humility and fear of the Lord — and I suspect they involve just that, it is more. It defines the significance of those depths relationally in Him: of not just being able to understand a truth imparted, which certainly is a vital first step — but then of living it, of walking it out.
So, in walking out this progressive pathway toward spiritual friendship, it requires something more. That dimension will grow deeper as one transitions from being a believer to a disciple, and then to being a servant. It reflects seasoning and maturity for those who have passed the gates into friendship.
That factor of “something more” is that of trust. The Lord entrusts us with a vital truth. Then that trust must be reciprocated as we treat it as holy and wait before Him in its application, as we act on it and walk it out.
Trust is a leadership igniter. When coupled with a true listening heart, one that is in oneness with God’s heart of compassion, then wisely extending trust and its associated responsibility of stewardship becomes a natural result. The wise extension of trust that flows from a listening, compassionate heart is a multiplier. It multiplies opportunity as it nurtures and develops the gifts of those under one’s authority. From this will flow creativity and the potential with a focus on the big-picture and the long-term.
Being married to a licensed psychotherapist, I’ve long been acquainted with the term “unconditional love.” Unconditional love esteems others with higher honor than ascribed to oneself. Paul imparted wisdom to the Romans and Corinthians to not think more highly of themselves than they ought, to not get themselves extended beyond their appointed spheres. Honor is the guard-rail in the path of a trusting listening heart.
The Psalmist presciently cried out to the Lord: “Teach me Your ways O Lord that I might know Your truth, unite my heart to fear Your Name.” Connecting the dots, as we move from being a believer to a follower, then pay the cost in becoming a disciple and then as a servant, trust is the common fiber being developed and strengthened.
The foundation to reaching the level of connecting as His friend relationally, involves knowing His ways and then walking it out with an undivided heart. The strategy for this pathway is the mature trust that is nurtured from a listening heart.
The Stumbling Blocks
Within the constant cacophony of voices all around us, compounded by the natural tendency to add on or jump to conclusions, it takes a proactive respect for and trust of the Master’s words to fuel both the purity and the power of the authority needed to walk out one’s destiny. Trust and manipulation are opposites ends of the spectrum.
Entertaining Idols. Within that spectrum are subtle snares. Ezekiel, prophesying the heart of God to the House of Israel, unveiled the stumbling of false religion caused by the idols resident in the minds and souls of those resisting the discipline and the cost (Ezek 14). It was a symptom of a divided heart and the source of deception by which God’s people were majoring in minors and minoring in or missing the more important things. Entertaining the subtle idols in one’s thinking is the seedbed that will absorb the clutter and clamor that has deceived and whiplashed God’s people from the time of the garden.
Deceiving Yourself. James admonished his readers to avoid being deceived by putting the Word of Truth into practice, to be doers of the word rather than just hearers. That premise can be flipped with the wisdom of letting the Word determine your doing. Paul advised the Romans to renew their minds with the Truth. That is where it all begins. This admonition was strongly tied to how well believers would be able to grasp and do the will of God. Operating in the spirit realm is very different from the natural. Spirit controls matter. Spirit and truth need to be in balance to avoid deception. God’s truth is not the product of one’s mind or intellectual reasoning. Confusion on this level is where the trouble begins.
Jumping to Conclusions. Jumping to conclusions, the add-ons to what one hears from God, is the chink in the armor of those seeking the approval of men in the prophetic. Outside the prophetic, acting on gossip, hearsay and slander is the spiritual quicksand of leaders unwilling to pay the cost of either trust or listening hearts or both. Those deluded with self-righteousness, attempting to define themselves by the purity of their lives or doctrine are seduced by the parameters and idols of their own minds. In each case, instead of paying the cost of inquiring of and waiting on the Lord, the tendency is to yield to the snare of add-ons and drawing inaccurate conclusions.
Being Heard Without Listening. It is unfortunate that there is a lot of one-way communication that takes place within the Body. Proverbs tells us that it is the fool who has no delight in understanding, but only in expressing their own heart. I recall finally meeting, at a conference, a leader I had had a serious email exchange with. Strangely, as we met face-to-face, he just kept talking with the focus of his chatter simply being random, spiritual platitudes. I wondered if he was trying to remember where he knew me from or even what he might have been hiding. Clearly he wanted to be heard, yet he simply had never mastered the art of listening. Within the Body are ones whose ambitions have superseded their maturity levels and ability to discern spiritually. Paul observed that the progression toward maturity would result in it no longer being about us, but abiding in the One Who lives within us.
Manipulation. Manipulation and trust cannot operate in the same relationship. Trust is the very essence of any true relationship. That means both extending trust and being trustworthy. Yet at the heart of one whose mode is to manipulate is deceit. Scripture reveals to us that: “Through deceit they refuse to know Me.” Peter’s deadly response to Ananias and Sapphira was because Peter discerned the deceit in their actions. They were manipulators and would have defiled the holy path being paved by Peter’s inner circle.
Blind to Honor. Within the Body today is a serious gap in the way honor is bestowed. Years ago, amazing things would happen as diverse factions of believers came together in prayer, simply hungry for more of Jesus. Today, too many define themselves by doctrinal precepts, to the exclusion of any they don’t see eye to eye with. The level at which dishonor is being sowed among non-listening brethren triggers serious concern for the harvest that will be result for those who have ignorantly made sowing dishonor a practice.
There are other perversions of honor. Within one of the persecuted nations where we work are spiritual leaders who view their own wealthy with such awe, that they would never consider approaching them on matters of the generosity-requirements for community needs. Instead, they become fund-raisers through the kind hearts of Western missionaries. Such practices are blind to the biblical truths of giving and pervert the honor of allowing their own community to work as it should.
In quite a different instance, within this same general community are ones who have promoted a key premise of God’s economy, generosity, and in instance after instance have extracted themselves from the grips of poverty because of their application of these truths.
The Bridges to a Listening Heart
We’ve been discussing the need to maintain a listening heart in order to bridge the gateway into the true depths in one’s journey with the Lord. We’ve been talking about bridging the natural world into the spiritual. We’ve been revealing the pathways to overcoming the snares and the subtleties in a spiritually toxic world clamoring with distractions in order to live a life that makes a difference.
None of us are immune from the impact of the toxic spiritual atmosphere around us. I’ve been making myself available to the Lord to discern these messages of His heart for SIGN for two and a half decades. From the beginning, the Lord’s guidance and the steps that I go through for these messages insure an anointing and a timeliness to their content. This message has been particularly heavy, for both personal and big-picture contexts. Yesterday, as I got to this stage in the message, I cut a corner, something I don’t normally do.
I remembered a similar message from a few years ago with a conclusion that would have fit very well and it did. However, it was not the conclusion the Lord wanted. So, whether expediency or weariness, it didn’t matter, because at the time I embedded that conclusion, the Lord spoke to me to delete the expedient message and continue praying. The focus the Lord then began unveiling for the conclusion was very different from what my expedient wrap-up had to say.
The clamor not only pollutes and defiles. It immobilizes, creates a weariness and the propensity to take shortcuts. This is the result of the toxic spiritual atmosphere around us and those with ears to hear, of the need for a heart poised to repent, as I have, in order to begin reaching for and setting in motion bigger-picture strategies. Within the remnant of those with ears to hear is the authority to bridge the pollution and reverse the curse of the clamor and confusion abounding in our spheres.
One of the bedrock truths the Lord has impressed upon me over the years involves recognizing and operating within our appointed sphere of authority (2 Cor 10:13). Within our appointed spheres, we have a great deal of authority. However, when we venture outside that sphere, we put ourselves at risk, sometimes seriously.
Like my dear friend who has learned to art of listening, of waiting quietly in the presence of the Lord, we need to begin by humbling ourselves in His presence. If you’re satisfied with where you are spiritually, you probably need to repent and reach for that “something more.”
Recalling my days of hard combat, members of a unit stayed in touch with other key members of the unit in different locations, as well as those over them by means of sophisticated, mobile radio communication equipment that we carried with us in the field. During periods in which few active radio communication exchanges were being made, there was a practice of periodic communication checks: comm checks. It went something like: “Leatherneck 5 Alpha this is Leatherneck 5, comm check.” Typically, the response would be: “This is 5 Alpha, read you loud and clear.”
The idea was to insure all key parties were connected so that when either the unexpected happened or an essential message was sent, that the communication would be clear and that we’d not only be able to act, but could do so immediately.
We need to begin conducting spiritual comm checks, first with the Lord and then with those 1) whose arms we uphold and 2) who are holding up our arms. Then the messages exchanged need to reach toward the goal of dispersing the static of spiritual pollution as we begin correcting the confusion created by the static. We need to be cleansed of the pollution to hear more clearly that we might engage spiritually with the Lord in such a way that we are not only hearers, but doers of what He is currently saying.
We each have choices in the voices we expose ourselves to. Comm check! In most cases, those voices will either feed our souls or they will feed our spirits. While there is just cause for soul food, we are living in a day in which the balance needs to be tipped to where we are ensuring the adequate level of nourishment needed for our spirits to overcome the static around us. THAT is where the rubber meets the road in the path toward spiritual maturity.
Comm check! The balance needed to feed our spirits will determine the focus of our communication and with that — the focus of our doing the word.
Comm checks need to test what we are hearing to insure it is of God. Paul wrote the Corinthians to test prophetic words. Early in my walk with the Lord, the Lord impressed me with the words of Jesus from Matthew 18, as He quoted Leviticus 17 that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word should be verified. So, when I would hear something I believed to be of God, I very simply would ask the Lord to confirm it through his Word. Time after time, the Lord would verify what I heard from the Spirit with two or three scripture.
These comm checks insure the clarity needed in listening hearts that nourishes the trust needed for those whose safety and purpose depends on one another.
Recent months have spiritually been intense. In our work overseas, there are some whose arms we uphold for whom it has been overwhelming. For ones such as these, whose religious freedoms are being challenged, the issue typically doesn’t involve the cost or the discipline as it might in the West, but rather sticking with the playbook. The Kingdom playbook. For them, it is a matter of survival.
Any veteran who has experienced real combat will tell you that ideally a good tactician will plan so that they can determine the place and the time where the battle is to be fought. This is so that you are the ones who determine the rules for the battle. That is why the art of listening is so very vital in resetting the spiritual atmosphere in our unique, appointed spheres.
The patriarch Joseph, upon losing his freedom and landing in Egypt, faced what were in the natural, impossible odds. Yet, he steadfastly and actively listened, to God and to those around him. His listening heart earned him favor, recognition and promotion. His pathway was not easy and the spiritual backlash at one point seemed to reverse every step forward he had gained.
For some, it would seem that his listening and acting on what he heard from God only got him into deep trouble. Yet, his trust in God and undivided heart is what prevailed. He continued to listen. He honored God in all that he did, while giving honor and respect to the authority over him.
In turn, Joseph was trusted and given the authority of those he served: Potiphar, then the jailer and finally Pharaoh. His listening heart and faithfulness despite the hardships he endured earned him the friendship and trust of God. In doing so, God used him to create a safe place within the spiritual swirls, reversals and clamor abounding in the world around him. The authority from his listening heart not only greatly influenced his host culture and his own generation, but transcended time, as promises God had made to Abraham were restored and the course reset for what is still being fulfilled to this day.
Morris Ruddick has been a forerunner and voice for the higher dimensions of spiritual game-changers and intercessors since the mid-90s. As founder of Global Initiatives Foundation and designer of the God’s Economy Entrepreneurial Equippers Program and the Jewish Business Secrets YouTube series, Mr. Ruddick equips economic community builders with strategy where God’s light is dim in diverse regions around the globe.
He is author of “The Joseph-Daniel Calling;” “Gods Economy, Israel and the Nations;” “The Heart of a King;” “Something More;” “Righteous Power in a Corrupt World;” “Leadership by Anointing;” and “Mantle of Fire,” which address the mobilization of business and governmental leaders with destinies to impact their communities. They are available in print and e-versions from www.Amazon.com, www.apple.com/ibooks and www.BarnesandNoble.com.
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