Many years ago I heard a leader once say that, “Christian leaders usually travel at 20,000 RPMs. Always on the run, running to the next appointment, running to beat a deadline, running to intervene in a crisis, running … running … running. The problem is that God only speaks to us at 500 RPMs.”
This is the challenge for every leader.
So how do we slow down enough to hear God’s voice, hear His heart and His affirming word of guidance and wisdom?
The Spiritual Discipline Funnel:
One thing we have learned over the years is that, when we practice spiritual disciplines, they force us to slow down the RPMs in our spirit and get us into a better position to hear God’s voice.
- When we practice the discipline of studying God’s word (Ezra 7:10, Acts 17:11), it forces us to stop, focus and think.
- When we practice the discipline of meditating on God’s word (Psalm 1:1-3), it forces us to go to another level of quietness. As we ponder God’s truth and as we delight in all He says, we experience stability, comfort and refreshment in our inner beings.
- When we practice the discipline of prayer (Philippians 4:4-7), it helps us change gears and moves us to a level of serenity that only God can produce. It is a supernatural level that Paul describes as “… the peace of God, which transcends all understanding…” (Philippians 4:7 NIV)
- When I practice the discipline of fasting (Psalm 35:13), it reduces my RPMs to another level because it has a humbling effect on my life. We consider fasting as breaking a normal routine to focus our attention on God and His desires, thus expressing our dependence on God.
- When I practice the discipline of solitude (Luke 5:16) it slows me down even more because it frees me from the endless number of distractions that keep my RPMs elevated.
- All these disciplines lead us to the discipline of stillness or silence (Psalm 131:1-2), which leads us to a place of safety, rest and comfort. “Like a weaned child with its mother…” (Psalm 131:2 NIV) Weaned children come to their mothers not to eat but to rest. Solitude leads us to outward silence, but stillness leads us to an inward silence so that we might hear God’s voice more clearly.
One spiritual discipline that helps wrap all these other disciplines together is the discipline of journaling. “Journaling is a place where you write down and record the works and ways of God in your life.”
Yet, journaling is also a way to reduce the RPMs to an appropriate level to hear God speak. Bill Hybels made this confession: “I decided to try it. My first journal entry says this: Yesterday I said I hated the concept of journals and I still do. But if this is what it takes to rid myself of inauthentic spirituality, I’ll do it. If this is what it takes to reduce my RPMs enough to talk and walk with Christ, I’ll do it. I’ll journal.”
The story about Elijah is the story of a frustrated leader struggling deeply with insecurity, who finds himself alone with God. God says to him, “‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.' Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then the voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (I Kings 19:11-13 NIV)
For this tired and frustrated leader, God did not speak in the wind, earthquake or fire, but He spoke to him in a gentle whisper.
How many gentle whispers do we miss because we are traveling too fast to hear them?
It was the summer of 1988, and my family and I had just moved to a small town called Oconomowoc, WI to a pioneer church plant, bi-vocationally and sometimes tri-vocationally. We had started a Bible study, started seeing individuals come to Christ and others coming back to Christ.
And then we hit December. We were too small a group to have weekly worship services. I soon realized that no one wants to talk to a church planter in December, so my efforts to set up meetings with individuals were fruitless.
After about two weeks of constant rejection, I decided that I was going to just pray and fast for the rest of the month and get a fresh start in the New Year. Towards the end of that time, as I was praying in the early hours of the morning, I was prostrate on the floor. I was lying on a map of our city praying that God would show me how to build the church He called us to start, when a deep sense of peace flooded my soul, and I heard God’s gentle whisper deep in my spirit saying, “Gary, I am going to do it! Just trust me. I am going to do it!”
My heart starts to pound just remembering that moment! Even though there have been other times that I’ve heard God’s gentle whisper in my life, this was significant in my church planting experience.
In December 1988 we had 7 adults; by February 1989 we had 25. On September 10, 1989 we had 110 people at our first public worship service. Ten years later we had a million dollar facility, built on 55 acres of prime property, three full-time staff, three part-time staff, two daughter churches and over 400 people attending our services, of which approximately 70% were people who had not been attending church.
God did it! And He is still doing it! Last year we celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of that ministry. After the celebration service a man came up and gave my wife Mary and me a big bear hug saying, “Thank you for starting this church, it has saved my life, marriage, and family!” Only God can change a human heart and we were glad just to be a part of it.
As I look back over my 30 years of ministry in good times and bad, God has strengthened my spirit, given me wisdom, and guided my steps as I have worked the Spiritual Disciplines Funnel.
Excerpt from Gary’s Newly Update and Expanded Version FirstSteps for Planting a Missional Church