Some catalysts fascinate their audience with stories of how God has led them step by step, giving them one direct revelation after the other, in their pursuit of a movement. Other catalysts report no such direct guidance at all, and even insist that all their guidance on the way to a movement has come from the revealed word of God, the Bible. Despite these differences, all effective catalysts regularly engage in Listening to God. What can we learn from the example of the most fruitful movement catalysts? This blog uncovers their differing beliefs about Listening to God and different reasons why they listen to him. The key is in understanding and practicing Listening to God in its proper place, in the process toward a movement. You will learn what this process is, as well as three Best Practices from the lives of effective catalysts and how you can listen more deeply to God: Taking extended times, regular pausing, and self-distancing in isolation. Why don’t you, before you continue reading, pray, “Father, I want to listen to your voice now, as I absorb this blog.”
What characterizes catalysts’ Listening to God?
In my own journey with Listening to God, probably nothing has inspired me more than the image that cell church guru Ralph Neighbor has used to depict the practice of Listening to God. Neighbor writes, “To hear God effectively, you need to include a Listening Room in your lifestyle” (Neighbor & Egli, 2004:14). The image of a Listening Room comes from an encounter a visiting pastor had in the home of a Japanese pastor. The Japanese pastor took his visitor on a tour of the family garden. In the corner of the garden stood a one-room cottage. When the visitor inquired about its purpose, the Japanese leader explained that the cottage was a special place where he regularly spent extended time listening to hear God’s voice. So, he called it his “Listening Room.” We all need some kind of Listening Room in our lives. Whether a cottage, or some other physical space, and more importantly, the life space built into our routines where we are undistracted and devote ourselves to Listening to God exclusively.
Listening to God is one of the essential qualities that characterize effective movement catalysts. My global research into more than 170 movements has found that all effective catalysts share this quality in common. This is how we define “Listening to God”: In a posture of dependence on God, to regularly take time to listen to Him, waiting on Him, seeking guidance for life and ministry, and being obedient to whatever He says.
Effective catalysts exhibit this quality strongly. On a 1-5 Likert scale, their self-rating is 4.51 – a high rating. They also exhibit this quality more strongly than non-catalysts. See the table for a comparison.
Table: Listening to God with Catalysts and Non-Catalysts
Listening to God
Average of all 22 qualities
Listening to God in context
After listening to the stories of numerous catalysts, a distinct picture emerged. I will first depict it in the form of a cycle, then unpack it a bit.
Figure: Listening to God in the Process of Movement Catalyzing
The motivation for Listening to God is found in the catalysts’ deep Hunger for God. Their deepest desire is Hunger for God. They yearn to know and love him more deeply. Their longing for God Himself, for genuine relationship with Him is deeper than their desire for ministry fruit, for a movement. They do not seek God in order for Him to give them something – a movement – which would be using God as a means for an end; God Himself is the goal of their seeking.
Effective catalysts’ posture is Listening to God. They regularly take time to hear from Him, wait on Him, and seek guidance for their life and ministry, ready to obey whatever He says.
In response to their earnest desire and waiting on Him, God gives revelation. Most catalysts report that God spoke to them about his plans with them and their ministry, and/or his plans for what he desires to accomplish among the people they serve. Many receive such revelation through a dream or vision or prophetic word, others through a Scripture that God draws their attention to in a special way.
Based on the revelation they receive, catalysts cultivate Expectant Faith in what God has revealed. This is the nature of faith; it is not some lofty dream based on human hopes. Faith is always based on what God has said and promised. This explains the certainty, the expectancy. Such communion between God and catalysts fosters increasingly Deep Prayer.
Out of that, a catalyst is emboldened to take Steps of Faith. As they take them, God intervenes and undertakes to show his power; which leads to deeper Hunger for God, and so the cycle continues.
I have seen this pattern in the lives of many catalysts; not mechanically, since God deals with each of us in unique ways, but a fairly consistent pattern appears in story after story.
And even though the amount of time effective catalysts pray varies considerably, the self-described qualities they demonstrate in their prayer reflect great consistency. (Find out more on catalysts’ Deep Prayer in my blog on the topic here.)
In the definition of Listening to God above, we identified four elements in the process of Listening to God. We will look at each of them:
- Regularly taking time
- Waiting on God
- Seeking guidance
- Being obedient.
Regularly taking time
Effective catalysts take regular and abundant time for Listening to God. In my research I have gone to effective catalysts and asked them to tell me about their prayer lives. Listening to God is something effective catalysts do regularly. They seek God for guidance on a regular basis. Many report on their habit of regular retreat days or retreat weeks, away from the whirlwind of ministry.
In my work with New Generations as Lead Evaluation Coach, I champion an initiative that aims to introduce this practice to DMM. Our team has formulated our ambition to “see every DMM practitioner pause regularly to evaluate, listening to God, in order to gain insights that shape their strategy.”
Waiting on God
Listening to God usually involves waiting on God. He is not a restaurant waiter handing out fortune cookies at our request. God uses the process of us waiting on Him to transform our hearts. So that we do not merely desire the fortune cookie but we grow our desire for Him as a person. Waiting on God proves to be a massive challenge to many catalysts. Being hardwired as doers, go-getters, most of them apostolic and entrepreneurial leaders who constantly take the initiative, waiting runs against their nature. We are well advised to reframe this challenge as a growth opportunity.
If we fail to wait on God, we may miss out on essential guidance He wants to give us and come up with second-best or outright bad strategies by ourselves. Let us be warned by the blunders of unrestrained leaders whose ministry practice is to “ready, fire, aim.” If we reflect a little, many of us can remember instances of this fallacy in our own ministry… and what were the negative consequences! Waiting on God is necessary to shape a more helpful “aim, ready, fire” approach to ministry.
Seeking guidance – catalysts disagree about the nature of Listening to God
If you were to peek into the “Listening Room” of two different catalysts and look over their shoulders, you might see them engage in essentially the same kind of outward practice of Listening to God. Yet in their hearts, two fundamentally different things might be happening.
We need to acknowledge that different theological convictions exist among effective catalysts, about how God speaks and guides. These convictions underpin and shape their practice of Listening to God. I’ll describe these convictions as belonging to one of two groups: “Figuring out and Aligning with God’s Plan” versus “Connecting with God and Co-creating a Plan with Him.”
The “Figuring out and Aligning with God’s Plan” approach assumes that God has a detailed plan for our lives, and the purpose of Listening to God is to receive step-by-step guidance from Him, so we remain aligned to God’s master plan. Like on a grand chess board, where we are one of His chess figures, and God has a detailed master plan to start movements, and in the end the devil is checkmated. Catalysts with this theology listen to God every day, in order to hear His divine whisper guiding them “move pawn from B2 to B4.” One catalyst describes his motivation to listen to God as achieving “allegiance to God and his revealed will for me in each season.” Others report that prophetic words have revealed their ministry strategy to them and/or how to pray specifically. Yet others received revelation of ministry problems before these became obvious, so they could address them early and effectively.
Revivalist Bill Johnson captures well the latter conviction: “Connecting with God and Co-creating a Plan with Him.” Johnson (in Dreaming with God) writes: “While much of the Church is waiting for the next word from God, He is waiting to hear the dream of His people. He longs for us to take our role” (Johnson, 2006: 28). Expounding on how King David took initiative with God, telling God he wanted to build a temple for Him, Johnson generalizes David’s plea: “It is as if he said, ‘Dreamers! Come! Let’s dream together and write the story of human history’” (Ibid., 33). Johnson concludes: “As we learn to dream with God we become co-laborers with him” (Ibid.). “As we grow in intimacy with Him, more of what happens in life is a result of our desires, not simply receiving and obeying specific commands from Heaven. God loves to build on our desires and wishes” (Ibid., 34). Catalysts with this theology listen to God primarily to connect with His heart. In a listening and receiving posture they then dream jointly with God about how His Kingdom could come on earth, and then they co-create a plan with God how to make that dream a reality. They do so with the heart of William Carey’s motto: “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”
What the Bible emphasizes
The most famous reference to “listening” in the Bible is the Shema Yisrael: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts” (Deut. 6:4-6). That call to “Listen to God” served as centerpiece of the daily morning and evening services of God’s people. The call is threefold:
· Listen to what your God is like (v4).
· Listen to your life purpose – to love God (v5).
· Listen to God’s commandments (v6).
The Shema Yisrael does not exhort to listen to specific unique instructions from the Lord for individuals. It exhorts God’s people to communally remind themselves of their God, their purpose to love Him, and of His general commandments.
In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of listening to Moses and the Prophets, to the Scriptures (Luke 16:31). He also states that His sheep listen to His – the shepherd’s – voice. The parallel statement Jesus adds, to explain what he means with listening, is: “They follow me.” (John 10:16, 27)
Likewise, James exhorts God’s people to listen to the word, explaining that listening includes: “Do what it says” (James 1:22).
We are called to listen to Jesus’ personal voice and to his word, with the posture to follow Him as a person and his teachings.
Best Practices of effective catalysts
These are best practices I have gleaned from effective catalysts around the globe, as I’ve interviewed many of them. They reported on surveys that they have incorporated these best practices into their lives.
Best Practice 1 – Taking extended times: They set aside extended times to listen to God. The majority of catalysts interviewed habitually spend more than an hour and a half on average, per day, connecting with God. They schedule these times as a priority in life, with times blocked out intentionally and regularly for this purpose.
Best Practice 2 – Regular pausing: Many catalysts emphasize the regularity of their listening practice, in daily or weekly habits – for example daily devotions, weekly fasting, monthly retreat days, quarterly retreat weekends, and biannual retreat weeks. They deliberately pause from active ministry, in order to slow down, quiet their hearts, and become able to connect with God deeper.
Best Practice 3 – Self-distancing in isolation: Just as Jesus had the habit of getting away from the crowds and going up on the mountains to spend time with his Father, catalysts deliberately and regularly distance themselves from the noise of everyday life and the whirlwind of everyday ministry. One catalyst from Southeast Asia reports: “I usually daily go to the forest or other somewhat isolated places.” Others go literally into the mountains, or to retreat centers, somewhere away from where they live and minister, in order to create distance. Physical distance often creates emotional distance, which usually helps to focus on God less distractedly and to see ministry realities more clear.
A Growth Path toward deeper Listening to God
Here are specific steps you can take, gleaned from the lives of effective movement catalysts and my own experience:
Cultivate your Hunger for God, practicing those spiritual disciplines that most stimulate a hunger for God in your life. Reflect and meditate on your true identity as a beloved child of God, and/or the “in Christ” statements in the New Testament, and practice contemplative prayer – merely being in the loving presence of the Father.
Deliberately practice silent Listening to God, where you don’t say many things to God but pray silently in your heart to hear from Him.
Devote (a little) more time to Listening to God than you have in the past.
Identify what habit of regularly pausing suits you, what frequency and length. Then develop that habit. Put those pauses into your day planner, so they are blocked out.
Plan to regularly distance yourself physically from your whirlwind of life and ministry. Plan those times in advance, so they are protected from the urgent.
What are your thoughts?
I would love to hear from you. What are your thoughts? What is your experience? Leave a comment below! If you prefer to private message me, you can use the contact form.
Learn more about the other Catalytic Qualities besides Listening to God in my book Movement Catalysts. You can order your copy here.
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Emanuel Prinz – Father’s Beloved & Movement Activist
Bill Johnson. 2006. Dreaming with God: Co-laboring with God for Cultural Transformation. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers.
Ralph W. Neighbor, and Jim Egli. 2004. Beginning the Journey: Entering the Kingdom of God. Houston, TX: TOUCH Outreach Ministries.