If I told you that joy of the Lord directly strengthened our ability to listen to Him, what would you say?
Think about the man named Nehemiah for a second. He was the man who led the people of Israel to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem and provide hope, direction, and vision to the newly rebuilt nation. He would eventually challenge the people to embrace the joy of God (Nehemiah 8:8-12). But this leadership was fueled by Nehemiah’s greatest lesson.
He learned to listen.
“They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”
Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy.” –Nehemiah 8:8-12
Great leaders are great listeners
Nehemiah 2 reminds us of how Nehemiah started his leadership vision. He starts by referencing “what God put in my heart.” He took the time to listen to God’s heart and desires. How often do we practice listening? When we set aside time to hear Him, leadership begins. Influence begins to weave through our existence.
Can we take 30 seconds right now to sit still and do nothing but just “listen”? It’s amazing what we might hear. Sometimes it is a bird chirping. Or a conversation at the table next to us. Or… other times, we hear the voice of God–a thought that we know isn’t our own.
Refuse to listen to the discouragement and lies of the opposition
In Nehemiah 4, some of the Israelites’ enemies really tried to stir up the hornets’ nest. The Bible says they felt “angry and greatly incensed.” They wanted to discourage Nehemiah and his crew from finishing the work. They plotted together to stop the work on the wall. They lied. They blasted words of discouragement.
Healthy listening is also about mastering the art of plugging our ears to lies which bring death.
Nehemiah listened to the needs and longing of his people as seen in Chapter 5. Leaders listen to their people. They listen to their true needs, their sincere desires. In reality, this is exactly what Nehemiah did. He knew and understood the deep desire of the people of Israel. He knew they wanted a fresh start. He knew they needed security if they were to rebuild their city and nation.
But how is all this related to joy?
It is all related to joy because Nehemiah understood God’s grace and favor.
The truth is, we listen so much better when we know God isn’t mad at us, but rather, He is madly in love with us! When someone is mad at us, our ears tend to go into clam mode. We tend to stuff cotton balls of self-preservation into our ear canals because we become afraid of the wrath. Or we become defensive and start blasting back with anger or blame.
But when someone speaks to us with a smile or kindness in their eye, our defense shield comes down. Only then, we are open to what they have to say.
In our relationship with God, when we understand he looks upon us with a smile, our ears are open to hear what He has to say. Yes, He may need to bring some correction our way, but He is never mad at His kids. Recognize His gentle smile, His gracious ways. He delights in mercy.
This is one of the greatest treasures found with the sponsor and child relationships with Food for the Hungry. We get to remind these wonderful children of God’s joy, God’s love, God’s voice of truth. We get to be a source of hope and a steady reminder of God’s grace and compassion. That He looks upon each of them with a smile, just like the pictures and letters of joy from sponsors to their children. A gentle and joyful reminder.
Permeating joy, every day
If we are allowing joy to permeate our way of thinking, do you think it may also begin to affect our roles in leadership, parenting, friendships, or sponsorships? Do the people we are leading or children we are sponsoring know we genuinely care for them? Do they acknowledge we have their best interest in mind? Are we allowing joy in our world? Are we allowing the joy of God to fill our solitude? Are we allowing joy to sit shotgun on the way to work? I hope so. It will help our ears be attentive to the true needs around us–and better the world for it.
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