Some people like to unwind and relax by watching birds.  Ever since I was a young child, I have had a very real fear of birds, Ornithophobia. This stems from numerous events including everything from an unfortunate incident on a family vacation (I thought rain was leaking from the roof above…turns out a pigeon was leaking down onto my head), to seagulls dive bombing ice cream cones, to being attacked by a large black behemoth of a bird at an open aviary at a zoo. Anyway, I need to digress from that train of thought so that my blood pressure can decrease again and I can move on!  Now don’t get me wrong, birds are fascinating creatures that I don’t mind observing (from a distance), but they do nothing to aid my almost constant state of stress.

There. I said it. Stress.

I’m going to take a moment and confess at the start of this blog, that as a Pastor who co-leads an awesome church alongside her husband AND as a Pastor’s spouse, I often do not handle stress well. The bad or even the good stress. It all tends to pile up until I am overwhelmed and have a difficult time functioning. And unfortunately, this “not-handling-it-well” especially rears its ugly head when I am with my family. Can you relate? I’ve learned and been able to observe over the years that how I respond to life’s stresses often does not bode well for me, my relationship with God, my husband, or my daughter  – nor our congregation.

Craig Groeschel, Pastor of once said that “Your life moves in the direction of your strongest thoughts.” I have to agree.  So where are my thoughts taking me?

Honestly, I am in a constant battle against my own thoughts. I think we all are. And in the midst of our own thoughts, we also live in a culture where we are constantly pressured to meet society’s (and often the church’s) expectations of the “ideal person.” As both a Pastor and a Pastor’s Spouse, I regularly receive requests from others.  Some are seeking my permission for some great endeavor for the Kingdom, or maybe I’m asked to lead in some of new way, or just the thousands or requests for life in general.  It can get pretty overwhelming pretty fast.  Now interestingly, when I step back and look at all of the things I do or am asked to do, most are actually REALLY GOOD THINGS. There are a lot of good things that we can do in this world – a constant reminder of God’s goodness to us…but…

I believe that there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” You see, we need to give ourselves permission to experience not just an abundance of good things, but rather say no to some good things in order to say yes to and experience God’s best. And for me, in order to know and experience what God’s best is, I’ve learned that I need to work hard at being intentional in scheduling time for Sabbath rest…for doing absolutely nothing but intentionally listening to God and meditating on His Word.  Birds might work for some people, but as a follower of Jesus, His voice is the one thing I’ve found that truly helps me cut through noise and stress of life.

Drawing away from the world’s distractions (both good and bad) and listening to God’s voice is something that is essential to have as a Spiritual Discipline in our lives. And although I am not proclaiming myself as a poster child for this discipline, it is something that I have learned to desire and have begun embracing over the past 5 years.

We are in danger of not leading ourselves, our families, or our congregations well if we do not intentionally take the time to listen to God’s voice.  Evangelist and Author Priscilla Shirer states in her book, Discerning the Voice of God, “Have we become so addicted to busyness – not merely in our daily lives but while we’re actually immersed in our daily devotions – that we’ve trained ourselves not to hear Him?…Until we intentionally discipline ourselves to be still and listen, we’ll miss most of what He’s saying.” Many of us have sabotaged ourselves into not clearly hearing from the Lord – and the enemy loves nothing more than to creep into our thought life and pressure us into thinking that doing nothing is unproductive.

I’ve learned for myself that the idea of not accomplishing anything when doing “nothing” is a lie spun by the enemy. Instead, I choose to agree with the great “theologian” Winnie the Pooh who said “Doing nothing often leads to the very best something.” In the times in which I have drawn away to do “nothing” but listen to God, I have heard Him speak CLEARLY to me. The way in which He speaks is different each time, but each time leaves me longing for more divine meetings of just listening…and a little less overwhelmed with life’s stresses.

Here is a sampling of some of the things He has clearly whispered to me during times that I have drawn away…

“I would still leave the 99 to find you.”

“I am the Good Shepherd.”

“You may not think you are capable – but I AM more than capable.”

“You were created to soar like an eagle (ironic use of something I fear right?!)”

“It’s time to leave…It’s time to go…”

“I’m calling you to more”

“Rest in Me.”

Now I am not an expert listener as I am in a constant state of learning and growing, but I would like to share with you some practical steps that I have learned that you can use to begin practicing the spiritual discipline of listening in your life.

Practical Steps to Listening: L. I. S. T. E. N.

Limit Distractions
If Jesus withdrew from the crowd, so should we. (Luke 5:16)
Go to the place where you feel the least distracted.

Intentional Planning
            Take action and plan ahead:
1. Schedule the time/place and put it into your calendar.
2. Pack a bag with essentials – Bible, worship music, a journal, art supplies, & whatever helps.     you to focus your attention on listening to God’s voice.
3. Once you arrive, turn off your phone or disable notifications and silence your phone.
4. Make sure that you are comfortable. The last thing you want to do while trying to listen to     God’s voice is to be thinking about how uncomfortable you are – messy buns and yoga pants      and bare feet are fully acceptable. J If you happen to catch a nap, maybe God is telling you that             you need to REST in Him more!

Sit Still
Often sitting still and waiting is the most difficult part.
We need to PUSH through the awkward “silence”.  – Pause Until Something Happens
We need to be like Samuel and go and lie down and be still until God calls us. (1 Samuel 3:9)

Talk Less
            We have to shut up so He can show up. Although we would like Him to, God doesn’t often show             up in loud and obvious ways as we run through life’s tasks.  He often speaks in a gentle whisper            as we wait for Him to appear (1 Kings 19:11-13).

Expect To Hear
If we, as the Great Shepherd’s flock, intentionally draw away in order to listen to His voice, we    are promised that we will hear His voice. (John 10:27 NKJV)

Never Say Never
We need to enter this time with an openness to whatever God may ask us to do and then leave taking steps forward in obedience. No, you are not good enough in and of yourself. BUT      GOD…..God can use what you have for His glory and His purpose.

When you take time to Listen to God it…

Releases stress and enables you to have a more Godly perspective in your circumstances.

Enables your soul to soar.

Encourages your spirit to continue.

Reignites your passion for the Lord, your family and ministry.

Reminds you of who you are in Christ and your calling.

Engages your creativity and outside of the box thinking.

Restores your energy.

Calls you to obedience as your will actively moves towards alignment with God’s will.
May you be abundantly blessed and less stressed as you implement the spiritual disciple of Listening in your life.

Kristia Wickstrom currently lives in Largo, FL where her and her husband are Co-Lead Pastors at Oak Ridge Wesleyan Church.  She has one daughter in the 3rd grade and loves exploring, cooking/baking/grilling, and sunsets at the beach.