Have you ever had an opportunity to spend some time with someone you admired your whole life? Twenty years ago, I had the privilege of leading worship for a week of camp ministry. The evening speaker had been a ministry hero in my mind for many years. I was a young pastor and had the privilege of driving him wherever he needed to go and hosting him throughout that week. I was deeply impressed with how his everyday life mirrored his public ministry.
I had begun the practice only a couple of years previous to that occasion to ask one particular question of every significant leader with whom I had the opportunity to spend time. I would ask, “What is the number one lesson you’ve learned in ministry?” and record their answer. Then I would attempt to apply it to my life. It has been illuminating to receive some vital insight over the years, but on one particular evening I gained an insight that has served to shape me more than all of the others.
The moment unfolded like a movie and etched itself permanently on my mind. We were sitting in a small mom-and-pop diner eating a piece of homemade pie when I asked the question. He didn’t respond right away. He just kept eating without even looking up at me, so I wondered if he had heard me. I waited for about 30 seconds, then he finally put his fork down and looked at me with a penetrating stare. It made me feel as though I was about to uncover the secret silver bullet to ministry success! In slow and steady cadence with a gentle but wholehearted tone, he said to me, “Listen and respond to the voice of the Holy Spirit.”
At that moment I squinted my eyes and nodded as if to show that I realized the profundity of the statement, but inside I was thinking, Come on! That’s it? I anticipated receiving something more insightful than that. I mean, I’ve heard that my whole life. The truth is that as I intentionally, progressively ordered everything around that one simple principle, it has transformed my life and ministry.
Here are just a few of the more prominent practical realizations and results this shift has brought.
Pentecost is a miracle of hearing
As leaders, we tend to have a penchant toward speaking instead of listening. Some of it comes with the territory as a pastor—preaching, teaching, and mentoring leaders—which requires constant communication. However, listening is so often much more powerful than speaking. I’ve learned that listening to others is so close to loving that most people can’t tell the difference. Pentecost may have just as much to do with hearing as it does with speaking.
Understandably, we often focus on the supernatural speaking of Pentecost: “And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages” (Acts 2:4, NLT, emphasis added). I think we could do more to recognize the miracle of hearing that occurred at the same time. The next verse states, “At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers” (Acts 2:5,6, NLT, emphasis added). The outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was as much a miracle of hearing as it was speaking.
All believers will be able to experience the fullness of this miracle in heaven one day. John received the vision from the Lord about that incredible moment when we will join with all of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us from around the world and throughout all ages. He wrote, “… from every tribe and language and people and nation … and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus …” (Revelation 5:9,11,12, NLT, emphasis added). Imagine! We will all sing in our language (currently there are over 7,000 languages spoken in the world) but will sing in unison and will understand all declarations of praise to our God! The most exciting aspect of this news is that the supernatural ability to hear the voice of the Spirit is not just a miracle to look forward to in heaven; it is available and indispensable to every believer today.
God speaks more often than we recognize
God has purposely made everything about interacting with Him uncomplicated, but we have a habit of manufacturing complexity into His naturally supernatural work. God is so gracious that often when He speaks to us, it sounds like our internal voice. Some might say, “How can I tell the difference between God’s thoughts and my thoughts?” Well, I would assert that any thought I have had throughout my entire life that could be considered good—any notion about the kingdom of God or loving other people—has come from the Spirit of God. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him! Any bad thought I’ve ever had—well, I own all of that. See, I believe that God is relentlessly speaking to all people. We are so narcissistic that we like to take credit for the good thoughts, ideas and direction that originate with Him. We need to give credit where it is due and learn to respond with increasingly bold obedience to His directives.
As a congregation, we regularly have a message in some form of audible spiritual exhortation during our services. Sometimes this poses a challenge with three back-to-back services on a Sunday morning and tight timelines, but pausing in these moments to listen to the Holy Spirit takes precedence and priority.
Whenever we encounter God’s grace in this way, one of the pastoral team will say, “If you’ve never experienced anything like this before, the Bible declares that God spoke the world into existence. We believe that the God who spoke still speaks.” Then we take some time to examine the exhortation and invite everyone to respond. This approach helps those who have never experienced anything like it before to be slightly more at ease, and it reminds our church family to continually live in a posture of listening to the Spirit, not just during services but continuously. God is perpetually speaking words of encouragement to His people. The question is, are we attentive and bold enough to respond?
Listen and respond to the voice of the Holy Spirit
The most impactful leaders in the kingdom of God are those who are instinctive (Spirit led), imaginative (Spirit creativity), and who take initiative (Spirit boldness). As we become more familiar with the voice of the Spirit, we are more at peace with the twists and turns of life and bolder in reflecting the grace of his kingdom to others. Conversely, if we are not feeling empowered, it’s not because He’s not speaking; could it be because we are not responding to what He’s already spoken? It seems to me that a new, bold step of obedience is the best way to reignite our dampened spirituality.
As the PAOC family, we have a fantastic heritage of empowered spiritual leaders who boldly acted in faith that generated kingdom expansion throughout our nation and around the world. Some people have been recently asking, “Can we recapture this vibrant and dynamic relationship with God in our Fellowship and become a movement that sees the kingdom of God break in and through this dark world?” Yes! I believe we can. The path forward is profoundly simple and is deeply ingrained in our Pentecostal DNA—listen and respond to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Kevin Shepherd is the lead pastor of Glad Tidings in Burlington, Ont.
This article appeared in the April/May/June 2019 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.