The Importance of Spiritual Leaders
So often spiritual leaders fall away because they have lost their hearing and alertness to the voice of God. They are not listening. They have tuned God out. His words are falling to the ground, as they cannot take residence in His people’s hearts. It is written that in the times of Eli, the high priest, “the word of the Lord was rare in those days” (1 Samuel 3:1). God’s voice is rare today for the same reason it was rare then. It’s not because He isn’t speaking. It is rare because no one is listening.
Why is this so important? History is replete with this lesson that one leader can lead the heart astray; one leader can turn the heart to destruction or to life; one leader can move the heart into an indifferent and callous hardness against God and deafness to His words; one leader can lead the heart to the altar of an idol, or one leader can lead the heart to the feet of Jesus where the captive and broken of heart are set free. What leader have you opened the door of your heart to by lending them your ear?
God’s stern judgment against the prophet and the priest was due to their ultimate failure to lead the hearts of God’s people to the heart of God revealed in His words. The beauty of a heart that belongs to God and in which His glory is manifested is unparalleled in human history. A leader can bring the beauty and glory of God or the ugliness of a counterfeit god into the heart and both ride into the heart by the words the leader speaks and the example the leader provides. The leader brings either light or darkness into the hearts of men, women and children and the spiritual health of the heart either flourishes brilliantly or suffers miserably because of it. The leader can incite the heart to action in either the service of God or the rebellion against God. The heart becomes and reflects the image of its leader. What the heart beholds, listens too, and follows the heart becomes. This is why Jesus said in the gospel of Mark “be careful what you listen to” which in essence is be careful who you listen to, for the life and health of your heart depends on it. A. W. Tozer, in God Tells the Man Who Cares says, “The history of Israel and Judah points up a truth clearly taught by all history that the masses are or soon will be what their leaders are.”[i]
The devil is one of the most efficient leaders of all time. Leadership was birthed in his being since the day he was created. He knows how to capture the heart; he knows how to build an army of followers. He knows what to speak to captivate the ear. He knows how to fascinate, how to motivate, and how to birth desire in the depths of the heart. He convinced one third of God’s created angels to turn their backs on God and their heavenly responsibilities and follow him to war against their Creator. In the book of Revelation, the devil is bound and shut up in the bottomless pit for a thousand years while Christ rules perfectly on the earth with peace, justice, righteousness and love. The people living on the earth have never seen anything like it. When these glorious thousand years are ended, the devil is released from his prison and immediately begins to deceive the nations from the four corners of the earth to follow him in battle against God. His leadership skills are so effective that he quickly recruits an army so great that “their number is like the sand of the sea” (Revelation 20:8, ESV). He leads his newly converted follows into a frenzy as they march over the broad plain of the earth and surround the camp of the saints and the beloved city of Jerusalem. They are absolutely blind and deceived by their leader as they walk into their own destruction, from which there will be no escape.
The devil is wise beyond human comprehension in the ways of leadership. He uses his leadership skills to entangle the human heart in his snare. He is a cruel puppet master that through the eyes and ears enslaves the heart, pulling strings to get people to do his bidding. The devil has always had human leaders in every sphere of influence that carry out his bidding without their even realizing who they work for.
But no one who has ever lived on the earth, strode through hell, or graced the halls of heaven is a greater leader of men and women than Jesus Christ. No one has more power to change and transform the heart. Jesus came to lead hearts into glorious freedom by breaking the chains of sin, disease, bondage, and oppression and bring them into rich fellowship and intimacy with God. He came to rebuild the ruins, to restore what was devastated, and bring the heart back to a vibrant new life where it reflects the splendor of Almighty God. Out of the ashes of hurt, rejection, addiction, and oppression, the Lord heals, cleanses, and transforms the heart, bringing it into the glorious liberty of a child of God. What Jesus Christ can do for the heart is nothing short of miraculous, and there is no heart, regardless of its condition, that He cannot touch and change.
Look in Mark 5 at the man living among the tombs. No one could help him; no one could subdue him. He lived among the dead, and the beast within roared in torment and agony. He would cry out in anguish and desperation every night and day from the tombs, cutting himself with stones, and the world was helpless to do anything for this man’s twisted and chaotic heart. Jesus spoke eight words and completely healed him. His heart was touched by the Prince of Peace and became calm, peaceful, and full of joy. His heart was released from darkness, and light flooded the depths of his soul. This was a miraculous transformation of a chaotic heart into a heart full of love for Jesus. The devil’s chains were shattered and the prison door kicked wide open so that the man could once again breathe free. He tuned his ear to just eight words from the Lord, and his heart was changed forever.
Nicky Cruz, a poor child from Puerto Rico who was raised in the occult and became a violent gang leader on the streets of New York, tells the story of the effect Jesus Christ had on his bitter, angry and violent heart in his book One Holy Fire:
In my heart I still see myself as a helpless and needy nineteen-year-old boy, kneeling before the altar, weeping in repentance and asking God to come into my heart and be my Savior. Like a baby longing for its mother’s milk, I drank deeply of God’s love and forgiveness. I could almost feel his gentle arms wrapping themselves around my cold body, comforting, warming, snuggling. For the first time in my life I felt loved … When I speak, I often search my vocabulary for ways to express this supernatural sensation, the moment when Jesus stepped in and changed my life, but I’ve yet to find a way to do it justice … I tell people that I felt as if I were on an operating table, cold, angry and confused, and Jesus was the surgeon standing over me. My heart was broken. He gently reached over and closed my eyes, then he opened my chest and reached deep inside me and pulled my heart out. He held it in his hands, a heart filled with hatred and anger and bitterness that consumed me—the brokenness of my past and the curse that was destroying my life and soul. Then Jesus slowly took my heart, brought it to his lips and kissed it. He caressed it and mended the wounds. Then he placed it back in my chest and closed me up. I knew in an instant I was better, that my heart was no longer broken. At that moment I knew I was a new creation. I had a new heart—a heart of love and compassion and repentance. All the feelings of hate and resentment were gone. My sins were forgiven. At long last I was free … I look to Jesus for help and guidance in everything I do, and he has never failed me. He has always been there when I needed him.[ii]
What a Savior! What a Healer! What a Leader of restoration to the human heart! Jesus Christ is the flawless model of leadership and the head and leader of the Body of Christ, and the church is in desperate need of leaders who imitate the heart of Jesus. O how these leaders must take heart to the words of God: “This is my beloved Son, hear him!” (Mark 9:7).
The Fall of Leaders
The spiritual anemia in the hearts of so many Christians can be traced directly to poor leadership in the modern church. Our leaders have cared more about ambition, money, fame, and earthly glory than about the hearts of their flocks. Contemporary Christian leadership has failed miserably, which has caused the hearts of believers to become weak and malnourished.
Hearts are broken, crushed, and hurting in every pew around the world, as we all desperately need a leader in the mold of Jesus Christ who teaches the words of God, who comforts people in times of sorrow, who turns hearts from the darkness and leads them into the light. Sadly, the leaders of the church—like the prophets, priests and Pharisees—have not watched over and taken care of their own hearts. They have been careless with their own eyes, ears, and thoughts, which has caused evil to develop a stronghold in their hearts and the hearts of their people. This has caused many pastors to simply quit the ministry and fall away from their calling.
David Ravenhill, in Surviving the Anointing: Learning to Effectively Experience and Walk in God’s Power, shares some sobering statistics on ministry leadership:
God’s army of soldiers are “dying” at a faster rate than ever before. According to John Maxwell, only one out of every ten people entering the ministry today will still be in it at the age of 65. That’s a 90 percent dropout rate. Dr. James Dobson estimates that there are some 1,500 ministers a month leaving the ministry. If the body of Christ continues to hemorrhage at this rate, we’ll soon be the laughingstock of the world, not to mention the evil hordes of darkness … The devil’s strategy is both old and reliable: “Strike the shepherd and scatter the flock.”[iii]
No one knew better than our Savior the importance of a keen ear spiritually alive to the voice of God. Without it, a pastor can never truly lead with the heart of Jesus Christ:
“For the heart of this people has become dull, with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them. But blessed are your eyes for they see; and your ears because they hear.” (Matthew 13:15–16, NASB)
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell-and great was it fall.” (Matthew 7:24–27, NASB)
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27, NASB)
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28, NIV)
There has been a great fall of leaders from pulpits across our land because the ears of pastors and teachers have become dull and scarcely hear the Word of the Lord. The noise of the world has crowded the voice of the Lord from their hearts, so they do not act on His instructions. The storms of life have slammed their ministries, and they have crumbled like sand and collapsed because they were not built upon the Rock, Jesus Christ. All their God-given abilities, all their potential to do the works of God, fall by the wayside and are swept away by floods of sin, pride, and arrogance. It’s one of the great tragedies in church history that so many of our spiritual leaders have missed the magnificent blessing of hearing the Word of God and obeying it.
The destruction of a leader’s calling and ministry almost always begins with the eyes and the ears. Pastoral burnout is often a direct consequence of having undisciplined eyes and straying ears. Their failure in turn causes the hearts of God’s children to turn away from Him. I can only imagine how deeply this must grieve God’s heart. He so wants to show Himself strong on behalf of His children (2 Chronicles 16:9)! He yearns to be their first love and their only God, that their hearts would be completely devoted to Him. I can feel God’s heart crying out, “My children, my children! Why have you forsaken my embrace and thrust me from your presence? Why am I not good enough for you? Why am I not everything you need? Why won’t you hear me? Why do you forget me days without number? Why do you love something more than me?”
Listen to His heart’s cry to Israel:
Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! This is what the Lord says: “The children I have raised and cared for have rebelled against me. Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master’s care—but Israel does not know its master. My people do not recognize my care for them … They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. Why do you continue to invite punishment? Must you rebel forever? Your head is injured, and your heart is sick.” (Isaiah 1:2–5, NLT)
The children of Israel, the chosen people, amazingly did not even know God! They never experienced His goodness in their hearts. Despite all the magnificent and wondrous things He did time and time again to demonstrate His love and mercy, they cast God aside like a dirty rag. They were blind and did not recognize how much God cared for them. His children turned their backs on God, covered their ears, and ran in the other direction. Much of the Old Testament is the story of the rebel heart of God’s children that turned against their Father God because they failed to open up their ears to His words. God was crying desperately to their ears and hearts, “Must you rebel forever! Are you ever going to grow up and see my heart! Don’t you realize how much of a special treasure you are to me? Don’t you know how much I long for you? Don’t you understand that I want to be joined with you at the heart and experience the deepest bond of love with you?”
Listen to Jesus as He wailed from the depths of His heart and burst into tears over Jerusalem and its children:
And as he came still nearer to the city, he caught sight of it and wept over it, saying, “Ah, if you only knew, even at this eleventh hour, on what your peace depends—but you cannot see it. The time is coming when your enemies will encircle you with ramparts, surrounding you and hemming you in on every side. And they will hurl you and all your children to the ground—yes, they will not leave you one stone standing upon another—all because you did not know when God Himself was visiting you!” (Luke 19:41–44, PHILLIPS)
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:36–38, NIV)
Christ heart was filled with sorrow over the great potential of Jerusalem’s people that had gone unfulfilled because their eyes did not see and their ears did not hear Him. He longed to gather His children under His protective wings and give them help and support in every season of life, but they refused and thrust Him away.
Forty years later, the Roman armies ran Jerusalem into the ground and caused the people to be a house of desolation, all because they stubbornly refused to believe that God would have conquered their every foe, lifted their every burden, and healed their every wound. They had stoned and killed those who spoke the words of God because they did not want to hear what God had to say. Jesus wept over this great tragedy of Jerusalem, that its inhabitants throughout history had not recognized God’s many visitations and pleas to return to Him. The ultimate slap to God’s face was soon to unfold in the rejection and murder of His only begotten Son, the promised Messiah.
Is Jesus Crying Over the Condition of Your Heart?
Is Jesus crying over you this day? Is He heartbroken over the condition of your heart? Is He crying out to you, ‘’Must your heart rebel against me forever? I gave my life for you. You have so much potential, so much promise, so much power because of my sacrifice! Why are you wasting it? Why are you not walking in my victory, letting me live through you? Why are you letting your heart become entangled in the trivial matters of this world that have no eternal value?”
Jesus weeps over the wasted potential of His church and what could have been. He weeps over the many hardened hearts. He weeps over those who have been deceived. He weeps over those who are enslaved to sin. He weeps over the hearts that have waxed cold and forgotten their first love. He weeps over those who have closed their ears to His voice because they are offended at His words.
To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it. (Jeremiah 6:10, NIV)
Yet it is still possible for us to know and experience the beauty and perfection of Jesus Christ in our hearts. He longs to lead us into the blessings of His victory and carry us to spiritual frontiers we haven’t imagined possible. Indeed, He is calling us to the greatest adventure on planet Earth, and that is to love like Him, to have mercy and compassion like Him, to touch lives as He did, to pray like Him, and to heal many as He did.
Be Still and Listen
One encounter with the voice of God can change your life forever. Moses, Samuel, Paul, and many others can attest to this truth. Nothing in the heavens or the earth compares to the voice of the Lord:
“Whenever this happens, my heart stops—I’m stunned, I can’t catch my breath. Listen to it! Listen to his thunder, the rolling, rumbling thunder of his voice. He lets loose his lightnings from horizon to horizon, lighting up the earth from pole to pole. In their wake, the thunder echoes his voice, powerful and majestic. He lets out all the stops, he holds nothing back. No one can mistake that voice—His word thundering so wondrously, his mighty acts staggering our understanding.” (Job 37:1–5, MSG)
“Pay attention heavens and I will speak; listen, earth to the words of my mouth. Let my teaching fall like the rain and my words settle like the dew, like gentle rain on new grass and showers on tender plants.” (Deuteronomy 32:1–4, HCSB)
God’s voice sounds throughout the earth with great majesty, power, and wonder. Nothing can silence it. Nothing can overpower it. Nothing can stop it.
From the beginning, when God spoke to the darkness and said, “Let there be light,” His voice thundered like a mighty storm and, at other times, softly like the gentle rain. Can you imagine being awakened each morning by the tender, gracious, and loving voice of the Creator of all things? It’s so much better than an alarm clock, a Starbucks coffee, or the morning newspaper! Nothing is more satisfying to the heart than to hear from God as a new day dawns. Can you imagine having your ears so attuned to God that every day you hear His voice encouraging and helping you to be your best in your service for His kingdom? We are so accustomed to spiritual deafness that such an idea seems far-fetched and beyond our reach, but God wants you to know His voice like a loving Father and faithful friend. Pray that God awakens your ear to His voice, for it is critical to the condition and health of your heart. If your ears are not awakened, your heart will become callous, indifferent, and of little use to our Lord.
Across the world the church needs an awakening to the voice of the Lord. Psalm 46:10 declares, “Be still and know that I am God.” We must once again develop this stillness of the heart that David knew. We cannot be so agitated, anxious, and stressed by the noise and commotion of the world that we miss the stillness and quiet beauty of His voice. We must be still to know the greatness of our God and experience His voice. For it is in these quiet times with God that renewal, confidence, peace, joy, and healing flood into the heart like a river and sweep away all the fears, doubts, and worries of this world.
Be still and know that He is God. Still your heart and hear His voice! Quiet your heart and experience His presence! Let your heart come home to Him. We must have a modern day prayer closet where we can spend time alone with God and still our hearts. Make time to meet Him there. This is not an option for the modern Christian! Find a place to spend quiet time with God daily and praise, worship and pour your heart out to Him in prayer. I converted a space in my basement to a prayer room where I can pour out my heart out to Him and listen for His voice.
Our culture is addicted to noise with our televisions, computers, radios, and iPods blaring nonstop. Our hearts do not know what to do with silence. Yet a quiet, reflective time with God where we listen to Him and meditate upon His Word is the greatest medicine and healing balm available to our hearts. Jesus would get up before sunrise to spend hours of quiet time with His Father. He showed us by example how important it is to still our hearts in the presence of God with an attitude of thankfulness and praise so that we can hear what He is saying to us.
Make time to find true rest in the embrace of God. This is how you begin to cultivate eyes that see and ears that hear. This is a time of full sharing where we meet God in the laughter, tears and pressures of life and bear our entire heart to Him. In the solitude of His presence, hold nothing back. Learn how to listen for His guidance, comfort, and instruction. If you can find time to spend with a favorite sports team or television show, surely you can make time for our awesome God. I challenge you to spend quiet time with Him daily and watch for the transformation that occurs in your heart and life. Your spiritual eyes and ears will become keenly tuned to the heart of God the more time you spend with Him.
God is waiting for you to know Him, to experience Him, and to love Him. But to do this, you must spend uninterrupted time with Him. He wants to spend time with you more than you could ever imagine. He is waiting and looking, like the father of the prodigal son, for your heart to come home to Him. If you are truly interested in guarding your heart, then nothing is more important than giving God some exclusive alone time. Your heart will never be healthy without it. You will not hear His voice without it. You will not grow spiritually without it.
Accept God’s invitation to come to Him and fellowship with Him in the deepest bonds of intimacy and love. Awaken each morning to His loving voice and His tender touch. Make God your greatest desire each day, and He will strengthen your heart into a mighty fortress for Him, untouched by the noise of this world.
[i] A. W. Tozer, God Tells the Man Who Cares (Camp Hill: Wingspread Publishers, 1993).
[ii] Nicky Cruz, Holy Fire: Let the Spirit Ignite Your Soul, (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2003), 142.
[iii] David Ravenhill, Surviving the Anointing: Learning to Effectively Experience and Walk in God’s Power (Shippensburg: Destiny Image Publishers, 2007), 14, 15.
All these words are said well and are so true.