Eleven women huddled on the paint-chipped picnic benches of a state park about an hour away from their homes. It was a beautiful day, and we all looked with anticipation on the 24 hours that would follow. Once a year I take our Children's Ministry Staff away on an overnight planning retreat to prepare for the coming ministry year. They were ready to have fun, ready to brainstorm ministry initiatives, probably even prepared for the leadership training they knew I would include as part of the retreat. But were they ready to hear from God?
I could sense their hesitation as I explained how we were going to begin our retreat. It wasn't that they didn't want to participate; it's that they were afraid it wouldn't work. One told me later, "I just knew I was going to have to come back to the table and make something up because I doubted I'd really hear something from God."
See for the last few weeks I'd been thinking about the phrase, "The Word of the Lord." Sure, most times when we come across that phrase in Scripture it refers to the written Word, but I was thinking of the instances when that Word came as some sort of vision or audible voice or recognizable presence.
"The Word of the Lord" comes to Abraham in a vision promising him that he would have an heir (Genesis 15:1-6). Abraham didn't have it in writing. There was no written Word. Yet, he believed God and began to orient his life around that Word.
"The Word of the Lord" comes to Elijah giving him specific direction on where to go (1 Kings 17:1-6). He follows and receives God's provision.
"The Word of the Lord" comes to Nathan instructing him to tell David not to build the temple (2 Samuel 7:1-17). Why didn't "The Word of the Lord" go directly to David? I have no idea. But it seems at times God gave his Word to one follower to speak to another.
"The Word of the Lord" comes to Samuel but it takes four tries and some wise counsel before he is able to recognize it (1 Samuel 3:1-10). It makes me wonder how often we fail to recognize "The Word of the Lord" when it is given today.
Now I'm not suggesting that everyone should be able to hear the audible voice of God. I don't doubt that God could speak audibly if he desired, but I have never heard that voice myself. But I do believe God has given his Holy Spirit to every Christ-follower and that this Spirit is a "Counselor to be with you forever" who "lives with you and will be with you" and will "teach you all things" (John 14:15-26).
So when was the last time as a leader you paused and gave God a chance to give you "The Word of the Lord?"
There in the park I asked everyone to do just that. In fact, I asked them to simply listen for a word. A single word. One word that could become the focal point of their prayer life over the next few weeks or even months. They scurried away and spent the next half hour lying on park benches in the sun or hiking trails through the woods trying to hear from God. Many were filled with hesitation and doubt, but they tend to humor me when I try to lead so they gave it a shot.
And when we returned and huddled on our picnic benches, their faces had changed as they told stories of how a word just seemed to "click" when it came to their mind. Faith. Childlike. Prepare. Follow. Key. Accept. Open. Trust. These were our "Words from the Lord," and we committed to praying these words for one another during the next few months.
Maybe "The Word of the Lord" is rare today as it was in certain times of Biblical history (1 Samuel 3:1). But maybe God is waiting to speak his Word to a leader who pauses long enough to recognize it. That leader could be you. Today. "Speak, for your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:10).