Discerning God's Voice for Your Leadership Decisions

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Trusting God in a highly competitive, sometimes vicious business environment is a lesson Joe Greene had to learn. After years of executive experience at one of the world's largest health care companies, Greene started his own hospital management firm. Thankfully, he began learning this critical trust lesson decades earlier as a delivery man for his father's soft drink bottling company.

Early in the summer Greene spent distributing soft drinks, one grocery store manager refused to take a single bottle. As a result, Greene wound up back at his father's plant with a truck half-full of Double Cola. The elder Greene told his son that regardless of how intractable the manager had seemed, he'd have to go back the next day and deliver drinks because that store was the bottler's biggest customer. Young Greene spent a near-sleepless night worrying about facing the manager a second time. The next day, he put off calling on the store until his last stop.

Greene says of this learning opportunity: "I was even more afraid to disappoint my father than I was of the store manager's profanity, so I knew I had to make good at that grocery store."

With the manager screaming at Greene and his partner, they stacked case after case of Double Cola all over the man's store—in the aisles, the dairy department, even by the door to the restrooms.

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"By the time we finished, it looked like a Double Cola exhibit," Greene says. "But when I handed him the invoice, the man signed for every single bottle we left in the store."

"What I learned that day is that my father knew better than I what I should do," he says. "And as I look back, the analogy is clear: I can also trust my heavenly Father, who always knows what's best for me, even in situations that otherwise seem risky."

Greene has faced more risk in his career than most, but his soft-drink delivery experience puts the fear of "stepping out in faith" in the right perspective. When the elder Greene sent his son back to the store, the father was simply telling his son to do what he already knew would turn out for the best. And that's how God wants to work with us.

Like Greene not wanting to disappoint his soft-drink-selling dad, God is the one we should want not to disappoint, regardless of what we face in the process. Our Father knows beforehand the outcome of any assignment He gives—and the result will always be for our good.

How to Discern God's Voice

Staying in touch with a heavenly Father you know and trust is the best way to avoid being paralyzed by the fear of stepping out in faith. If you know God is directing you, taking risks doesn't seem so dangerous.

When we're on God's side, Greene has learned, He wants us to win. What we think of as danger in the marketplace is threatening only because we don't know what's at the end of our path. If you want to please God more than anything else, though, you'll go where He leads and have confidence in His good will for you.

This is not to say you should rush headlong into any opportunity that seems risky, just because you want to "make something happen." To be sure, there are times not to take a risk. The key to knowing whether to move ahead lies in your relationship with the heavenly Father. If you're walking with Him and have learned to recognize His voice, He will let you know which "risks" to take and which to avoid.

But how do you know if you're hearing from God correctly? Greene offers three indicators of a situation that show God's direction:

When you're at peace. Inner peace is the hallmark of being aligned with God. If you're agitated, lying awake at night or trying to convince yourself that something is the right thing to do, you're not at peace. Scripture promises peace as we earnestly ask God for direction: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with gratitude, make your requests known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will protect your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7).

When you're not at peace and your counselors say, "No." There are times when good counsel can help you find peace in a situation, even if you haven't been able to arrive at it yourself. They may open your eyes to something God is doing that you hadn't recognized that shows you should move ahead. If you and your counselors agree to proceed, you're probably good to go.

But part of acting wisely in the face of risk is to know when you shouldn't go for it. If you're not at peace and your counselors say "No," stop. You're asking for trouble if you proceed. The downside of the risk facing you is gigantic.

When your spouse says "No." You may be more business-savvy than your spouse, but God put that person in your life for a reason. Your spouse often serves as God's mouthpiece. Sometimes that person has insight you won't get on your own that can help you sidestep your over-enthusiasm for a certain wrong direction and remain on God's path. At the very least, hearing "No" from a spouse means you should keep the lines of conversation open until both of you have peace about your decision. The time it takes to come to agreement on what to do may be the extra time God needs to put pieces in place that open a door for the right move.

How to Take Risks God's Way

By becoming convinced that God's leading gives confidence to help you move forward, you have won most of the battle against the fear of taking action. Greene points out that, just like making the biggest soft drink sale of the day, risk can result in great blessing. In fact, he says there are seven benefits you will experience when you move ahead with an opportunity from God:

You will be fulfilling God's vision for your life or business. Recall the promise in Jeremiah 29:11, that God has good plans for you. Stay in touch with God, and you'll hear Him speak. You may need to turn off the radio or TV, get off the computer or pay attention when you're lying awake at night, but God will let you know what's on His mind. Nothing is quite as satisfying as accomplishing the purposes for which God made you.

You have the satisfaction of walking in the gifts and talents God has given you. If you're feeling hemmed in and fruitless in your work, but you think making a significant change is too big a risk, think again. God wants to maximize the use of your gifts. Believe in Him to capitalize on your abilities, not to make you stay where you aren't serving Him the best way possible.

God honors risk-taking when you do what He asks. In Jesus' Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:15-28), two men knew exactly what their master wanted them to do. Despite the risks, they did what he directed and received significant rewards. The third man, though, froze with fear and wouldn't do the obvious work his master required. He had even less to lose than the other two, but because he didn't act, what he feared most—his master's wrath—came upon him.

You'll see firsthand the reward of answered prayer. Keep the lines of communication with God wide open. Nurture your relationship with God every day, because He can't speak to you if you don't know Him. It's "downright fun," as Greene says, to see Him respond to your prayers.

You'll enjoy the fulfillment of working in your calling with all your heart. Scripture makes this clear: "Whatever you do, do it heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. For you serve the Lord Christ" (Col. 3:23-24).

Another Joe Greene story reflects the reward of walking in accord with your calling. While managing Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Greene met a man who wanted to be hired as the controller. Nothing on his resume, though, showed any qualifications for the position, but the man hounded Greene until he agreed to an interview. "Thinking I would prove my point—that he wasn't qualified, I gave him an inch-thick report on Medicare claims and told him to figure out how to improve our handling of Medicare submissions," Greene says. "A week later, the man came back with a plan that would allow us to make more than twice the Medicare income we had made the previous year!" Greene recounts that the man became an excellent controller and showed how exciting it is when someone fulfills a God-given calling.

You'll have the confidence that comes from following a strategic plan God gave you. If you've included God in your plans all along, implementing them will be a low-risk proposition. The lack of stress in decision-making will be its own reward.

You can finance your organization primarily through your own sources. Institutions or individuals who loan money take control in proportion to their investment—even if they don't know your business as well as you do. Because "the borrower is a slave to the lender" (Prov. 22:7, HCSB), lenders take away your ability to let God lead your company. Keep control of your money, and you'll keep control of your company.

A common excuse for not taking risks is that we don't know how we'll come up with necessary funding, but God always pays for what He orders. He won't call you to do something without providing all you need—and probably more. Once that happens, the risks you take are between you and God, and you can step out with much greater freedom.

Greene debated with God for two years before taking the leap of starting his own hospital management firm. He admits to being afraid he wouldn't have the money needed to get his new business off the ground. When he finally yielded to God's prompting, though, he was stunned by the provision he received. Upon Greene's resignation, his employer supplied a "golden parachute" that gave him even more than he had estimated would be required for the start-up.

Joe Greene believes we too often make limiting choices based on our fears. Too many times, we stay where we are, stick with the status quo, make the best of a bad situation or settle for second best. But anything less than all-out trust in the Father's unfailing guidance is a waste of life and our business or ministry. Greene's promise for Christians facing the risks in running any enterprise is this: Risk-reward analysis that includes faith in God's good leading delivers benefits beyond measure.

Greg Webster is founder and creative director of the Webster Creative Group. As an author and collaborator, he worked with Joe Greene on Dare to Succeed: Experiencing the Satisfaction of Doing Business by the Book (New Hope Publishers) and has more than 20 other book projects to his credit.

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