One of the most important lesson I’ve ever learned is that I can trust God in the midst of great tragedy.
I was raised in the Charismatic Movement, taught to believe we could believe it and receive it, name it and claim it.
Because I believed in God’s plan to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me a hope and a future, I knew that all things were possible if I just believed in God. In those days, I wrote Scripture on index cards and carried it with me until I had the verse memorized.
After growing up in the church, I got my first taste of freedom during my freshman year of college, and I quickly burned out on the church game. Like many kids that age, I grew jaded and bitter. I questioned everything and doubted everyone. I hung out with the party crowd and dared anyone to question my choices.
Yet I still tried everything to find my purpose, which I expected to be magnificent. I was accustomed to excelling, and didn’t God promise me a hope and a future? But after being President of my Freshman class, making the Dean’s list, and dating a couple of cute girls, I still wasn’t satisfied.
So, at the ripe old age of nineteen, I did the next most logical thing I could think of, and walked away from a four-year scholarship. I joined a ministry internship program at my home church, because church was a place I could be anonymous, as long as I performed like the rest of the crowd.
It wasn’t nearly as fun as my previous year of drinking and partying, but it was respectable and a place I knew I could excel. I’ll never forget my Dad’s words, “In ten years, you’ll look back and realize this was the biggest mistake you’ve ever made.” Dad wasn’t right. I’ve made bigger mistakes.
I served as a youth pastor and worship leader off and on for the better part of the next decade, believing I could change the world and change the church. Around the age of 26, the shiny things lost their appeal and I began to wear myself out. Trying do everything extraordinary, I lost myself. I almost lost my family. For a time, I even lost my will to live.
I am no longer the boy who intentionally memorizes Scripture, and I haven’t been the President of anything in nearly two decades. I work a part-time job, live paycheck-to-paycheck, and being hired by a new church was one of the scariest experiences I’ve had in the past four years.
So what about that hope and future God promised me? And what about this one:
I can do all things through Christ Who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13
I don’t think this verse is our promise from God that we can do anything we put our minds to. I think it is actually a verse of comfort from a guy who wrote it while chained in prison, encouraging the rest of us who are stuck in dire circumstances to keep trusting. I think this verse actually drives home the very crux of the Gospel of Grace: we can face all sorts of things and persevere through them, as long as we keep trusting in a faithful, changeless God.
I have always called this verse and Jeremiah 29:11 “the graduation verses” because that seems to be when they are most used. We want to tell our kids they can do anything. What we mean is, they can graduate with honors, get the job, get the girl, and have the life they want. But I believe this verse goes much deeper than the superficial spin we have put on it. I think Paul was actually saying when we don’t get the job, or the girl, or the life we wanted, but instead lose our house, or our baby, or our will to go on, we can still do all things.
Christ’s strength replaces our human weaknesses.
When Lindsey experienced the hell of postpartum depression following our first child’s birth, it was the scariest time of my life. No young guy ever dreams of having his wife placed in a psych ward. I would have rather died. When she was rolled away on that stretcher, I couldn’t imagine anything worse.
A year later, Lindsey got the call no wife wants to get. “We found your husband’s body. He’s been transported to ICU.” In both situations, we faced our darkest days, but we trusted in God in the face of great adversity and uncertainty and He walked with us through every experience.
And most recently, we were convinced we had been called to Alaska, and God was going to use us there. When the job fell through and we were left with a hefty rent and the nearest family members were 4,000 miles away, we wondered what the hell God was doing.
When I am weak, He is strong…
Today, I no longer want to do “all things”. Instead, I want to do a few things well. My hope is in raising my kids to know their value and in loving my wife in such a way that she never questions where she belongs. My future has never looked better, because I am convinced that I can truly do all things, as long as I trust in God. And so far, His track record is stellar.
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