In December 2012, my family and I moved from Seattle to Atlanta to begin the process of planting a church. It was the beginning of one of the most supernatural and painful seasons of our lives.
My wife and I had been youth and college pastors for six years, and we had seen God do remarkable things in that time. We poured out our lives for our students, but we knew that God had put a new vision in our hearts. So, we packed up our kids and our lives, and moved across the United States.
Whenever you make a move like this, it is filled with vision, joy, faith and celebration. There was a palpable life in us to believe God for the impossible, and excitement filled every step we took. Until it didn’t.
The move was made. Our family was settled. In front of me was the terrifying task of planting a church from scratch in a city that had never been my home. It’s hard to put 2013 into the right words: lonely, fearful, insecurity-filled, daunting, anxiety-ridden … hard. Really, really hard.
I knew God had sent me to Atlanta to contend for the renewal of a city. What I didn’t know was that God had sent Atlanta to me to contend for the renewal of my heart. He had sovereign purposes He wanted to accomplish in my life, purposes I couldn’t have seen until He got me away from the crowd.
It was in this lonely place, where I felt like a failure with an impossible task, that Jesus began to reveal Himself to me in ways I had forgotten. Jesus wasn’t concerned that I would be a successful church planter; He was concerned that I would be a successful son. He wasn’t after what I could produce for Him; He was after my heart. In His kindness, He let pain surround me, to show me what I had been hiding: I had been lying to Him.
All my life I had told Jesus that He was enough for me. But in those lonely days of struggling to plant a church, I realized He wasn’t. Jesus-plus-being-known was enough for me. Once God put me into an environment where my name, gifts and talents became hidden, I was no longer satisfied alone in Jesus. I had to come to terms with the fact that there was an idol in my heart, and Jesus my King was coming to tear it down.
Jesus wasn’t concerned that I would be a successful church planter; He was concerned that I would be a successful son. He wasn’t after what I could produce for Him; He was after my heart.
Pain is a profound gift if we will allow it to be. Inherently, pain causes us to run to safety and to the places we trust. But if you will let Jesus into your pain, He will show you all the false places of safety you have come to trust most.
Pain will reveal our idols like nothing else. Jesus, in His mercy, knows it is only when all our idols are gone that we will thrive the way He created us to. We hate pain and avoid it at all costs; so many of us are living our entire lives worshiping false Gods in the secret place because we think they make us feel safe. But hear me: They don’t. They aren’t keeping you safe. They are ruining your life.
As pastors and leaders, we have a remarkable ability to sustain pain. I believe it is actually a beautiful trait and mark of those called to lead in Jesus’s name. But sustaining pain does not mean pain has not affected us. It has deeply affected us, and the more I get to know myself and my fellow leaders I realize that we just have better ways and language of hiding our pain than most do. More than anyone, we need to know Jesus the Healer and Restorer.
It’s not simply that you need to know God as Healer so you can lead your people to God the Healer. You need God the Healer because without Him, you won’t make it. It was allowing Jesus the Healer to rescue me from myself that has made me the pastor I am today.
Leading is hard. If your story is like mine, you have more bumps and bruises, cuts and curses, than you ever thought you’d encounter. Jesus the Healer wants to meet you there. He wants to find the idols and false allegiances, and uproot them from your life. He wants to save you. Let this be the year that we let Him do that.