It's never what we think it will be.
If you're anything like me, the dreaming precedes the doing. You dream about what it will be like when you go on that vacation, get into that relationship, land that opportunity, and it's always a romanticized version without any rough edges. Even if you acknowledge that there will be difficult parts of your dream, it's impossible for you to understand until you experience it.
I never wanted to be a pastor, honestly. I was in college to be a nurse anesthetist. I wanted to put people to sleep, not wake them up. Opportunities to preach the Gospel would come and I accepted them, mostly due to the fact that I thought it was my spiritual obligation. If I said, "no," I assumed there were Heavenly ramifications. When God calls, He's compelling. Not in the way your local car salesman is compelling, but in the way that you recognize the significance of the call, it's life altering. You realize that God is calling you to drop your own dreams and desires, to distance yourself from your own plans so that you can fulfill His purposes.
A panic attack or five later, I accepted the call, and that's where the confessions start. It took all of about seven nano-seconds for this reality to start sinking in - accepting the position doesn't mean you'll excel at the job.
Character > Talent
When I first started, I was so focused on becoming a great preacher. I studied people that I wanted to emulate and incorporate into my own abilities, from stage presence to the style in which they spoke. After I would preach, people would come up to me and say reassuring things that confirmed God's calling on my life. They'd use words like, "you're gifted, anointed, talented." That started to inflate my head for my own abilities rather than my heart for teaching people about Jesus. I twisted God's words of confirmation into personal adoration. Through God's provision and grace, I felt conviction within my own heart and people around me critiqued me early and often. Discipleship and mentorship introduced me to a concept that saved me early from years of heartache, character is more important than talent. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don't have strong character, your talent will be compromised. The depth of your character must be great enough to anchor the height of your platform. Talent without character is corrosive. If you don't acknowledge that the stage is God's, He will allow you to be dragged off of it. God's glory won't be denied for the satisfaction of our own ego. You're not God's gift to the church, the church is God's gift to you.
Ministry Starts At Home
Admittedly, I'm a workaholic. Not in a, "Look at me, I'm so busy always grinding," kind of way, but in a, "You seriously have an issue," kind of way. I don't care if people know it or not, it was just a habit. A bad one. Ask my wife. When Lindsey and I first got married I miscalculated how I needed to readjust my priorities. I had been doing ministry since before I'd even known her. I had been a pastor since before we had even been married. My working habits didn't change much after our wedding. It was our biggest fight to kick off our marriage. I always associated working on ministry with working for the Kingdom, which meant it came first. Marriage is the greatest earthly picture of our relationship with God, but I had a hard time understanding that. If you're losing at home, you're not winning at ministry. I sought wise, Godly men who had been married and in ministry for years. As a young man, they spoke truth into my life, which essentially boiled down to this - I knew less about marriage than ministry, and I didn't know a lot about ministry. Prioritizing the house paints a greater picture of Heaven, and it makes the ministry more effective when you're on mission together.
Doing Follows Knowing
One of the great traps that the enemy has set for this generation is falling into the idea that doing things for God is as important as knowing our God. I wasn't exempt from it myself. Nothing can replace knowing God deeply and intimately. I was so busy doing things for God, that I was doing them as I was riddled with anxiety, fear, and stress. This all stemmed from a lack of taking time to continue growing in my knowledge of God, and continuing to cultivate a life of intimacy with Him. When I started my days doing things for God, I ended the day as an absolute mess. When I started my days taking the time to deepen my relationship with God, I was no less of a mess, but I was mess that had peace. Understanding the character of God and taking the time to remind myself of the fact that I am growing with an Almighty, sovereign, loving God helped me to walk in His love and feel unspeakable peace that only comes through knowing Christ. The things I do for God carry significantly more power when He is present in them.
Man Pleasers Make Bad Pastors
I love Paul's letter to the Galatians. I love how critical he is of man pleasing at the expense of making less of Jesus. When I first started writing sermons, I would pull punches of truth and justify it as a deeper need for a loving pat on the back. I didn't want people to feel bad about themselves and not like me. It was taxing. I found it exceptionally difficult to accurately preach when power is preached in the people, not the power that the people have by grace alone, through faith alone, on the foundation of Christ alone, for God's glory alone. The problem I ran into is one that I think we've been running into as long as people have been following Jesus, that crucial balance of love and truth. Truth is more often sacrificed on the altar of love than the other way around. It's hard to blend them together into a drink that tastes good, to play both instruments harmoniously within the symphony of faith. We live at a time where Christians can be so easily offended. I sometimes wonder how they read God's Word through Paul's letters and fail to feel the harshness. Everything that hurts is declared as throwing stones at one another, when really, critique is not hate. Love tells the truth. The balance of truth and love is critical, thank God for His grace and patience as we grow in both. My grandfather told me this once and I'll always hold it close, "Don't hold back, Luke. Their eternity is too important.”
Powerful Preaching Comes From Pain
Pain is one hell of a preacher. For every avenue I studied to become a better preacher, nothing taught me more than pain. In Lindsey and I's first year of marriage, we endured a health scare. I thought I was losing a healthy amount of weight because I was working out regularly with my brother. I lost five pounds, then ten, then twenty, and then I got scared. We went to the doctor and they did some blood work, the results were pretty normal but I had an abnormally high white blood cell count. They would have to do a more specific blood test to determine exactly what that meant, but as we were leaving I straight-up asked, "Could this be cancer?" And the nurse responded, "We can't rule it out, but we'll know more in a few weeks after thorough tests." I thought I had strong faith. Lindsey did great, I did not. I cursed God. I freaked. Eventually, we learned the white blood cell count was associated with parasite activity, but until this ordeal was over (December 2016-May 2017) we basically had to move in with my family. Lindsey had school and work, I would work as much as I could from home when I wasn't in the hospital. I remember wishing I could just go get coffee and work as usual. The highlight of my days was taking showers with all of the lights off. I took my shirt off before a shower one day and just looked in the mirror, thirty pounds down, I could see my shoulder blades popping out through my skin. I got in the shower and whispered a worship song to myself, and started sobbing. That's where I learned that when we don't know what to do, we can worry or worship. I was beyond humbled and had a new attitude of gratefulness. I did my best writing and preaching from that posture of pain. God uses our pain for a purpose and suffering for His name's sake is an honor. When I could hardly stand, He helped me up. In my most pitiful moments, His power was most evident, and by grace I can look back now and count it all joy.
It's never what we think it will be.
But if it was, would that be better? I don't believe so. Jesus works in the unknown so that His presence can be known. He's never taken off the blindfold of faith to reveal something less than glorious.
Catch up with Luke on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook: @lukelezon