The first time I encountered Jesus face-to-face was in the middle of a run. Running had become my escape. I was running and crying and talking to him. I knew I couldn’t live any real life in the tension of an affair. It was too dissonant. This life wasn’t me; it was deceptive and disgusting. Except it was me. I felt trapped and didn’t know how to get out. I knew the level of ruin I was looking at. Something stopped me right there on the sidewalk. I fell to my knees and said, “Get me out. However you need to. Break me.”
Those words had bounced around in my head for weeks. I knew they had been planted there by the Holy Spirit. I had a sense that they were serious, that I should not say them lightly. I knew they somehow signaled that I was ready for his plan and his way of busting in to come get me. Sounded scary. And ugly. And out of my control.
My first “yes” to Jesus in years was in those two little words. Two weeks after I dared say them out loud, a chain of events went down that led to my confession. I went home one day and told my husband about the affair. The relationship was also exposed around that time at work. I knew God was behind it all. I knew the crash was coming before it came. I knew it when I said those words to God. As painful as it was, I had a strange certainty it was part of something that had to be done. And I was right. The old foundation just wasn’t strong enough.
The weeks that followed were terrible. I felt more guilt, pain, hopelessness, and fear than I thought one person could take. I couldn’t eat. The only peace I had was the split second as I opened my eyes each morning before my reality all came crashing down on me again. For months after, I wondered daily if my husband would even come home. I was a pariah at work. The “house” I thought I was building was in a heap at my feet.
But the God I encountered in that time changed my whole life. In my worst and weakest moment, I found something much, much stronger, kinder, and better to stand on. I found the truth, compassion, and power of a living God who can hold up any life and rebuild after any fall. The first act of kindness was a vision I had one night while lying in bed. Alone. While I was wondering if “alone” would be my new normal, I felt God’s arms around me. I saw a picture—sort of like a daydream—of two long, welcoming, strong, warm arms reaching down and encircling my entire home. Not just for me but for my husband, who was sleeping in the room next to mine. I felt warm and held and, for a moment, I knew he was there.
I caught another glimpse of this God in the mirror one day. I paused, studying my own reflection. I told her the ugly truth: “Alli, you’re a liar, a terrible friend, a dishonest employee, and the worst wife.” I stood looking in the mirror, sobbing at the truth of it all. But something else happened. Right there, in the painful truth of that confession, I also felt a rush of reassurance and relief that I didn’t have to hold myself an inch above collapse anymore. I could let go and trust him instead of myself to hold it all together. I also felt his promise that one day I wouldn’t even recognize this person I saw in the mirror. I knew deep down she wasn’t me anyway.
I saw this amazing God again in a small room with the HR woman who I’d tried so hard to avoid. She was talking about what would happen to me at work—my reputation was another pile of rocks at my feet. I was crying; I couldn’t look her in the eyes. She paused awkwardly and gently said, “Could I pray for you right now?” My head snapped up and my eyes got wide as the room filled with the presence of God. Even in my shame and heartbreak, Jesus got down underneath me to hold me up.
Every one of these moments was a beam driven into my crumbling foundation. Jesus took the time and care to convince me when I felt worthless that he is a God who does not agree. He showed me over and over that he meant his words: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Jesus seemed to want me to come to him especially in the places where I wasn’t on solid ground. It was in those spots he offered to let me stand on him.
He did that for the apostle Paul too. Paul had a huge collapse, but Jesus gave him a new foundation. You can read the story starting in Acts 9. Later, as Paul thought about the Jesus who chased him down with grace when he was at his worst, he recognized there was always a plan to rebuild his life. He wrote letters to the churches he planted about his own experiences with Jesus and how there was a plan in place for his life way before he knew it: “When God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles”(Gal. 1:15–16). God picked Paul even before his worst days, knowing they would come. God showed him the real Jesus so Paul could go on and tell others how to find this incredible strength and grace too.
It was during this time, the lowest time in my life, that I stumbled into the everyday habits of this book—coming broken to him, trying to read the Bible again, and risking actual moves of faith. Because I had nothing to lose, I told the truth to every question I was asked. I didn’t have the energy to pretend anymore. It was obvious who I was, and it wasn’t pretty. I confessed, apologized, took responsibility, and repented. I prayed every day—pretty much all day. I told God I was willing to follow him anywhere. And I really tried to do that. What I didn’t know was that I was slowly uncovering the key of life as a disciple: taking risks on God. I risked telling the absolute truth and found forgiveness. I risked destroying the last bit of trust when I confessed and instead earned a tiny bit back. I risked a no when I asked, “Can you forgive me?” Instead, I heard a yes. Life as a Jesus follower is full of all kinds of risks to convince us of the truth:
“Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and puts them into practice—I will show you what he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep, and laid the foundation on bedrock.” (Luke 6:47–48 NET)
There’s a life and a strength for you far beyond your own. There’s a better foundation for your life than you or your money, your reputation, your connections, your adventures, your intelligence, or your morality and goodness. Paul and I and many others have preached the same gospel: Jesus died for your sins and rose from the dead according to the everlasting plans of God so that you could be offered a life that will never end, standing firm on the only foundation that’s strong enough to last. And it’s all by his grace. You will never deserve it. Whatever you build on him will stand. Nothing else will hold.
It’s all about the foundation.
The good news is that no matter where you are when you start this book, Jesus can build or rebuild anything. He fills in cracks, adds steel beams, and drives piers through your old concrete. And you can meet him in three simple rhythms of faith.
Come to him. Hear his word. Practice it in your life.
Today is a day you either widen a crack or fill one in. Let’s dig deep and build on rock.
Alli Patterson is passionate about helping others build a life on the firm foundation of Jesus’s truth and grace. She holds a master’s degree in biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary and is a teaching pastor at Crossroads Church. She lives with her husband, Bill, their four children, and one very bratty cat. Alli is a fan of Mexican food, Ohio State football, geeky Bible maps and timelines, pedicures, long runs, and good books.
To connect with Alli and find more information about her book How to Stay Standing go to www.theallipatterson.com.
I leaped out of bed when the alarm signaled it was time to wake up and hit the pavement. Ten minutes later, I was outside pressing “start running” on my fitness app and putting in my earbuds to listen to a worship music playlist. I was excited to run because the cool, crisp mornings between winter and spring are my favorite time of year. Although the April sky was still dark, threads of orange and purple streaked across it as the sun rose. My heart was light and joyful despite the unsettling times we had all been recently thrust into as the pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt.
Around mile four I began a conversation with God. I thanked him for my life, family, work, ministry, friendships, and the gift of healthy lungs that allow me to run. I prayed for wisdom to carry me and my team through an unknown future—one that required helping churches around the world figure out how to operate without gathering in a building. As the head of global faith partnerships at Facebook, I had received more calls, texts, emails, and direct messages from pastors and church leaders during the first weeks of COVID-19 than I had in the three years prior.
As I reached mile six, a favorite song came on, and I did a run-dance on the sidewalk as drivers-by looked at me in confusion. I punched the air and clapped with the beat while singing, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart! Trust in the Lord with all your mind! Trust in the Lord with all your strength! Lean not on your own understanding!” The upbeat tempo always got me pumped, but I had no idea that an hour later my trust in the Lord would be put to the test.
I made it home just in time to give my seven- and ten-year-old sons sweaty hugs and my husband a sweaty kiss before they left for the day. Then I started my post-run routine of showering, stretching, making a pot of tea, and having some quiet time with the Lord. I was looking forward to my Bible study time because the cancelation of many of my speaking engagements allowed me to study for the fun of it without the pressure of preparing to give a message.
The Holy Spirit had led me to take an interest in the life of Jonathan, King Saul’s son. A lot was written about his father, and even more was written about his best friend, David, but I had never looked closely at Jonathan. I started reading in 1 Samuel 14, which tells the story of how Jonathan waged an attack on a Philistine outpost with only his young armor-bearer by his side. As Jonathan made his way to Mikmash to fight two dozen Philistines by himself, his father, the king, rested comfortably under a pomegranate tree in Gibeah with six hundred soldiers. The juxtaposition of the two scenes was striking.
When Jonathan and his young armor-bearer reached the outpost, they saw that the Philistines were positioned on a cliff. This put Jonathan and his armor-bearer at a strategic disadvantage because it robbed them of the element of surprise. The climb to the Philistines’ position would also use precious energy they needed for the battle. Nevertheless, Jonathan turned to his armor-bearer and said, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).
I repeated that last line to myself: “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” Something about it resonated. When the Lord is for us, we can be outnumbered but are never unprotected.
I read a couple more chapters and then decided it was time to start my day. I quickly checked my Facebook page to respond to comments and messages and then did the same on Instagram. Although I normally go straight to my Instagram notifications, that day I caught a glimpse of my newsfeed first. And that’s when the downward emotional spiral started.
Friend 1: Hey, friends! I’m so excited to announce that I’m joining the speaker lineup for Susie Sacred’s Full Blossom Conference. Visit the link in my bio to register, and meet me online next month with an incredible roster of speakers!
Friend 2: I’m beyond ecstatic to share that I’ll be speaking at the Full Blossom Conference next month with Susie Sacred and an amazing roster of the best speakers across every sector. Will you be there? Comment below to let me know!
Friend 3: Next month is going to be epic! Join me and other amazing speakers at the Full Blossom Conference with Susie Sacred online next month. I have a message for you. Tag a friend and register at fullblossom.com!
After scrolling for what felt like an eternity, I counted no fewer than eight friends posting the exciting news that they were joining an amazing roster of speakers for a major women’s conference that was going virtual because of the pandemic. Since I don’t follow many people on social media, it seemed like the only thing in my newsfeed was an avalanche of exciting announcements about speaking at the Full Blossom Conference.
“Why wasn’t I invited to speak?” I asked aloud. “It’s like Susie asked everyone we mutually know except me.”
With each new post, I felt what can only be described as the stab of an emotional ice pick to the heart. My mind was clouded with hurt, so I stopped scrolling, closed Instagram, and looked out my living room window into a beautiful day. The skies were blue and filled with fluffy white clouds. Birds bounded from limb to limb on the tree just outside my window. But the beauty outside couldn’t overcome the ugliness churning inside me.
I was scheduled to join a video conference, but I was so distracted by confusion and pain that I went to the kitchen to make another pot of tea. As I stirred the honey into my teacup and watched the golden sweetness dissolve into the hot water, I was flooded with “why” questions.
Why was I left out?
Why was I not considered?
Why was I overlooked?
Why was I not worthy of an invitation?
An old, familiar hurt resurfaced inside—the hurt of being unwanted.
I’ve had a full speaking schedule for years, despite never once advertising myself as a speaker or asking to speak at events. And I receive more speaking invitations for business and church conferences than I can accept. I’ve been invited to speak on multiple continents and keynoted major conferences across the United States and abroad. Yet, somehow, not being invited to speak at this conference bothered me.
I’d heard of Full Blossom before and had never desired to speak at it, but after I saw many of the people in my ministry circle invited to speak there, my exclusion catalyzed a self-worth inquisition. Comparison makes what never mattered before the thing that matters most.
As I sat down at my desk and opened my laptop, I felt a magnetic pull back to Instagram. I had back-to-back video conferences every thirty minutes for the next seven hours, so I set my phone down and logged on for the first meeting. Within ten minutes, I had discreetly unlocked my phone, opened Instagram, and continued the scroll. An irresistible and poisonous thread tugged on my heart and distracted me from work.
I went to Susie’s profile and saw post after post of her gushing about each speaker: how incredible they were and how perfect the conference would be because of them. My chest tightened, and a lump grew in my throat as I watched a video of her enthusiastically naming several of my friends as speakers. Although she spoke about them, my heart heard her speaking to me: Nona, I know who you are. I’ve seen what you do. And you’re not good enough. You’re not what I’m looking for. You’re just average.
I had not only constructed the full-blown, play-by-play narrative for why Susie hadn’t invited me but also decided I needed to unfollow everyone she had invited to speak. My heart felt like it would shatter if I saw one more friend’s post about the awesome conference I wasn’t invited to speak at. I didn’t want to wade through endless reminders that they were speaking at the conference and I wasn’t.
“Why did she pick everyone around me but not me?” I asked aloud again. The more I thought about it, the more my hurt turned to anger. But in my anger, I heard the Holy Spirit ask a different question: “Why does it matter?”
“Why does it matter?” I responded incredulously. “Because everyone who’s anyone will be speaking there. And I’m not. This will be the largest online women’s ministry gathering of the year, and I will be absent.”
“So you think you matter only because of the speaking invitations you receive?” the Holy Spirit asked.
“No,” I said. “I know I matter to you. I just . . . I just . . .” I stammered as the weight of the truth settled on me.
“Go ahead,” the Holy Spirit prompted, “say it.”
“I just want to matter to them too,” I whispered, tears forming in the corners of my eyes.
“I know, Nona. You want to matter to them because you’re insecure,” the Holy Spirit said matter-of-factly.
“Insecure?” I responded with disbelief. “I’m not insecure! Far from it. I know who I am in you. I preach about it regularly. Besides, I have everything I could ever want and more than I could ever have imagined. I’m definitely not insecure!”
With love and conviction, the Holy Spirit said, “Nona, you think people are insecure if they don’t like how they look or don’t like what they have or don’t like what they do. Those are expressions of insecurity, but they’re not the root of insecurity. The root of insecurity is when your identity is built on an insecure foundation.”
As I considered what the Holy Spirit said, I felt defensive. “My identity is secured to you, Lord. I know what the Word says about who I am, and I believe it. How can you say I’m insecure?”
“Yes, you know what my Word says, and you also believe it,” affirmed the Holy Spirit. “But knowledge and belief are not the same as faith. As long as you know my Word in your head and believe it in your heart but don’t practice it daily, your identity will continue to be secured to the affirmation of others. You have built your identity on people’s approval. People show their approval with likes on social media, but I demonstrated my approval through love on the cross. I approved of you before you were formed in your mother’s womb. And my approval is unchanging.”
The truth in these words hit me like a Mack truck. So much of my life had been spent trying to win people’s approval, and maybe yours has too:
That time in high school when you were one of the “it” girls and got invited to all the best parties and hangouts—until you were no longer invited. A wealthy new girl started attending the school and your friends decided there wasn’t enough room in the clique for both of you, so they kicked you out to make room for her.
Those months when your calendar was filled with business travel and making deals on multiple continents while wining and dining with the powerful—until, without explanation, your calls started going to voicemail and your emails went unreturned. A new company emerged on the scene, and everyone wanted to do deals with them instead.
Those years when you were your pastor’s favorite Sunday school teacher and he placed you in charge of the entire Sunday school department—until he decided your style was outdated and brought in a skinny-jeans-wearing kid with a mohawk and a TikTok following to “get things back on track.”
The approval of others is never permanent, and it often depends on variables that are beyond our control. People use things such as height, weight, wealth, popularity, theology, position, or political affiliation as “approval filters” to determine whether we’re good enough for them. Yet God approved of us before there was anything to approve of. God created us on purpose, with purpose.
The Holy Spirit said, “Nona, the reason you’re hurt by not being invited to speak at that conference is because you measure your worth based on how much people approve of you compared to others. When you aren’t secured to the stable foundation of who I say you are, you drift with the shifting currents of others’ opinions about you. When you drift from me, you have to secure your identity to people’s opinions to stay afloat. Your insecurity didn’t start this morning. You’ve been insecure most of your life.”
I sat in silence with my eyes closed, reflecting on what the Holy Spirit had said. Before I knew it, my eyes were brimming with tears. The Holy Spirit was right—as always.
Somewhere along the line, I had surrendered my purpose for performative applause. God had valued me before I even had the ability to perform my way into his love. Though God determined I was worth dying for at my worst (Romans 5:8), I made the mistake of conflating my eternal, intrinsic value with likes, follows, shares, and speaking invitations. And the craziest part of it all is that no one knew. Not even me. It happened subtly, over time.
With every larger platform I stepped onto, my heart had slowly detached from the secure foundation of God’s approval and attached itself to the insecure foundation of other people’s approval, creating insecurity.
“Lord, you’re right,” I said. “You say in your Word that people honor you with their lips but their hearts are far from you. I now understand what you mean. I have honored you with my lips, but I’m not honoring you with my life. Lord, I need your help. Please deliver me from insecurity.”
“Nona, what you’re asking will require more than you expect, but if you trust me and obey me, I will help you get to freedom. You must no longer look to others for approval; you must look only to me.”
“Lord, I’m ready,” I said.
“No, you’re not. But that’s what my grace is for.”
Just as Jonathan was outnumbered against the Philistines, we can feel overwhelmed by seeming to never measure up. But the same divine grace that enabled his victory is the same grace that enables our victory over insecurity too.
Taken from KILLING COMPARISON by Nona Jones. Copyright © September 27, 2022 by Nona Jones. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.
Nona Jones is a rare combination of preacher, business executive, author, and entrepreneur. In her day job she serves as the Director of North America Community Partnerships andGlobalFaithPartnerships atMeta, the company formerly known as Facebook. She is the best selling author of two books; Success from the Inside Out, chronicling her unlikely story of success after a childhood filled with physical and sexual abuse, andFrom Social Media to Social Ministry, the globally acclaimed guide to digital discipleship for churches.
She and her husband,Pastor Tim, lead Open Door Church in Gainesville, FL and are the proud parents of two boys, Timothy, Jr. and Isaac, and one girl, Golden doodle Shiloh.
Note from Team LO: We are SO excited to bring you this month’s post from our LO sister member, Megan Feveryear! If you want to be a part of this incredible community, you can join today for free. Find out more about this online sisterhood HERE. And for more info about what LO sister is all about, visit our Instagram Page!
Now, enjoy today’s post from Megan 🙂
When 2022 began, I believed God was going to send me on the most incredible journey I had ever been on! I was a new resident in a brand-new city (Nashville, TN), I had my dream job, and great community of friends, and the interest of a cute boy! Ladies, we all know that a cute boy can change the world! Flash-forward to the summer my year of “re-claiming greatness” slowly began to shift to a year I had never asked for or wanted.
At the start of every new year, I begin the year asking God what verse He desires me to soak in for the New Year, this year that verse just happened to be: “Delight thyself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) Every time I pondered this verse in my quiet time with the Lord, I asked the Lord to show me what the desires of His heart were over the course of this year.
I never imagined by in December of 2021, as I prayed in the new year, that by June of 2022 I would be diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, suffer the loss of my greatest cheerleader (my grandmother), end up moving to a new home, lose my job, have some dear friends turn their backs, and that boy I mentioned at the beginning well, let’s just say Cinderella still is waiting for her glass slipper.
You know that point when you think life cannot get any worse, well, I thought that about every week of this year. The enemy has a way of worming his way into our minds and reminding us of our greatest failures. For some reason these reminders just continue to make our life a little worse, instead of helping us reclaim the ground for the King of the universe. We all have that voice that sneaks into our heads when we are sitting alone scrolling on our Instagram feeds, when we are sitting watching TV at night, or anytime we are alone. It is the voice of the enemy reminding us of our biggest mistakes and somehow these mistakes seem a little bigger every time he speaks them into existence.
So, the question remains “what has Jesus been teaching me?” In my humanness I would have told you this season has been the worst season of my life. But through the lens of Faith, I see God showing up in community. God has opened my eyes to how beautiful and special community is in our day to day lives. In my lowest and darkest moments, He has sent ladies in my community to surround me in prayer, lift me up and encourage me to take one more step into the next day.
I used to think that to “Win someone to Him,” we needed to have the perfect job that inspired millions of people. Now through the ups and downs of the seasons God is showing me that I don’t need the perfect career to inspire others to be a part of His kingdom, I simply need to show up each day and share my story with the 5 loaves and 2 fish that He gives me.
God has been teaching me, I don’t need to have my life planned out for my entire life, year, month, or even the week. It all begins each morning and starts with taking another step each day, each moment even with the God of universe. Sisters, we are not promised a single day, God has ordained each one of them. The God of the Universe has opened my eyes to see that my life does not have to be perfect, in fact it is perfectly fine if it is a little messy.
So back now to Psalm 37:4, I would be lying if I did not say to you, I have not asked God maybe once, twice, or maybe one million times; Why is this happening? But through all the struggle and all the questioning I have come to find God is teaching me truly what HIS desires truly are for my life. I would be again lying to you if I said I was not at all disappointed at the loss of my dream job, that came along with some of the most incredible co-workers. But I’m finding that as I search the heart of the Father, He is revealing that His desires for my life are way better than what I thought my dream job was. Yes, in my humanness I do mourn the loss of what has happened this year, but I look forward expectant of what the God of the Universe has in store.
So, as you can see my life may not be the life of a picture-perfect Instagram influencer, in fact it is quite the opposite. If hot mess Instagram influencers were a thing, I would be verified by now. But through the chaos, the trials, and the total opposite Cinderella story of a year, I have found Jesus to be faithful, true, and beyond worthy of my praise. Back in my Freshman year of College at Liberty University, my Community Group Leader themed our group to “Hills and Valleys.” This theme was centralized to the idea that we face many HIGHS and LOWS in and year, but throughout the highs and lows of our life, we serve a God who will journey with us through the low valleys that life brings, we also serve a God who is with us on the mountaintop moments when we feel like we are the kings and queens of the world.
So to finish up our time together, Jesus is teaching me that the beautiful dreams I thought I had for my life and my future are nothing compared to the amazing story he is writing for my future. Yes, I am still a hot mess express on most days, but I am beyond expectant to see where the King of the Universe leads me in this next season.
Megan grew up in rural Lancaster County, PA. Her greatest inspiration was her grandparents as they encouraged her to continue to pursue dreams bigger than the county lines. Megan holds her roots close as she journey’s into the world of LIVE Music. As a graduate of Liberty University and Berklee College of Music, she has had the opportunity to work alongside many of her heroes.
Most known for her diverse skill set in the world of Digital Marketing and Event Management, Megan has worked on album release teams and as the social media manager for many of today’s mainstream artists. Close to Megan’s heart is a ministry that was birthed out of COVID-19 “Clothed in Dignity,” this is a Women’s ministry that focuses primarily on Proverbs 31, reminding women that chosen and loved by the God of the Universe!
She is the founder of This Day Ministry and a new start up podcast launching this Fall by the name of Consider the Lilies!
Brad Haugh still remembers the sound of his heartbeat. It thundered in his chest. Two hundred beats a minute. With a fire behind him and a ridge ahead of him, this smoke jumper needed every pulse of power his heart could give in order to escape with his life.
He was one of forty-nine firefighters caught in a wildfire on the spine of Storm King Mountain, seven miles west of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Fourteen of them lost their lives. They were overrun by flames that Haugh estimated to reach a height of three hundred feet. The wall of heat required only two minutes to race a quarter of a mile up the mountain, reaching a speed of eighteen miles per hour. Temperatures reached two thousand degrees, hot enough to incinerate the tools dropped in its path.
“People were yelling into their radios, ‘Run! Run! Run!’ I was roughly one hundred and fifty feet from the top of the hill, and the fire got there in ten or twelve seconds. I made it over the top and just tumbled and rolled down the other side, and when I turned around, there was just this incredible wall of flame.”
Few of us will ever find ourselves trying to outrun a fire. But all of us have had encounters with fire. We’ve extended cold hands over the warm campfire. We’ve lifted a burning torch into the dark night. We’ve ignited the blue flame of the gas stove and beheld the red glow of hot metal. Fire is a part of life. For that reason when fire and the Holy Spirit appear in the same sentence, we take note.
“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11). This is how John the Baptist introduced his cousin to the world. We might have expected a more, can we say, positive outlook. “He will baptize you in happy feelings.” “He will lift your self-image so you will feel good about yourself.” “He will make it easier for you to have friends and deal with conflict.” But baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire? Such was the job description of Jesus.
Please note that Jesus is the giver of the Holy Spirit fire. Do you desire the Spirit? Then turn to Christ. He will plunge, immerse, and submerge you in the very being of the Spirit. Just as Jesus stepped out of the river dripping the Jordan, so we step forth into the world drenched in the Spirit of heaven. Every part of us, top to bottom, is designed to be blessed by the Holy Spirit and with fire.
The soul baptized in the Spirit is a soul ablaze.
Fire is a chemical reaction that releases energy in the form of light and heat. In the case of a wood fire, the energy was originally derived from the sun and stored in the plant as cellulose and lignin. Heat from another fire or a lightning strike converts the cellulose into flammable gasses, which are driven out of the wood and combined with oxygen. If there is enough air, fuel, and heat, the fire will keep advancing.
Can’t something similar be said about the Spirit of God? If we let him do his work, he will not be set back. He will not be put out. He will not be quenched.
Yet this flame is never intended for our harm. Quite the contrary. Everything that is good about a fire can be listed as a blessing of the Holy Spirit.
Fire is a purifying force. My mom, a nurse, taught us this principle when we were very young. She used a needle on our skin to remove a thorn or lance a sore. She did so after she had twirled the sharp tip in the hot flame of a match. “I want to kill the germs,” she explained. Fire does this. It purifies.
The Holy Spirit is the ultimate purifier. He comes to eradicate the defilement from the vessel. Are we fit to serve as a temple of the Holy Spirit? We need the cleansing, sanctifying work of heaven to prepare us for this assignment. So the Spirit comes not just to purify but to beautify, not just to cleanse but to adorn.
This refining fire is not always pleasant. It can come in the form of discipline or disappointment, setback or loss. Yet the fire of the Spirit produces ultimate good. Do we not see this in nature? The American Forest Foundation lists several benefits of forest fires. They . . .
- release seeds or otherwise encourage the growth of certain tree species, like lodgepole pines;
- clear dead trees, leaves, and competing vegetation from the forest floor so new plants can grow;
- break down and return nutrients to the soil;
- remove weak or disease-ridden trees, leaving more space and nutrients for stronger trees;
- keep tree stands thin and open, letting more sunlight in so trees stay healthier; and
- improve wildlife habitat.ii
A fire, managed and contained, results in ultimate good for the vegetation. When Jesus baptizes us in the fire of the Spirit, it is so we can bear better and more abundant fruit for him.
Welcome this refining fire. Invite him to finish this work in your heart. “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16 niv). In the next life your heart will have been refined of all dross. Jealousy, gone. Greed, gone. Guilt, gone. Regrets, anxiety, and pride, gone forever. This time on earth is a time of preparation, and God’s person of preparation is the Spirit. Let him do his work in you. Let him set your soul on fire.
Since entering the ministry in 1978, Max Lucado has served churches in Miami, Florida; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and San Antonio, Texas. He currently serves as Teaching Minister of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio. He is the recipient of the 2021 ECPA Pinnacle Award for his outstanding contribution to the publishing industry and society at large. He is America’s bestselling inspirational author with more than 145 million products in print. His latest book is Help is Here: Finding Fresh Strength and Purpose in the Holy Spirit.
Excerpt taken from Help Is Here: Finding Fresh Strength and Purpose in the Power of the Holy Spirit by Max Lucado (Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, Tennessee ©️ 2022).
In the spring of 2010, not too long after my fiftieth birthday, I sat in a Dallas conference room with my colleagues, AT&T leaders from across the country, filling out the human performance expert Jack Groppel’s Corporate Athlete assessment questionnaire. As the president of AT&T North Carolina, I was required to be there, but I didn’t expect much to come from the session. I was sure I wouldn’t find out anything new about myself. I knew me! I was in excellent emotional, mental, and spiritual health. I read and kept my mind sharp. I spent time with my family and friends to get the emotional support I needed. I was intentional about making time for prayer, going to church, and feeding my soul. As I remember it, my results were off the charts in those categories.
My physical health, though? I thought it would be my lowest score but figured it would still be decent. I used to be an athlete, and now as an executive and a mom, I was constantly on the go.
I’d already cut back on Ding Dongs and fried chicken. What else could they want from me?
I was partially right. Physical health was my lowest scoring area on Jack’s assessment, but the score was far from decent. It was clear where I needed to put my attention.
A few months before, my primary care physician had given me a referral slip for a colonoscopy test, which he called a routine precaution for all his patients when they turned fifty. I’d thanked him and put the slip on my nightstand, figuring I’d get to it sooner or later. After all, I’d be fifty for a whole year. I had plenty of time.
I thought about that slip at the end of Jack’s program, when we were told to all choose accountability buddies from within the group and then share with them one specific action step that we would take for improvement. I turned to Frank, a straight-talking executive from New Jersey, and told him I would get a colonoscopy. I was a busy woman, I reasoned, so I picked something I thought wouldn’t require extra energy.
Over the following weeks and then months, Frank somehow always managed to call me when I was in the Starbucks drive- through. “Did you get that thing done yet?” he’d ask in his gravelly New York accent. I’d tell him no and change the subject.
Seven months and many Frank phone calls later, I finally got to say yes, the appointment was made, and so could we please talk about something else now? I scheduled my colonoscopy for December 14, the day before my fifty-first birthday. I was cutting that “get it done at fifty” close, but in my defense I schedule all of my routine medical checkups for my birthday week every year. I have an annual health plan that I stick to, and now it contained a colonoscopy “maintenance” box to check.
I still remember the anesthesia-induced “sleep” I had that day as the best I’ve ever had. I didn’t feel a thing. When I woke up, though, the first thing I saw was Kenny standing over me. That wasn’t normal. Kenny’s not one to hover too close. Through my anesthesia haze I saw that he was frowning, biting his lip the way he does when he’s bothered. I knew right away something wasn’t right.
“Wife, we’ve got a problem,” he told me, and then he stopped, not sure how to continue. “The doctor saw something he didn’t like.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that, and my brain still wasn’t working at its normal speed. I reached out toward the paper I could see in his hand. “What’s that?”
After a second of hesitation—“Maybe you should read this later when you feel better”—Kenny relented and handed over the report from the gastroenterologist, who’d been called off to see another patient while I was still in recovery. He’d given Kenny copies of the scans they took, promising to call the next day to talk me through them.
I’m no doctor, but when I looked at the pictures of my body, even I could see the nasty-looking mass. It was not the birthday gift I was hoping for.
To be honest, the colonoscopy wasn’t actually my first sign that something was wrong.
I’d been prone to sinus infections ever since I moved to North Carolina four years before, so I was used to swollen lymph nodes. When I felt something swelling in my neck a few months before, I didn’t pay much attention. I just called my doctor for another round of super-duper antibiotics.
When I started inexplicably losing weight, I welcomed it and didn’t ask questions. I complained sometimes to Kenny that I was feeling off and not like myself, but neither of us thought it was anything more than I had too much work, too much travel, and too many sinus infections. When Venessa, my chief of staff, mentioned that I looked tired and pale, I rearranged my travel schedule a little but kept going.
Then, in November, my kids all insisted that we go Black Friday shopping. It wasn’t my favorite holiday tradition, but I agreed. We teamed up with a couple of my friends and their kids, and the crew was all at the mall by 4:00 a.m. As we were getting ready to go, I noticed my back hurt a little, but I wrote it off as the result of being on my feet in the kitchen the whole previous day, making Thanksgiving dinner.
The pain got steadily worse and harder to ignore, until about an hour later, when my son Anthony found me in front of a Ma- cy’s register, collapsed all the way to the floor in excruciating pain, but still holding up my credit card to the salesperson who was ringing up a new coat for my youngest, Alicia.
My conscientious boy was next to me in an instant, simultaneously helping me up and yelling at his sister for not doing some- thing. He threatened to put me in a wheelchair until I agreed to stop shopping and wait in the car until he could round up the rest of the group.
I went to an urgent care clinic that afternoon, but they couldn’t find anything specific wrong with me and sent me home, suggest- ing it was an early stage of diverticulitis. When I was still having trouble standing the next day, Kenny insisted I go to a hospital emergency room. There, a CT scan showed a lesion on my liver, but I left again with no real diagnosis. In fact, the ER doctor specifically told me he didn’t think I had cancer, even though lower left back pain like mine is a symptom of colorectal cancer (as are weight loss, fatigue, and blood in the stool, which I’d also noticed but had dismissed recently).
The pain subsided after a few hours, and I went home and went on with my weekend. The day after my colonoscopy, my actual fifty-first birthday, I went back to the office. I have a tradition that I always work on my birthday, and not just because I don’t want to miss my cake and ice cream at the lunchtime “surprise” party. Growing up poor taught me not to take my career for granted, and whenever I count my blessings, two near the top of the list are a great job and the ability to take care of my family.
Instead of enjoying ice cream with my team, though, I found myself stuck in a conference room, being grilled by auditors making a surprise visit. I’d been the president of AT&T North Carolina for almost four years at that point, and we had become a model program that other AT&T programs across the country followed. But that birthday meeting with the outside interrogators was unusually intense, and the way they asked about some of our business practices sounded more like an inquisition than a normal audit.
As a Black woman in corporate America, I had learned long ago that I would sometimes be treated as if I were unqualified or untrustworthy. It was an unfortunate reality. I sat with no notes in front of me, grateful for my good memory as I honestly answered all their questions and gave them facts.
I had nothing to hide and kept my cool, but after about five hours and one missed birthday party, my aggravation was starting to show. When my assistant stuck her head into the room to tell me that my doctor was on the phone, I gratefully took the opportunity to step out.
It was a case of “out of the frying pan and into the fire,” because the gastroenterologist didn’t have good birthday news for me, either. That out-of-body feeling struck as I stood in my office on my fifty-first birthday and heard for the first time that the nasty thing in the scan was a tumor in my colon and that I needed to talk to a surgeon right away. I don’t think the doctor could use the word “cancer” without an official pathology re- port, but he was insistent that I get this “thing” looked at immediately. At the end of the call, he said again that it didn’t look good.
I thanked him and hung up. After a quick call to Kenny to let him know what had happened, I went back to the inquisition much calmer than I’d been before. The auditors’ questions were still ridiculous, but suddenly insignificant compared with what else I was facing.
To their credit, when I explained to the auditors that the call had come from a doctor, they offered to break for the day so I could make my appointments. I declined; postponing meant they would come back, and I needed to wrap this up so I could focus on what came next. I stayed in the meeting until they ran out of questions, sent them on their way, and then turned to my next task—making an appointment with Dr. Tyner, the surgeon my gastroenterologist recommended.
“Happy birthday to me,” I told Kenny dryly that night when I finally got home. I didn’t know what to think of all this hitting now. Was it a birthday gift or a birthday nightmare? Would I look back on my fifty-first birthday in the years to come and see the start of something tragic, or the start of something great? The jury was still out.
What I did feel right away, though, was that fifty-one was going to be very different than fifty had been.
By the time Kenny and I sat down with Dr. Tyner that Friday afternoon, I’d spent three days looking at pictures of the tumor in- side me. It looked nastier and more annoying every time I saw it. I was sure it was growing centimeters every hour. It needed to go, and it needed to go soon.
Dr. Tyner was pleasant and respectful, and appeared competent. I liked that he’d been practicing for more than twenty years and had experience with this type of tumor. I could see Kenny liked him, too. But things started to go sideways when he asked about our holiday plans. I explained we had originally thought we would go home to see our families in California, but obviously the trip was canceled.
The doctor looked perplexed. In his professional opinion, he said, my tumor was probably not cancerous, and there was no reason to interrupt our holidays. My surgery could wait until January or even February.
Oh, no. That didn’t work for me. My own voice of power started to make itself heard.
I’m not a soft-spoken person like my mother, so when I take on “the voice,” my volume doesn’t change. But I lean in. I make eye contact. I let the person who’s listening know what I know and how we’re going to proceed.
I hadn’t been born with a voice of power. It had taken a long time, and a lot of trial and error, to know how to trust my instincts and use my own voice to speak with both respect and advocacy, regardless of a person’s title or outward presentation. I’d hesitated often when I was younger. Should I speak up? Should I sit back?
On that Friday afternoon, fifty-one years into my journey, I didn’t hesitate. I leaned in and told Dr. Tyner that thirty years of leading teams all up and down the corporate ladder had taught me the only way to get things done is to act, and to act fast. I ex- plained that I’d learned way back in Sunday school that my body was a temple and it was my job to take care of that temple. I had a nasty tumor inside me, and I wasn’t willing to just leave it there, dirtying up the temple. I was willing to wait over the weekend, but this thing was going to come out of me no later than Monday.
Dr. Tyner was very polite. He agreed that the tumor was nasty, but told us he’d seen nastier. He repeated that this wasn’t some- thing for me to worry about. And besides, his schedule was fully booked for the next two weeks, and so were all of the hospital operating rooms in the city. Lots of people have elective surgeries right before the end of the year, I learned, and my tumor was going to have to compete for space with facelifts and tummy tucks.
None of that mattered. I was polite, too, but I explained that I wasn’t leaving until we found a hospital that could handle this nasty tumor on Monday morning. We sat, smiling at each other and in a stalemate as the clock ticked. At one point, Dr. Tyner gave us a tour of his facility. I complimented his great medical library. Then I went back and sat in his office again. I had plans for that night—a birthday celebration with family and close friends— but I explained to the men in the room that plans can change.
Dr. Tyner studied me for a minute and then asked Kenny how long I was going to sit there.
“Get ready for a long night,” my husband said. “She’s not leaving until a surgery is scheduled for Monday.” The doctor jokingly told Kenny he had a pretty good idea what my husband lives with daily. Kenny was too nice to explain that this was nothing.
I smiled at them both, prayed, and waited for good news. The doctor, reluctantly, told his staff to try to find an available operating room. They made several calls, to no avail. I kept sitting and silently praying.
An hour and a half later, a staff member came in to report that an operating room had opened up, and my surgery was scheduled for Monday, 6:00 a.m. It was even at WakeMed Cary Hospital, the hospital closest to our home.
My prayer became a prayer of thanksgiving.
Cynt Marshall is the CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, president and CEO of Marshalling Resources consulting, and the former SVP of human resources and chief diversity officer for AT&T. She is the first African American woman to hold the CEO role for any NBA team and was named one of the “30 Most Powerful Women in Sports” by Adweek, one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Corporate America” by Black Enterprise magazine, and one of “15 of the World’s Most Inspiring Leaders” by Forbes. She is also an outspoken cancer survivor and regular speaker at cancer-related events. The fourth of six children, Marshall grew up in Richmond, California, and lives in the Dallas area. She and her husband, Kenneth, have four adult children.
Years ago, a lot of the things that were happening in my life that I cared about happened at night. Partying, going out, sneaking around, late night conversations. All of my desires were based on whatever I thought was fun and that became the center of my lifestyle. But those same things also brought me the most anxiety. I was living significant parts of my life literally in the darkness and my soul was in the dark as a result. Every other area of my life felt it too, whether I admitted it or not. I genuinely was sold on everything that culture and media told me – what I should do with my time, what I should look like, what it meant to be successful based on what others thought about me. I saw anything that went against that as boring and lame. I was willing to give up anything having to do with my faith to experience this way of life that I was convinced was better.
“For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light” (Ephesians 5:8)
The freedom, joy, and lightness that I feel now, even when I’m walking through harder seasons, can only be explained by the Holy Spirit in me. The only way to describe my life is that it has been completely transformed by Jesus and it will forever be my greatest joy to talk about who He is.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
You may love God or you may not really know who God is. If that’s you, just know that He loves you and He’s pursuing you, you can know that just by the fact that you’re reading this article. Years ago, He sent His son to die in our place as the ultimate sacrifice for the brokenness that’s so present in our world and so opposite of how He intended it to be when he created it. He lived radically and counter-culturally, not by saying all of the right things and being church-y. But by being bold, listening well, loving the very least of these on earth, not choosing to be around the most put together. And most importantly, when he left his time here on earth, He was raised from the dead and promised that one day we’ll get to live with Him and there will be a whole new earth that is absolutely perfect just as he originally designed it to be. (Romans 5:8)
So this life isn’t it. There is so much more purpose than just our 24 hour routines and habits that make up our lives. Actually letting that sink in is like letting light flood in.
CS Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.
If you feel stuck between knowing there has to be more, yet constantly wanting to give into your desires, and not knowing which is the way to actual full, abundant life, this is for you. Here are some things that I’ve learned:
1. Pray for changed desires.
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
In college, I prayed consistently and specifically for changed desires, that I would actually desire whatever was true and good. He changed my desires and I watched my relationships deepen and change with them. The peace I felt translated to all of the other areas of my life. My definition of fun changed. Experiencing an unwavering security and having deep relationships was fun. Having a purpose that was so much bigger than myself was fun. I think it’s funny that now the most significant and meaningful parts of my life happen literally in the light— yes I still love doing fun things at night obviously—but the parts that I care most about happen in the daylight. Mountain weekends, long walks with my husband AJ, dinners with my best friends, leading high school ministry on Mondays after work, painting in my art studio down the street, helping my friend with her nonprofit that fulfills the dreams of youth who have aged out of the foster care system. The life I’m living on mission is just better in every way.
“but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. … Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)
2. Become friends with people who life you up and challenge you and your faith.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
These friendships changed my life. One of my best friends Sellers was the one who first told me that she had prayed for changed desires and saw that transform her life. I never would have prayed that if I hadn’t have heard her talk about it. We are not meant to do life alone. When I was in high school I thought being a Christian meant sitting at home alone reading your bible while everyone else was out together having fun. But Jesus had 12 trusted friends he pretty much did everything with. Our friends are meant to grow with us, be honest with us, carry us through hard times, and in the same way we’re there for them. Making new friends can be uncomfortable, but keep showing up, keep initiating, keep going places where you know people who love Jesus will be. Life is not easy and we need each other.
3. Realizing our lives are not about ourselves.
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
I don’t want you to read this and hear me say, “this is what worked for me, this can work for you. Follow what I did” Because it is not about me. Hear me say that I am broken and impatient and an overcommitter and really need a savior because I fall short everyday of who I want to be. I’m not worth following but the God I follow IS worth it. He knows I mess up all the time and He’s not mad. He is perfect and forgiving and loving and powerful. The Bible is made up of His own words and it is full of stories about Him taking care of His people in crazy ways. We never have to feel alone or out of control. He is not distant. In college one time in a harder season I prayed out loud in my car with worship music playing, and I can’t describe it but I truly felt his presence with me. Even though life looked nothing the way I wanted it to at the time, I felt like I had this loving creator who made me and had a purpose for me and was closer than He ever had been before. And I knew I was going to be okay.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
There is a lot of darkness in the world. But if Christ is in us we can have confidence that we’ve read the end of the book and the darkness does not overcome the light. Jesus says in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Lauren Ruark is the artist and designer behind Lauren Fuhr Design Co. She loves high school ministry and any creative projects she can get her hands on. She shares her art with the hope of making others’ lives and homes more beautiful, but ultimately pointing them to the true source of beautiful, full life that is in Jesus. She loves being outside and lives live to the full with her husband, AJ, and their dog, Wilson.