On May 5-6, I went to an amazing conference for worship leaders called LIFT at Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s the home church for the Passion band, David Crowder, pastored by Louie Giglio. Beginning of May. Rain falling. Bad traffic. One car, one suitcase, one man, a newly-surfacing upper-respiratory infection, and an incredible amount of baggage. And I’m not talking about the aforementioned suitcase.
I don’t particularly like going places alone, or doing things alone. I’m an extrovert. It’s kind of in my description to be around people. The last time I went to LIFT was in 2014 with the band of another church I led for. This time, I didn’t have my team. And frankly, I didn’t want to talk to anybody. My nature said to meet people. After all, I was amongst thousands of other worshipers and musicians seeking to worship better, use music better to do it, and for worship to infiltrate the music itself. But I had so much on my mind, I turned into a very small, self-contained galaxy of issues.
I’m trying to wrap up a record that’s months behind schedule.
I have branches of the church I’m trying to help lead into worship.
I live in a town that is full of talent trying to arise but with a community that lacks the ambition to show up to support it.
I have this job that makes the least possible sense for me as a person, but it pays the bills for now.
I live where I don’t really belong.
I fear things going horribly wrong with relationships, and that keeps me from ever stepping out on a limb to figure out if what I feel is reciprocated, leaving me in this limbo of, “Is there something there, or am I just completely crazy?”
All of these together are exploding stars in the self-contained galaxy I took to LIFT. For the better part of two years, that galaxy has been on the verge of collapse with no viable way to sustain itself.
When I showed up at the doors of Passion City Church, before they even opened, I felt myself on the precipice of reclusion, and I was falling into it. I’d told myself I was going to take this opportunity to meet people, make connections and friends, get to know the community of worshipers I am a part of on a larger scale. Yet when I showed up with the first batch of people, I could feel myself sinking into my own shell.
Then this dude named Grant showed up and introduced himself to me. We hung around for a decent amount of the conference. Probably the only reason I talked to anyone at any point. Which is good. Fully-introverted me never does me any good. Fully-introverted me never would have listened to what God had to say. Fully-introverted me is evasive and obsessed with his own problems (read: self-obsessed).
See, it’s not just that I didn’t want to be around people. I just wanted to rest. I wanted to rest my rampant, anxious mind.
If I’d been at home, that would have meant Netflix. Binge-watching some sitcom that I felt described my life. Something to make me laugh. Something that doesn’t take much energy to follow. Yet after several episodes, when the binge would have been over, I would have been right back in the thick of my thoughts because all I did was push pause on them while I did something else. I didn’t just hit stop. It wasn’t really rest.
Louie Giglio said a lot of things that hit me directly in the heart, some of which I’m gonna share in this post. Ironically, they were things that I knew intellectually more than I suppose I truly believed or understood. Things that applied directly to my inability to just rest.
“Worship is a response to seeing God clearly.”
I often find myself looking at my issues rather than God. I want them to go away, and will often stop at nothing to make it happen. Except they’re frequently out of my control.
I can’t control many of the circumstances that have kept me from finishing our album Love And Fear. When I’ve had to come in for work, when I haven’t had dead silence (which is necessary yet hard to get in a home studio situation), when I’ve had preexisting obligations. Yet I stress myself to death about it. I can’t just blow off everything else I have to do, either.
I can’t control whether people engage wherever I minister, whether the audience is with me when I play a show, the job market, what my home is like, or who comes into or leaves my life. I have things I can do to sort of affect how things are, things I can contribute, perspectives I can take; but ultimately, I can’t force every one of my circumstances to be what I want it to be. Ultimately, I’m not in control.
Ultimately, I’m not in control. That isn’t something I like to admit, or to even admit that I have to admit. It’s not exactly that I’m a control freak by nature. Having your hands on the wheel of your car doesn’t make you a control freak. It just means you don’t want to die. You don’t want to be going 70 miles per hour in one direction, need to change direction, and your brakes suddenly don’t work, or your steering wheel locks up.
The hard truth is that life isn’t like that. It isn’t like any metaphor I could ever conjure (and I adore metaphors). But if I had to try, it’s a lot like if you were driving a car full-throttle out of the back of an airplane over the ocean, and you have no parachutes, pontoons, or anything solid to land on anywhere on the planet. See? It just doesn’t work like that. But that’s about as close as I can get!
Point here being, even the wildest metaphor can’t accurately capture what it’s like to live in a world where things aren’t how they’re supposed to be. Even though the truth about where we came from, what we’re made for, and how things really work—even though none of that has changed, the life which was made to make sense no longer does.
Things aren’t the way they were meant to be.
A world meant for life is full of death.
A world meant for hope is full of despair.
A world meant to rest now scrambles for dear life so that our dreams don’t have to die.
It’s really no wonder why nonsense metaphors sometimes seem more sensible than cold logic. Deep down, we all know things aren’t what they should be, that the truth is much greater than the sorrow we feel, which is what makes sorrow so sorrowful, but also what makes the greater truth so much greater.
“God will show His sovereignty in all the affairs of man.”
Ultimately, I’m not in control. Even though God may have delegated a decent amount of free will to us so that we could live life genuinely, ultimately, all people in heaven and in earth answer to His authority and are under His sovereignty. So, if I’m freefalling into an endless ocean with no way to survive, He can do whatever He wants to suspend me above the water.
Remember that the same God who lifted dry ground out of the water in a day, turned the water itself into solid footing. Either we can believe that or not. It wasn’t Peter’s wishing or work that made it happen. It was faith in the one who made the water in the first place. Faith placed in the one who is sovereign over all can realign a world, a heart, in disarray.
If He wanted to, He could have calmed the storm, moved them to dry land, at the snap of a finger, on the smallest of whims. Instead, He made a way where there was no way. He showed Peter that faith in Him was enough to stand on, whereas others would sink in their circumstances. And when you start sinking, a lot of times you start panicking. He did, but even then, Jesus didn’t let him go. When Peter called out to be saved, Jesus didn’t abandon him to the waves. Even in his failure to believe or do the simple task laid before him (that is, to walk a few feet), Jesus didn’t let him go. (In fact, let me just point out that Peter asked Jesus to call him out on the water.)
Then there’s that looming question…
“… but what about me?”
There’s a difference between rest and distraction. We often confuse the two because we distract ourselves from the things we want to rest from, all the while failing to cease from work because distraction takes effort. Distraction cannot truly give you rest because you’re simply diverting your energy to focusing on something other than your problems, rather than just silencing everything in order to let your thoughts and feelings dissipate and settle.
So in the end, we’re trading work for different work rather than for rest. We work to handle our lives, then we work to avoid our lives, and that isn’t rest. You don’t just breathe in one direction continuously, do you? No! Either you run out of room to breathe in what’s good, or you fail to breathe out what isn’t. And what is a life lived only to gasp for breath?
Not that I have anything against binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, but it brings out the escapist in me. I naturally like to finish a story, which makes TV shows with great story arcs (The Blacklist, Criminal Minds sometimes, etc.) particularly fascinating for me… but it’s way too easy for that to be overshadowed by the temptation to run from my problems. My problems ironically end up distracting me from the show I use to distract myself from my problems. So when the TV shuts off, and I’m climbing into bed, everything I’ve been repressing explodes in my mind.
It’s my own refusal to deal with things that keeps me up at night. It’s my own refusal to rest that keeps me from resting. Seems pretty absurd to hear it that way. It’s amazing how simple truths can stare us in the face like this. Like someone who wants desperately to hold you, yet you can’t even look them in the eye.
At LIFT, I had no choice but to look this truth in the eye. Other than Grant, I was basically there alone. Me and my own thoughts, and Jesus. No more, no less. It’s funny because as a producer, that’s the perfect way to capture what’s important: no noise besides what you want to capture.
“Break down your walls.”
Sitting in the parking lot at the end of the conference, I was silent, except for the jams playing through my speakers. I just took it in. I didn’t think about one thing in particular. I just waited. Sometimes, we take in so much inspiration and information from that kind of event that we fail to let it all unpack before returning to our lives. It was in this moment that the message to break down my walls started seeping into my heart and showing me what I need to do.
I have a comfort zone. We all do. Mine consists of a lot of things, but in order to move forward in my life, I have to leave my comfort zone behind. God has a plan for me, and it isn’t to stay idle.
It isn’t to give up on finishing the record just because of some setbacks.
It isn’t to pour into things that God isn’t causing to be fruitful.
It isn’t to keep working a dead-end job.
It isn’t to fear what I could lose by stepping out on a limb to see if a friendship has more in it than just friendship.
It’s to walk on water. And I asked for it.
Why should I be surprised that I’ve been asked to step out of my comfort zone to do it? And as frightening as it is, why should I be surprised that I’m more at peace now than before I had silence enough to rest. I was burning out into the night trying to keep myself safe, but living in a comfort zone isn’t the reality God wants for me. I didn’t even realize that’s what I was making for myself. I couldn’t see that until I woke up, and you can’t wake up until you rest.
The thing that makes it difficult is I have a hard time letting go of things, even when it’s time to let go. If I’m used to things going bad, I hold onto that sentiment, which keeps me from taking risks over really good things. When I am invested in a project or a community or a person, letting things fade when I’ve done all I can do is the last thing I want, but that keeps me from finding other things to pour into that will bear fruit and grow.
I’ve spent a long time working to keep up this lifestyle of comfort, a lifestyle that God doesn’t want for me, because guess what: He doesn’t want anyone to stagnate and die within their souls. He wants us to flourish. Even with the noblest of intentions, it has nearly ruined me to stay in the same set of circumstances, no matter how comfortable, no matter how low-risk. It has been laborious to cling to the notion that I’m okay with that. I’m not.
I’m not okay with giving up on the record.
I’m not okay with fruitless ministry.
I’m not okay with my current career path.
I’m not okay with using the excuse of “protecting my heart” to justify not pursuing anyone.
I’m not okay with any of this.
It takes meticulous work to keep this up. That means that in order to move forward with my life, I need to rest. I need to rest from thinking that I’m not going to be held up the Spirit of God. I need to rest from thinking that if any of the things I’m drawn to is not really what my Father has in mind, He will not redirect my paths, because He will. He will pull me from where I don’t need to be, help me learn from that place, and set me on the right road.
And guess what.
All of this, whether it works out or not, will be uncomfortable.
I need to rest from personal comfort to embrace the fullness of the life that my Father has laid before me.
I need to rest from using my past experiences as a template for how well or badly things will go. Why? Because I don’t know that things will or won’t work out. But I know that my Father will not let me go, even when I do start to sink. I know what it’s like to stand, but I also know what it’s like to sink. It puts your heart into chaos to not know whether or not you’re going to drown in your circumstances.
A heart in disarray can’t rest, but a heart in the hands of the sovereign one will rest.
Rest began for me in that parking lot. In the waiting for traffic to move. In the near-silence. In the shutting-out of distractions. I had the hotel for one more night, but I’d rather have just gone home. I don’t like to be idle. I’d rather have made the journey and been productive the next day. Back to the grind. God didn’t want that for me, though. He wanted me to take the night, stop my life, and just rest in everything He was opening up for me, rather than continue to resist it, even unwittingly, for safety’s sake.
So I stayed in Atlanta, went straight to the hotel, and just shut down. Barely touched my phone. Didn’t really think about much. Didn’t really text anyone, call anyone. Went to bed hours before normal. I don’t remember how long I slept, but for the first time in a long time, it was restful sleep. Why? Because I knew I was in the right hands, on the right trajectory, for the right reasons, for the first time in my life. I’ve always questioned everything about my life, and it’s been paralyzing. But now I have this assurance that if I just step out, I will be okay. Even if I start to sink, I am held up by His hand.
Either way, if all I have is what I’m losing here, I’d rather die in love than live in fear.