Back in 2013, I was asked by Sandals Church to prayerfully consider giving up my career as a successful business owner to come work for the church. I have to admit that it was an incredibly thrilling invitation. As I reflect back, I was very scared and prayed nearly every day for six months before giving my answer. I truly did want to know what God was doing, but fear and confusion seemed to grip every part of my being.
Early on in my life, I had thought God wanted to use me in full time ministry. As a teenager, I specifically remember God asserting that I would do something big for his kingdom. As the years moved forward I gave up on that dream. I made countless mistakes early on and found that I had squandered away my calling. I was now in my mid 40s and believed that God’s plans for me had been taken completely off the table. I even experienced a time of grieving over the loss of what I felt was God’s clear calling. But like I said, the church approached me with an audacious request.
Wrestling with “What Ifs”
Over that period of months seeking God, the wrestling turned to anguish, even anger, on many nights. My wife Kris and I had many stirring conversations on what we might have to give up. I had great difficulty sleeping, our marriage toiled back and forth with the stress of such a calling, and my mind continually wandered the paths of “what if’s” and what I might lose with such uncertainty. I was miserable to say the least. My deep desires to not lose what I had trumped the predilection God had in store for my future. I was a mess, as was the decision which ended up marked with remorse.
I recall specifically the day I reached out to Pastor Dan Zimbardi with my answer. As I mentioned, this meeting came after a very long and tumultuous season of prayer. Walking into his office, there was a distinct lump in my throat with the verge of tears pressing outward on my eyes. I went in to inform him that I was not ready to go into ministry. Like the rich young ruler, I had far too much to lose in order to follow after Jesus. He looked at me with a smile and said, “I understand Jon, maybe we can revisit this down the road.” I left his office with my head down and tears in my eyes. I just could not get past all that I had achieved in the world; it seemingly far outweighed what God was offering. That was a day I’ll never forget.
I continued fervently serving in the church. My eagerness for God was never in question. I simply could not bear the thought of losing everything in order to fulfill that deeply held passion for his kingdom. But a stirring began to take place. An awakening in my soul created a fresh sense of what might be ahead.
Letting Go & Giving In
A couple of years after that fateful “no,” my heart began to change dramatically. Although I loved my current job as a business owner and relished the fruits of my labor, a once cold and distant heart slowly began to wander away from my flesh toward the calling I had all but abandoned. An ache set deep within my spirit that echoed the sentiment “something more is missing.” As God began to radically impress on my heart, every part of me wanted to push it away, but the knocking persisted louder and louder. It was an irresistible woo. I could clearly hear him saying, “Son, it’s time to give up what you have and come serve me.” As I wrestled with God, I began to give in to his will. I found a very deep sense of peace in the process that led me to the telephone.
I made the call to Pastor Dan informing him that I felt it was time; God wanted me to engage in the discussion of full time ministry once again. But, then the silence came, and it was deafening. I heard nothing for month after month. I was beginning to feel defeated. I wondered if God was playing a trick on me. I had now given up the prospect of ministry twice and wondered if I had finally put the nail in the coffin. Was God at his wits end with my faithless drivel? And now, the anger once again crawled its way deep into the crevasse of my desperate heart. In hindsight, I believe he was testing my faith and my patience, and oh, what a painful test that was!
Nearly half a year later, I received a phone call. “Jon, we’d like you to pray about coming on board.” I was again excited beyond belief, but scared to death, all at the same time. I once again was faced with the fact that I would need to make drastic changes in my life, including selling my significant share in the business. Regrettably, I still had a bit of the world nestled deep within me and wanted to feel as little pain as possible. God had other plans. I knew that in order for this change to take place, I would have to make some consequential sacrifices.
Losing to Win
On January 1, 2016, I sold my business and was released by God to join the church in full time ministry. As I glance back over my shoulder, I can honestly say that I have never regretted that decision, not even for one second.
Why do I bring up my own personal story to you? It’s very simple. I believe that God had to take me through some very difficult circumstances to get me exactly where he wanted me. In fact, I believe that most of the time, God takes all of us through grueling situations in order for us to achieve our greatest dreams in this life: his dreams. In nearly every learning experience of my life, the catalyst has seemingly been pain and loss.
As I look back over this past year, the joy has far outweighed the challenges. I have a newfound sense of deep fulfillment that could only come from God. In my faithfulness, he has been faithful. And, though I have seemingly lost much, I have gained so much more.
John 15:1-2 (NLT) says, “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”
It’s the way of the gardener; he prunes back the vine. As he cuts, they grow. If I can be frank with you, God may be wanting to prune back an area of your life. True, it may be painful, especially in the beginning, but the process might yield tremendous fruit for his kingdom in the years to come. It is a journey that is both painful and joy-filled, all at the same time. But how do we experience freedom in our situations?
The Fight to be Real
Friends, if I may be so bold as to say, authenticity is the key. We all struggle with a myriad of issues, and that is not really where the problem lies. The question is how do we overcome our difficulties? If we continue down the same road, our future may end up destroyed or at best, deeply marred. Our disobedience can reach a point where people push away from us and we end up losing out on what God has in store for us.
So what does getting real look like?
- We become real with ourselves (James 1:23, Psalm 51:6, John 8:32)
- We become real with God (1 John 1:9, Matthew 6:33, Psalm 46:10)
- We become real with others (James 5:16, Matthew 18:20, Proverbs 15:22)
Sound a bit cliché? That was never the intention. The encouragement here is to dust off the oft’ used verbiage of our incredible church vision and put it into action! Unfortunately, being real can become the big elephant in the room that everyone sees every day yet few take the time to grab hold of and actually deal with. Has “Real with ourselves, God and others” become another platitude that you mindlessly chant, or is it a part of life that you have intentionally decided to live out? God hopes for the latter.
If you find yourself at a crossroad in your life where anger, confusion, bitterness or the thought of losing it all has taken you down a desperate road, God desires rest for your soul. If you feel you are at a breaking point, allow God (and others) to help you deal and heal before you experience your own set of consequences. Jesus desires for you to walk in total freedom. And here’s the kicker, his plans are far superior than your plans. He may be waiting for you to loosen the grip on your own dreams in order to open your hands to the dreams he has waiting for you.
Reflect on this…
Take some time to quietly meditate on John 15:1-2. Really let the words sink in.
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”
Evaluate the fruit in your own life. Is this fruit born from striving (your efforts) or abiding (God’s empowerment)?
Is there an area or relationship in your life God may be pruning or asking you to release so that you can follow him more intimately?
In what part of your life do you struggle believing that God truly cares for you and desires his best for you? What would it look like for you to release ‘that thing’ over to him to more fully experience the peace that comes from trusting he’ll hold it better than you ever could?