My plan for my life started to go awry toward the end of my time in college. Up until that point, I had set out to finish my engineering degree at Purdue, pursue an MBA at Harvard, and move up into high-level management in corporate America. I would marry a pretty girl and take several vacations a year and give a tenth of all I made to God. That was my idea of serving Him. That’s when God threw a wrench in my plan. The more I sought Him, the more I felt drawn to ministry. Initially, I didn’t like the sound of that, but I was smart enough to know that in obeying God I would find fulfillment and satisfaction.
Over the next season, God began to show me an overall picture of what He had called me to do. By the early 1980s, He revealed I would one day influence many nations with His Word as long as I stayed in obedience to Him. Needless to say, it blew my mind. I saw no way this could ever be accomplished. I was a small-town boy who didn’t know anyone in ministry on a national or international level.
I’ve learned God will give you the overall picture of your life’s calling if you seek Him earnestly—but He doesn’t show you all the steps to get there. Look at the life of Joseph. God gave him a dream at a young age that one day he would rule over his many brothers—but then everything seemed to go terribly off course. His brothers plotted to kill him. Then they sold him as a slave. Eventually, he was wrongfully accused and imprisoned. Most of us would have thought God had abandoned us at that point. Little did Joseph know, through all of these hardships, God was forming his character and positioning him to step into the promise on his life. These weren’t detours—they were preparation for his destiny.
Or consider David’s example. He was anointed to be the next king of Israel as a teenager. He then went on to kill Goliath and became a military hero. Everything looked like it was on track—and then he spent the better part of a decade running for his life. There were probably many times when it would have been easy for David to doubt his calling to one day rule as king.
The road God leads us on doesn’t always make sense while we’re traveling it. This is why we are told, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6 NLT).
Back to my story. A few months later, during my senior year of college, I fasted and prayed, seeking God’s direction and will for my life. Shortly after, He gave me the next step, and it seemed totally opposite of the natural direction toward ministry. I felt the logical next step was to go to Bible school, but the Lord showed me I was to interview for a position as an engineer. I met with many companies on our campus and knew almost immediately I was to work for the Rockwell Corporation in Dallas, Texas. This didn’t make sense to me because there were no Bible schools in Dallas (that I was aware of). I had thirteen job offers in various other cities—some of which had Bible schools—and everyone offered more money than Rockwell. However, I just obeyed.
Once I arrived in Dallas, I walked into a church, and the Lord showed me that I was to plant myself there. It was in this church that I was raised up through serving, which was the start of the path that brought me where I am now.
Looking back, I can see how God ordained every step of the way—but I didn’t necessarily see this clearly at the time. In your life, you’ll find the road God leads you on doesn’t always make sense while you’re traveling it. Travel it anyway. Your role in fulfilling God’s call on your life is to follow Him with simple obedience and trust. His role is to do the leading—and He’s pretty good at it.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5–6 NLT)
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Imagine you are a newlywed looking to build your first house with your spouse. As you shop around for a prospective builder, you find one whose work you like, but whose price seems a bit high. As you and your spouse continue to cycle through prospective builders, you keep struggling to find one who can build what you want within the budget you’ve set.
That all changes one day when you find a builder who looks far more promising than the rest. After looking at your list of desired features, he assures you he can build your dream house under your desired budget. He even tells you there will be enough left over for a pool in the backyard! He tells you the other builders you’ve spoken with are just ripping you off.
When you walk through his model home, you are in awe of the beautiful vaulted ceilings, the ornate woodwork, the stunning granite countertops, and the elegant oak and marble floors. As you compare his proposed price to that of the other builders, the decision seems like a no-brainer. You sign a contract, secure financing, and shortly thereafter, you receive word that the ground has been broken and construction on your new home is underway.
You can barely contain your excitement. For the first time in your life, the two of you are going to have a home to call your own. You lie awake at night dreaming of the family dinners you will enjoy some day, kids playing in the yard, the Christmas parties you will host together, and the life that will be shared in your new establishment.
Several weeks into the project, the builder calls you to let you know it is ahead of schedule and under budget, as promised. Excited to see where things are, you grab your spouse and drive across town to see the progress for yourselves. As you pull into the new neighborhood, most homes being built appear to be in the beginning stages, but yours is much further along than the others. The framing is up, the siding is hung, and the floorboards have even been installed, meaning you can walk through the house and begin to envision the layout!
As the builder gives you a tour, you are blown away by the efficiency of his work. It’s all coming together even better than you expected! However, when you go down the stairs into the basement, things take a massive turn for the worse. To your dismay, you find that instead of a solid foundation, the house is sitting on nothing but the ground below it. In a moment, your heart sinks and you get this terribly uneasy feeling.
You ask the builder how he could possibly ignore such a critical part of the homebuilding process, hoping for a reasonable explanation. He begins to explain that in order to give you what you wanted within your budget, he had to leave some things out—all the while assuring you it would be fine. Sensing your frustration, he tells you to come back tomorrow to see the new state-of-the-art windows he is going to install. But you don’t care about this at all. You are completely deflated. You feel cheated—and understandably so. This man had sold you on the features of the house while ignoring the most critical part—the foundation.
This scenario is preposterous. Would any of us ever even consider hiring a builder like that? Of course not! But the far more important question is this: Are you that builder? When it comes to building our faith, Jesus warned us that many will build without a foundation.
Near the beginning of His ministry, He told this parable:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”—Matthew 7:24–27 ESV
On the surface, both men appeared to have built well. However, when the storms came, the strength of each man’s foundation was truly tested and revealed for what it was.
Now, it’s easy for each of us to assume we are the wise builder, but we shouldn’t be so quick to do so. The difference between sand and rock is far more subtle than you may think—one is simply small particles of the other, conforming to whatever presses against it. Right now in our culture, there is an increasing tendency to focus on parts of God’s Word we find comfortable while ignoring parts that are hard to live out or may offend someone. We end up looking to God only for what we want, for what makes us feel good—but neglect looking to Him for what we need, which is a transformed life that conforms to His image. When we do that, we end up with a faulty foundation.
When things are good, it is hard to spot the difference. But when the storms come—and rest assured, storms will come—your foundations will be revealed for what they truly are. When that time comes, will you have built on sand, having merely listened to Jesus’s words? Or will you have built a solid foundation upon a rock by putting Jesus’s words into practice?
The apostle James soberly warns us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” —James 1:22 NIV
In other words, don’t build on a foundation of sand. You would never hire a builder like that, so don’t be one. In the end, you are only cheating yourself by building something that will not last. Instead, embrace Jesus’s words fully, incorporating them into every aspect of your life, and build your faith on a foundation that will stand the test of time.
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I’m one of many in my generation who has been taught more about our individual walk with Jesus than about how all of us believers are one body. Only recently has the reality of this truth about the church become more clear to me. I don’t want to mislead you—I’ve certainly understood this truth in part in the past, but not to the extent I do now.
As the Holy Spirit has awakened my awareness to this reality, I’ve often thought of the Naval Sea, Air, and Land teams, commonly known as the Navy SEALs.
I have a friend who is a member of these elite warriors. He has been with SEAL teams for fifteen years and is currently an instructor. After pondering these truths about the body of Christ for some time, I decided to contact him. I knew SEALs were a close band of brothers, so I wanted to probe deeper. I called him and my first questions were, “How do SEALs view and interact with each other? How do they produce such a tight-knit community? And what is entailed in their training?”
His first comment to me, “The last person a SEAL thinks of is himself.”
I loved how clear and concise he was right out of the gate. I knew it would be a revealing phone call and remained silent so he could continue.
“We value our brother next to us more than our self. We never have to cover our backs, because we know our SEAL brothers will.”
At that point he started “preaching” to me: “If you look at the sixth chapter of Ephesians, you’ll find the armor of God is all forward facing— nothing covers our rear side. The reason is that God intends for each of us to do what the SEALs do, to cover each other’s backs—to think as one unit, one body. If we don’t operate this way, I have only one person covering my back: me. However, if we all function as a team, I have every guy in my platoon covering my back.”
He continued, “As a Navy SEAL, everything I do is for the sake of my brother next to me. We believe this to the very core of our being. We are trained not to think of ourselves as individuals, but as a unit. Even though we are trained as experts in different areas—explosives, communications, sniper, medic, JTAC, weapons, breaching, and so on, we function as one unit. We never go on a mission with the mentality of, Some of us may not come back, or only forty percent of us will make it back. No, our attitude is, One hundred percent of us go in and one hundred percent of us come back.”
I was captivated by what he was revealing. Eventually, I asked, “How do you train this attitude into your recruits?”
“You can’t!” he replied. “The Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training is considered the most arduous, difficult training in the military and is why approximately ninety percent of those who sign up for the SEAL program either quit or get washed out. What remains is a unit of highly trained, fully equipped individuals. Each one values the man next to him more than himself and is willing to die for a cause bigger than himself.”
He then said, “John, if only the church would behave this way. What would happen?”
Sadly, I could only agree. However, the truth is that we do have the potential for this. It is a very real part of the divine nature placed in us when we are born again. The preaching and teaching we receive, which is our training, should locate this attitude and flesh it out. But if we only hear a consumer version of the gospel, we will develop the wrong thing— our unredeemed flesh. This is largely why the modern church is in the shape we are in. Many of us only want to be encouraged and uplifted, rather than challenged. We’re missing so much.
My friend is a warrior, yet he perceived the weakness of the church in modern times. He knew that if one member of a SEAL platoon was weak, compromised, or had abandoned his post, all the team members would suffer as a group or die because of that one person’s laziness or incompetence. What is ingrained in him is what we need embedded in our psyche as members of the body of Christ. Let’s remember the words of the apostle Paul:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3–4)
We’re all in this together. Let’s watch each other’s backs.
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What’s your kryptonite?
For many years, mine was porn. I was introduced to pornography at a young age from a friend whose dad had some magazines, and I quickly became addicted. It just had a pull on me. By the time I was in high school, the battle with lust had begun to consume me. Even after becoming a Christian in 1979, I just couldn’t shake it. I was leading campus Bible studies, studying the Word, praying frequently—even winning people to Jesus. But in spite of all of that, I just couldn’t get free.
Then, when I was twenty-three, I thought I finally caught my big break. I married my dream girl, Lisa Bevere, who I considered to be the most beautiful girl in the world. I thought that would alleviate the problem, but instead of making it easier, it actually got worse—and now it was having devastating consequences on someone else as well.
I continued to struggle for several years into our marriage, and it was affecting us in the bedroom and beyond. It didn’t seem to matter how much I hated it. Something about it just kept drawing me back, and I’d eventually find myself falling into it again.
It was killing me.
At one point, I was so desperate to be free that I confessed my struggle to a world-renowned minister. I thought if anyone could help me, he could. I didn’t know anyone with a stronger deliverance ministry! Like a good father, he rebuked me strongly, saying, “Stop it! You just have to stop it!” Then, he prayed a strong prayer over me for deliverance from this addiction. Still, I remained in bondage. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, nothing worked to break free.
Then, nine months later, I went on a four-day fast—and everything changed. I’ve been totally free now for thirty years.
Now I was happy to finally be walking in freedom, but as I looked back on things, I was somewhat puzzled. So I asked God why I wasn’t able to get free when I opened up and confessed my struggle to the minister nine months ago. I wanted to know what was different, because I was at a loss.
What God revealed to me was profound. The entire focus of my prayer life had changed dramatically over that time period—and the results were that my life followed suit.
When I couldn’t get free, my prayers sounded something like, “God, use me to reach nations. Use me to impact multitudes for Your Name.” My prayers were about what I would do for God. I was scared that my sin would get in the way of my ministry—that eventually, it would rear its ugly head and take me down like I’d seen happen to many others. I feared that.
But in those nine months leading up to that fast where I got completely delivered, the language of my prayers changed. I started praying, “God, I want to know You the best a man can know You. I want to walk intimately with You. Keep me from doing anything that hurts Your heart.”
In other words, the focus of my prayers had pivoted from being self-centered to other-centered. My primary concern was no longer the fear that my sin would limit me from my calling. It was that I didn’t want to hurt the heart of the ones I loved—neither God, nor my beautiful wife, Lisa. Where my primary motivation before had been fear, my new motivation was love. That was a game-changer.
Fear will always keep you a slave. It lacks the power to set you free. It is a tyrant. And while it may operate under the guise of protection, it stems from selfish roots. That was at the heart of my problem to begin with! At the core of my ongoing struggle with pornography was self-centeredness—so how could fear, which focuses one’s attention inward, possibly lead me to freedom? It was taking me in the exact opposite direction!
What set me free was love—love for God and love for others.
Up until that point, I desired to be free because I feared the negative personal consequences of my sin. Fear is never a strong enough reason. It won’t lead you closer to God.
When my prayer life shifted, getting free became about something so much more. The driving force for change was that I didn’t want to hurt the heart of the one I loved. It wasn’t a worldly sorrow focused on myself. It was a godly sorrow that led to true repentance. When I saw how much God loved me, it pained me greatly that I would ever do anything to hurt Him. How could I possibly go on grieving the One who loved me so deeply?
If you’ve been trying to get free for a while and feel like you’ve been spinning your wheels, I’d encourage you to really examine your motivation. Start praying differently. Begin crying out to know God intimately. Ask Him for a deep sorrow over things that grieve His heart. Make it about genuine love for God and others rather than fear of personal loss. When you do, you’ll find the power to walk out what you couldn’t walk out before.
Remember, love never fails.
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There was a time in our marriage when Lisa and I were offended with each other for about eighteen months straight.
The same argument resurfaced over and over again. We even made subtle jabs at each other in front of our children. The older ones were not oblivious to what was happening, and they would make comments like, “Can you please not talk about this during dinner?” Our pain and disunity were a source of constant tension in our household, and they were eating away at our marriage and family.
One night, after we berated each other in our usual fashion, I stormed out of the house. I was furious with Lisa, and I immediately started complaining to God. I lamented Lisa’s shortcomings and shortsightedness. I felt like God had stuck me with a wife who was unsupportive and unnecessarily critical. How, I wondered, could I continue in life with a wife like this? I’ll never forget how God responded. The Holy Spirit didn’t say a word to me about how sorry He felt for me, nor did He address the pain I was in; rather He simply whispered to me, “Son, I want you to think of one thing you appreciate about Lisa and then thank Me for it.”
It took me a while to respond, but I finally mumbled, “She’s a good mom.” As the words escaped my mouth, I felt a stirring of life in my soul. God prompted me to continue. I said, “Lord, thank You that Lisa’s a really good cook.” Then, “Thank You that she’s beautiful.” More words began to flow, and I proceeded to gratefully list Lisa’s good qualities at the rate of a machine gun. At that point I was no longer upset with Lisa; I was upset with myself. I thought, You’re a complete idiot! Your wife is amazing, and you’ve been a jerk to her. What is wrong with you?
I became painfully aware of how horribly I had treated Lisa. She was my chosen wife and the mother of our children, an absolute blessing from God, and I had treated her like an inconvenience to my calling.
When I left the house, Lisa was fed up with me and I with her. But now I just wanted to go and tell her how grateful I was for her. As I rushed home, I thought to myself, I may not be well-received, but I just have to tell her how grateful I am for her.
Once I arrived at the house, I found Lisa and exclaimed, “Lisa, I am so sorry! I’ve been such a jerk. Please forgive me. You are an amazing mother and excellent wife, and you are the desire of my heart.” I shared what God had brought to my remembrance, then started praising her for all her magnificent traits, qualities, and gifts. The words poured out of my heart like a river.
As I spoke, Lisa softened and began to cry. Unbeknownst to me, while I was gone, she had prayed, “God, if you bring John back and he tells me he’s sorry, I’m going to open my heart again.”
I was able to experience the transformational power of gratitude firsthand. When I made a conscious choice to focus on who God had created Lisa to be and began to thank Him for it, my heart toward her shifted. Gratitude became a catalyst for healing and restored intimacy in our relationship.
Wherever you find yourself in your marriage, consider the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:18:
Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (NLT)
What are some things about your spouse that you are grateful for? No matter how easy or difficult this may seem, begin expressing these things to God in prayer. Then take it one step further and go tell your spouse what you appreciate about them. Whether you are seeking healing in your marriage or simply a deeper intimacy with your spouse, I promise you the result will be worth it.
If you got something out of this short blog post and want to go deeper, check out The Story of Marriage course, which you can access for free in the MessengerX app.
I want to write to those of you who, no matter how hard you try, feel stuck. Maybe you’ve been following Jesus for years, or perhaps you’re just getting started—but you find yourself unable to overcome a certain struggle that keeps rearing its ugly head.
If this describes you, keep reading.
First, know that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Jesus will never stop forgiving you. He sees the torment your sin brings you every time you fall. He knows you truly want to be free. And by His grace, these words today can help you.
So if you’ve fallen, or keep falling, don’t stay in shame. Every time you fall, keep getting back up, keep repenting, and keep running boldly before the Throne of Grace, where you find mercy (Hebrews 4:16).
Next, though—and this is key—I want you to examine your motive for changing. If your heart is not in the right place, you’ll likely find it very difficult to get and stay free from whatever you are struggling with. That’s what I experienced in my own life. Allow me to share my story.
Years ago, I struggled with an addiction to pornography. I became addicted several years before coming to Christ and even after getting married and working in ministry, I could not get free. I once had one of the most well-respected ministers in America lay hands on me and pray for me to be delivered from my addiction. None of it worked.
My freedom didn’t come until I changed my priorities. In the beginning, my desire to be free was driven by fear. I wanted God to set me free because I feared my sin would get in the way of my ministry and God’s call on my life. I was afraid of getting caught and being exposed. In other words, my motivation for being free was self-focused. I was worried about the negative effects my sin would have in my own life.
But then my heart shifted in a powerful way. God revealed to me that even in my repentance, I was making it all about me. I stopped being motivated by fear and instead, I allowed love to be the driving force for change. Fear looks inward at the self, but love looks outward.
More than anything else, I began to focus on how my decisions were affecting my intimacy with Jesus. I started caring about how my sin affected God. I became grieved over my sin because I realized I was hurting the heart of the One I loved.
To put it differently, I began to experience true godly sorrow over my sin.
This was a game changer.
In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul contrasts two kinds of sorrows—godly sorrow that leads to salvation and worldly sorrow that brings death. My story illustrates both of these sorrows. At first, my sorrow was worldly, meaning it was self-focused. I was worrying about what would happen to me as a consequence of my sin.
But later, my sorrow became godly. I became concerned over how my sin was hurting God and others. The focus of my sorrow and repentance shifted from fear to love.
It has made all the difference.
If you want to get free and stay free, start with your why. Without the right force driving you, you’ll just keep spinning your wheels.
If you want to go learn how to identify and demolish strongholds in your life, grab a copy of my book Killing Kryptonite.