My pastor asked me to write and read a letter to our congregation about how God changed me. This is that letter.
I’m a Christian and I was once addicted to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes & work.
In the past, whenever I told my story, I mentioned my drug overdoses, crimes, and some of the terrible things I did to myself and to others. Today, I want to focus on something different.
While my addictions were a serious problem, they weren’t the main issue. My addictions were a symptom of a deeper problem.
I’m over 60 years old now and I haven’t been an addict for decades. But, it wasn’t until my late 40’s that I fixed my deeper problem.
It would be easy to say that the reason I became an addict was that alcoholism ran in my family. There’s no doubt that my family history influenced me toward addictions. But I want to tell you about why I HID in my addictions. I want to tell you about my deeper problem.
That deeper problem—my real problem—was fear.
I’m not talking about the fear of death. I’m not talking about the fear of pain. I’m not talking about the fear of evil. I’m talking about a much more sinister fear.
I’ll tell you in detail about that fear, but first, listen to what fear caused me to do.
When I was little I wanted to join Cub Scouts, but at the last minute, I backed out. I remember being afraid to join, but I didn’t know what I was afraid of. I was too young to understand it then.
Even so, it was fear that prevented me from doing something I wanted to do.
Baseball, football, basketball. It was fear that caused me to never learn how to play those games. I was afraid to try. I didn’t know WHY I was afraid to try.
And right now I am tempted. I am tempted to not mention any of my story or my battle with fear.
I’m tempted toward shame. I’m tempted to think of myself as a loser. But I won’t give in to this temptation, because I was just a kid then, and I didn’t know why I was afraid.
The sad thing about that Cub Scout event is that once again, fear prevented me from doing something I wanted to do.
Of course, not knowing how to play baseball, football or basketball also made me somewhat of an outcast. All the other kids played those games, so I learned to make excuses about why I couldn’t play. And I chose to make friends with kids that were either too heavy or too skinny to play those games. They never got picked, so I was safe with them.
Well…so it was fear that dictated even what friends I would have.
Fear prevented me from joining all sorts of activities. Fear often made me awkward around people. That awkwardness led to insults from bullies…and sometimes beatings. That all led to me being more afraid of people.
Eventually, I made a habit of cutting school classes to avoid the fear I felt around people. Yet, I was actually smart. I could answer most of the questions asked by my teachers, but I would never raise my hand. Instead, I would slouch low in my desk. I tried to hide behind the kid in front of me, so the teacher wouldn’t call on me. Why did I do that? I knew the answer to the teacher’s question. In fact, sometimes, I was the only one who knew the answer. But I wouldn’t raise my hand. I didn’t know why, but I was afraid. Afraid of what?
As time passed, I learned to avoid situations that would put me in front of people. Then a weird thing happened.
After years of practicing the drums alone in my basement, a band asked me to audition. They were professionals who actually made money playing music. The crazy thing is I went to the audition.
Now, why would somebody who is afraid of people want to be in a band that plays in front of people? The answer is I needed money. And I figured I might be okay because drummers are BEHIND the rest of the musicians.
I got the job. I was the drummer. And for years, every time I walked on stage, I almost passed out. Fear.
Later, when I was on tour with the band, one night something happened in my hotel room. It was a few hours before I had to be on stage. I was warming up by tapping with my drumsticks into a pillow. I was alone.
Then, all at once, I was not alone. I was aware of a presence in the room. I don’t know how, but I knew it was God. I swear I heard him say, “Get the Bible.”
I started to say I didn’t have a Bible, but I remembered that somebody put a Bible in the nightstand. I got the Bible, knelt on the floor, and opened it. I don’t remember what I read, but I do remember that it felt like it cut my soul. I wept. And at that moment, I turned myself over to Him.
For the first time, I sensed peace as I had never known it. And when I entered the stage that night, I wasn’t so bound by fear.
Now, I would like to tell you that once I came to Jesus, I didn’t have any more problems with fear. But that would be a lie. Fear returned.
After some years, I left professional music, and time passed. Then three significant things happened.
I became a husband. I became a father. And I became a pastor.
Yes, I was a Christian. Yes, I studied and knew the Bible. Yes, I loved God. Yes, I wanted to live as God says we should…and I worked hard at it. Yet fear would show up again and again. How could this be?
I found myself in a position of leadership as a husband, a father, and a pastor. When you’re in leadership, people expect you to have answers. But what if you’re wrong? What if you don’t have an answer? They expect you to lead them, but what if you lead them wrong?
Now, if you stay at it, you learn to put your fear aside and just do what people expect. You take your best shot and a lot of times it plays out and you’re safe. You made the right call. Yet…it all still bothered me…why was I afraid?
As a husband, I was afraid of not being a good enough husband. And I was afraid of not making enough money to support my family.
As a father, I was afraid of messing up my children.
As a pastor, I was afraid of not having the answers for people in need.
And I was afraid of saying to anybody, “I don’t know.”
Worst of all…I was a Christian, a pastor, fear OWNED me and I couldn’t stop it. How could that be?
I was certain I had disappointed God because I couldn’t get over my fear. And why would God put me in a job that required me to be with people all the time?
Wasn’t he listening?
I was afraid of people!
Some years later, God showed me something about this fear.
You see, on the surface, it seemed like it was fear of people, but that wasn’t it exactly. Then it seemed like fear of failure, but that wasn’t really the issue. It was a fear of rejection.
Rejection says you’re not accepted. You’re not accepted because you are not enough.
You’re not enough.
I said to God, “That’s my problem… I am not enough….”
God said, “I AM enough.”
I said, “Ok, but I am NOT enough.”
He said, “I AM enough.”
I said, “I am not.”
He said, “I…AM.”
And this fool still did not comprehend what God was saying.
Years passed as I carried the weight and pain of fear until one day I sat alone in my office…sad.
I was sad about the affairs of the Church. I loved God’s Church. Though I was often fearful, I still loved God’s people. I had spent the entire day with one saint after another. I listened to their problems and I tried to help.
Then. In one swift moment. That same sense of presence I had years ago in that hotel room was now in this room.
I hadn’t been praying. I wasn’t doing, “holy things.” But there was no doubt, again, here was the Holy One.
I sensed the power of creation in him….the power to give and take life.
I was aware of his eyes of fire.
I was aware that nothing can withstand him. I felt in my bones the reality that no mere man can see God as he is and live. Just to behold the Holy One would extinguish my existence.
It seemed to me that I should not move. Don’t even move my eyes. Be cautious with my next breath.
I was positive he held me together and could just as easily allow me to disintegrate. I was aware of his immensity…and…my smallness.
I felt terror.
Here was Almighty God, and here was a weak, fear-filled man.
Had he lost patience because I let him down so many times with this fear that I could not overcome?
He remained silent for what seemed like hours. He allowed me to sense his overwhelming ability while I was terribly aware of my inability.
Then he spoke.
But he wasn’t angry. He was somehow in my pain. He was kind, compassionate, understanding. I somehow knew he didn’t want it to take this long for me to get this broken. That was my fault.
He waited for this moment when I would be so weary that I would finally hear. He wasn’t angry with me. He was sad. He didn’t want me to suffer as I had.
I sensed tears in his eyes when he spoke these words to me…
“I never told you that you had to have all the answers. I never said you had to be able to do everything. I told you to bring it to me.”
And then he was gone.
And I remembered 1 Peter 5:7. “Give all your worries and cares to God because he cares for you.”
I knew that verse. But I never knew it as I knew it that moment.
I sat in my chair and remembered so many other verses just like 1 Peter. They all carried the same message.
He is God and I am not. He created me because he wanted me. He loves me regardless of what I – think of me. He wants to act like my father…he wants to protect me, provide for me. He wants to take care of me and do the things that I cannot do.
And all these years, he was telling me the answer to my fear. And I heard the answer many times. But hearing is not the same as believing. It’s not the same as trusting Him.
I am ashamed to say it, but fear ruled me because I knew the Bible, I just didn’t believe it all.
How strange it seemed. My favorite verse had the answer right in front of me for most of my life. Proverbs 3:5-6
“Trust in the LORD with ALL your heart – AND – Don’t rely on…your own understanding…”
The trouble with being smart is it’s easy to rely on your own understanding. You’re smart. You can figure things out. And—without really trying—you can figure God out…right out of your daily life.
Now, it’s not that God didn’t want me to use the smart brain he gave me. It’s that he didn’t want me to only rely on it.
That’s because he’s not only Almighty God, he’s also…Father.
The whole idea of fatherhood was his. He created the word, father, and he loves being a father. He wants to provide for me as a good father does. And by not fully relying on him, I robbed myself of experiencing him as my father.
It made sense. I had always relied on my own smartness. While I was aware of my abilities, at the same time, I saw lit up in neon, my inabilities. It was simple, I believed my inabilities were so great that it didn’t matter how good I was. I was still…not good enough.
I was fearful of rejection, of not being accepted. I was fearful of not being enough. And I was certain that I wasn’t enough…for anybody or anything.
And there…waiting patiently…was my heavenly Father. He kept whispering, “You don’t have to be enough. There is no such thing. I am enough and I have you. Believe me. Believe me.”
And…I finally did.
I found out that how I learn to believe him is by just doing what he said in his Word. I first must know what his Word says. Then I must obey it.
Because, when I choose to disobey, I am saying, “I know what you said God, but I got this. I think I have a better idea.” God wouldn’t have said what he said if his idea was a bad one…he’s God…he doesn’t have bad ideas.
So today, I’ve come to believe that he not only loves me, but he wants me. And when I can’t understand why I should do something the Bible says, then…
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don’t rely on your own understanding.”
And now…fear no longer owns me.
1st John 4:18 says that God’s love drives out fear.
And John 15 teaches me that to really learn God’s love I must obey him.
And that love then throws out fear…like rubbish.
This is a letter I wrote about me.
That’s who I was.
That’s not who I am today.
I learned what it means to be his son. I discovered him as Father. I learned the importance of this truth….
He formed me (Psalm 139:13-16, Jeremiah 29:11). He redeemed me (John 3:16). He infused me with himself (Ephesians 3:20). He empowered me with spiritual gifts (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 1 Peter 4:11).
He took all I learned about fear, about addictions, about my inability and his ability, about his love and my need for his love, about being broken and allowing him to fix me; he took all that experience and combined it with his power, guidance & gifts within me.
Then he asked me to help others discover the same truth. He asked me to help broken Christians to know him as the Father he is and to finally find freedom, wholeness, and purpose.
I am grateful.