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digging deep and reaching out
By Mark Hall, Tim Luke
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2014 Mark Hall
All rights reserved.
IF I CAN JUST ...
You were meant to do more than just survive. You were meant to thrive.
You were not meant to struggle to make it through the week, the day, the next hour. You were not meant for your world to feel like a weight, for the break of dawn to be the starter pistol for another meaningless rat race. You were not meant to be shackled by anxiety, worry, and fear. No, you were meant for so much more.
You were meant to have life and to have it more abundantly. That is the promise of the eternal God.
You were meant to dig deep and to reach out.
You were meant to know God and to make him known.
You were meant to point to the one hope, the one anchor, the one true source of joy, peace, and contentment for the entire human race. His name is Jesus.
Surviving is for those who have no hope. That's not you—not if you're God's child.
You were meant to thrive.
I'm not saying you won't have trouble in this life. Only the false teachers of the prosperity gospel claim otherwise. They promise prosperity while using Scriptures written from prison or during some of the lowest moments in the lives of godly men. Out of Jesus' twelve disciples, only one escaped martyrdom, and he was exiled to a desolate island. I still can't figure how that entitles us to buy a Benz. Without exception, all of us will have some bad days. But Jesus tells us to take heart. He has overcome the world, which means we can thrive amid it all (John 16:33).
When I was in high school, the word thrive was not in my vocabulary. It felt like the best I could do was to survive. As I struggled with attention deficit disorder and dyslexia long before most folks knew of their existence, school days felt like a mix of labor camp, summer camp (recess and lunch), and the next embarrassment that lurked right around the corner. At times, my life still feels that way. At times, I feel like I'm still trying to survive.
If we are honest, we can look back on the last year and say we only survived it. We survived work. We survived school. We survived with most of our relationships intact.
Some of us have not survived very well. Maybe our circle of friends has changed. Maybe our families are different than they were this time last year, and we have survived some major storms. In fact, a lot of us are in survival mode right now:
If I can just get to this weekend ...
If I can just make it to the first of the month ...
If I can just get to summer vacation ...
If I can just finish this project ...
If I can just beat this sickness ...
If I can just make this payment ...
If I can just get the kids through college ...
I remember looking at the clock in high school and thinking, Only eleven more minutes. I don't think they're ever going to pass. I'm never going to get out of this place. I'm going to grow old and die in this room. If I can survive just eleven more minutes, I'm done with this.
If you're not careful, you will live your life with that same survival attitude.
I went to my class reunion a few years ago. As I talked with a group of friends, we looked over to the bar. Around it stood ten guys who are the exact same people they were as seniors in high school. They never grew up. My wife, Melanie, and I sat with a friend named Karen. Back when we were in school, Karen was quiet—nice, but reserved. Believe it or not, I was too. Neither of us really did much in high school, which is sad when I think about it. It wasn't until later in life that we emerged from our shells. At the reunion, Karen looked at the guys at the bar and shook her head.
"You know," she said, "it seems like some people never left the beach."
We listened to the guys at the bar say things like "Man, I was glad to just punch that clock Friday" and "Dude, I can't wait till summer. We're heading down to Panama City Beach."
Every day, they're just surviving.
You were not made to survive life. Or to survive work. Or school. Or your family. You were not made to exist until you can get over the next hump or get to the next break. You were created for one purpose: to know God and to make him known.
You are not living the life you were created to live if survive is your word. You were made to thrive.
Point to Remember
We were meant to thrive and not just survive.CHAPTER 2
BALANCED IS BOTH
A certain tree has become a source of inspiration to me. Somehow the tree keeps popping up in everything I do. I've spoken about it in concerts and to student groups. I even used it as an illustration in one of my previous books, Your Own Jesus.
Now my student ministry is called Thrive. This book is called Thrive. Casting Crowns' latest album is called Thrive. And that album includes a song called "Thrive."
The tree is located at a spot in Geneva, Alabama, named The Junction because it sits at the confluence of the Choctawhatchee River and the Pea River. I was on staff at nearby First Baptist Church of Samson early in my career as a youth pastor. For most of the last decade, I have served as co-student pastor with Reagan Farris at Eagle's Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Georgia. Reagan was one of the students in my youth group at Samson. Several years ago, Reagan and I took our Eagle's Landing student group back home to Samson on a ministry tour. I wanted everyone to see The Tree.
When we were growing up in South Alabama, we always called it The Tree. You know it must be special when a tree gets a name—and that name is just The Tree. In that region, if you ever said, "Hey, we're going to The Tree," everybody knew what you meant. The mammoth oak tree is more than three hundred years old. It's been around longer than the United States of America.
The Tree sits on the banks of The Junction, so the rivers have always watered it. We asked some of our students to stretch out their arms, join hands, and make a circle around The Tree. It took eight or nine guys to do it. In California, this wouldn't be a big deal; the redwoods out there are gargantuan. But in Alabama, The Tree is a tourist attraction. We had our tall pine trees and the occasional thick oak, but it's odd to see a tree of this enormity. Its main limbs are bigger than most trees in my neighborhood. One person can't reach all the way around many of its limbs and some of them are so heavy they bend almost to the ground.
We had sixty students on the trip, and all of us climbed into The Tree at one time to sit or stand on the branches for a photo. No one was standing on the ground.
About every ten years, the two rivers flood the area. So there are mud lines on that tree. There's a bike up in that tree. The water has risen many times and taken just about everything away—everything except that tree.
I believe we can find a lesson in there somewhere.
An old farmer in overalls joined us at The Tree. He talked like a Southern version of Morgan Freeman. His voice alone made me believe everything he said.
"You know, the reason these kinds of trees are so strong is, not only are they planted by the water, but they have just as much going on under the ground as they do above the ground," he said. "If you wiped all of the dirt out of here, you'd basically see this." He held up one hand on top of the other, palms facing us and fingers spread wide. He wanted us to see how the tree's roots had spread underground just as wide as the branches had spread above ground.
A little later, Psalm 1 came to my mind, and I read it to our group.
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
I call these the Thrive Verses. They portray what happens when we dig our roots deep.
I didn't realize it at the time, but my life's ministry originated out of this simple idea for a devotional moment alongside a giant tree. It dawned on me that, like the big oak tree, growth as a believer requires two parts. We have to dig our roots deep. And when we do, we naturally will reach out.
When we grow roots, we dive into God's Word and prayer and learn from other believers. As we reach out, we show Jesus to people and tell them about him. A balanced believer is supposed to do both. Still, it's easy to pick one side or the other and get comfortable, resigning ourselves to the thought that some people are "roots" people and some are "reach" people.
I'm more of a roots person by nature. The personalities and interests of roots people bend toward the serious side. We understand the importance of Bible study and theology, and we like to go deep. Too often, however, we keep it all tucked under the surface. When we get around people, it's like they're in our way until we can get to the next Bible study. We have great discipline, but sometimes we're useless to everyone around us.
At too many other times, I've seen people who concentrate solely on reaching out. They want to serve everybody and feed everybody and hang out with everybody and change everybody. But a lot of times, their roots are shallow. They're never in the Word for themselves, and they're all about doing rather than being. They're out trying to save the world, and when the first storm blows in, what happens? They're like tumbleweeds that topple over and roll along because they have no roots.
It's a simple concept. To thrive, we must:
Dig deep into the roots of our relationship with Jesus. This helps us understand who God is and who we are in him. We dig in to know God.
Reach out to others. This helps us to show the world that we belong to Jesus and that Jesus is God. We reach out to make God known.
Inspired by the giant oak tree in Alabama, I sketched a logo for our student ministry at Eagle's Landing (see illustration on previous page). It depicts a healthy believer who has both roots and reach.
The empty promises of the world define success and contentment in terms of money, possessions, prestige, and power. The Bible's definition of the word thrive means digging deep into a personal relationship with Jesus and reaching out to others with his truth and love—to know God and to make him known.
I wrote this book in two sections—Digging Deep and Reaching Out. Together we will explore God's sovereignty, human responsibility, truth, and love. I know that can sound like a lot of heavy teaching, but I really don't think you'll find it overwhelming at all. Above all, I hope you will end up encouraged and inspired to thrive with the abundant and balanced life that Christ promises is available for all of us.
May these words from my song "Thrive" be the marching cadence for us all:
Into your Word we're digging deep
To know the Father's heart.
Into the world we're reaching out
To show them who you are.
Point to Remember
Balanced believers dig their roots deep and reach out to others.CHAPTER 3
God has a dream for you.
His dream doesn't necessarily include prosperity or good health or even what most people would describe as happiness. He's not interested in making you comfortable. His dreams for you are much bigger than any of those pursuits. You were made to thrive in more than a worldly kind of way. You were made to thrive in Jesus. God's dream for you is to know him and make him known, to dig deep into his Word and to plumb his depths and to reach out—to live in such a way that you point to the one true hope for all people.
It seems to be a spiritual contradiction, but it's not. When you finally do let go, you finally grasp what God wants and has for you. Surrendering to Jesus is the way not only to abundant life, but also to life itself. I grew up in church before I learned this the hard way.
I was nineteen when a long-term relationship with a girl crashed and burned. I didn't know what to do. I described in my book Your Own Jesus how I held a gun in my hands and considered taking my life. My saving hope was that there was more to Jesus than the church I'd grown up in, and that's when I started to see growth.
I waded into God's Word, and in a three-month period, my life changed forever. I discovered my own walk with Jesus. I discovered that God wanted me to do something in his church, which baffled me because to that point I didn't really know what people in the church did ("They really work only one day a week!"). I also began to see Melanie, who had been one of my best friends for years, as something other than my friend. She had always been attractive to me, but I figured we'd always just be friends. Out of nowhere, we started dating at about the same time I began singing songs in the car. Never in my life had I even considered the notion of writing a song. I started making up little prayers to melodies that popped in my head.
I got all excited to do something for God. That's when I laid my plans.
First, I married Melanie. We dated for about four months. When you've been friends for eleven years, there's really not much else to get to know.
We moved to Graceville, Florida, so I could go to Bible college. I knew I could pursue music because I sang with my dad in church. I was convinced God had planned this path for me. Not until I arrived at college did reality hit.
I was like Peter stepping into the waves or David facing Goliath. Those are two of the biggest visuals in my early walk with God—the idea of storms, waves, giants, trouble, and doubt. Those recurring themes appear somewhere in most of my records because of the events in this window of time.
I walked onto campus and straight into the music version of "Welcome to the NFL." It literally was the first time it occurred to me that I was attempting to go to college. Suddenly I realized I'd have to take courses other than music to get a degree. And for the music classes, it would have helped if I'd known how to read music—but I didn't.
I quickly learned that gravity is real and waves don't hold weight. I almost tanked college in that first week. There I was, facing this calling from God and trying to figure out how to go about it when my perspective changed. Suddenly the God part was blurry and the obstacles were crystal clear. I was frozen in fear and doubt.
That's when I got into 2 Corinthians 12 and learned from Paul that God uses our weaknesses. Where we're weak, he's strong.
I remember hearing about Ken Medema, a piano guy who wrote a song called "Moses." It's a powerful story song that you can find on YouTube. He describes Moses in the wilderness, which is where I felt I was in Graceville. Maybe the song is not your style, but it was a big deal to me, even when I didn't have any depth to my walk with Jesus.
That song echoed the truth that God uses the weak things in the world to shame the wise, and it was where my but almost got in the way. Christians have huge buts, where we believe everything but [insert excuse here]. If you believe something but, there's a good chance you don't believe it at all. There's a chance you just know it and it's on your T-shirt, but it's not the filter through which you run your actions.
On my first day of college, I knew all of my little life-lesson moments and memory verses from high school, like "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." But then I failed—with a big, fat zero—the entrance exam for music majors.
The music department's response was to ask me to come in and sing. When I did, they were like, "Oh. OK." I guess somewhere between my audition and their feeling sorry for me, they decided to start me in remedial core courses to see if I could survive. I think it was a low enrollment year for them.
Along with my cruddy ACT scores that few schools would have accepted, nothing logical told me I should be enrolled in college. All of the superstars from the huge churches were there and sounded awesome. I fought through the insecurity of it all and sat at a piano to write a song called "Fear." It was a sparse little ballad that lacked a chorus. Years later, Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a chorus and handed it back to me. You may know that song. It's called "Voice of Truth." It came from the idea, borne out repeatedly in Scripture, that God uses unknowns to make him known.
Excerpted from Thrive by Mark Hall, Tim Luke. Copyright © 2014 Mark Hall. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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