The Other Hunger Games May 28, 2017
To those who hunger…
This is an email I received in response to a previous blog post. Here is an excerpt from his email, of some of the questions he asked. I have also adapted my response to him below, as I thought it may resonate with some of you.
I’m single, so your incredible story does give hope that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think in that area of my life i.e the gift of a helper.
But beyond that, I’ve a couple of questions to ask about how you got out of the self-centered rut, if you would be so kind to reply me. You mentioned you were “in a sinking boat, and instead of holding onto my life jacket, I was holding onto the very things that were weighing me down: my ambitions, my platform, my feelings, my pleasure, my pride.”
First, what did holding on to “these drugs” translate to? E.g your career/familial/relationship decisions were just about what you wanted? Were you also addicted to some hobby/pursuit?
Secondly, what did giving these up mean in practical terms? What did you actually do to let go, or as you said, surrender the obsession where you were in control?
Thank you for your kind words and thoughtful questions. I apologize for the slow response. It has taken me some time to get back to you, because I realize the gravity and importance of this conversation. And I wanted to make sure I have developed a clear and helpful response to your questions.
Your first question was: “You mentioned you were ‘in a sinking boat, and instead of holding onto my life jacket, I was holding onto the very things that were weighing me down: my ambitions, my platform, my feelings, my pleasure, my pride.’ What did holding on to ‘these drugs’ translate to? E.g your career/familial/relationship decisions were just about what you wanted? Were you also addicted to some hobby/pursuit?”
To put it simply, I held on to a lot of things. Or to put it another way, they held on to me. It’s hard to put these things into words. But let me try.
I held deeply to my own dreams of going into politics, then into filmmaking. My high opinion of myself. My obsession with being known by many. My infatuation with fame and developing a large online following. My need to be liked by others. My unhealthy physical and emotional relationships. My fear of man. My unhealthy need to appease the wishes of my parents. My desire for success on my terms. My addiction to social media. My control over every aspect of my career and future. The list goes on.
But I don’t think it was what I held on to that bears significance. It was how I held on to them.
To say that all of these things were in and of themselves wrong, would be a misrepresentation. Some were blatantly unhealthy things. Others were good things. But what made them destructive forces in my life was that they controlled me. Without knowing it, I submitted my life to these things, letting them be my rulers. And like an addict who was dependent on his drugs, I didn’t have the will to break free from them. I needed these things to give me that momentary feeling of euphoria, but none left me with anything lasting. Instead, they were like leeches that sucked the very vitality out of my life. Like you, I didn’t know what joy meant, and I definitely lacked any sense of purpose. I was a walking zombie, feeling confused as to why I felt so empty, so restless, and so unfulfilled.
Which leads to the next question. You asked: “What did you actually do to let go, or as you said, ‘surrender the obsession where you were in control?'” My answer may be surprising. Because it’s not something I did or even intended. Yet, it’s something that so clearly marked that season of my life. And it’s something I sense in your words and your willingness to reach out for help.
And it’s recognizing this: a hunger for something more.
I was hungry. Well, to some extent, everyone is. That’s probably why Jesus keeps referring to those who hunger. And for most of my life, I fed on the things that were within my human reach. I fed myself on these momentary pleasure instead of truly trusting He is the good Father who feeds us full (Matthew 6:33).
I was never full by my own efforts, yet I kept feeding. First, achievement. Then, prestige. Then, the comforting pull of depression and intimidation. Then, pornography. Then, power. Then, sex and unhealthy relationships. Then, fame. People will sometimes comment how I’m a nice person, a successful person, or a high achieving person. But I’m a firm believer that anyone who so desperately ties their identity to these things, could achieve beyond these pillars of success — at least for a fleeting moment. I was an addict in every sense of these things. I used and abused each one until I got my fill, and reached the zenith of each one, to a point where they could not satisfy me any further. And then, I would move on to the next thing.
It felt like a game I was stuck in playing and could not get out of. The gateway drug that kept me going through it all was my pride. That I was the best thing since sliced bread. That my future depended on my own strength, and my efforts, and my talents, and maybe some of my luck. Though I was quick to move from one fix to the next, it was my pride that I could not fully shake off.
Make no mistake that He will break our pride if we don’t deal with it. Sure enough, a few years ago as everything in my life came spiraling downwards, I came face to face with the naked truth: I’m not as great as I thought. It was then that my high view of myself began to erode, along with the notion that somehow I was in control of my own life. Instead, I conceded I needed help and healing.
There’s a story in the Bible, where Jesus calls Matthew, a tax collector, to be his disciple. Matthew immediately rose and followed him. The Pharisees see that Jesus is spending his time with tax collectors and sinners, and begin to question why he would spend his time with them. His answer is, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous but the sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13 ESV).
What Jesus teaches is quite profound: it is the sick who are open to correction. Jesus expected us to be sick because why else would we need Jesus if we are perpetually well? Compare this with the story of the rich young man. Jesus commands the man to “go sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19: 21-22 ESV). I don’t think Jesus was commenting on the man’s wealth as much as he was commenting on the state of his heart. Was the young man hungry enough to follow Jesus? Was he desperate enough to do whatever it took?
I remember a time when I became so physically ill, that I would pay any cost, take any initiative, and discard all sense of dignity to release myself from the pain I felt. Ask me to do those things when I’m healthy and I’d think you were crazy. In the same way, I came to see that my heart was sick and I was willing to do whatever it took to realize my healing. I had to channel the hunger that I had fed on my former addictions to the foot of the Cross. It was around then that God would send an angel into my life who pointed me to Jesus the healer and restorer.
For the longest time, I used to think that repentance was a simple prayer that you recited at a church service. Just say the words, and you were all set. But what I’ve come to understand is that repentance is more than that. It’s the process of leaving behind all we once knew and held on to (Matthew 19:29), a process of radical healing and restoration. I had to confront myself, What is it that steals my hunger for God? What are the things in my life that I would not be able to let go of if God asked me to do so?
I’ve come to understand that repentance is a deeply personal journey. A lifelong process to renew the way you understand who you are, whose you are, and what you’re called to. And it’s a journey I’m still walking down one step at a time, surrendering one idol at a time.
I remember one of the most difficult things to let go of was my dream of making films. It was a dream that had started with a seed from Him but a lack of intimacy with Him grew and morphed it into my own ambition or definition of success. I had long ambitions of winning awards, and being famous through my feature films. And then one day, I felt God asking me to surrender the dream because I was in many ways, a slave to it.
It was painstakingly difficult. But as painful as that decision was, it was also one of the most liberating. Over time, I experienced waves of peace flow through me, and that unhealthy burden or need to be recognized for my films lifted off me. And that was the moment that helped me start letting go of my own ambitions to make films and to begin a journey to rediscover what it was about making films that He has called me into all along. When I was no longer controlled by this obsession to make an award-winning film, I found myself experiencing a greater sense of freedom, and regaining the long lost joy.
I’ve learned this: It was when I could let go of this dream, that God would later restore it in my life, beyond my imagination. A couple years later, God would actually open a new door for me to pursue filmmaking, this time to serve under an anointed vision of enlarging the Kingdom of God through films! I’ll share more about that another time.
So the fruit of a repented life is synonymous to making Jesus your Lord. Now this is something that can sound like a throw away thought to many of us who grew up in the church. We’ve heard it since our days in Sunday School. But what I’ve failed to understand for most of my church-going life is that Lordship = uncompromising obedience to God. To relinquish the things our hearts hold dear to His sovereignty. Especially when it doesn’t make sense.
Jesus teaches, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26 ESV).
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29 ESV).
If this sounds daunting, well, it is.
But Jesus also teaches,
“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13 ESV).
It took me almost three decades of my life to ask God to fill me with His Spirit and to learn that it’s the Holy Spirit that empowers us to take the steps to break off our past.
In fact, this is something I never heard until a couple years ago during a teaching by John Bevere. This revelation changed everything. When Jesus went to heaven, He sent us the Holy Spirit so that we could develop the capacity to overcome our sins and strongholds. It’s His Spirit that enables us to finally break from our past, and live in the freedom given to us through the Cross. It’s His Spirit that fuels us to live beyond our strength and capacity. We were never meant to overcome our addiction to sin and the weights of the world by our own strength. We need His Spirit to give us the divine strength to break free.
This is your invitation to live a flourishing life. Get ready, because it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s for the hungry. When you take that step of repentance empowered by His Spirit, He’ll take you on a journey away from all that you once knew. But it will be a step into true freedom. A step into claiming the calling on your life. And a step into the greatest journey you’ll ever know. Buckle up, my friend!
ps. Let me know if you’re interested in learning more about the Holy Spirit, and other teachings from John Bevere. I’d be happy to send some pertinent and transformative resources to you!