Although I can’t recall the message, I do remember a message. I have no recollection whatsoever of the speaker. No name. No content. Nothing. His appearance is fuzzy. The commencement speaker is like a faded memory, forever out of reach.
But a moment on May 10, 2002 remains firmly entrenched in my mind. I sat in the auditorium with other soon-to-be-graduates of Christ for the Nations Institute (CFNI) in Dallas, Texas. It was the culmination of two years of hard work.
As I sat, I became keenly aware of the prodding of the Holy Spirit. Two brothers sat to my immediate right. I don’t think I had met them until the rehearsal a few days prior.
The brothers were Benjamin and Shiloh Humble.
Throughout the commencement service, my thoughts kept gravitating to their last name, Humble. Finally I realized the Lord was speaking to my heart. Faith erupted in my heart as I sensed heaven’s message for me: You are called to follow the path of humility. This is the key to your success.
I’m a Hume. Hume comes after Humble. I followed Humble and Humble during the whole ceremony. Wherever Humble tread, there I was. I literally walked in the footsteps of Humble and Humble.
In response to the Lord’s message, I prayed. I might add, it was a dangerous prayer. God took note. From the depths of my heart, I uttered, “Father, break me so that I possess the humility that You desire.”
Sometimes hindsight does wonders. God really did answer my dangerous prayer. He took me up on the request to possess humility. And to my chagrin, He did so immediately!
Like most other CFNI grads, I was ready to change the world! Or, more accurately stated, I thought I was ready.
My wife and I have a photo that captured a moment just minutes after the ceremony ended. As frolicking graduates spilled outside to find their loved ones, I found my bride. There is a serene, innocent look in our eyes as we blissfully pose for our picture. We were two days shy of our first year anniversary, which we spent ministering at a church in the desert of New Mexico.
We were full of anticipation and passion—yet, we were unaware that our darkest hour lurked around the corner. We were on track to attend two semesters in the School of World Missions at Fuller Theological Seminary. Plus we were going to minister as campus pastors to college students at Cal State in Long Beach, California. Then we were to take the helm of a campus ministry in Virginia once our training was completed. We were well on our way to changing the world one campus at a time!
But we experienced a bump in the road on the way to changing the world. Or more succinctly stated, we had a major detour on our road to changing the world. Why? The Lord had to change me first.
A GOD-ORDAINED CRUCIBLE
What followed my dangerous prayer was a God-ordained crucible. I was thrust into the throes of intense pressure—support raising for financial provision while in seminary; acclimating to a new area with a new community of people; taking intense graduate level courses; and the most dreaded pressure of all: the struggle with a previous sin that filled me with unrelenting shame—lust.
Prior to meeting Aneta, my life was a constant battle with lust. After two years at CFNI, I was convinced I’d overcome this struggle. The future seemed bright. I honestly thought the worst was behind—in reality it was only dormant within. When we stepped foot in southern California, it was as if a riptide swept me out the moment I allowed my eyes to wander. Immediately I was drowning in a shame infested tidal current.
The heat was on. And the intensity of the fire revealed imperfections within my character. Or more accurately stated, the lack of character. Within my soul were seeds of rebellion, lust, impurities, hypocrisy, anger, and other such vices of selfishness. If left undealt, it would ruin my marriage—and forfeit my call as a prophetic voice.
The crucible was necessary to fulfill the dangerous prayer I’d uttered only months before.
Within weeks of arriving in Long Beach, I found myself in the hospital for a self-inflicted wound. One evening tension escalated between Aneta and me. In frustration I slammed the table with my fist. However there was something between my fist and the table. A glass of water.
Shattered glass spewed all over.
Stunned, I glanced at my finger. It was sliced deeply. I felt queasy—it was all I could do to keep from fainting. Off to the emergency room we went. Stitches were required with a splint visible for all to see. It was a constant reminder to me. Though the finger eventually healed, I was still a work in progress.
Shortly thereafter, I was in deep reflection before the Lord.
“I thought I’d dealt with these roots,” I lamented one morning. “I feel so incapable of changing!” As I continued to grieve, a sobering question rose from within: How can I change the world if I can’t even change myself?
The Lord knew exactly what I needed in order to bring the hidden roots to the surface. It was the perfect crucible to deal with the heart of the matter: I had to change first before I could change the world.
Needless to say, this season of life was a low point for us both.
Yet, in our darkest hour, God initiated the “refiner’s fire” of Malachi 3:2: He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.
In order to become a prophetic voice to the nations, God had to refine me first. This was the process of brokenness as the Lord intensified the “refiner’s fire” within the God-ordained crucible.
Within just a few short months of graduation, I was in an abyssal state of confusion, denial, and heaviness.
THE BIRTH OF BENJAMIN
I want to share an insight from the birth of Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob. As you may recall, Rachel was Jacob’s heartthrob from the early days. Jacob agreed to work seven years for Laban so that he could marry his daughter. Alas, seven years whizzed by, but Laban swindled Jacob by giving him his other daughter Leah. Jacob decides to work another seven years for Rachel. Finally he marries Rachel after fulfilling his agreement with Laban. As you can imagine, the sibling rivalries carried over from childhood into the family tent, as evident by Rachel’s statement: I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.
I would not want to be caught in the middle of that rivalry. But Jacob was.
Initially Rachel was barren. And heartbroken. Bitter. Devastated.
Finally Rachel conceived and bore her first son, Joseph. Later she conceived again and is about to give birth a second time. Genesis 36:16-18 depicts this story.
Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t be afraid, for you have another son.” As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she name her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin.
In death came forth the birth of her second son. In her present state of mind, she names him Ben-oni, which means “son of my sorrow.” Thankfully Jacob intervened by renaming the newborn, Benjamin—“son of the right hand, fortunate.”
John Wesley writes:
Her dying lips calls her new-born son Benoni, the son of my sorrow. But Jacob because he would not renew the sorrowful remembrance of his mother’s death every time he called his son by name, changed his name, and called him Benjamin, the son of my right hand—That is, very dear to me; set on my right hand for a right hand blessing; the support of my age, like the staff in my right hand.
Now let us go back and take a look at a passage (Genesis 30:22-24) related to Joseph’s birth, Rachel’s firstborn.
Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”
Did you see it? What was uttered from Rachel’s lips?
It was a dangerous prayer: May the Lord add to me another son.
At the birth of Joseph, Rachel—with an eye towards sons borne by Leah—prays that the Lord may add to her another son. One son isn’t enough. Especially when her rival is ahead. The festering rivalry compelled Rachel to close the gap.
Back to the story of Benjamin. So in this place of impending death, is it possible that Rachel couldn’t see the glorious answer to her prayer in her newborn son? Perhaps anguish overwhelmed her concerning Leah’s triumph. She frames her death by naming her son “the son of my sorrows”—hence, she was unable to see the reality of the situation. Pride and jealousy skewed her perspective. The birth of Benjamin was a glorious event. It was the direct answer to a dangerous prayer she’d uttered at the time of Joseph’s birth: May the Lord add to me another son.
Like Rachel, I didn’t realize that my present hardship was an answer to a previous prayer. I couldn’t see that my circumstances was a God-ordained crucible. Instead I was fraught with shame. I recoiled at the notion that I had to change first because I felt utterly powerless to do so. That in turn fueled more shame. God’s purpose for the crucible was to conform me to the image of Christ.
In your present circumstances, what is creating tension, discomfort, frustration, sorrow, or pain in your life? Could it be an answer to your past prayer? It’s possible that the intensity of your trials are but a God-ordained crucible. Perhaps, you too, have uttered such a dangerous prayer in the past.
Have you ever prayed to be more humble? Have you ever prayed for true authentic brokenness? Did you ever utter the lethal prayer to be more Christ-like in a specific area of your life? Can you recall giving permission to the Lord to do whatever it takes to change you?
Did you simply bow your head with unspoken words uttered from the depths of your being, “Lord, have your way in me.”
Or did you pray an extremely dangerous prayer: Lord use me to change the world!
Possibly today you find yourself in circumstances that are the direct result of God lovingly answering your heart cry to be more Christ-like. The process is at times confusing, difficult, discomforting, and excruciatingly painful—in all, a slow impending death—but necessary for His holiness to radiate through you.
A PARABLE OF A GRADUATE
I want to share a parable. In essence, it is the story of my own journey.
When I graduated, I prayed “God, use me to change the world!” Time passed as I became increasingly aware that this was quite a futile aspiration, so I decided to change my prayer: “God, use me to change my community!”
Again as time elapsed, I saw minimal changes in this pursuit. Hence, I determined to change my prayer, “God use me to change my family and close friends.” Time passed without any substantial progress as I became increasingly aware of my own need to change and my own inability to change others.
Broken, I prayed, “Lord, change me first! I can’t do anything apart from your mercy and grace. Break me so that I can possess your heart. I am in desperate need of Christ’s transforming power. Change me into the glorious image of your Son, Jesus Christ!”
The Refiner saw His very own image in the broken vessel. Now God saw fit a broken, but refined vessel, capable of changing the world through His own power, and for His own glory.