Being stuck is one of the worst feelings in the world. If you’ve ever watched a documentary on cave exploring, you may have seen the brave men and women who worm their way into a crack or crevice that doesn’t seem much bigger than their heads. Then, pushing a light ahead of them, they creep and crawl forward, hoping that the crack will open up into a new passage. But what happens when they can’t go any farther ahead? And—this is why I could never be a cave explorer—what if you found you couldn’t go back, either?
I’ve never gotten stuck while exploring a cave, but I have gotten stuck in life, where you can’t seem to find a way forward, and you don’t feel like you can go back. Sometimes you don’t even know the way ahead because it’s all dark and hidden from your sight.
As Christian leaders, “stuck” can seem especially bad. Aren’t we expected to have the answers? Isn’t God supposed to show us the path so we can walk it? If you’re like me, it’s particularly frustrating to think that all the answers you need are seemingly just a prayer away … so why does it sometimes feel like your prayers for direction or help fall on deaf ears?
I’m not going to offer you a silver bullet. Nope, there is no formula that, in four easy steps, will get you unstuck every time. Instead, my desire here is to introduce you to Someone who can always get you unstuck. You see, God is never stuck. He is the definition of freedom. The solution to being stuck isn’t working a formula; it’s knowing a Person.
At 22, I felt trapped between the person God was calling me to be and the person the world was trying to press me into. I was in the insurance business, but I felt this call to something else: ministry. I was saved in the evangelical Presbyterian church, and I never thought that God would call me to preach in a million years. I got an early start in life, marrying young and having two small kids by the time I was 22, but I felt a passion for God I simply couldn’t explain.
So much so, a guy took me to lunch one day to tell me, “Look, you need to calm down. You’re too excited about the Lord.” That’s right, you can be too excited about God—at least according to this guy. He had been to seminary, had thought he would be a pastor, and now found himself in the insurance industry. “You’re already in insurance,” he told me. “You’re probably just supposed to be a big giver.”
I took this man’s words to heart and tried to be content with what he had said over me. Yet, as I did so, and took my eye off what God was calling me to, the faucet of provision that had flown so freely through my insurance business faltered. It was like God cut off the flow just a little.
I felt like I was to preach, but the words I heard, what I thought I had to do, and what God was calling me to didn’t match up. I didn’t know who I was. One thing I did know—I was stuck.
We are all new creations in Christ—but many of us struggle to understand and live out precisely what that means. You are not just what you were. No matter your personality or experiences, you have a spiritual component that is quickened and made alive when you come to know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. He enables you to think differently, see differently, and live differently. He sets you free.
If you don’t know who you are, I guarantee you’re going to feel stuck. If you don’t understand what God has done for you in Jesus and that you’re made new from the inside out, you risk staying mired in the old ways of thinking, seeing and living that leave people feeling trapped and unable to move forward in their lives, calling and relationship with God.
I am entirely convinced that you are where you are right now for a reason. You may feel trapped, uncertain, exhausted or just unsure who you are or why you’re here. But God knew you before you were in your mother’s womb, and He had the most fulfilling, amazing plan for your life worked out before you even drew your first breath!
Yet through it all, He has chosen to preserve our free will. So how can it be both that He has a plan and that we have the ability to make decisions like our Father? Because His purpose is in line with the desires of your heart. As your loving Father, He knew what would move you, what would stir your passion, and He has a plan for you that will both draw that out of you and fulfill His will for you on earth.
At 22, I didn’t know that yet.
I knew in the church where I was saved and discipled, there were only two things to do if you felt “called by God.” First, I could go the “seminary route” to Jackson, Mississippi, for a couple of years, then intern for a year or so, and wind up hoping and praying for a chance to get started as a children’s pastor by the time I was 30. Or I could be a missionary to some faraway country, likely without running water.
Honestly, laid out like that, it didn’t seem very appealing.
Learning these options were what my church could offer felt like a gut punch. Maybe I was just supposed to be in insurance and a big giver after all? I was confused, and I was definitely stuck. With those as apparently the only options for ministry, I pivoted toward focusing on my insurance business, deciding I’d just “be involved” in my local church. I quickly became the head usher, and later I became the youngest deacon in the history of that church. That’d be enough for God, right?
Part of the problem was that the leaders of my church could see the call of God on my life, but they only had this narrow interpretation of what that could look like. And what I felt in my heart didn’t line up with their formula. Meanwhile, insurance was rocking and rolling. So, from 1983 to 1987, I just focused on being in the local church and being a big giver. I was leaning into God and going after my relationship with Him. But despite remarkable success in insurance, I also had these periods I mentioned where it was like the faucet got turned off. Then as soon as that would happen, I would think, “It’s because I’m supposed to be a pastor.”
I had believed the call of God on my life was limited to the picture that had been painted for me—an insurance big-giver or a long-haul slog through seminary on my way to being a pastor in my denomination. But what if neither of those was the path God had for me? What if He had something else—something, dare I say, better?
Right now, you may only see one path forward—or three bad ones, or none at all. As you imagine that future, it doesn’t bring you peace or feel right. Perhaps someone has painted that picture for you, trying to force you to live in their preconceptions for your life. This could be from an individual or even a group, like my church’s denomination. Yet their plan for your life just doesn’t seem like it fits. Maybe you’ve even put a “God” label on it as I did in assuming that the call of God could only look like the ministry plan my church offered me.
No one’s plan for your life is as good as God’s. And He is not up in heaven cooking up something for your life that you’re not going to like. However, He indeed has a plan for each of us. He knows what He’s doing, and we can trust Him implicitly. God will never leave us or abandon us, and the plan He has for our lives is designed to give us hope.
I didn’t know it in December of 1986, but God was about to show my wife Gail and me our path forward, our hope, and it wasn’t anything we could’ve predicted.
I grew up and was saved in a denomination that was very closed to the things of the Holy Spirit. So, the only charismatic person my wife and I knew was my “crazy aunt from New Jersey”—and, yes, that’s exactly what we called her! But the thing was, we also knew that she had a hotline to heaven, because when she prayed … she got answers!
We lived in Ocala, Florida, but we heard from my Auntie Marilyn about a large charismatic church about 70 miles away. We started making the drive, and at one meeting the pastor announced a healing service. We didn’t know what that meant, but we decided to go. At one point during that special service, the pastor said, “Maybe you don’t need a physical healing; maybe your miracle is something else. Tell God what you need right now.”
That really hit me. I prayed, “Lord, before I leave this room, I just want to know if I’m called to be a pastor or a businessman. That’s all I want to know; if I can get that answer, that’s my miracle.”
Being from conservative denominations, my wife and I had never seen what we witnessed at that church during that service! People were getting healed, and some were even falling over! This was unlike anything we’d ever seen, but it was obvious God was doing something.
Near the end of the service, the pastor said, “If you felt the power of God, get down here to the altar right now!” So I hopped up and actually ran to the front and got in a line of people. The pastor was going down the line, touching people, and many were falling over. I watched some of them obviously setting themselves up to fall over easily, rocking back on their heels. Now, I wanted more of God, but I was still very “Presbyterian,” so I still had all that in me. I braced myself—no way this guy was pushing me over!
As he came by me, he didn’t push. He just barely brushed my head…and down I went like a bag of cement, flat on my rear!
The pastor finished the line of people at the front, and then he did something very unusual. He came back to me. Standing over me, he said, “God is going to use this young man. This guy is going to be a pastor, and he’s going to preach all over the world.”
I burst into tears! My wife and mother-in-law were behind me, and they heard what he said as well. I could hear them sobbing, too, because they knew how trapped I had felt for the last few years.
With that one move of the Holy Spirit, God answered the burning desire in my heart. I had my epiphany. I’d received my answer to the questions I’d asked for years:
"Who am I?”
“What am I supposed to do?”
"What did You make me to be?”
Are you asking questions like these? Do you want to know your identity in Christ, your purpose and destiny? Do you want to get off high-center and start living the life God has designed you for?
Maybe you’ve asked these questions before, and now you find yourself doing so again—stuck again. Unanswered, these questions can be like splinters in our hearts, making us uncomfortable in our own skins. Maybe the options before you all seem like bad choices, or you feel like you have no options at all. Perhaps you think God is asking something of you that you do not want.
If that’s you, I actually suggest you take a break from those questions. The solution you seek isn’t a formula or a method that will get you unstuck; it’s connecting with the One who has the answers. It’s time to pray and ask God for an encounter with Him and His Holy Spirit that will give you not just the breakthrough you need right now but the connection with Him that will allow you to get breakthrough after breakthrough.
It’s not the answers that you need. It’s the One who has the solutions—He is who you need.
Maybe you’re a little bit like me, conflicted and divided and unsure what direction to go. Perhaps you have a preconception of what serving God will look like. But whether your attitudes are shaped by your church, your biases, or even your fears, believe me when I say that it may not look anything like you dread it will. In fact, I would argue the opposite—serving God is the most fulfilling thing that a person can do.
Every believer is called to serve God and to minister in some way. However, relatively few of us end up in “the ministry.” And that’s a good thing. God doesn’t need you to do what I do; He wants you to do what He has uniquely equipped and prepared you to do.
I believe within each of us is a passion that will bring us unequaled fulfillment and glorify God. For me, it was becoming a pastor. However, God has equipped you to do something better than anyone else—something He has called you to do that is as unique as you are. He’s made something easy to you that doesn’t come naturally to others or something that only you are strategically positioned to do. I believe that within you is a call—a call you cannot escape because God’s goodness and tender love will pursue you all the days of your life.
In Psalm 37:4, David writes, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (NKJV). Now, on the face of it, you can read this and say that God will give you the things you desire. However, what if God is the one who put those desires in your heart? What if He placed in your heart the very things you want most because He knows they will bring you the greatest fulfillment and glorify Him?
That would mean that it’s safe to trust Him with your life. That would mean that He has a plan for you that will give you hope and a bright future. He knows what He’s doing; He has it planned out, and He will always see His plan and His Word come to fruition. He began this good thing in you, and He will give you a hope-filled future.
If you feel stuck, before we go any further, it’s time to pull out all of those things that you’d hoped for—yes, even the dreams that seem dead—and lay them down before God. If God put it in you, it’s not over yet. Even if your life feels like it’s in broken pieces, spread them out before the Living God and watch Him put them back together, as only He can.
If you’re still alive, it’s not over. No matter how stuck you feel, God will never leave you or forsake you, and He is faithful to complete that which He starts.
Freedom and release are coming, but here’s the thing—they come in the context of a relationship with God. As we will see, the singular advice I can give you to get unstuck now, live in freedom, and get unstuck again in the future is found in your relationship with our loving Heavenly Father.
He hasn’t offered us a formula, and I’m not offering you one, either. Instead, God—right now, right where you are, no matter your current circumstances—has open arms wide for you. He wants you to get to know Him as He knows you, to speak with you and help you. He wants to set you free in every area of your life, because we serve a God of freedom. Jesus came to set each one of us free from being stuck, and whom the Son sets free is free indeed.
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