When I was in elementary school, my 6th grade teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. That was an easy question for me because I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to be: President of the United States. Seriously.
First I would go to law school, then run for local office, then for Congress, and ultimately I would be a U.S Senator in 1992. All through middle school and high school I read books on politics and law. But then, in my Junior year, something happened that I never expected: God called me to ministry. Two years later I went to Bible College. After four years of Bible College I had a terrible problem with stage fright, something that would plague me for years. So after Bible College I enrolled in Morehead State University and earned an M.A. in Communications. I graduated with a 4.0, at the top of my class with an emphasis in Rhetoric and Public Address, but I still hadn't conquered my fear of public speaking. In fact, during my last week at Morehead I was asked to preach one Sunday night at a little church in Farmers KY. It was a congregation of about 30 people; about twenty-eight of whom gray hair. Safe crowd, right?
Well, Sunday afternoon, I was so filled with panic that I decided to go to the church and leave a note on the door. It said, "I'm so very sorry I can't preach tonight. I'm ill." As I left the parking lot I decided I would never, ever preach another sermon or give a talk in public. Two weeks later I applied at U.K. Law School, and Chase School of Law in Cincinnati. I felt as if I finally had my life back on track. But like Francis Thompson's masterful poem so beautifully expresses--"The Hound of Heaven" kept after me. Though I scored solidly on the LSAT (law school admissions test), both schools turned me down. Determined not to preach, I applied for, and was accepted into an MBA program with Met Life. On a staff of 53, I climbed to number 8 in just fourteen months. I was well on my way to being a successful businessman.
But The Hound of Heaven wasn't finished. One night I was driving home from the office and I received a word from God. I can't explain it, but it was as real as if someone were sitting in the passenger seat talking to me. He said, "Gary, what are you doing over here?" (It was the same thing He said to Elijah when he was running from God--1 Kings 19:9) He went on, "Six years ago I called you to the ministry. Why are you still running in the opposite direction?" My answer was sort of like what Moses said when God called him. "Lord, I can't speak. You know that." His reply? "Just obey. I will be with you."
One week later, I told the Regional Manager I was leaving. He said, "I admire your faith, but you're making the biggest mistake of your life. Your future here is "nothing but an arrow pointing upward." I apologized and thanked him for investing in me (that was an understatement) but I told him my mind was made up.
Three months later I was the pastor of Woodford Christian Church in Versailles, Ky. The congregation had gone through a split. Attendance had dropped from 120 to 50. I was 25 years old, had taken a 70% cut in pay, had a three-month-old son, and was still terrified of speaking in public. I starting having elevated blood pressure so I visited a Doctor who put me on beta blockers. I did meditation and memorized scripture, yet I was still paralyzed with fear. I begged God to take it away. He didn't. It took me 20 years to gain a victory over it, though even today I still struggle in some areas. Here's what I've learned: nervous is normal, but fear is a choice. Sometime I'll write more about the things I learned with regard to dealing with fear, but this article is getting lengthy, so I'll land the plane. There are two things I'd like to leave you with:
1. God pays for what He orders. The journey may be arduous and the way may be, at times, lonely and terrifying, but just obey whatever words God lays on your heart. Listen to Him. Live for Him. Love for Him... wherever you're at, in any stage or phase of your life. He is ABLE to deliver you.
2. Chip away at the monster of fear, one blow at a time. Don't lay lifeless on the cold, damp floor in the prison cell of anxiety. Learn about your identity in Christ. Read scripture. Listen to podcasts and sermons. Read books. Fight back! Heroes are braver 5 minutes longer. Winners fight one more round. Don't ever quit, even when you can't see the finish line, especially when you can't see the finish line. In Christ, we are more than conquerers. (Rom. 8:37).
I believe in you. God does too.