We were two years into the adventure of our lives.
The dream was to plant a flourishing church in the heart of Los Angeles; a global center that helps shape the imagination of the world. Through influencing culture creators in this city, we would also be influencing the world. We had no idea what we were in for.
In the interest of communicating an important lesson, let me quickly catch you up on some of the backstory.
It was in late 2008 that the vision for planting a church in LA began to burn in our hearts. We were living in the hills of Pennsylvania and took a trip to visit Southern California to do some songwriting with friends. While there, we deeply sensed the need in Los Angeles and were stirred to be a part of what God was doing. So much so, that we quit our jobs, rented out our house, and moved 3,000 miles away from our families in obedience to what we felt called to do. My wife and I, along with our five-month-old daughter and eight other friends, made up the team of eleven. We traveled across the country from the Pocono Mountains to the west side of Los Angeles, settling into a neighborhood called Santa Monica. We had no jobs and nowhere to live, but we were graciously offered three weeks to sleep on the office floors of a local church. It was a borderline stupid move, but we felt like we were stepping into a moment of destiny.
The next couple years were filled with navigating the many unexpected problems, being challenged to the core of who we were, and seeing God do miracles to build His Church and reach people with the hope of Jesus. Even though good things were happening, I often wrestled with feeling like a failure, feeling like I wasn’t doing enough, and struggling as a new husband, dad, church planter, and music teacher (which was my side job that paid the bills early on). It was one of the most challenging and beautiful seasons of our lives. We got to walk on the water. We also had times when we would begin to sink and reach out for Jesus to save us. And He did.
Around the two-year mark, I began to learn one of the most important lessons of my life. It was to enjoy this song. Let me explain how the lesson began.
I was starting my day like most days: getting in my car and searching my iPod for the right song to kick off the morning. As a songwriter and music enthusiast, I always want to find the song that expresses my heart for that moment and moves me into the day like a strong wind in my sails. I sometimes look for the perfect song for five minutes or more before putting the car in drive. I know, it sounds crazy. My wife agrees with you!
This day was no different. After several minutes of searching, I finally found the song to start the day! I hit the road with the perfect melody flowing from my speakers and sending me on my way. It was great! But after about thirty seconds, I thought of another song I wanted to listen to. One that, perhaps, would be a better start to the day. Without hesitation or even a second thought, I reached down to my iPod and switched songs. This didn’t strike me as odd until I realized I hadn’t even enjoyed the first song I originally wanted to listen to. I was so focused on hearing the next song that I skipped the first one. Crazy!
It was in this moment I felt the Lord speak to me. It was something like this… “Nathan, this is exactly how you are living. You are in a blessed season of life, which you have dreamed about and worked towards for years, but because you are so focused on the future and what needs to happen next, you aren’t even enjoying it. You aren’t even really present. And more importantly, this mindset is hurting you and those closest to you.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks. A wonderfully painful revelation. In reality, I was walking with Jesus, saved by grace, beloved child of God, and filled with the Holy Spirit. I was in Los Angeles with my incredible wife, beautiful daughter, and a second daughter on the way. I was rich in relationships and engaged in meaningful work with my church family. We didn’t have much, but God was meeting all our needs and had gone before us every step of the way. It was a beautiful melody. The perfect song. But I wasn’t enjoying it. I wasn’t even fully present for it.
Those were some of the best days of my life and I was missing them. I was already thinking of the next song. I was so focused on what I wanted to accomplish that I wasn’t acknowledging what had already been accomplished. I’m ashamed to admit it, but at times I was so anxious that I couldn’t even enjoy playing with my kids or spending time with my wife. How tragic!
I repented that day. I made it my goal to enjoy this song. God has written a melody called “now.” I want to enjoy it. Not just for my sake, but for the sake of my wife and daughters. For the sake of my church and friends. Interestingly, I’ve noticed some of the most beautiful melodies of life come from the most painful seasons. I’ve also noticed the more I enjoy the song I am in, the more fruitful I become in every aspect of life.
Jesus, the most visionary and effective person to ever walk the earth, called us to follow His way with this compelling invitation… “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden in light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Sounds like a call to enjoy this song.
And in Luke 10:20-21, we read the words of Jesus, “…do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven… I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” Jesus was full of joy at the thought of how we must become like children to understand and enter the Kingdom of God. This is a call to take up a childlike faith and enjoy this song.
In the interest of practicality, here are some simple reminders that help me to enjoy this song on a daily basis and be present in the melody God is writing.
- Practice gratitude. Stop every day and take notice of what I have to be thankful for and thank God for it.
- Practice contentment. Focus on knowing Jesus, running my race, and letting go of all comparisons.
- Live by faith. Reframe every challenge as an opportunity for God to do a miracle.
- Work from a place of rest. Remember that my rest in Him is a declaration that He is God and I am not. I will be fruitful as I remain in Him.
I still dream about the future, but not at the expense of being fully present now. I am still bursting with vision for what is to come, but not at the expense of cherishing my wife and having a dance party with my three girls. There is still much work to do, but not at the expense of damaging the work already done. I still press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me, but I do it from a posture of rest and joy, rather than one of striving and anxiety.
Christ will finish the work He began in and through you. It is His Church and He will build it. The world is His creation and He will make it new. You simply get to go along for the ride: trusting, obeying, and turning up the music.
May we press onward. And may we enjoy this song!