At any rate, I worked very hard preparing for the retreat, to make the teaching really good. I wanted to look good too, so I took my best suits. When I arrived at the hotel, the site of the retreat, as I met the people I would be speaking to the next two days, I made every effort to appear sophisticated and intelligent. To be perfectly honest with you, I think I made a reasonably good impression.
The next morning I was to speak for the first time. But when I awoke that day, to my horror, I had lost my voice; I couldn’t raise it above a whisper.
God has given me a good speaking voice, and my voice is about the best asset I have (aside, of course, from my wife, Anna). I have always felt that if I didn’t have my voice, I wouldn’t have much left with which to serve God. Someone told me once, “Steve, stay away from television because you have the perfect radio face.” I’m not good looking, I’m not brilliant, and I’m not especially pure, but I do have a good voice. When I was in high school, a history teacher told me, “Steve, you have a wonderful speaking voice. You be careful what you say, because when you speak, people will listen.”
And so, there I was, getting ready to speak to a group of people I desperately wanted to impress—and all I could do was whisper. In all the years I’ve been a broadcaster or a preacher, I’ve never lost my voice. This was a brand-new experience, and it scared me to death. You see, I define myself by my good speaking voice.
So I finally got serious with God, right there in my hotel room. I confessed all my sins, made all kinds of promises, pledged my firstborn…if God would only give me my voice back. I told him I was sorry about wanting to please people so much and that I would never do it again if he would just restore my voice.
Well, God had a different idea, and it didn’t fit with mine at all. My voice not only didn’t get better, it got worse.
I was panic-stricken, so much so that I couldn’t hear God speaking. Panic times often blur out what God would teach us. It usually isn’t until afterward that we’re able to look back and see his presence and love. But if I had been able to calm my heart, I would have heard him say, “Child, I have a wonderful surprise for you. If you will just be still, you are going to see something that you have never seen before.”
And so I left my room and went to speak for the folks at the retreat. As I got up to teach, great fear still ruled my heart. I knew God had judged me for my sinful desire to please people and, further, I knew I deserved it. But I had forgotten about grace. I do that sometimes.
Then the most wonderful thing happened. As I whispered my teaching into a microphone turned up to high, I noticed that people were listening, really listening. Not only that, I noticed they were visibly moved by what I was saying. God was at work.
For the rest of that weekend, I strained to even eke out a whisper. That glorious voice of mine remained packed away. Nevertheless, it turned out to be one of the most meaningful and successful speaking engagements I have ever had.
After it was over and I was back home—my panic dissipated—I could hear God again, and I began to understand the lesson he was teaching me. He told me, “Steve, I have given you your voice, but I want you to know something that is much more important. Whenever I use you, it isn’t because of your voice. It is because I have decided to use you. I am perfectly capable of speaking through a whisper just as much as a foghorn voice. Your problem is that you have learned to define yourself in terms of your voice rather than in terms of my love. You thought you were being judged when you were really being blessed—not because of your goodness but because of my grace. Try to remember that the next time.”
I told the Father that I appreciated the lesson a lot, but suggested if he needed any advice, that he not take away my voice again in the near future. I reminded him that I was getting older and could die of a heart attack. He just laughed and told me to mind my own business. I heeded his advice, and I’ve learned a lot since.
I have mostly learned to define myself not in terms of what I do, but in terms of who I am. Better than that, I’m learning to define myself in terms of Whose I am. The Father is teaching me that my value lies in belonging to him, trusting his direction, and leaning on his grace. My value doesn’t come from what he gives me to do but from who and Whose I am when I do what he tells me. Put another way, I am valuable because I am loved by God, not because of what I do for him. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing….As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (John 15:5, 9).
The trouble with most of us is that we sometimes forget we are defined by God’s love, acceptance and grace. Once we understand that and regularly recall where our true identity lies, what happens to what we do—whether we fail, succeed, change, resign, get fired or are promoted—doesn’t matter. We are God’s own, his children, members of his everlasting family, and the objects of his unconditional love. And he bought us with the blood of his very own Son, Jesus Christ. What else really matters? Nothing. Everything else pales into insignificance.
Time to Draw Away
Read Psalm 145, John 15:9-17 & 1 John 3:1-3
Where does your identity lie? If it’s in your children, they will disappoint you. If it’s in your work, it will wear you out and leave you in the end. If you’re looking to your spouse for self-confirmation and affirmation, he or she will fail you too. Perhaps a position in your church or a spiritual gift provides your identity, but those won’t help you either. Nothing in your world will ever really define you. You must look outside to God, your loving Father. He knows you inside out, sees you through the grid of his grace and loves you unconditionally. Ask the Father to help you find your identity in him. He won’t fail you…ever.