One of my favorite movie lines to quote in everyday life when I see somebody do something really cool is Darth Vader from Empire Strikes Back when he is surprised by Luke Skywalker’s Jedi-esque skill level (remember that Luke had not completed his training yet). Darth affirms his son saying, “Impressive. MOST impressive,” as Luke practically fly’s out of the Carbonite Freezing Chamber at Cloud City on Bespin.
Now, before I lose my non-Nerd/non-Geek/non-Sci Fi loving audience (if I even have any of you left who ACTUALLY read my posts), allow me to hone this in. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 12:3 that it is not good to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, so please allow me to write a positive form of self-deprication. Not too “high”, but perhaps perfectly low and accurate enough of an observation about my own life to keep me honest. That said, those who know me best will most likely be able to affirm what I’m about to write.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been the “Forrest Gump” character of my acquaintance and friends groups. I was made fun of at times, loved at others, and given FAR MORE influence and/or cool employment opportunities than I have the competence or confidence to fulfill on my own.
I was almost released from my first youth pastor job FIVE different times, not because of any immoral behavior, but mostly because of my lack of maturity, experience, and overall UNimpressiveness in leadership. I have been in multiple situations where I’ve felt misunderstood and totally overlooked. You ever felt that way? Looking back, it was not easy then, and still is not easy when you sense God’s leading but your vision is 20 years ahead of your reality. That’s why I’ve found comfort in the simple truth that I am NOT the maker of my own destiny, despite popular American sentiment to the contrary.
Does this mean I’ve not been able to work toward and do some pretty cool stuff? Certainly not! But whatever I have accomplished has been because God granted me the favorable opportunity and grace to see it through. I simply responded to His leading, call, and voice. Even when I stumbled over my own words and/or “good intentions”, God was gracious and has been a very LOVING Father toward me. Here’s a short list of pretty sweet accomplishments, I believe that were catalyzed and seen through by the Lord. A few are silly, and others more weighty, but all of them PIVOTAL for my journey of faith:
1. Robin Stauf married me. How a guy like me was able to marry a woman like she, could only be the blessings of Jesus in my life! Enough said!
2. After being cut from my freshman baseball team at my 3,000+ person high school, I came back my junior year and made the team with a fortunate home run in batting tryouts as the Head Varsity Coach “happened” to be looking in my direction. The truth of the matter is, I was cut just before that day, again. I went to turn in my money and unsold fundraising cards, and Coach Kent gave me an opportunity to come back out, and I in turn thanked him with the only baseball home run I’ve ever hit outside of playing “Over The Line” with my friends in Sandlot type settings! He looked at me, stopped everything and asked, “Who is that?” I responded, “Mike Whitford Sir!” He nodded, and the tryout kept going for the greatest game mankind has ever strategically put together. Again, a GOD moment, because before that time I had never hit a homerun that mattered, and haven’t since that time (apart from a grand slam I hit in intramural softball against the Vanguard University Faculty & Staff team)! Thank you JESUS!
3. After graduating from Vanguard University of Southern California, I landed an internship in the US Senate, and was hired in that same office one month later...I believe I was hired simply because I asked God to give me a job in the office I was interning in, and so He did! In fact, I would say, He intended for me to be the guy in that position all along. He just preserved it for me with the person who preceded me. The great part is God gave me favor with the previous guy who totally disagreed with the Senator and myself politically, but he and I got along great! He told me, “I like you. I’m going to suggest they give you my job when I resign.” By God’s good grace in my life, I was offered a Public Relations Specialist position in the US Senate. Once again, right place, right time. THANK YOU JESUS!
4. Whilst working in Washington, DC in the Senate, and being stricken to the core with a passion for people, particularly students, to KNOW the Truth and Love of God, I asked God to “call” me into ministry if He wanted me there. Within 2 months, I received 3 phone calls from the Central Valley of CA and 1 from Los Angeles. I ended up starting at the largest church in a 200+ mile radius in Central CA with a High School ministry of 300+ students! FYI, conventional ministry wisdom does not start a rookie youth pastor in a mega church setting, but God does when He wants to…thank you Jesus!
5. Lastly, if this isn’t a direct intervention of God’s grace and favor, I don’t know what is! I attribute most everything else opening up in ministry opportunity to this one pivotal point in my life’s history. In 1997, I tried out for a highly sought after traveling ministry team from my school, Vanguard University, called the Delivery Boys. There were abut 50 other young men who sought to be on this 4 man team. Unbeknownst to me, after tryouts, they had their 4 young men selected. I was not one of them. During a low key 1999 summer lunch hour after I had already graduated from the university, and was on my 3rd summer camp tour for the school, a godly man named Virgil Ziegler sat down next to me and proceeded to inform me that I was not one of their first choices for the team. Just before they were about to inform the young men who HAD been chosen, they were moved to pray and check with God about their choices. From seeking the Lord, they sensed that they were to remove a young man who had been on the team the previous year with a great heart and the necessary experience, and place me on the team instead. In other words, God orchestrated their hearts and minds to put me on that ministry team! Thank God for people who don’t just SAY they’re going to pray, but ACTUALLY DO seek the Lord for an answer! To this day, my experiences on the Delivery Boys changed the trajectory of my life and ministry. This one linchpin has been the tool God has used to unlock so many other key doors. Again, thank you Jesus! I am eternally grateful!
Once again, none of this is because of me alone, but because HE is faithful and likes to show off His faithfulness using things that the world has deemed “foolish” and “not worthy”. Its those God-ordained moments that make all the difference!
During my first 2 years of full-time youth pastoring, one of my closest friends in ministry, an armor bearer I would even say, looked me straight in the eye and said, “God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” I believe I recall him even putting his hand on my shoulder as he said it in our Student Ministries Cafe. My response? I’ll TAKE IT! You see, at this point in my life, I already realized I was not/am not, and probably will never be the coach’s “star player” or the team’s “go to guy” in a conventional sense. I’m the quintessential “under dog”. My college baseball team called me “Rudy” and “Hatcher” (see the link). Again, I don’t shrug these “labels”, nay, IDENTITY STRIPES, off. I embrace them, because those who have spoken such things are those who know me and love me best!
I was accurately and poignantly told by a pastor and mentor friend of mine who’s staff I had the privilege of being on recently, “you wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t been on ____________’s staff!” I responded by saying, “I know. I wouldn’t be anywhere if not for God’s favor in my life.” In essence, he was telling me the truth about myself that I had learned years before! Did it sting to hear? Sure. Truth often stings. But should I live in a superficial world of “I’ve reached the pinnacle of all greatness” when in truth, I’m a mere mortal, clamoring through a world dominated by the laws of limited Newtonian Physics and Macro-Evolutionary thinkers? Or should I embrace the truth about myself that there really isn’t that much that is impressive about me a part from what has been given and orchestrated by a Good God.
Is this false humility? I’m going to give a confident NO on that one. Those who know me best know that I’m an A-1 GOOF BALL. But they also know I don’t mess around when it comes to God and His reality in our lives. This is my life reality. That is not to say there are not GREATLY gifted men and women in athletics, music, politics, leadership, etc… I’m just saying, I’m not one of those, even though I wish I was! I’ve noticed that when I choose to live by grace, great things happen in my life. When I solely lean on my own “skills” and experiences, I find myself clamoring for the wind. I do NOT negate the power and wonder of God’s anointing when I preach and minister! But that’s just it. HE is the One Who does mighty things in and through us. So if people stand perplexed looking on wondering “how” and/or “why is God using THAT guy or THAT girl?” then shouldn’t we point to Jesus?
The Apostle Paul says it this way in Galatians 6:3-5:
“3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load.”
What profit is there for us to live in a perpetual state of self-deception, and comparison to others gifts and talents, never fully realizing who God is making us into? Why compare your gifts to another’s? God has gifted each of us according to HIS wisdom and determination (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). Others will also compare you and your gifts to their own and that of others. In this world, we will all be faced with the daunting expectation by “men” to play the part of a “professional” or something to the tune that “you’ve reached this far in stature, so now you need to play by the rules of the big leagues…”, whatever that means! Its even in the Church! People place these ungodly expectations on us as if we don’t all tend to be childISH in our “mature years”, and as if we’re not to remain childLIKE in those very same years! Just look at the Pharisees of Jesus’ day: childish in their religious understanding and NOT childlike in matters of faith.
Unimpressive. MOST unimpressive…to God. Doesn’t HIS voice and perspective matter MOST?
Through 15 years of full-time ministry, I’ve had to learn to have THICK skin while keeping a soft heart. How does one do that? I’ve simply embraced Shepherd Boy David’s response to his brother’s ridicule and improper judgment of his character from 1 Samuel 17:20-40, just before he courageously faced Goliath the Giant, under the anointing of the Spirit of God. As Mike DeVito, an influential mentor of mine through the years, said, “Know WHO you are and WHO’s you are.” When you have confidence in WHO you are IN CHRIST and WHO is in you, that’s when UNimpressive, becomes impressive. And by impressive, I don’t mean to the eyes of people. Were David’s brothers and father highly impressed by what they saw? Was King Saul impressed by David’s stature? No and no.
Not to take away from author and speaker, Malcolm Gladwell’s intriguing take on the David & Goliath story, but I still hold to the traditional view that it was GOD alone who brought victory for David against Goliath. David was careful to give glory to God when he spoke to Saul regarding taking out the bear and the lion, and that it would be GOD who gave him victory over the giant (1 Samuel 17:37).
So, if you find yourself trying to IMPRESS others with YOUR achievements in YOUR strength, may I suggest that you STOP. Stop trying so hard. Stop working your knuckles to the bone. Work hard AND smart, by all means! Just stop trying to impress others while you do it. Stop competing against your brother and sister, when your motive toward them should be that of love and spurring them on to even greater deeds than your own (Hebrews 10:24). Give God the opportunity to do an even GREATER work in and through you by stepping aside and letting HIM be impressive through you. Not easy, but worth both CHOOSING humility and embracing moments when the Lord chooses to humble us when we don’t necessarily wish to be humbled. Gene Edward’s book, “A Tale of Three Kings” has been instrumental in my journey of UN-impressiveness and choosing not to drop out of the “school of brokenness.” Read the book. It’s beyond good, its, amazzz-a-za-zing!
In the end, who are we serving? Be honest with who or what you are serving, whether God, self, or some vain humanistic “cause”, and that will point you to who you ARE and who you’re becoming. As for me? I’m still running after the One Who gave up His life so I could have life to the full. I want to simply hear the words from Jesus’ mouth toward me, and I pray for my family and friends, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” (Matthew 25:23). And you know what? I will not have earned the right of entry into Heaven on my own merits or abilities, but purely on His grace and blood willingly shed for the forgiveness of my multiple failures and shortcomings.
May our Heavenly Father look upon all of us on that day and say, “Impressive. Most impressive…because of what My Son has done in and through you.”