On Platforms: Ann Voskamp

One of my favourite wordsmiths writes to my heart with this article on the truth about platforms. It’s so good I’ll just clip the whole article here on my blog:

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We plant seeds here on the farm, kneel and put hands in the dirt.

From dust we have come and to dust we will return — we’re all just dust.

One of the kids kneels in the dirt, looks up, and asks:

“So, I asked this kid yesterday what he wanted to be someday? And he said he was going to be a famous player. Why do all the kids want to be famous? Is that kinda the point of everything — to become famous? What if I just — wanna be a farmer?”

I mention that to the kid:

That when plucky Jennifer Lawrence tripped in her festooning white gown, trying to get up on that platform to get her Oscar—the world kinda fell in love a bit more for her stumbling, blessed humanity.

Because, really now, who teaches you how to hold up the piles of taffeta and take the stairs for an Oscar?

Who teaches anyone how to stand up and be famous?

It just isn’t done—or at least, if you check out the headlines in the checkout aisle, it’s rarely done well.

Because the thing is, no one is meant to really stand on platforms.

Sure, everyone’s got a platform under them—every parent, every creative, every businessperson, every person who is standing somewhere, near someone.

Sure, the movers and shakers would have us thinking that a platform is what elevates your visibility above the crowd so your message finds its your audience.

But there’s a deeper current of Truth running through the cosmos: 

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

And in a world where there are 93 million selfies taken a day and counting — the strange thing is, for all the striving to be seen:  The more exposed we are, the more unknown we can feel. 

Fame and feeling noticed —- isn’t the same as being known and feeling loved.

How do you tell the kids — that the truth is:

You don’t have to pursue fame to transcend your own mortality, because Christ pursues you and in Him you transcend all of time right into eternity.

The greatest venom of fame can be that you start thinking mostly about yourself — to the point of death by self.

And you’re not made to think mostly about self — you’re made to think about serving, about others, about giving away yourself.

It’s a conversation to have when you’re bending low in dirt, planting small seeds, dirt under your fingernails:

A platform is whatever one finds under one’s feet—and the only thing that is meant to be under a Christian is an altar.

The only call on a Christian is not to pick up a microphone, not to pick some stairs to some higher platform, but to pick up a cross and come die.

The only call on a Christian is to build every platform into the shape of an altar, to shape every platform into the form of sacrificial service.

Every platform, every microphone, every podium is meant to be a nail—fixing us to Christ, the only One lifted up.

The loamy earth is dark in our hands.

When our culture places a premium upon stardom — we live in perpetual dark.

Culture that is fixated on stardom misses the light of extraordinary people doing holy, ordinary work.

The sun is catching in the trees over the field, falling on the Farmer’s bent back, on the backs of the kids with their hands in dirt.

A boy looks up at his dad, smiles. And my heart kinda burns:

 You will most deeply find yourself when you find yourself serving others — and looking up into the face of God.

The world tilts upside down and finally aright — when we see all platforms and the purpose of everything is simply taking on the form of service.

Serve from a real place:

A platform isn’t about remarkable marketing; it’s about serving in a remarkable way.

It’s about serving from a real place of humility, authenticity, and vulnerable transparency.

Cease striving to get to a higher, greater platform—and start praying to go lower to serve greater.

Jesus’ platform was a place of serving from His real humanity, as He walked and talked and broke and gave away His real life. The most remarkable platforms are those that are altars that leave the mark of the sacrificed Christ. 

Serve a real need:

A platform is a holy place to kneel down and wash the very real wounds of the hurting. Jesus’ platform wasn’t about pushing his agenda or ‘product,’ but about caring for people’s afflictions and pain.

Serve real value:

A platform isn’t about self-serving, but is about humbly serving possible solutions. Jesus’ platform was about bending low to offer that which had real, eternal value.

I find a way to tell that kid kneeling down in the dirt:

Could have been the tulle and satin that made Jennifer Lawrence trip trying to get up to that platform. Might be what you see in checkout headlines and in the pages of the Good Book:

The soul was never made to carry the weight of fame. 

The frame of a soul was never made for fame. The frame of a soul was made to serve. 

Fame can only be carried by the One who could carry the weight of the world on that Cross.

“You know what I think, Son?” I turn to the boy planting his seeds in dirt. “I think if you could talk to Jennifer Lawrence or all the famous players in whatever big league they’ve landed in? I think they’d tell you all the same thing….”

I lean over, lay a few more seeds into his open hand.

“I think everyone should get rich and famous and get all the things they want — to find out that none of that’s the answer that they really want.”

And the boy half-grins and nods, plants his small seeds in the warm dirt.

And there’s a way to believe in the value of The Seed Life, a way to believe in the eternal answers found in small things that do the best work in hidden ways.

The boy and I and his dad, we plant seeds, the knees of old jeans worn and dirt-laden with the bending, with the brave beauty of going lower.

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what do you really want

A while back God revealed an inner insecurity. It happened, by his mercy, and unexpectedly, while I was enjoying the most delicious plate of juicy, tender roast chicken soaked in creamy mushroom sauce at dinner with Becky, at Poulet. Oh, how we both love Poulet so very much, we practically rave about it each time we meet.

Dinner conversations with Becky are safe, so I opened up a topic that had been bugging me. I started by sharing about how I miss the times I had a group of my own girls to officially mentor and “do life with,” and how I find that in my present job scope, there isn’t enough room to do such things let alone is it structured in such a way that favours these types of mentoring or “life-doing” activities. It’s so unfavourable that I have to practically force squeeze it into my schedule and make sure I cover meeting up whoever the Lord lays upon my heart to meet up.

Halfway through that sharing, I started tearing up. I had no idea it would hit me so hard. And then I said, “I think this is revealing an insecurity. I need people to need me. If I’m not the person that these youths run to when they have trouble in their life, I feel useless and unwanted. I feel like I have failed as their leader.”

In recent moments, this insecurity has bubbled up time and again. It comes up when I see youths at gatherings, or ladies at brunches, or fellow colleagues hash-tagging #mentoring #ministrylife and so on in my social media feeds. I think this is my version of what some youths call FOMO. I have a legit fear of missing out – on people’s lives.

In all objectivity, I think there are many facets to this. For starters, I’m letting comparison ruin my contentment in the season that God has me in my specific department with my specific job scope. At the same time, I believe that I am not limited to nor am I defined by my job scope. I can bust out of that and stretch. Of course, there is real physical limited capacity, so I have to manage time and energy. But it is possible. And I need to be realistic about expectations. Prioritise. I can’t cover the whole worship ministry, but I must touch base with the top tier of leaders regularly, at least.

But I think the deeper issue God is working within me is one that is of a dredging nature. He’s dredging out all the emotional yuck and gunk so that he can get to the core. And at the core he’s asking me, put aside what you feel, because that’s misleading you. Sam, what do you really want?

I realised that I don’t want to be involved deeply in every single person’s life per se, out of the fifties and the hundreds. I don’t want the imagined (and oh so misguided) prestige of being everyone’s Aunt Agony. I don’t want to define my success as a ministry leader by how many people call me up for daily advice. I don’t want to define my effectiveness by how many girls and boys are gathered around my dinner table, or how many people invite me to their homes, or how many house blessings/funerals/hospital visits I get asked to, or how many fellowship events we have. I don’t really want people to need me, because that’s an unhealthy co-dependent relationship and so wrong at so many levels.

So what do I really want?

Here’s where the real ache in my heart is: I highly value authenticity in relationships, to the point that I would rather be known to the people in my life as Sam, plainly and simply. Not Sam-the-ministry-staff, or Sam-our-boss, or Sam-my-leader, or Sam-the-worship-leader, or Sam-the-event-coordinator.

I think there’s a tricky river to navigate when I approach people in various situations wearing different hats, simply because I do have many overlapping roles in ministry. Perhaps there is something about my disposition in each ministry relational encounter, and perhaps it is something I need to acknowledge and work with, as well as work within myself to accept. And aside from the perhaps-es, I ache to slow down. To slow to such a pace that I don’t have to rush past the people in ministry – a touch here, a word there, a prayer here, a rehearsal there. I am aching to create margin in my life, not just for time to do what’s priority in work, but to prioritise people I meet along the way at my work. I want relationships to not be work.

I don’t exactly know how this can happen practically, but at least I know where to channel my misguided (frankly egotistical) “I need people to need me” tendencies now, and how to take these thoughts captive in obedience to Christ and instead ask of him – Lord, show me how these relationships should really be. Let me be excellent at work but let me not just relate with people on merely the work level. Grant your favour upon the relationships I have, that what I’ve just mentioned be a mutual desire between myself and the other parties. At the same time, deepen my identity and security in you, that I will not have an irrational FOMO. FOMO is a poor motivator and it will not sustain me in leadership. Instead, let me be motivated by your love to reach people. Only because of love, not for self-gain. All in Jesus’ name, amen.

on sc(rolling) in bed

So. I’ve caught a cold and the doctor has ordered lots of water, and lots of bed rest. I’m itching to get back to the office tomorrow because it’s been such a hiatus from work what with taking so much time off last week for the (amazing) World Assemblies of God conference that our country had the privilege of hosting, and I am ever so thankful for the opportunity to lead worship at. But for today, bed rest.

It takes a while for my mind to shut down. I’m an eager beaver, go-getter, sense-of-urgency, I-want-it-done-yesterday kind of girl. So in between waking and sleeping, I got some work done. But what I really want to confess is I also got to scrolling rather much on social media.

In the midst of that, I found old familiar voices creeping back in my head as I thumbed through Instagram feeds, FaceBook posts and Pinterest boards. Your life is less happening and less romantic than theirs. Your yoga pants don’t look half as pretty as hers and girl, she got better muscle definition than you. Your room looks amateurishly done up compared to her spotless, aesthetically winning apartment, and you’re still living with your parents. Your love life is non-existent while this cute couple shares a video of themselves writing and sealing wedding invites. 

Down a rabbit hole I went, until the Holy Spirit in mercy whispered, “Hey that’s enough surfing. Come away.”

Cease the information saturation. Stop the comparison marathon. Let my soul be content in that which the Lord has provided and the places He has me in. Let my heart make its boast in what the Lord has done in me and may that not require a single point of reference upon another person’s highlight reel.

Back to bed rest, and disciplining myself not to scroll while rolling in bed. I declare in Jesus’ name that this mind of mine does not need a mental vacation into the land of social media in order to unwind.

one dream too big

The Lord’s been inviting me to dream with him recently. Note: I already am a dreamer, so when the Lord asks me to dream, it’s bigger than the crazy ideas I cook up on a somewhat regular basis.

I’m struggling with this one. Before I can even hit a real roadblock, I’ve already encountered barriers in my mind. I want open doors now. I want the blueprint yesterday. I want the higher-ups and authorities to approve everything the fulfilment of this dream needs with applause. My fear of the naysayers is real, because what if they’re right, and this is a stupid idea? What if I get one “no” too many for an answer? And what about my weaknesses – my impulsivity, my lack of experience, my poor follow-through skills – what if these become overwhelmingly destructive?

My friend C, who had no clue about the dream-a-cookin’, brought up the subject yesterday. He said the exact word that encapsulated the essence of it, and I took that as further confirmation from God to go ahead. C’s one in a series of people who have already broached this subject in this season of processing and praying about whether to shelve the idea, or wait, or go. C also gave a very encouraging word: “God halted the Jordan for Israel a few miles upstream. It wasn’t immediately visible or tangible, but the miracle happened the moment they exercised faith. The Jordan didn’t part when they took their first step, it parted something like two miles upstream.”

I’m standing at the beginning and worried about what’s upstream. I have hesitation still. I’m looking at the mountain when I haven’t taken my first step yet, and feeling overwhelmed. The Lord reminded me of that time my friends and I climbed Mt Kerinci in Indonesia. We saw the mountain from our homestay from afar, and it looked unscalable. But we put one foot in front of the other, and made it to the peak.

kerinci
View from the foot of Mount Kerinci, beautifully photographed by my friend Sarah.

I want to keep praying about this. Not so much about whether God has really given the green light or not, but I want to pray about the how. Where do we start? How do we plan for this? Who do we rope in? Who can we count on to make this happen? More importantly, I want to pray for crystal clarity in my own heart, a resolve to follow him step by step and not try to bust out on my own, or make things happen on my own timeline. That I will not be tempted to define success the way the world defines it, nor let comparison with other similar movements (if I can call it that) overshadow contentment in God. 

Pray with me! 

 

 

etching

on my skin.

I’m not trying to be a tattoo hipster Christian. Heh. It’s just that I’ve discovered a rather interesting and effective way of memorising scripture recently, legit. Last week, I wrote ἔλεος (eleos, Greek for “mercy, compassion”) on my ankle.

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“…knowledge puffs up, but love builds up…” – 1 Corinthians 8:1

on my heart.

But seriously, God’s been speaking to me about cultivating gentleness, patience and humility of heart. This has been going on for, oh, weeks now. Somehow, I keep returning to these themes in my bible reading and in daily things – situations at work, when I catch myself with yucky emotions and attitudes, or in relationships, when I find myself being quick to speak (and not kindly), quick to get angry/annoyed, slow to listen and understand.

It’s not the best feeling in the world to keep confronting this part of my sinfulness. I’d much rather be in a season where God is just pouring heaps of affirmation, and bringing favour and success and all things wonderful magical supernatural, gold glitter sparkles and fairy dust my way. But there’s a time for discipline, and digging in, and working and waiting.

So I choose to abide, never mind if that doesn’t feel good all the time. Because God’s been etching themes and verses on my heart, like John 15:5 – fruitfulness comes after faithfulness; and 1 Corinthians 8:1 – knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

And today he’s etching Colossians 2:12-15 on my heart.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

trading ashes for beauty

i’ll trade these ashes in for beauty
and wear forgiveness like a crown
coming to kiss the feet of mercy
i lay every burden down
at the foot of the cross

These are the exact lyrics I will be leading the congregation to sing tomorrow. This God I know, he is so spot on with his timing in teaching me to internalise things I want to teach others.

In a very unexpected way, at a songwriters’ night I hosted today, I traded my ashes.

Continue reading “trading ashes for beauty”

always a song to sing

Across the table, my friend suddenly asked me, “And what would be the theme of your life?” It must have been a few seconds too long before I realised I had left my jaw open and my other friend thought she had to interject a light-hearted comment to break the silence. “My theme: seasons,” quipped the one who asked me the question.

It wasn’t that the moment was awkward, tense, or anything. Continue reading “always a song to sing”

soft light, cool breeze

It’s 4pm on an easy Friday, I’m working on a paper about Jesus healing on the Sabbath day. Making slow progress, but no regrets. There’s calming music on my playlist, and occasionally I glance down to see Patches enjoying the afternoon. His being so relaxed reminds me to relax and take it easy. He has no worries, this little furry love. He makes no apologies for the way he is, and he’s completely loved and taken care of in our house, just as he is. I’m reminding myself that in my heavenly Father’s house, I’m completely loved and taken care of too, just as I am.

It’s serendipitous, moments like these, where there is much to enjoy about simple things like the open door, soft afternoon light on a clear day in a string of rainy days, a nice breeze coming in, this rare precious moment of sharing a lovely afternoon with Patches. We don’t get a lot of this, I’m always keeping busy out of the house. A long stretch of quiet afternoon with not very much going on, and nothing to say, is very restoring to my soul.

I’ll let pictures continue to do the talking.

Continue reading “soft light, cool breeze”

my alabaster jar

It’s 11.30pm, I’ve just settled back home from a long day of ministry that began at 8am. I sang at a wedding, counselled a young woman, worked on my assignments, coached a young man, observed the youths in our worship ministry at their rehearsal, wrote up my overdue claims for the month, took a cat nap, ate a chicken pie, made a smoothie, had a ministry planning meeting, ate fried chicken with my team on the church rooftop, scheduled a few meetings, replied emails, all in one day. Not in that order. Welcome to a typical Saturday in my life. It’s crazy (but fruitful) busy.

Now that I’m home, I thought that I could handle staying up a few more hours to work on my hermeneutics module assignment that’s sorely lacking my attention this week.

Yet the Lord’s tugging at my heart to come away and trade my textbooks for a YouTube sermon video. To feed myself some soul food tonight for a change. “Search one by Joyce Meyer,” I sense Him nudging. Continue reading “my alabaster jar”