I had a conversation with my friend over breakfast this morning about finding purpose in pain. This man lost his 18-year old son to a heroin overdose last year, and with coffee and omelets spread out in front of us we shared our struggles of walking through loss and trial this past year. I told him one of the components of healing that has been catalytic for me is discovering purpose in it. I could tell by the furrow in his brow he was having trouble pinpointing exactly what his purpose could be through what he’s experienced. He asked me what I thought my “new” purpose was. I told him it was helping people discover their purpose in the midst of both pain and peaks, valleys and mountain tops, trials and triumphs.
I know this could sound pithy and cliche, but I certainly didn’t say it flippantly. Recently I have been giving it some extensive consideration. I even did an exercise a few days ago where I crafted and wrote down a new purpose statement for my life.
You see, one thing I’ve learned is that God gives evil just enough space that it eventually destroys itself. Sure it’s tough to reconcile why God would allow evil to invade my life the way it has. But what if what the enemy thought he was destroying, God was raising with a new ferocity. What if what the enemy thought he was killing was actually the very thing that would bring countless people to life. Sure, Amanda was killed, but through that a new vigor for seeing lost people find new life in Christ, a new passion for restoring hope to the hopeless, and a new tenacity for helping people break the strongholds that restrain them has been birthed within me. It’s very easy to focus on the destruction that has taken place in your life and lose sight of the destiny it’s setting up for you. It’s very easy to focus on your past and forget that God uses all of your past to leverage all of your purpose in life.
Let me tell you about one of the purposes that have become crystal clear for me since losing Amanda.
In July of 2014 we launched a series called #ForIndy. This series would become an annual end-of-the-summer push for our church. It was birthed out of a dream Amanda and I had that one day our church would be so influential in our city we would make some monumental changes in its darkest sectors - sectors where drug abuse, violence, gang-related activity, sex-trafficking, and systemic poverty run rampant. The problem was we didn’t think we were big enough to actually do anything about these issues. They were daunting for the largest of congregations, let alone a congregation of fifty people. So we decided to do something small. We encouraged our people to commit random acts of kindness to strangers and peers throughout the course of that series, then post a picture of that act and hashtag it with #ForIndy. We thought maybe we could start a viral movement in our city where people demonstrated kindness rather than selfishness, giving rather than taking, love rather than spite. We hoped that our acts of kindness would inspire others to join in on the movement and they would pay it forward.
Sure enough, it took off. We saw people outside of our church jump on the #ForIndy bandwagon. It even garnered local news attention - not just the first year but two years in a row! God seemed to bless our efforts and, at least seasonly, it stirred people to be more proactive in looking outside of themselves to serve others.
After two years of doing this I started growing restless. I didn’t feel like we were making much of a difference. Sure we had created some buzz, but I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to birth a movement. I didn’t want a seasonal push, I wanted cultural change. I wanted to do more than just make someone’s day, I wanted to change someone’s life.
We went away on a leadership retreat to Cincinnati at the beginning of November 2015. While sitting around a conference table with our whole leadership team and their spouses, I posed this question, “How has God distinctly positioned us to make a unique difference in our city?” The Lord had been showing me that we were not THE church, that we were A church - that we had a specific part and instrument to play in the score of God’s kingdom. I had one goal for this retreat - wrestle that purpose to the ground and begin implementing it.
When I posed the question, someone brought up our #ForIndy campaign. Several others chimed in that we had struck something with this. Soon everyone at the table thought this could be our unique positioning - everyone except for me.
I stopped the conversation and told everyone I wasn’t sold on it. I shared with them that I didn’t feel like we were really making much of a difference with #ForIndy. I didn’t see what we could do to shift it so I thought we needed to shelf it. I could tell no one agreed with me, but because I was the leader and I couldn’t get behind it, we all recognized it would be impossible for our church to truly champion it. So we retired the #ForIndy campaign.
Three days later my house was broken into while I was at the gym, and Amanda and our unborn baby, Evie, were murdered.
Tragedy - especially death - has a way of clarifying things. When you lose the most important person in your life you begin to take inventory of what really matters. Eternity seems so palpable you can taste it. And, if you’ll let Him, Jesus will use your pain to cause your heart to beat more fervently for what makes His heart beat.
After Amanda’s funeral I spent a week away at NewSpring Church being sheltered from the media mayhem and getting pastored and cared for. After that week I flew back into Indy paralyzingly afraid of how my heart was going to feel about our city - this city for which Amanda and I left comfort, relationships, convenience, and safety in order to reach it. I was terrified my heart would grow bitter toward Indy for what it had stolen from me.
To my surprise, rather than my heart growing resentful, my heart actually grew more compassionate. Almost as if Amanda’s heart for our city was being joined with mine as this ferocious furnace of brokenness and mercy. In my book (which releases Nov. 7th) I explain in much more detail the specific occurrences and relationships Jesus used in my life to instill this in me. What you need to know at this moment, however, is that the mission of #ForIndy was suddenly clarified and my passion for it took on a whole new depth.
#Forindy is now about intercepting kids and teenagers in our inner city with the Gospel before they resort to a life of crime, drug-abuse and gangs. It’s about breaking generational sin cycles and making disciples for Jesus. It’s about penetrating the darkest parts of our city with the light-bearing and life-giving message of Jesus. It’s about making sure the enemy can’t steal, kill, and destroy in anyone else’s life as he did in ours. We know we can’t change things overnight, but we can change things over time. We know we can’t do everything, but we can do something.
This past Sunday we spent the entire service highlighting for our congregation what we’ve been doing with #ForIndy over the course of 2016. The Lord connected us (in a very profound way I chronicle in the book) with an African American pastor in an area of our inner-city called Riverside. On Sunday we highlighted our partnership with this pastor and his church in our Adopt-A-Block program - our effort to build trust equity with the people of Riverside by meeting tangible, physical needs (such as mowing grass, raking leaves, fixing gutters, cleaning up trash, repairing siding, etc.) in order to gain a platform to speak into spiritual needs.
We also spent a considerable amount of time casting vision about new opportunities for mentoring kids and teenagers through our newly formed partnerships with Youth For Christ and CityLife. On Sunday I hosted four Youth For Christ and CityLife staffers as we dialogued on stage about the challenges facing our inner-city’s youth.
As you're reading/watching this is your heart quickening? Does this get you excited like it has us? If so we'd love to get you involved. If you're in the Indianapolis area and want to serve you can sign up here. If you're not in the Indianapolis area and can't serve, would you consider giving a one-time or recurring gift to #ForIndy? You can do so by clicking on this link and following the promptings to give. Your gift helps us intercept these kids and teenagers with the message of the Gospel.
How am I now finding purpose in my pain? For starters, I step up on stage every week and proclaim the goodness of the Lord even in the midst of the most difficult seasons of life. People are drawn to Jesus and He saves them. That’s a swift kick in the nuts to Satan. And the upper-cut to his jaw is the change that we’ll see take place in the Riverside area. I wake up every day now thinking to myself (and sometimes out loud) what Paul alluded to in Philippians 1:12 - What if "what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel.” And let me challenge you with this, what if what has happened to you could also serve to advance the Gospel? When you and I shift our perspective in that way, we’ll begin to discover purpose in our pain.