I was the healthiest sick person you could’ve met. From my grade school years, I mastered perfect attendance, never missing a minute of school unless I was truly too sick to be in the classroom. Once we moved up to letter grades, the only letter I was satisfied with was “A.” Anything less brought deep disappointment and a strong will to push harder.
In track and field, I studied the technique of the world’s greatest triple jumpers and ferociously hunted down the state records, even with a torn quadriceps muscle. I was also the “good” church boy who went to youth group — though mainly to play basketball, eat pizza, and meet girls. I can even remember our basketball team warming up to one of my rap songs before home games. I had it all together.
Yet my soul was desperately sick. And I had no idea.
‘Why Don’t You Rap About Jesus?’
As a 17-year-old track star with multiple Division I track-and-field offers, and everything going for me in the classroom, God used a new friend to change my eternity. Just after “the merge” of my senior year — when the two local school districts in my county became one single district — I started eating lunch with a kid named Josh. He was a pastor’s kid who had such a deep love for Christian hip-hop that he would preorder nearly every major release at our local Christian bookstore. He heard some of my music and asked a simple question: “If you’re a Christian, why don’t you rap about Jesus?”
“I was the healthiest sick person you could’ve met.”
I was floored. What kind of question was that? I was too cool for Christian rap. I listened to it a little bit during middle school, but it just wasn’t my taste. I responded with a very common response: “Christian rap is corny, and the beats are wack.” The next day, he gave me some CDs from Lecrae, Trip Lee, and Tedashii. As soon as school let out, I slid Lecrae’s After the Music Stops into my car stereo and heard “Jesus Muzik” for the first time. As I listened to this album, I couldn’t help but notice the love Lecrae and the other Reach artists had for Jesus. They had a joy in him that I desperately needed.
Diagnosed — and Healed
One question reverberated in my mind during this season: “Why don’t you know Christ like these guys do?” For years, I had prayed a rapid-fire prayer every night before bed that went something like, “Dear God, thank you for this day. Please forgive me for all my sins. In Jesus’s name, Amen.” Yet my formal, shallow version of Christianity was no match for the real faith I was hearing in these albums.
I realized that I didn’t know God, and if I wanted eternal life, something drastic needed to happen. I didn’t know what else to do besides open my Bible to the red letters and see exactly what Jesus said and how Jesus lived. During that season of life, Jesus spoke these words to me: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12–13). At the moment that Jesus showed me that I was terminally sick, his healing touch brought me eternal life.
As a 17-year-old boy, I came to abide in the true vine and know true union with Christ (John 15:1–11). As the years progress, I continue to learn what Jesus meant when he said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full’ (John 15:11).
Ruined Dreams and a Present God
From the outside, my life may have still looked picture-perfect, but the Shepherd of my soul carried me through some trials and taught me how to be joyful in both the day of prosperity and the day of adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:14).
Two years after being saved, Jesus carried me through a torn hamstring that ultimately shattered my track-and-field dreams, a broken engagement after three years of dating, and a shift in my college from premed to sociology. All of this happened within a twelve-month span. So much of my identity suddenly came to a crashing halt. Once again, God was showing me sickness so he could bring deeper healing.
In the years that followed, depression was a stubborn darkness that put my life in grayscale on most days. Anxiety tinged every negative experience and brought an edginess in the few moments when the darkness seemed to lift a bit. Yet God never left me. In fact, he felt nearer to me in those tear-filled nights than I had ever experienced. In the valley of the shadow of death, I felt the gentle rod of correction as God was uprooting my idols (Psalm 23:4), but I also felt the healing balm of the gentle and lowly Savior who wouldn’t break the bruised reed or quench the smoking wick (Matthew 12:20).
In that adversity, I finally understood what Lecrae meant in his song “Grateful” when he rapped,
Lord, I’m lowly
You chose me
To witness Your glory by being made holy
You know me, my ins and outs
You calm all of my anxieties and end my doubts
For the first time, I felt those lyrics in my soul, and they resonated so deeply.
Desiring Him in Every Season
It was also during that season of adversity that I discovered John Piper’s vision for deep Christ-centered joy. I devoured his teaching and preaching through the sermons, podcasts, and articles at Desiring God, but the depression often consumed me so much that there seemed to be no joy at the end of the tether. I wondered if I was truly saved. I didn’t know if my gnawing stomach pain and aching heart would ever dissipate so I could be enraptured by the joy of Christ. I was fearful that I’d always desire relief from my pain more than joy in God himself.
But God never let me down. Through the books When I Don’t Desire God, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, and The Dangerous Duty of Delight, I was given a fresh vision of God-centered joy that would fuel my spiritual life. Rather than merely desiring an escape from the cage of depression and anxiety, I was captured by a more beautiful view of God than I had ever seen. I was captivated by the glory of Christ and the pursuit of infinite joy in him for my complete satisfaction.
I began to see that God could be glorified in my lifelong pursuit to glorify him by enjoying him forever — even in the place of pain and adversity. This isn’t something I’ve arrived at; it’s something that I’m learning day in and day out.
Weakness Is Where I Meet Him
After more than a decade of battling seasons of depression and anxiety, the God-centered God is still giving me joy both on the mountaintop and in the valley. Whether it’s a rough night of sleep, fears about the pandemic, anxiety about impending global war, or the daily struggles of marriage and parenting, I am faced with my weaknesses. And yet, God is teaching me to say with Paul, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
“Rather than resisting my weakness, I am learning to commune with God in that weakness.”
No matter the circumstance, I can’t rely on my intellect, athletic ability, skill with words, or any other natural talent I could try to muster up. I’m faced with the joyful reality that God uses me despite the gifts he gave me so that my life can be a true testament to the power of Christ resting upon me. It terrifies me to say this, but I need to be weak. I need to be confronted with my utter helplessness apart from Christ lest I forget the God who brought me out of darkness and into marvelous light. I need it lest I forget to find my confidence and joy in him. A branch cannot bear fruit in itself unless it abides in the vine.
Rather than resisting my weakness, I am learning to commune with God in that weakness. Rather than clinging to self-help strategies to fix me up, I am learning that God is my rock. Rather than living in fear of what may happen tomorrow, I am learning that God gave me a spirit of love, power, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). He is teaching me these lessons through the ordinary means of grace. As I exercise the spiritual disciplines, attend corporate worship, receive the Lord’s Supper, and pursue discipleship in the local church, God is teaching me to draw near to him as he draws near to me.
God continues to draw me to himself for true joy. For me, this often requires humbling me in the areas that seem like my strengths. But by tearing them away, he enables me to receive what he is offering to me. For God opposes the proud, but gives grace — and joy — to the humble.