Bishop T.D. Jakes, the #1 bestselling author of The Lady, Her Lover, and Her Lord, offers women a plan for taking charge of their lives--and starring in the unique role God has chosen them to play in the world. Providing the inspiration and the tools women need to face life's challenges, he teaches them how to:
€ Triumph in the face of adversity
€ Recognize the Lord's calling
€ Create a godly and successful legacy--that will inspire and influence generations to come
The Director's Call
You never know when your time will come to take your place on a larger stage. Several years ago, I was invited to a conference commemorating the powerful events that happened at the turn of the century in Los Angeles, California, known as Azusa. This ministry phenomenon first started in 1906 when a number of Methodist bishops, led by a one-eyed black man named William J. Seymour, experienced a powerful revival at the small Apostolic Faith Mission located at 312 Azusa Street. They prayed together every single day for three years. Out of this fervency for God was born the Pentecostal movement as we know it. Since its dramatic yet humble beginning, the Azusa conference has become an annual time of celebrating and renewing the passionate fervor of God's Holy Spirit.
So I had been invited to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to celebrate the history-making power of God's Spirit working through Bishop Seymour and the others. It was my first Azusa conference, and I was so excited to see the diversity of people of all faiths and backgrounds gathered together in one concert of praise and worship. What an exhilarating experience it was for me! I was not a speaker, a singer, or on the program at all. I was just another face in the place. But what an excitement enveloped me as I sat in the crowd. That first night, amid the ten to twelve thousand people gathered in the auditorium, I took my seat high in the balcony, one man worshiping with the many, through the music, the preaching, the energy of the Body of Christ gathered to celebrate. Nobody knew who I was or why I was there, other than to share in the service as we were all doing.
The next night my friend Sarah Jordan Powell, the talented Gospel singer, invited me to sit with her and her family in the front row. The view was different, of course, being up close and up front near the stage. I could see the powerful muscles in a soloist's face and neck as she strained to hit the perfect high note of her song. I could see the beads of perspiration forming along the forehead of one of the gifted preachers as he read Scripture beneath the white-hot stage lights. I could sense the nervous energy of those about to speak, their anticipation at being used by God's Spirit to deliver His message to the waiting throngs of people.
One preacher's message, in particular, caught my attention that night. Richard Hinton, pastor of the Monument of Faith Church in Chicago, used a analogy that became a precursor for how the Lord was about to use and bless me and my ministry. Bishop Hinton introduced the metaphor of being onstage in a play or show and explained how performers had to take their places in the shadows backstage and in the wings long before the lights went up and their scenes began. These actors had to be fully prepared in a matter of seconds to recognize their cue, hit their mark, and give all they had to the hungry audience. These actors had to be in makeup and their appropriate costume already; they had to know where and when to cross the stage; they had to have memorized their lines long before this moment in the darkness, waiting. These performers know that they are next in line to walk onstage and share their talent with the eager crowd. They are willing to do all it takes to prepare for their time onstage.
Bishop Hinton used this analogy to convey how we must be ready when God turns up the lights on the stage of our lives and we are thrust into positions of leadership, ministry, and responsibility that challenge us to the very core of our being. Positions that we may not have even dreamed about on our own, stages that seem distant and lofty from our starting places. He insisted that we must focus on our present purpose, our place in serving the King's company, if we expect to be stretched and extended to our full potential as men and women of God when He raises the lights on our next stage. If we do our part of preparation in the day-to-day tasks requiring our attention, then God will increase our responsibilities and use us to our fullest, and then some. "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much" (Luke 16:10, NIV).
I discovered this truth for myself; so much can happen in the space of 365 days! The following year I returned to Azusa not as a spectator or worshiper from the pews but as the speaker on the closing night. Suddenly I was catapulted onstage, beneath the blinding lights, before thousands and thousands of faces. Yes, the butterflies in my stomach felt more like hummingbirds beating against my rib cage, but there was also something to steady my resolve. I had taken Hinton's message to heart. I had heard the Lord speak to me that night a year before. I had prepared to the best of my ability not just in the prior months but most of my life. You see, I believe that your successes and your failures help to shape your destiny. Both had worked as a team to develop the man who was to speak that night. Like partners under contract, all that I had won and all that I had lost labored together to define this one moment in my life. Was I ready to be seen onstage, to be heard echoing through the rafters where I had sat the year before, to be known in the naked vulnerability of one who puts himself before the Lord and His people? I wasn't sure. I didn't know. But often life will take you beyond ready answers and into the land of faith. And before my faith could reassure me, I was being introduced. But not just to the sizable audience there. I was being introduced to the next twenty years of my living. I was being introduced to the part of me that was waiting in the wings. Ready or not, here I come walking across the stage, taking on the challenge, and being thrust into the brightest blinding light my soul has ever known.
Shortly after I preached the closing night at Azusa, one opportunity after another began to fall into my path. Owners of the Trinity Broadcast Network contacted me about broadcasting my sermons. I had no cameras, no fancy church, and only a very small staff. All I had was a mandate from God, a burning sense of destiny, and a touch of real indigestion. Stage fright? Oh, yeah! But fright need not stop you when you have faith for that which you are afraid.
A little later I was able to acquire a spot on Black Entertainment Television. They, too, offered me a contract to broadcast my services. Speaking engagements emerged before larger and larger crowds of people. Days turned into years like pages blowing in an open book, and I found myself speaking before almost eighty thousand people at the Georgia Dome, breaking all records for attendance at the stadium. On September 17, 2001, I found myself on the cover of Time magazine. I tell you this not to boast or brag about anything I have done but to be willing to be who God made me. I was willing to take my place onstage, day in and day out, until the curtain went up and I found myself in the light of God's purpose. Ultimately, all that I went through was to prepare me to coach you.
The Potter's Shelf
For you see, this analogy of preparing to take your place onstage applies to you right now even as you're reading this. The message is not just to me and those in more public forms of ministry and leadership. It's not a message to those who already have it all together and want to be recognized for what they have done. No, it is a call to action wherever we are, especially for those God has brought through the wilderness to the Promised Land. I believe firmly that God prepares us for greater and greater opportunities if we are willing to trust Him and His timing in our lives. We must do our part and prepare with all our might, but then we must recognize the voice of His call as our cue to move onto the next stage of our lives.
So often we try to make it to a larger stage by ourselves. Our society tells us to "fake it till you make it." Well, I'm here to tell you that often we only stand in the way of something far greater than we could have ever staged ourselves. We must be willing to accept the leading role God has scripted just for us. We must be willing to transform our "acting" into an authentic performance that unleashes who we really are. May I tell you how much courage it takes to share who you really are? The fear of rejection is unbelievable. But remember, your strength is in your struggle, and your power is in your pain. So take a risk and come out of the shadows into the light.
How do you take those first steps? Another way of considering our preparation as we wait from cue to cue is to imagine the potter's shelf. If you've ever handled clay or even the Play-Doh that kids mold into every shape imaginable, you know how soft and pliant this material can be. It takes the shape of whoever handles it, and it conforms around the center of its gravity. That's why potters use revolving wheels with large hubs in the center around which to mold the clay. The moving hub provides the momentum to capitalize on the clay's submission to gravity. The potter's hands provide constant friction, the warm palms and fingers transforming the lifeless clay into a thing of beauty. After the clay has been shaped into a bowl, a vase, a cup, the potter sets it on his shelf until the piece can be fired in the kiln. The hot oven literally bakes the potter's work into the shape he has ordained for it, keeping the new form in place permanently instead of letting it shift back into a lump of clay.
Can you see how this compares to us taking our place onstage? God the Master Potter has been shaping and forming you through countless events and experiences. He has ordained your very being and set you in place for greatness. The Psalmist says that He has made us "a little lower than the angels" and crowned us with glory and honor (Psalm 8:5). Perhaps you can already feel the heat from the Refiner's fire casting you permanently into His shape, His likeness, into being His Leading Lady.
Or perhaps you are resisting the Potter's purpose for your life. You are trying to shape yourself and mold your own form into what you think will make you a beautiful and perfect vessel. Maybe you're wrapped around the wheel of a man, trying to conform and mold your life and personality around his. You know it's not working because he can't provide you with that inner security and cherished love that comes only from yourself and your Creator. Or maybe you're rolling the clay of your life around your family, giving all you've got to hold them together, to keep your kids out of a gang, your husband out of the bars. But the vessel you've formed is cracking under the pressure. Your heart and energy are leaking onto the floor and you can't catch yourself.
No, you must allow the Potter to mold you into the beautiful, intricate design that He has imagined for you before time began. You must be willing to move from the events of your past and even your present into the permanent shape that He wants to cast you in. You must move beyond the Potter's shelf into the fire of greatness.
Perhaps you have caught the vision for yourself and what you need to do to become one of God's Leading Ladies. But I know from experience that many of you reading this are shaking your heads and rolling your eyes in frustration. "Yes, I hear you, Bishop Jakes," you're saying, "but you don't understand all I'm dealing with right now. There's my job-somebody's got to pay the bills and keep food on the table. There's my man-who knows how much longer we're going to hold it together? There's my kids-I'm scared to death for what they're facing in the back alleyways and school hallways of their teenaged lives. No, it's well and fine for all those other women to get ready to take their place onstage. Not this girl."
Others of you may be brushing away silent tears of shame and guilt, and trying to push away painful images from your past that stir up old fears and future doubts. You're thinking to yourself, "No one with my past can take her place onstage. Not with the kind of abuse I've had to endure. Not with the kind of guilt I feel over what I've allowed myself to do and whom I've allowed myself to do it with. There's nothing here the Lord can use. I might as well stop reading now."
Or maybe you're the kind of woman reading this book who knows her time has come. You're successful, you're vibrant, you seem to have it all. On the surface you may read about taking your place onstage and say, "Great. I'm ready. Let's get on with the show." But below the surface, deep within your heart, you're thinking, "Oh no, not another pep talk about being the perfect woman. I'm so tired of trying to be perfect. All I need is one more expectation to live up to, another demand to drain what little strength I have left. That sounds so exhausting. And I can't dare let anyone see how weary and insecure I really feel."
I hear all of you. The woman who feels like her life is going under amid the harrowing circumstances of her family. Perhaps you have children in jail and you wonder what happened and ask yourself how you failed them. Maybe your husband is cheating on you and you feel torn as to whether or not you have somehow brought this on yourself. Maybe your parents are losing their bodies and their minds to the ravages of some terrible disease even as they grow to depend on you more each day. I hear you.
To you, I want to recall the words of Paul as he wrote to the Corinthians:
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,
while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.
For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
You must realize that your present trouble is not going to last, but your role in the spiritual realm of God's kingdom is forever. You must see beyond the pain trying to blindside you. You are so much bigger than your present trials allow you to be.
Maybe the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse from the hands of someone you should have been able to trust has left you feeling powerless over your life. Or it could be your own addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs, or sexual promiscuity that has challenged your dreams and left you with nightmares. All of us face something-from overeating to overspending, from an unhealthy relationship with someone who is merely using you to an unhappy relationship with someone you are using. You may be ripped apart by the desire to love and obey your Lord even as you find yourself seducing a man at the bar or charging above your limit at the jewelry counter. It is a terrible feeling when you find yourself doing what you like but not liking what you do. "For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do" (Romans 7:15).
I hear you. And to you, dear sister, I want to recall the truth that Paul sent to the Corinthians just a few lines down from his words above: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, she is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5: 17). I have personalized the pronoun reference in this verse-the original, which is usually rendered "he," is generic and inclusive to all of us-in order to make sure you know that you are a new woman in Christ, a new being created in God's image. We will come back to this truth in many of the examples of the women God uses as His Leading Ladies, but for now let this taste be a drop of honey on your soul, whetting your appetite for more of what is true about you.
I hope many of you reading this have overcome whatever painful baggage of the past once weighed you down. I hope many of you have taken the initiative to stop playing victim to life's blows and have taken a stand for yourself. It's so good and so necessary to stand up for ourselves, to hold our heads high with the dignity God intended for His beloved creations. And yet, too often, I see women who have stood up and overcome their pasts, as well as their present painful circumstances, become brittle perfectionists. They project themselves with perfect makeup and impeccable accessories, with careful words and direct authority. They seek to control every detail of their lives and the lives of those they love, and they're simply not up to the task.
A woman I once counseled comes to mind. She was a beautiful, intelligent, gifted wife and mother with her own successful real estate business. She came to me because she felt like she could trust me. She initially said something about not knowing how to worship as demonstratively as she had seen others do at my services. She felt out of place and uncomfortable. As we continued she mentioned, "I go through the motions of worship and prayer, I go to church and volunteer as much as I can, but I don't sense any growth or connection with the Lord." As we talked and I got to know her, I observed that beneath the manicured nails, diamond tennis bracelets, and silk dress was a scared and weary little girl. Several conversations later, this woman shared some of the invisible scars tattooed on her heart. In her detached, tearless but weary-full voice, I detected the intractable commitment she had made to become invulnerable.
Jakes offers a fresh and compassionate summons for women to recognize their divine worth. (Publishers Weekly)
Like a twenty-first-century Scarlett O'Hara, this woman had vowed to protect herself and her image at any and all cost. "With God as my witness, I'll never go hungry again," she had proclaimed. But her soul was starving. In her resolve to overcome the pain of her alcoholic father and her abuse at the hands of an older brother, this woman had left no room for her own neediness. She had left little room for God to work in her life because she no longer trusted Him fully with her life. She clutched her little images of success like doll babies in the hands of the child she was inside. Her response is understandable, but there comes a time to move beyond where we are and step onto the next stage the Lord has for us. We must act in faith to take our place onstage and trust Him to see us through the performance.