On tour, our day starts quiet, but it never stays that way.
We’ve traveled all night and slept on a big bus, and when we stumble off it, we hardly know what city this is. But here we are. We carry equipment in and set up, and hour by hour the excitement builds.
At last, after the final sound check, we open the doors—and people pour in, so young and energetic and restless and talkative, their faces expectant and alive. I love it. Few of them know who I am, so I mix in the crowd, just getting a feel for them, just listening.
Then it’s time. My heart’s racing. I jump onstage to pump the crowd and intro the first band, and I feel the rush.
The band is great, and soon the crowd’s screaming. I see everyone rocking, the mosh pit, the crowd-surfing. Then between bands I’m up in front again, giving short talks about truth and about responsibility and about abstinence. And they’re listening. Finally, in front of them one last time before the headliner, I get to speak the gospel, the world’s greatest words, the most powerful message in all the universe.
Later I’m at my booth, and a guy or girl comes up to thank me and tell me they’ve accepted the Lord that night. Based on what I said! I’m almost shaking with an incredible, indescribable feeling. I’m freaking out. It’s so wild, and I’m thinking what an awesome thrill this is, and who am I to be given such an unbelievable privilege?
But it isn’t always like that.
There are days on tour when I feel I just can’t get up for it. There are times when the crowd’s talking while I’m speaking, and I’m sure hardly a soul is hearing me. There are nights when no one comes up afterward to tell me they’ve come to Christ or that they even liked the message.
And it’s not hard at all to start thinking, It’s not supposed to be this way.
Sometimes I even wonder, What’s the use?
It’s not that I’m under any illusions. Growing up in a Christian home, I figured out a long time ago that the Christian life isn’t always a high. It’s not like I expect every single moment to be one more rocking, rousing concert climax.
But hey, when you’ve got certain expectations and suddenly you’re staring cold in the face of disappointment…it can be discouraging. Sometimes flat depressing.
I’m betting you know what it’s like. And how the flatness and the heaviness can last for a night or hang on for a week or a month. Or, if a person isn’t careful, smother your heart for a lifetime.
It can leave you aimless. You used to think you knew what made you happy. Now you wonder what you’re looking for.
Life can seem like a job with no job description. They keep telling you, “Here’s your life, live it well, you’ll be graded when you’re done.”
You nod. Then you ask, What exactly should I be doing?
“You heard me. Live it well. Succeed. Don’t blow it.”
“Just don’t blow it!”
Uhh…sure, fine. Okay.
You can end up feeling awfully empty (if you’re honest about it). No purpose. I see it everywhere in people’s eyes and actions: total boredom.
Not that the world doesn’t offer plenty to try and fill the vacuum. There are more diversionary tactics today than ever.
I’ve got an iPod with four thousand different songs on it (and they make bigger ones than mine). I can listen to music nonstop everywhere I go. For ten straight days I can play songs twenty-four hours a day and never hear the same one twice.
But just in case four thousand different songs begin to bore me, I’ve still got TV. Hundreds of channels to choose from. Whatever anybody’s interested in, they’ve got a program for it.
I’m into cars, motorcycles, fast stuff. So I can watch American Hot Rod or Monster Garage or Junkyard Wars or Overhauling or Rides. I can tune in to The Great Biker Build-Off with Indian Larry and Billy Lane, Southern Chopper, or Motorcycle Mania with Jesse James. And more. You name it, they’re showing it.
Then when TV gets boring, there’s more to move on to. So that’s exactly what people do. Party to party. Relationship to relationship. Sexual encounter to sexual encounter. A little alcohol, a lot of alcohol. Drugs to harder drugs. Soft porn to hard-core. Always running to the next thing. Always escaping to the bigger thrill. Always needing a still bigger one.
What a life.
Life? No way. Don’t even call it that.
Go to Reality
But there is such a thing. There is such a reality as an adventure-filled, crazy, awesome, exciting, scary, terrifying, fun-filled life. A life that delivers all it promises. Purpose and meaning that never let you down. There really is something—Someone—worth dying for, and therefore worth living for, every moment.
I know there is. I know such a life is possible, because I’m learning to live it. That’s not a prideful statement. I’m not proud of me, because it’s a gift to me. And it’s offered to you as well. You wanna take it?
That’s what this book’s about. A life full of excitement. A life to call phenomenal. Some lines from a Thousand Foot Krutch song are playing in my head, inviting us all:
Can’t take it anymore
Shake it till we move the floor
What are we waiting for
Tired of being ordinary
Don’t care if there’s people staring
I know you said you’d carry me…on
I’m not invisible like you
Next time things get a little messed up
I’ll shine but I’ll never be seen through
I’m fine just trying to wake the rest up…
Down, here comes the sound
Everyone pound your feet to this Phenomenon
Now let’s make it loud
Let’s show ’em all how
You move to this Phenomenon
Roll! Open your soul,
Maybe lose control inside of this Phenomenon
Just let your self go
And let everyone know
You move to this Phenomenon.…
Raise up your lighters
Praise to the Righteous—
Need You to guide us—
Get prepared to go
I was actually doing it. Free-falling. My first-ever skydive. Thirteen thousand feet up and plunging toward the ground at 120 miles per hour.
What a rush! I felt an exhilaration bordering on panic. Adrenaline pumped through my body. My senses were heightened.
Now I knew: The things people say to describe how thrilling this is—they’re all true. The slipperiness of the atmosphere racing past as you bodysurf on air. The oneness you feel with the sky. The incredible sense of floating on nothing.
The force pushing on your face does crazy things to your looks (I found it out later—another skydiver captured me on video). Meanwhile, you see the panorama of the earth as never before, amazingly cool and soft-edged and peaceful for something that’s pulling you closer with enough speed to break every bone in your body on impact.
It was all so insane. I was out of my mind. I was scared.
And I’d never felt so alive!
But before getting that far, before that experience could even begin…there was something else I had to do.
I had to jump out of the plane.
Everything people say about that part is true too. Feeling paralyzed at the open door as the wind ripples your jumpsuit. The butterflies throwing a bash in your stomach. Everything inside you screaming, Are you crazy? Don’t do this! You’re an idiot! The icy surge of fear.
After all, it’s totally unnatural to step out of an airplane door and fall into nothing.
But without it, without stepping down and out, there’d be no exhilaration of the skydive, no rush of aliveness in the freedom of the wild blue.
That’s a good picture of a truth we usually don’t want to hear. But it’s reality, whether we accept it or not:
To get real life, you first have to die.
Over the Top
That first skydive of mine was just last year. That experience captures well how I feel so often these days.
Yes, I have down days (I’ll admit it again). But mostly I’ve never felt better, because I know I’m doing exactly what I was designed for. I’m in the middle of God’s will. I’m a warrior in His battle. And nothing brings greater fulfillment than that.
That’s the way it’s meant to be for us all.
You probably remember something Jesus told us about it: He invaded this world so we can “have life and have it abundantly.”1 Abundant life. Overflowing. Over the top. “Life in all its fullness.”2 Not empty, but full. Not boring or aimless, but going somewhere fast and fun and exciting!
So no matter how much you feel life has burned you or let you down, don’t hold back in embracing what Jesus means in that phrase. The life He’s offering is an adventure, a quest. It’s living in a perpetual, purified panic with your adrenaline pumping. It means going to bed tired but satisfied and optimistic, knowing tomorrow will be filled with significance. Then waking up again with clear direction, with your heart anticipating the day’s surprises.
Isn’t that what you want?
I know it is.
And the fact is, it’s yours. It’s the essence of the life Christ promises throughout the New Testament.
Losing It, Finding It
But I have to tell you: There’s another huge, critical thing Jesus stated about life. Something harder. Something we may forget to think much about.
“Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
That’s something Jesus kept saying again and again.3 In slightly different ways, but the point was always clear.
To find life…you first have to lose it.
To live…first you die.
Losing your life. Yes, that means dying. How do we know?
Well, in the same breath where Jesus spoke of losing your life, He mentioned “taking up your cross.”4 He didn’t mean hanging a piece of jewelry around your neck. Back then, the cross wasn’t a trinket; it was a form of execution. It would be like telling somebody today, “Have a seat in this electric chair.” Or, “Hey, let’s go stand in front of that firing squad.”
One other time when Jesus talked about losing your life, He told a tiny little story with a tiny little hero. Actually He tells the story in two versions.
In one version, the tiny little hero falls into a terrible place that was deep and dark. He’s all shut in and shut down. Covered over, in fact, with dirt. Dead and buried. But there’s an incredibly happy ending (more about that later).
In the other version, the tiny little hero manages to avoid falling into that terribly dark and deep place. But this version of the story is a tragedy. Why? Because that tiny little guy was alone, and stayed alone…forever. All because he wouldn’t fall into that terrible, deadly, dark place.
The hero is actually a seed. Jesus told the story this way (a lot quicker than I did): “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”5 This “bearing much fruit” is just another way of saying “abundant life.” That’s the incredible happy ending for the little hero who let himself die.
Jesus told this story only a day or so before He Himself would hang on a cross and be killed. He was telling that story about Himself. But He was also telling it about you and me. Because He quickly went on to say, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.”6
Where He is, we’re to be. Jesus is saying, Because I go to the cross, I want you to go to the cross. If I die, you die. If you’re really My follower, My servant, then you have no other option.
But you’re thinking, This doesn’t literally mean dying, does it? As in, no more breathing, no more heartbeats. As in actually getting killed. Does it?
It might. Someday, it just might. For you, and for me.
And if it does, and we’re willing, and there’s no question in our soul that Jesus is worth dying for…then one thing we can know for sure. He’ll get us ready for it. When the moment comes, He’ll make sure we’re brave and calm. And it will mean glory and honor unimaginable. (We’ll also talk about that in this book.)
Meanwhile, until that day comes (if it comes)…there’s a lot of other dying for you and me to do. The kind that doesn’t stop your breathing or your heart…but it’s still dying. Funny how the Bible insists on calling it that. It doesn’t say “adjust.” It doesn’t say “tweak your behavior.” It doesn’t say “modify your identity.” It doesn’t say “evolve your personhood.” It says die. And keep dying. (We’ll talk a lot about this too.)
I’ll shoot straight: This second kind of dying is as hard as the other kind. It’s scary. It can be painful and usually is. It doesn’t feel good; it never gets pleasurable in and of itself. That’s why it’s right to call it death.
But Jesus gets us ready for this kind too.
And this second kind of dying brings glory and honor as well. It leads to its own out-of-your-mind thrill. Its own free-falling rush. It brings such a scary, insane, exhilarating adventure that you can’t help saying, “I’ve never felt so alive!”
And then you’ll know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it’s more than worth it…to keep stepping out that door into nothing