According to Smokie Norful, sometimes our lives feel like a pot of rice in his grandmother’s kitchen: hissing, boiling over, about to explode and create panic. The only way to avoid an explosion is to take the lid off—that is, to stop being trapped inside ourselves and instead look to God and his grace to make us all he intends us to be. Taking the lid off, Norful argues, entails four actions: look inward, experiencing the cleansing of forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit; look outward, seeking for others to experience the joy of living for God and have the best God has to offer; look upward and marvel at God’s love and strength to accomplish his purposes; and move onward, devising a strategy to accomplish all God has put in our hearts to do.
When we take these four steps, the pressure goes down, we gain peace and perception, and things work out much better in the end. When we finally take the lid off, we can become the people God has created us to be and do what we were intended to do. We get in touch with the unlimited power of his Spirit, we’re directed by the challenge of his purposes, and we experience the joy of seeing him use us to change lives. All of us need help in taking the lid off in order to trust God, take action, and reach our full potential.
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
ALL OR NOTHING
If you want the fire of God, you must become the fuel of God.
— TOMMY TENNEY
I'M NOT SURE IF IT'S A BLESSING OR A CURSE, BUT I'M AN ALL-OR-NOTHING KIND of guy. I'm not satisfied with half measures and partial attempts. When I step into a venture, I believe it has vast potential, and I won't settle for anything less. When I taught history in high school, I didn't see my role starting and stopping when the bell rang. If a student had a consistent problem with truancy, I went over to his house to wake him up and take him to school on time. On Sunday morning, I went to his house to take him to church. And this wasn't just one student. I did this for many kids in my classroom. The students (and their parents) sensed that I was giving them everything I had, and they appreciated my commitment to them.
Over the years God has tempered me, so I'm a little more cautious. (It only takes a few impulsive and colossal mistakes to get my attention!) Now, I weigh things very carefully before I sign on because once I'm committed, I'm in all the way.
Sometimes, however, God's "all" is vastly different from our "all."
When I began my music career, I had no idea how much favor God would pour out on me. It was humbling and astounding. By the grace of God, I am a successful recording artist. My albums have risen to the top of the charts and remained there. I was Billboard magazine's number-one recording artist in gospel music two years in a row. My albums had sold more in this genre than any other artist's during this period. The critics noticed. I won award after award: two Grammys, three Stellars, four Doves, and more. Two of my albums went gold, and eventually, I sold platinum (one million). I was asked to sing on five national fund-raising programs, jazz festivals, and awards shows — the pre-Grammy show, the Dove Awards, the Parade of Stars, the BET awards, and many others — more than I can remember. All the while I was saying to myself, I'm just a young man from the plains of central Arkansas — this has to be God! All of this was happening because of the matchless favor of God. To Him be all the glory!
In 2005 I was at the pinnacle of my career, and it looked very promising for the future. One day, it was as if I had turned a corner and come across a stop sign. I sensed the Lord say to me, Okay, now it's time.
I reacted. "Time for what?"
I had everything any artist could ever dream of enjoying: money, celebrity, creativity, opportunity, and realized potential. When I wasn't performing, I served in the local church. My wife, Carla, and our kids were doing great. During these years, I walked with God, trusting Him and giving Him honor at every point in my career. I resisted the temptation to live for fame and wealth, and God gave me wisdom and strength to stay strong when I faced unjust criticism and betrayal. Everything was perfect. I was living the dream — but I was miserable!
Shortly after hearing God's deafening words, "Now it's time," I stopped going to church. Imagine that. I was a PK (preacher's kid). I grew up on the front row of the church, sang God's praises, accepted my call to preach, and attended seminary. God had blessed me with incredible favor in my music career. All of this was wonderful and meaningful, but I had a nagging sense that something was very wrong. Peace and joy had vanished from my life. Going to church made me feel empty, but I had no idea why. My remedy was to avoid church ... and avoid God.
From the outside — and from my perspective — my discouragement and disillusionment made no sense at all. God had opened magnificent doors of opportunity, and He'd blessed me beyond measure. I believed I was doing exactly what He had called me to do, which was to sing about the wonders of His glory and grace. I had delighted myself in God, and He had blessed me with the desires of my heart to reach countless people with the musical talents He had given me. People from every race, age, and socioeconomic group wrote me to say how much my music inspired them. God had given me His all. Yet, though my life had every appearance of giving God my all, I hadn't really given it all to Him. I still clung to certain facets of my life, and I wanted to stay in control of those things. As a result, my peace had vanished.
When we hold something back, our hearts know it ... and God knows it. We experience the fullness of God's perfect peace only when we're fully surrendered to His will and when we delight more in Him than in His gifts.
During this time, God sent His Spirit and my mother to point the way. Every Sunday morning, my mother called me. With a stern voice that sounded as if she were scolding a misbehaving child, she asked, "Are you up? Are you getting ready for church? You're going to church today, aren't you?"
I tried to ignore her. In my mind, I justified not going to church because I'd been traveling so much — and after all, I was singing about God! Quite often, I was out of town on Sundays; therefore, I had a good excuse (or so I thought). But when I was at home, I still found reasons to stay in bed. It was my day off. Every Sunday, Carla took our children, Tré and Ashton, to church while I stayed home, feeling distant from God and sorry for myself.
When I didn't give God my all, I lost my peace. Though I didn't lose my favor, my family, or my life, I realize the result of being distant from God could have been worse. God's grace and mercy continued to protect me because He had bigger and better plans for me — even when I didn't see them, and even when I didn't pursue Him.
One day, I finally realized that I'd been ignoring God's best plan for me. It had taken a lot of messages to get through to me: from my mother, my wife, the Spirit of God, my lack of peace, and a nagging sense that God was calling me to be something else — a pastor. There were plenty of warnings and encouragements. Finally, God got through to me. It dawned on me that I'd confused God's blessing for God's purposes. Finally, I understood: God's future purposes are always bigger than God's present blessings. So, I came up with a solution. Since God wanted me to be involved in teaching the Scriptures and discipling people, I decided to start a Bible study.
I was in a recording studio in Memphis, working on a new album with two of my team members at the time. I told my music director, Jason Tyson, that God was leading me to start a Bible study when I returned to Chicago. He was surprised but supportive. During a break, I called my friend, recording artist Donnie McClurkin, to tell him my plans for the Bible study. I was excited because I felt I was finally doing what God wanted. I was sure he would be excited too. I was wrong.
He quickly asked, "Smokie, why are you doing that?"
I was shocked. I thought he'd be supportive and enthusiastic when he heard my plans. Instead, he was skeptical. I explained (a little defensively), "I'm walking in my anointing. I'm going to teach the Word of God!"
He didn't budge. He asked again, "But why are you doing it?"
Now I was really confused. I told him, "Because God told me to teach a Bible study, that's why." He didn't say a word. After a long, awkward pause, I continued. "I've been to seminary. I'm prepared, and I've acknowledged God's call on my life to teach the Scriptures and lead people. I taught and preached for years, and now it's time to get back to this calling."
I was sure my sterling logic was thoroughly convincing, yet Donnie sounded frustrated, as if I hadn't been listening to him when he asked his question. Again, he asked me, "Yes, Smokie. I understand all that, but why are you going to lead a Bible study?"
I explained again. "Because this is the way I'm going to prove to God that I haven't abandoned His call on my life."
Donnie quickly asked, "Did God tell you to do it?"
I wasn't sure how to respond, so I told him, "Well, yeah, of course. The Bible says, 'Preach the word in season and out of season.' This is my season."
He had me. He asked, "Smokie, did God tell you to start a Bible study, or did He tell you to pastor people and preach His Word in a church?"
His words triggered a holy moment. I felt like Isaiah, who had stood in front of God's throne and heard the very words of God. The Spirit used Donnie's voice to speak words of grace and truth to my heart. Suddenly I realized I'd missed God's will again. I didn't want to be inconvenienced or have my comfort level altered, so I assumed God wanted me to lead a Bible study. Reluctantly, I began to understand that leading a Bible study was still only a half measure, a partial commitment. I was still holding back from giving every fiber of my being.
I sensed the Spirit say, "I know you hear Me."
Yes, I heard Him, but I didn't want to become a pastor. I wanted to stay in control of my options, my life, and my career. My desires were making me miserable, but I still wanted to hold them tight. I didn't want to trust God with my whole heart.
I'd like to say that I joyfully accepted God's directive, but I didn't. I thought of every excuse in the book instead of listening to Donnie's wise advice on the phone. I thought, I can't do that. ... I'm too young. ... I can't preach to people who are as old as my grandmother. ... I don't have time — I'm already pressed to do everything now, and being a pastor is a consuming, never-ending role. ... My schedule is already packed with things God has given me to do I can't neglect God's obvious blessings. No, it just won't work. ... I don't know enough. Yes, I've been to seminary, but I have so much more to learn about the Bible, spiritual life, and leading people. ... Where will the money come from to start a church? I have the resources, but I have another plan for those resources. ... Maybe in the future I'll know enough, have enough resources for church planting, and have plenty of time to devote to being a pastor. ... No, this can't be what God is calling me to do. There wasn't an excuse I didn't try to use!
The reasons in my head sounded so good that I was sure they'd convince Donnie. I listed them one by one and presented my case to him. For each one, he wore me out with piercing passages of Scripture. He had an answer for everything — and not just his own ideas. He used God's Word to refute every excuse! He talked about David's youth, Jonah's running, Paul's persecution, Peter's repentance, and Jesus' sacrifice to do the Father's will no matter the cost. He cut me no slack. I had no rebuttal. By the time he had finished, my excuses had fallen in a heap on the floor.
Donnie's piercing truths made me weep. Through my sobs, I thanked him for being such a good friend, and I hung up. When I went back into the studio, I was still bawling. The guys in the studio looked at me and wondered who had died! They ran over to me and began asking questions: "What happened, Smokie?" "What's wrong?" "What can we do?" "What's going on?" I couldn't get any words to come out of my mouth. I just nodded and forced a smile to show them I was okay. Finally, I mumbled, "I just need some time to pray." Immediately the recording session stopped and we joined together in prayer. The group still thought a family member had died. Jason went to the piano and began playing a beautiful, calming melody. When I heard the music, the words I'll say yes leaped into my spirit. Jason, unknowingly, was being used by God to speak to my stubborn spirit. My prayer of surrender suddenly transformed into extemporaneous song lyrics: I'll say yes to whatever it is You want me to be.
I'll say yes to whatever it is You would have for me I'll live out Your purpose; I'll give You my whole heart For I know now, there's nothing too hard for my God, I'll say yes.
I was singing through my sobs. Soon, tears began to flow all around the room. My friends didn't even know why they were crying, but they loved me so much that they identified with me in that sensitive moment of pain and surrender.
My prayer song ended, and we all sat in silence. Finally, I took a deep breath and said, "I have to pastor." They knew this wasn't a flippant comment. My declaration was washed in tears and animated by renewed commitment to God's purpose.
I left the recording studio eager to begin plans to start a church in the Chicago area. I quickly realized I knew nothing about church planting. My father was a pastor, but he had always served in established churches, so I was never exposed to this specific type of leadership as a child. But I knew God wanted me to do something new and that He would guide me through the process.
When I got back home, I started searching the community to find a place to meet. I went to libraries, schools, banks, and every other place that might have a meeting room that would be empty on Sunday mornings. My plans were rudimentary, but God was in them all. At the beginning, I was a one-man show. I was the worship leader, the pastor, the head usher, the greeter, the one who read the announcements, and the janitor who cleaned up after each service. I enlisted my wife, Carla, and my kids to help, and they were glad to pitch in wherever they could.
Soon, though, I began to feel overwhelmed. A member who had been one of the first to join realized I was in over my head and said, "Dr. Derrick Hughes, a friend of mine, helps pastors plant churches. Would you like to talk to him?"
No, I didn't want to talk to him. I wanted to have his brain transplanted into mine! This man was like an angel sent from heaven. He knew how to conduct a demographic study of the community, how to find resources, how to set up leadership, how to make an initial impression on potential church members, how to build bridges with civic leaders and other pastors, and how to do all this without dropping dead from exhaustion! He was an incredible help. In the formative days, weeks, and months when we planted our church, I lived the message of the hymn: "All I have needed, Thy hand has provided — Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!" When I said yes to God, He gave me everything I needed to fulfill His purposes — but not immediately, and not easily. The process of discovery and testing was part of God's curriculum for me to learn and grow as a pastor. It was all part of His plan.
YOUR GIFTING, YOUR CALLING
I'm not suggesting that being fully devoted to God — being all-in — means a person has to become a pastor or a missionary or find some other kind of vocational Christian service. During the Reformation, Martin Luther had two sweeping messages. First, he taught that salvation is purely and only a gift of God's grace; there's no way we can earn it by being good enough, giving enough money, or being zealous enough to impress God. It's all about grace. His second message isn't as well known, but it's very important. In Luther's day, people believed there were two categories of Christians: (1) the first-class Christians, who became professionals in the church, and (2) the second-class Christians, who worked in factories, fields, and homes. Luther said that's not the way God has created the world. He taught the revolutionary concept that every job, role, and responsibility is valuable to God. The person who works in the fields is doing God's work just as much as the person behind the pulpit. He called it "the priesthood of all believers." This means that when we become fully devoted to Christ, He may lead us to a different job, but more often He makes us shine like bright lights of His truth and grace where we already live and work. Every believer is called to represent God all day every day. Os Guinness wrote that our calling is "the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service."
We need to get our priorities straight. Our first calling isn't to a role or a job; it's to God Himself. When the love and power of God flow into us and overflow from us, the resulting flood of grace has a powerful impact on everyone around us — in our homes, at work, in our neighborhoods, and in our churches. God has a unique path for each of us. It's our challenge and privilege to discover it and follow it to His glory.
Every person's calling is to be fully devoted to Jesus Christ. Paul told the believers in Philippi that God was at work in them "to will and to act according to his good purpose." As they put their hands in His, God promised to make them "blameless and pure, 'children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation,'" in which they would shine like stars in the universe (Phil. 2:13, 15 Niv 1984). Whoever we are and whatever we do, we can shine like stars to everyone who's watching. All of us are priests, ministers, and servants of the King. No exceptions.
Excerpted from "Take the Lid Off"
Copyright © 2017 W. Ray Norful, Jr..
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1 Inward
Chapter 1 All or Nothing 3
Chapter 2 Blinded by Sight 29
Part 2 Outward
Chapter 3 Upside Down 55
Chapter 4 Give Yourself Away 75
Part 3 Upward
Chapter 5 Release Your Potential 99
Chapter 6 Trust God, Try God 123
Part 4 Onward
Chapter 7 See It, Say It, Sense It, Seek It 149
Chapter 8 Dream Again 171
About the Author 191