Chapter OneThe 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
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
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
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
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.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
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.