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Win from Within
Finding Yourself by Facing Yourself
Foreword by Steven Furtick
Read by John W. Gray III
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Win FromWithin gives practical application to the story recorded in Genesis of Jacob wrestling with the man at the River Jabbok, and through it readers will learn how to become the persons they were created to be. The persons God intended each of us to be develops as we face our inner battles. With examples from his own life as well as his ministerial counseling, Gray provides a pathway to awakening. He includes strategies for confronting the past, how we have been labeled, who people have said we are, even who we think we are, so that we can win the battle and be who God intends us to be. Jacob spent much of his life running and hiding from himself. At a certain point we, like Jacob, cannot run from our true selves anymore. We must stop and face ourselves if we are to become great.
Win FromWithin helps us conquer our inner darkness and overcome such hindrances as fear, shame and guilt. This powerfully biblical self-help guide will push us toward victory over our inner struggles. Winning will make us the persons we have always wanted to be, the persons we have dreamed about becoming, the persons God created us to be.
What Matters Most
I’m leaving you! I’m packing the kids, getting in the car, and going to my mother’s house in Alabama. I won’t tell anybody, but I’m not staying!”
With those words, my wife walked out of our home. My life, as I knew it, was over. John Gray, the pastor, the preacher, the traveling evangelist, the guy from TV, the person everybody celebrates, was a private failure. Every principle I’d ever taught came back to haunt me. Every single thing I’d ever believed about myself, relationships, and God walked right out the door behind my wife.
That singular, transformational moment was the result of many moments I’d lived in my forty-four years, moments when I was unable and maybe even unwilling to see the heart of the person I’d promised to love, honor, and protect. So much so that she’d rather go back to the home of her childhood than live another day with me.
To the world, though, I was a magnificent success. I traveled around the world speaking at all the big Christian conferences. I preached at the largest church in America. And yet, every single day, I was dying on the inside. I was afraid to confront the real issues of my life and ill-equipped to handle the responsibilities of being a husband and father. On top of that, I was unwilling to seek help from those who I knew could be trusted. I allowed the voice of skepticism to convince me that I could protect myself from the blunt force trauma wrought by my choices.
Beyond the sting of my wife’s words and the silence that followed, I was left with the reality that what people knew of me was about to change. Everything that I ever said, the monuments of words I built, was going to come crashing down.
And you know what I felt?
Not even guilt.
I felt utter, unequivocal relief.
Finally, the man who had been living two lives in one body would be able to come out from the shadows and declare, “This is me. This is John Gray.”
My wife was right. I had abandoned her in the middle of our marriage to nurse, build a monument to, and celebrate me. She should be glad that I chose her, I thought.
Something was very wrong with me.
The time for excuses and blame was finally done. I found myself arguing with God. “You’re all-knowing and all-powerful. I prayed to you,” I would say. “I asked you to deliver me from these habits, from these thoughts, from these things. I asked you to help me and you didn’t.” I found myself placing blame elsewhere. “I didn’t have a father. You were never there and neither was he. Oh, yeah, and my wife? She doesn’t understand. She’s not a man. She doesn’t do what I do.”
I was the king of deflection. In my mind, my failures were everyone else’s fault. I refused to face anything that would cause me discomfort for very long. If I sensed discomfort, I would change the temperature. If things got too hot, I’d leave. If it got too cold and I felt exposed, I’d layer up. I layered up with comedy. Get someone laughing and you can generally deflect any arrows heading your way.
For a little while, at least.
The worst was when I used my gift to redirect something God wanted to challenge me on. Because I have a gift of discernment, I can always spot when someone else is going through. A classic tactic of mine would be to read someone else’s mail before they could dig into mine. That way, whatever they came to tell me would be lost in the reality of their own humanity. In other words, before someone could come sweeping around my front porch, they’d better check their whole house.
In my mind, I set the rules. I set the boundaries. And no matter who you were, if you stepped out of bounds, that very cold part of me that had been fostered over years of being rejected and laughed at in the back of buses on the way to school, that protective casing I created over my emotions and heart, would kick in. I knew how to keep the word of God, the people of God, and even the voice of God out. And I would pat myself on the back for being a survivor. Yeah, I may not be perfect, but look at you. I may not be doing what I need to do, but look over there, look at what he’s not doing. That’s how gifted men often never heal, grow, or mature. They always have a trick up their sleeves to make people stop challenging them to do exactly those things.
When you’re gifted and talented, and your gift has become a commodity, people don’t often confront you. Sometimes it’s because they need you in some capacity. Other times it’s because they are fascinated by or desire you. All of it put me in the worst conundrum. Isolated by my pain, I wanted to be as free as I encourage others to be from the pulpit, but I didn’t have the guts to face the root cause of my pain, the root cause of my insecurity. So the life I was living was the life I’d created in a world of my own making. I needed people to tell me the truth, especially when I didn’t want to hear it. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if a friend or loved one doesn’t make you mad on occasion with their assessment of something you have done, then the relationship is likely not real. If we surround ourselves with yes-men, we risk never becoming everything God wants us to be.
I was headed down that road. I would do anything to not deal with me, and as a result, the woman to whom I promised forever took her forever and walked out the door, taking with her the real legacy of my son and my daughter.
As I was writing this book, my entire life, as I knew it, was over.
And that’s exactly what God wanted.
The scariest part of it all is, I was in a “high season.” I’d never preached better and never had more opportunities. Every door was opening for me. But the danger of the moment I was in was this: I assumed that because doors were opening for me, God was pleased. It never occurred to me that gifts and callings are truly given without repentance, and we can serve God in one area of our lives and be totally in rebellion and denial in others.
This is how leaders fall.
The pride in our gifts causes us to misinterpret the favor of God. There is a profound difference between God choosing you and God needing you. Something in me mistook God using my gifts for God needing my gifts. Inasmuch as God is all-powerful and all-knowing, He doesn’t need anything. God didn’t need me.
God chose to use me as a testament to grace. Sitting in a room alone with the words of my brokenhearted wife pounding against the cavernous, empty space inside of my unsubmitted heart, I learned that this was the only way God was ever going to reach me. Success didn’t reach me. Opportunity didn’t reach me. So God allowed the only one who truly saw me for who I was and stayed anyway, and loved me through it, over and over and over again, to be willing to walk away. The one who’d given me the most grace was fed up. Only then was I forced to look inside at the landscape of a man who had everything and nothing. How did it come to this? How did I become the most successful empty man in ministry? How in the world were so many people fooled, and if they weren’t fooled, then why didn’t they say anything?
For most of us, there is a duality: the desire to be more, to become more, to achieve more, and to manifest more. There’s a quickening, a stirring, that says this iteration of me is not the very best me. We can feel it! But too many of us get stuck and don’t go after all that they could be. Or we buy into false notions of what “winning” looks like and end up sidetracked from our purpose.
I don’t want that for you, and that is why I’m writing this book.
Inside of this human existence, there is a dynamic human-divine relational exchange that’s not only an opportunity for relational partnership and intimate fellowship with God, but also an invitation to do something with the seed of God. To grow! The problem with growth, with becoming great, is that you cannot feel comfortable if you’re going to be great. God won’t let you. He will stir you. He will shake you. He will prod and push you. It’s because He loves you too much to let you die average unless you absolutely choose to.
What I want you to get out of the experience of reading this book is to spot and identify areas where you’ve stopped moving forward. Look for those places that were supposed to be temporary moments of rest or reflection but which you’ve made a home. One of the things that happened with Hurricane Katrina was that FEMA came in and created temporary housing, but because of inability, apathy, or the bureaucratic quagmire that often exists as it pertains to social services—or all three—temporary housing became permanent housing. What was supposed to last six months has, for some, lasted until this day. And so it goes with our lives. Some of us are stuck. Some of us are in a moment, much like I was, when everything is falling down around us and it’s time for us to move. To do something we’ve never done before.
My hope is that when you finish reading, you’ll say, “Wait a minute! There’s some places in my life where I have set up camp and I was never supposed to stay there. Maybe it’s time for me to face down the things that are holding me back. Maybe my whole understanding of what it means to win in life is wrong.”
Winning doesn’t come from things. It doesn’t come from obtaining a position or some social status. It doesn’t live in the accolades you receive or your achievements. So whether that’s being faithful to three hundred, thirty-three thousand, or three million, winning was never about the size of your platform. Winning comes from knowing God and being in His will. It comes from doing what you were created to do in a way that is authentic to your calling.
In my world, it looked like I was winning. I had a big platform—looks like a win. Nice house? Another win. Nice cars? A total win. Married with kids? Yep, looks like a win. Scan all the pictures we post on social media and they certainly look like wins. But those were all one-dimensional images masking the three-dimensional reality that I was empty. I had become hollow because I had given everything that I was to everyone else and had not cultivated the necessary places of spiritual nourishment for my soul. My prayer life began lacking tremendously. I found myself going to the word only when I needed to preach or to give something to someone else. In every significant area, I was losing. I was losing emotionally. I was losing relationally and physically. I was losing spiritually because I was not hungering for the word.
One day I looked in the mirror and said, “That’s not the man I want to be.” It wasn’t just a discomfort with my physical self. I was clear that the physical stuff was the final manifestation of my unhappiness. There were way too many times when I’d put up a social media post and then cringe when people responded to the smile and perceived triumph. I knew the truth. They had no clue of the challenges behind that smile. They had no clue of the pain behind it. They had no clue of the tears I cried just minutes before the pic was taken. What I realized when I looked in the mirror was that I could very well breeze through life having done nice things but nothing great. I would end up being a very low-voltage, low-capacity version of who I’m called to be.
But God wasn’t done with me yet. And in that way, I learned that true winning also looks like losing. That’s the gist of this book and why Jacob’s story is integral to mine and maybe even to yours. See, God used—and is still using—all those broken areas in my life to awaken me, to teach me that my appetites need to change as more responsibility comes. It is an uncomfortable place to realize that you have been gifted with everything you ever wanted just so God could show you that it’s nothing that you ever needed.
God is saying to us all that none of those superficial wins I just mentioned can be our end goal. We must be willing to lose it all in order to truly win. Winning from within is about facing ourselves, our deficits, and understanding that true victory happens at the spiritual level.
What is at the root of the losses, the deficits in your life? I’ve outlined some of mine here. My marriage suffered. My children suffered. I thought I was only supposed to be the provider. I would come in and out of town from serving the people but couldn’t muster the energy and strength to help my kids with their projects in kindergarten. I was so “on fire” for God but I had no energy for my first ministry—my wife, children, and even my own health. These were what mattered most.
The physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational areas of our lives that might be in total disarray are often the same pathways God will use for our self-discovery. I wish there was an easier way to become a man or woman, but there is not.
This is why I identify with Jacob and why he is very much a thread in this book. Jacob was the twin brother of Esau in the womb. From the womb, he wanted to be first, but he was always coming up second. He was always losing.
When you watch football or other sports on TV, no one ever says, “We’re number two!” Everybody says, “We’re number one.” Well, Jacob was perpetually the second guy. He was always coming up short. Esau came out of the womb with Jacob grabbing his heel, and so Jacob’s name means supplanter, or heel grabber. Scripture reveals him always grabbing for something he wanted, trying to be something other than what he was. I imagine he was never comfortable in his own skin.
But here’s the thing: in all his grabbing, Jacob lacked the aggression and physical form to take over. Esau was the hunter. Esau was the alpha male. His father loved him. Isaac was like, “That’s my dude. He’s hairy. He kills things. That’s my boy!” And Jacob, well, he became the one his mama took to. In an ancient, patriarchal Middle Eastern culture, I can’t imagine that your manhood is celebrated when you’re in the house cooking with your mama. You’re over there doing dishes while your brother’s outside with his homies? They’re doing archery and bow hunting and you’re like, “No, mama, I’ll just stay with you.”
So I think Jacob represents for so many of us this longing to be something other than what we are. And this wasn’t entirely bad in and of itself. There was something in him that knew he was created for more but didn’t know how to manifest it. He didn’t know that “grabbing” wasn’t always the way to win. So everything in Jacob’s life revealed his duality. He had a high work ethic but there were times when he lacked integrity in the way he did things. Whew, doesn’t that sound familiar? How many of us will trade a little bit of this to get to that? Jacob is a picture of this trade-off: “What do I have to do to get where I want to go?” He would manipulate things in his favor. He was sneaky. He was tricky. He was dishonest.
Whether we want to admit it or not, there are times when all of us have made certain emotional or spiritual or moral trades in order to win, in order to get certain things we want. But in doing so, we trade the truth of who we are for the illusion of who people want us to be. So, like me, Jacob was always two people, and he spent the early part of his life running away from who God was shaping him to be.
But isn’t it just like God to say to you, me, and Jacob: “I chose you. You’re exactly whom I chose. I knew everything about you and I still chose you. I know all your character flaws, and I still chose you. I know all the places where you lack the necessities of who you believe you’re called to be, but if you will face yourself, you will get the key to the final you. The you that is established. The foundational you from where I will begin to establish legacy.”
Jacob wrestled with God. The Scripture says, “A man wrestled with him” (Gen. 32:24), and it’s in that kind of wrestling, that engagement with God, where we become. It’s in that place where we awaken. It’s in that place where we ignite our passion and our potential.
But the angel of the Lord said, “What is your name?” What the angel was saying is, “Who do you think you are?” He said, finally, “I am Jacob.” In other words, “I am the supplanter. I am the trickster. I’m the inauthentic one. I’m the mask wearer. I’m the con artist.” Then the angel said, “No, your name will no longer be Jacob but Israel for you had contended with God and with man and have prevailed. You win” (see Gen. 32:28).
What does it mean when somebody says, “That’s John Gray”? What will it mean after I’m long gone? Will that name be marked by my bad decisions? Will it be marked by my worst moments? Or will it be marked by the truth of who I was as I was becoming? I hope it’s the latter. I think for every human being, that’s what we want. I don’t mind the places of my failure. I do mind if it’s the only thing I’m known for. I want to be more. I want to be known for more than just the things that I did not do properly or correctly, the hurt I caused. I don’t mind the work, because it’s necessary for the texture of the full portrait to emerge. This work is necessary to win.
Jacob didn’t win in his life by his own hand. It wasn’t his doing. The journey for Jacob required both personal responsibility and, even more significantly, a supernatural touch. Jacob won because his whole life was a search to find out who he really was. Jacob found himself by facing himself, and in acknowledging his past, the totality of his journey, God announced who he really was and who he would be remembered as. In that moment, he had victory. The goal of this book is to help readers begin the process of discovering who they really are in Christ. Knowing who we are is the fuel for knowing what to do with the rest of our lives.
This is what winners are made of. You cannot win until you lose it all. In my case, I had to look into the darkest places of my soul and say, “God, this isn’t You. This was never You. This doesn’t look like Your word, and I have treated the woman You gave me with utter contempt. There’s nothing about my life that even remotely resembles an authentic relationship with Jesus.” But I sure was preaching my heart out. I shouted to the rooftops that Jesus saves, but I never let Him save me. I trusted God for everybody else, but I didn’t trust Him with my own pain, my own shame, my own guilt, and my own brokenness. In fact, I could sell you God, but I gave God the side-eye. It’s like a man who sells a product that he doesn’t use. I was a salesman.
I had become the thing I hated: a professional Christian. I didn’t know how to change. I was lost, and I was lost in front of millions of eyes. I was lost on TV shows, in church services and conferences. I was smiling and lost; preaching and lost; broken and lost. I had lost it all. I had lost my wife, my children. Every platform I had was poised to be gone in an instant.
But in that moment, when all was lost, God said, “Now we can begin.”
When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”
—Genesis 32:25–27 ESV
I am Jacob.”
It’s just one sentence, but it is a profound shift in history. A man states the truth, and God takes that truth, expands that truth, expounds upon that truth, and makes a nation out of a simple statement. He said, “I am Jacob,” and God said, “You are Israel.” That moment reveals a man and his process. Jacob’s pain was interpreted and filtered through the lens of an eternal God who created him for this uncomfortable, necessary, face-to-face encounter, all so that what was in him would emerge. But it could only happen when Jacob was willing to engage God with the truth of himself. God turned that truth into a nation, and that mama’s boy who dwelled in tents became the father of a nation whose descendants are as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore.
Who exactly is Jacob? How is it that this man got to see angels ascending and descending upon a ladder? I suppose you have to start with the prophecy over him.
Isaac prayed hard to GOD for his wife because she was barren. GOD answered his prayer and Rebekah became pregnant. But the children tumbled and kicked inside her so much that she said, “If this is the way it’s going to be, why go on living?” She went to GOD to find out what was going on. GOD told her,
Two nations are in your womb,
two peoples butting heads while still in your body.
One people will overpower the other,
and the older will serve the younger.
- "Most people monitor success by external responses; how many followers they have, how many likes they get, how many compliments they garner. But John Gray in his masterful book, Win From Within, offers a pragmatic practicum through which the reader will begin to understand that it does not matter how many accolades one gathers if you fail to Win From Within."—T. D. Jakes Sr., Senior Pastor, The Potter's House of Dallas, Inc. / TDJ Enterprises, New York Times best-selling author
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- Oct 30, 2018
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