Several decades ago during a long prayer session, I began praying the text of an ancient Lutheran hymn, “Jesu, meine freude,” the traditional English title of which is “Jesus, priceless treasure.” The first verse includes the words,

Thine I am, O Spotless Lamb.

I will suffer naught to hide Thee,

Ask for naught besides Thee.

As I prayed, God gently interrupted me:

Do you really mean that? Don’t pray that unless you mean it! Will you in fact permit nothing to stand between you and me? Will you in fact be satisfied with nothing besides me? Am I enough?

My immediate internal response was, “Ohhhhhhh crap!” It didn’t require a genius to figure out where this conversation was headed! Why would God even start a conversation that way unless it hinted at something in the future that I didn’t really want in my future?

I stammered a few broken thoughts into the ether, hoping for obvious reasons that the words would go away, hoping it wasn’t really God.

But the question came back even more powerfully: Am I enough?

Wow! I thought for a long time. I considered what an affirmative answer might lead to—which was in no way comforting!

I also contemplated the implications of a negative answer. Not that God would be vindictive or that he would punish me if I said No. But such a response would disappoint the One who loved me enough to suffer and die for me. Plus, it would be irrational: From the standpoint of logic, single-minded fealty to the Creator and Savior and Ruler and Lover of the universe must inherently be the best way to go, no matter the butterflies in my gut and no matter the potential ills a positive decision might portend.

Most importantly, it was simply a true statement. I love my Savior! I certainly would not like it, but in fact I would be willing to have only him, even if it meant losing the entire world.

Finally, I said, “Yes. You are enough.”

I discerned no response. Just silence (I’ve learned from experience that God is a pretty taciturn guy). I largely forgot about that incident.


At the time I offered that prayer, I was sailing skyward. My most glorious gifts were my incomparably wonderful wife and four incredible and delightful children, with a fifth on the way. I had gotten my Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics from Texas A&M University, and had a job that would be the dream of anyone with my background. As director of soybean research for a three-year-old start-up seed/biotech company in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, I not only had one of the largest single soybean breeding programs in the world, I also was pursuing three significant projects in applied genetics research—projects whose results would directly contribute to my in-house breeding efforts, and would provide valuable scientific data to plant geneticists all over the world. Each project was equivalent in complexity and potential usefulness to a doctoral dissertation. Our family was part of a wonderful, lively, Christ-centered church in Urbana. As a music lover, I periodically wrote worship songs. I was on a roll.

I had always been a “high achiever,” to use a psychology term popular in those days. I had always aimed high. And I harbored still much higher ambitions!


Then I lost my job. It’s a tortuous tale that is not relevant to this essay. Suffice it to say I was precipitously unemployed, and unable to find further employment in my field. And my erstwhile employer threw all my research projects, two years of work, into a dumpster (it was not a happy parting).

The following is a discursive listing, not in chronological order, of only a few components of the ever-darkening smog that slowly was smothering me:

I tried for years to be an entrepreneur, starting at least five separate businesses. Each time I failed miserably, blowing through tremendous amounts of money that we could not afford to lose (it took me a disastrously long time to discover that I’m simply NOT entrepreneurial material!). Eventually, our children qualified for free lunches at school; and our older daughter had to put herself through Northwestern University because we could contribute nothing to her support. We were more than broke.

I became a hopeless alcoholic, drinking only at my office—where on a few occasions I was so drunk that I couldn’t lift my head up off the hard floor where I lay.

I had written a number of congregational worship songs that I felt were quite engaging, and each time I finished a song I would excitedly take the manuscript to the home of our church’s music director and hand it personally to him. But neither he nor anyone else in the church’s music ministry was in the least interested. Moreover, I wrote worship songs as gifts (typically as birthday presents) for half a dozen members of our congregation, hand-delivering the lead sheets to each person; yet with one exception, not a single person even acknowledged receiving the song, let alone thanked me. Bummer: I obviously wasn’t as good a composer of worship songs as I thought!

After God healed me miraculously of my drinking problem, I finally became bold enough to ask if I could preach at church. I was permitted to do so four times, but no more—even though it had been prophesied over me when I first met Jesus that I was being given a gift of teaching, and even though my M.Div. from Harvard in Old Testament had given me a great deal of understanding about scripture. Bummer: I apparently wasn’t as promising a teacher as I had hoped.

I have a gift of being able to write songs quickly. So for about twenty years I volunteered at church to write a worship song to order for anyone who would be preaching on a given Sunday. All they had to do was give me a few days’ notice and let me know the subject of their teaching. I was excited about that. A total of two people took me up on my offer, a few years apart, and those two songs are among the most powerful I have ever written. They’re really good (ask and I’ll send you the scores)! Although it was a standing offer for decades, however, no one was interested.

I was permitted to lead worship at church on a number of occasions; but several years ago the pastor published the list of worship leaders for the following year, and I wasn’t on it (no explanation). Bummer: I wasn’t as gifted as I thought I was.

I worked several years as an announcer for our local classical music station, but eventually was laid off in favor of much cheaper access to 24-hour network announcers.

Because I had failed as an entrepreneur, and continued to have no prospects for a real job (I turned in a lot of applications, but no one ever got back to me), my lovely wife got a good job as an editor at a local publishing house, and I stayed home with our kids. Which meant that I did the all the cooking—not a happy day for our children! Bummer for them! (Eventually I became a fairly decent cook, but it took a long time.)

After years of having my ego knocked about and ground down, I faced the clear reality that I was a failure.

Except for my wife and children, whom I definitely did not deserve but who I knew loved me as much as I loved them, I had nothing in my life to which I could point that could make me feel good about myself. No achievements, no victories that could feed my sense of accomplishment. Except for marrying an incomparably good and wonderful woman, and siring five astounding kids, I had attained nothing. I was a nobody. I was boring. I had almost no close friends.

(I must temper the previous statement, however: Within Fellowship of the Way of Christ, all of whose members live great distances from me, there are dozens of people who love me dearly, as I love them; but none of these people are the kind who would think about calling me up and suggesting that we go fishing together, or whatever. There also are a small number of local people who I know love me; but with one blessed exception (Hi, Don!) it would never occur to anyone to call me and suggest that we go out for a beer or a cup of coffee. They’re not that kind of friends. So I am indeed rich in one kind of friend, the kind that in fact is most important; but I remain poor in the kind of friends who help feed a person’s everyday need for companionship. Weeks can go by when the only conversations I have are with my cat.)

I have felt great trepidation in typing the paragraphs immediately above, because I know with certainty that many readers will interpret them as symptoms of depression and/or cries for help and/or attempts to garner sympathy. Or whatever.

All I can do is ask you: Please do not read such meanings into my words!

I really am going somewhere with this dismal discussion, and it’s not where you probably suspect I’m headed!

For, you see, everything is OK. I’m OK. I am more filled with joy, I believe, than the large majority of people I know. To plagiarize Paul Harvey’s famous line, let me tell you THE REST OF THE STORY.


I had a close friend whom I met in eighth grade. We went through junior high and high school together, and even ended up at the same college until, halfway through our junior year, following an unambiguous directive from the Holy Spirit, he transferred to another college. God’s hand was powerfully on him. He was instrumental in bringing hundreds of college students (including me) into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

From our earliest times together and many years thereafter, this friend could do no wrong. He was a natural leader. He was brilliant. In high school he won first place in the national science fair one year, having been a runner-up the year before. He ended up as a full professor at a major American university, then became provost of that university—while simultaneously being a full-time minister in a large local church (he was an excellent preacher!). From his earliest professorial days, he was in demand as a speaker at academic conferences. He became president of a well known and well respected private liberal arts college. He traveled extensively. He had prestige, wealth, a challenging and important profession, a wonderful, godly wife, wonderful children.

And he died completely alone, in a flophouse, having alienated and impoverished his family and having pickled his brain on methamphetamine to the extent that he was totally out of his mind and hopelessly addicted.


Years before the incident I’m about to relate, I had long surrendered my “high achiever” moxie and had made peace with being a “failure” (so far as things of this world are concerned). I had an incredible wife, five incomparably blessed children, and, most importantly, I knew the constant presence of my Savior—the King of all creation. I even had continued to enjoy good health! What more could I possibly need? I experienced (and continue to experience) deep peace as well as heights of joy that I definitely wish for everybody!

[Brief note for any non-Christian readers who may find such statements puzzling: When we give our lives to God through trusting in Jesus, he gives us—no charge, no obligation—the presence of his Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit, through no effort or even virtue on our part, creates within us, de novo, such cool freebies as love, joy, peace, patience, etc. Such a deal! Hence it should be no surprise that I experienced these blessings.]

One day only a few years ago as I was praying, I idly began thinking back on my life, primarily in thanksgiving for the joys that constantly surround me. But I began wondering, as I had done several times before, why my life had followed such a strange and paradoxical course.

Consider my surprise when God immediately answered!

Do you remember many years ago when I told you not to pray the words to “Jesus, priceless treasure” unless you meant them? Unless you meant that you would permit nothing to stand between you and me? That you would ask for nothing besides me?

 And you said that you did mean it?

 “I remember,” I said.

I took you at your word. You are painfully aware of  ____’s tragic fall into darkness*. Had I not intervened, had you succeeded in all the ways that you might well have succeeded, your fall would have been catastrophic for you and all your family. Your fall would have been even greater than ____’s. By any earthly standard, you are a failure. But I know that you know such things are trivial. I sabotaged most of your earthly efforts, out of my love for you, BECAUSE YOU GAVE ME PERMISSION TO DO SO. For you, success would have been deadly.

I thanked him and worshiped him, sobbing, my tears puddling on the floor.


An immediate temptation, of course, might be to warn, “Watch out what you pray for!” But that’s precisely the wrong response. Better to proclaim, “Embrace what you pray for!” Our God is gracious. He intends nothing but good for us, even though for years we may stumble through a veiled, shadowy valley.

Soon after the people of Judah were deported to Babylon, God spoke through his prophet that their exile would be long, but not endless; and that in the end he would redeem them and fulfill the promises he had earlier made to them:

“I know my plans for you,” says Yahweh, “plans for peace, not for evil; plans for a future filled with hope. You will call on me and walk toward me and pray to meand I will hear you!

 “You will seek me and you will find me, because you will be seeking me with all your heart.

“I will be found by you,” says Yahweh, “and I will restore your riches to you, and will bring you home from all the brutal lands to which I have driven you. . .”  —Jeremiah 29:11-14 BCM



*A necessary bit of theology: If you had a seemingly perfect son—one who was kind and loving and brilliant and talented and who deeply loved you—and if that son later in life was snared by forces he was not prepared to overcome, even to the point of ruin and death, would you disown him? Would you not grieve him deeply, and proclaim to all who listen, that in his depths he wanted to live in the Light? That that defines the true nature of this child of God, not the incidental smears of his last days?!

For you who are comfortable with images of spiritual warfare, I suggest that my friend, definitely a high-ranking officer in God’s army, simply fell in battle, captured and tortured and finally killed by the enemy. In no way do I see the darkness at the end of his life as defining him. I cannot even imagine that his “fall into darkness” has the slightest effect on his eternal life with the Savior who died for him and who said that, when he was crucified, he would draw all men to himself (John 12:32). I honor my friend and bless him, and am prepared to shout before all creation that but for him I would not have known Jesus, I would not have known the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, I would not have met my wife, our children would not have existed, I would not be experiencing the incredible joy that I now experience day by day. These (among innumerably many others) are the fruits of his life. And I have zero expectation that God will not agree with me, honoring my friend and saying, “Welcome, my son! Well done!”