Yesterday morning I was thumbing through my Bible when a small piece of paper that had been tucked away somewhere near the back dislodged itself and fluttered towards the floor. It came to rest under our kitchen table, and just out of my reach.
A bit irritated because I had to get down on my knees to retrieve the runaway, I picked it up and quickly scanned it for anything that might have been of importance before I tossed it in the wastebasket. On the small piece of paper was one short sentence that I’d printed containing a quote that I’d heard in a church service a year or two ago…
Greatness is born in difficulty.
Curiously enough, that’s the only thing that I’d written on the paper. Nothing else. Not the date, or the name of the Pastor, or any notes pertaining to his message. Greatness is born in difficulty. I think that the impact of the title of the message was in and of itself enough to set my “wheels” in motion…
As is often the case when I write, I’m not really sure where this is going, but as always, I’ll press on.
Character is defined as, among other things, “moral excellence and firmness” and “one of the attributes or features that make up an distinguish an individual.”
Greatness is a noun that, when used to describe the attributes of an individual, equate with “excellency, impeccability, value, goodness, and distinction.”
So what to the two have to do with one another? Well, I believe that for the most part, you won’t find one without the other. Come to think of it, I feel that the two are inextricably linked.
The Bible is littered with examples of individuals who have been called to greatness. Think about it for a moment. In the Old Testament, we have Moses, Abraham, Daniel, Joseph, and David, to name a few. All of these men were called by God to serve, all answered yes, and all rose to greatness.In the New Testament, we need look no further than Paul to see a man who let nothing stand between him and what God called him to do.
Of course, calls to greatness didn’t end with the book of Revelation. Humanitarians would include Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. History is scattered with leaders of countries who have altered the course of history, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
Here’s the thing: All of those people endured some type of difficulty along the path to greatness. It may have been because of what God asked them to do, or the color of their skin, or situations created by other people, or a physical handicap. Perhaps it was just the sheer weight of the burden that comes with being a leader of people, or a trailblazer, or a difference maker.
I don’t know about you, but I consider all of those people to be of “character.” In my eyes, each of them possessed “moral excellence and firmness.” I believe that they already had character or developed it in order to get over, under, around, and through the challenges and obstacles that each of them faced.
and it won’t take you long to find people of character who are great. They’re all around us, and aren’t categorized by career, social status, or lifetime accomplishments. They don’t have to be history makers; perhaps they’re history teachers. They don’t have to lead people to the Promised Land; perhaps they lead people to Christ. They don’t have to feed the poor and take care of the sick on a global scale; perhaps they feed children, and change diapers, and wipe runny noses in their own homes. They don’t have to be leaders of countries; perhaps they’re spiritual leaders in their families. Perhaps they put out fires, or drive school busses, or run companies, or dig ditches.
What I’m trying to say here is that what’s important is not necessarily what you do, but the manner in which you do it. It’s not the title or the position that you hold, but the person that you are. It’s your moral excellence and firmness and determination and commitment to what is right that makes you great.
I’ll tell you here and now without an ounce of hesitation, reservation, or timidity that I want to be a man of character and greatness. Not in the eyes of man, but in the eyes of God. That “Well done my good and faithful servant” that we read in Matthew 25:21? I don’t wait until I cross the finish line of my life here on earth to hear those words. I want to hear them, or at least imagine hearing them, or knowing that I did my very best to deserve them, each and every day of my life.
When I lay my head on my pillow each night I want to reflect on my day and picture God having a conversation with one of His angels, or perhaps Peter or Paul, saying “You know that Sam Maniscalco? He has overcome every obstacle that has blocked his path. Well of course I helped him along the way, but he was willing to reach out to me for help. Even when he didn’t really know Me, he looked to Me for help. He’s not afraid to come to Me say he’s sorry when he has taken a wrong turn or done the wrong thing. He’s grateful for each day and for what he has, and he shares his heart and his love for Me with everyone he meets. He looks at all the challenges that he faces as life lessons to draw closer to Me. He never gives up, never quits trying, and never loses hope. He seeks to walk with the mind and heart of My Son.Through all of his trials and tribulations he has grown to be a man of character, and in the process he has risen to greatness.Above all else, he loves Me. I love that guy!”
Perhaps. I mean, who would the audacity to share his version of what an imaginary conversation that God is having in heaven with one of the long-time residents about him? Well, apparently me.
You may indeed think that I’m crazy, and I’m perfectly fine with that.I quit worrying about what others think of me a few years ago. All I know is that above all else, I love having God at the center of my universe. I love the feeling that I get when I’m sharing what’s inside of me with someone else. I love it when I’m sharing God’s Word with someone who has never heard it, not verbatim from the Bible, but from my heart. I love “witnessing” for Jesus. I love the relationship that we have. I love walking with His Son, and I love being filled with His Spirit.
I love God with all that’s in me because that’s the way the He loves me. His love for me is absolute, unmatched, unwavering, unending, and unconditional. He’s always there for me. Always. And you know what? He’d love just that much even if I did none of the things that I do: no Seed of Hope, no prayer room in our business, and no sharing my heart with others. He’d stilllove me that much. After all, He sent His only Son to die for me before I was born!I mean, come on. How can you not be totally in love with and grateful for a Daddy like God?
I know that I am.
I’ve wanted to write about this for some time now, but I’ve been hesitant to do so because I’ve doubted my ability to come up with just the right words to convey my thoughts, and for fear of sounding as if I was condemning the classic definition of "religion." Be that as it may, I know that now is the time to share what’s in my heart.
I’m going to flashback to the fall of 1989. Better yet, I want to focus on the eighteen months or so leading up to that fall…
During that window of time, I had gotten a divorce from my first wife of fifteen years, accepted the fact that I would only see my two sons every other weekend, come off of a year and a half addiction to cocaine, gotten married to my current (twenty-three years now and counting) wife Jackie, become the co-owner of a hair salon that was bleeding out money in every direction, changed residences, and changed careers. Essentially, my life was anything but stable.
To make matters worse, I wasn’t even going to the same church (denomination) that I’d grown up in, because of the condemnation, real or imagined, that comes with having been divorced and remarried. Oh, we were going to church every Sunday, but even that was different. I didn’t even feel the comfort of taking refuge in a house of God, and quite honestly, I didn’t feel any better walking out of church than I did walking in.
I was confused, missing my sons, wondering what the future held for Jackie and me, and miserably happy, if that makes any sense. I guess I would liken what I felt to the promise of a new day that’s accompanied by a beautiful sunrise, but in this case the sun was almost completely obscured by several dark and somewhat ominous clouds. I wanted to be happy and excited with the promise of a new day, of a new life with my new wife, but there were just too many mental obstacles standing in the way.
There was small room, an office, located in the back of our hair salon. I hesitate calling it an office, because I feel that doing so would be a bit of an in justice. You see, for me it was more of an asylum, or better yet a safe haven. I’d retreat to this small room because it was an escape from a business that I neither knew nor understood, and in reality, from a world in which I was very confused.
One morning I was sitting in my little room, trying to make some sense of my life. The door was closed and the only source of light was a small white candle in the corner of the room, the flicker of its flame dancing on the opposing walls.
I remember closing my eyes to pray. My prayers back then didn’t bear any resemblance to what my prayers look like today. They were reverent, quite reserved, and very impersonal. Come to think of it, at the time my relationship with God was exactly like my prayers: reverent, quite reserved, and very impersonal. I didn’t understand then, as I do now, that quite often, conversation with God is prayer.
So I began to pray. And somehow, some way, something that I’d read in a book about inhaling good, positive thoughts and exhaling bad, negative ones got mixed in with my prayers to God. I sat there with my back as straight as a board, my eyes closed, and my palms-up hands resting on my legs, while breathing in goodness and exhaling every negative emotion that I could identify, all the while praying for all of the bad to go away. I don’t know how long I sat in that room in the dark, breathing in the good and exhaling the bad. Must’ve been at least fifteen or twenty minutes before a knock on the door brought me back to reality. Walking back into the salon I realized that I felt better: much better.
The next morning I actually looked forward to getting to work, not actually for work, but for a few minutes in "the room." Thinking that I had to replicate everything from the day before, I lit the candle, closed the door, took a seat, struck the same posture, closed my eyes, and began to pray and to breathe. To my surprise, the same thing happened as the day before! And again, when I walked out of the room, I felt better than I had in a long, long time.
Of course I couldn’t wait to get to what was now "my room" the next morning, and the next morning, and the next. By the end of the first week I was inhaling not only good thoughts, but also strength and confidence and light and a renewed sense of self. Wow! This was awesome!
Strangely enough, I didn’t even try the prayer or the breathing techniques that weekend at home. For some reason, I just didn’t think that it would work. Hmm…
This went on for weeks, and with each passing one I became stronger and stronger. Looking back on it now, I believe that I may have even developed a bit of a swagger, because I felt so good and so confident. My life and everything around me was the same. I had changed. It was incredible.
After I don’t know, maybe a month or so, I developed this nagging thought in the corner of my mind. I tried to ignore it, but it just wouldn’t go away. It wouldn’t leave me alone.
It was fear.
You see, in my mind, I was afraid that I’d crossed some invisible line and had wandered into an area where God wasn’t. I was thirty-seven years old and had been going to church all my life and had taken religion class for twelve years and had been praying to the Lord year after year after year and had never felt the way that I did then. This, that I had stumbled upon was not of God because God had never made me felt that way. No, this was something dark and sinister and not of the Lord, and I was filled with shame and guilt, and I had to distance myself from it as quickly as possible.
So I stopped praying and breathing and filling myself with goodness each day. And the feelings of euphoria left me almost as quickly as they had come, and as they did, I felt myself slipping back into a hopeless, depressing, state of confusion. "That’s okay," I told myself. "At least I’m walking with God."
For the next twenty years, I often thought about my times in that little room during that brief season of hope and promise and confidence. I never went back, but I’ll unashamedly tell you here and now that many times I wondered if I’d ever find that with God. Oh, I was tempted to more times than I can count, but I made a promise on that day back in 1989 that I’d never again dance with the devil, cause I felt like that’s what I was doing.
I had gotten hungry for more of God. My spiritual awakening had actually begun a few years earlier, in August of 2006, and during that three-year span I had an unbelievable period of spiritual growth. I was talking about God, and writing about God, and living for God, and yet something was missing. It was driving me crazy, and I was on a quest to find out what "it" was.
And on one Sunday in March of 2009 I found myself tightly squeezing Jackie’s hand as I nervously stepped into a different church in Birmingham, one that classified itself as a "non-denominational Christian church." The name was, and is, Church of The Highlands.
One week later I found myself at Catalyst, a weekend retreat for men sponsored by Highlands at a remote site several miles outside of Birmingham. That Saturday night there was an altar call for a Baptism in The Holy Spirit, and I tentatively stepped forward, because I just knew that I was supposed to.
And as I stood there among some 300+ men, I prayed to be filled by the Holy Spirit. I invited Him in and as I did I breathed deep and long, attempting to draw
in every bit of what God had for me at that moment, not knowing what it was, but wanting it.
August 31, 2012
It has been just over three years since that life-altering moment at Catalyst in 2009, and I’m still praying to be filled by the Holy Spirit. And you know what? He always shows up and fills me with His presence. And I’m filled with confidence and strength and goodness and light and hope and promise and all those things that I was filled with way back in 1989 when I was being filled with God’s Spirit but had no idea that it was Him because no one ever told me that God is real, and that He’s in us and not just around us, and that all we have to do is invite Him in, and that when we do the world doesn’t change around us but we change in the world, and we are the conquerors, not the conquered, and I could spend the rest of my life trying to tell you what it feels like to be Spirit-filled but I can’t because you have to feel Him in you to know what it’s like…
What gets me is this…
Way back in 1989 I was being filled by the Holy Spirit and didn’t know it! I’m not blaming it on any one or on any church. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. The twenty-year wait was part of God’s plan for me. Everything is in His time, even being filled with His Spirit.
I can’t undo those twenty years. I can’t get a replay on my life. As much as I would like to have been filled with the Holy Spirit all those years, and as much as it would have changed my life, changed our lives, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It just wasn’t time for me then. It is now.
What I can do is urge you, beg you, encourage you to invite the Holy Spirit, not just into your life, but also into you. Don’t let what others have told you, or your fears, or the enemy trick you into waiting another day.
Go ahead. Invite Him in. Ask to be filled by the Holy Spirit every day. It will be the best decision that you’ve ever made.