Robert Morris: One of the reasons I believe that God blesses us is because He loves us, just like we want to bless our children. But I also believe that God wants us to be a blessing. And I’ve seen this over and over and over again.
God Can Use Our Present to Heal Our Past: Pastor Robert Morris and Musician Matt Maher – Episode #165
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today’s guests have seen, in different ways, how God can take troubled moments of our past and heal them, using them to bless others in the present: Pastor Robert Morris and singer/songwriter Matt Maher.
Robert Morris is the founding senior pastor of Gateway Church in Dallas, Texas. As a boy, Robert grew up in a church-going family, and he learned he had a knack for speaking to others. After a few rocky years as a teen and an unexpected encounter with God, Robert grew in his faith. Today he tells us about the winding road to becoming a pastor and starting Gateway Church, and how he encourages Christians to be good stewards who give abundantly, which he writes about in his new book Beyond Blessed.
Robert Morris: I’m Robert Morris, and I’m the founding senior pastor of Gateway Church. We’re in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. We have seven campuses, and we have two more campuses that we’re going to be planting this year.
Learning to Give Jesus Control
I grew up in east Texas, in a medium-sized town, and I grew up with good Christian parents. We went to church two or three times a week, so I grew up never doubting that Jesus was the son of God. Never even had a doubt really. But I didn’t know him as Savior.
When I was young, I actually entertained people. I started doing stand-up comedy. I started doing ventriloquism when I was 12 years old. I actually entertained a group of about twelve hundred, which was a pretty big group for a twelve-year-old. And I loved it. I loved performing. When I was in high school, I got involved in drama and I loved making people laugh. I could tell that I had this communication gift.
I grew up always thinking I was a Christian, but then I started going my own way. I started, unfortunately, getting involved with the wrong crowd. Marijuana was really big when I was growing up, and I started smoking marijuana as a young teenager. I liked the feeling of escaping my problems. Even when you grow up in a good, Christian home, you have problems. You don’t feel like anyone likes you. You feel like the weird kid at school—or something like that. So there was that escape.
Every time I’d go to church, though, I knew that what I was doing was wrong, and several times I rededicated my life. That was the only system that we had: you get saved as a child, and then when you stray, you rededicate or recommit your life to the Lord. So I kept doing that. But finally, when I was nineteen years old, I was in a motel room and a guy started sharing with me about truly giving control of your life to Jesus. And that—I don’t know why, I guess it was just God’s moment for me—that’s when I realized even though I believed in Jesus, I’d never given Him my will. I’d never given Him control, and I wanted to. I wanted to more than anything.
“Even though I believed in Jesus, I’d never given Him my will. I’d never given Him control, and I wanted to. I wanted to more than anything.” – Robert Morris
So I said, “Lord, the other thing you need to know is that I can’t change because I’ve tried to change. But I give you control of my life.”
Literally, from that moment on, I never wanted to go back to the old life. I’m not saying that I didn’t make mistakes, that I haven’t done a lot of things wrong since then, because we’re all human. But I’ve never wanted to go back to drugs. I’ve never wanted to go back to that old life. There’s a different direction in my heart.
“There’s a different direction in my heart.” – Robert Morris
We Can Use Our Blessings to Bless Others
I met my wife, Debbie, in high school. I started dating Debbie as a junior in high school, and then as a senior in high school, and then we dated our first year of college, and we got married after that.
There was this restaurant where we would go and we would share a meal because we were on a very limited budget since we’d first gotten married. We saved up to put a fifty dollar tip for the waitress, and we started praying for a month. We left that big tip with this little booklet that told about Jesus.
And when we went back later, she told us, “Hey, I read that little book that you left and I gave my life to Jesus. And I called my husband and I read it to him over the phone, and he gave his life to the Lord, too.”
And we said, “Oh that’s great. It’s wonderful.” I thought when she said she called her husband, maybe he was at home, or he was at work, so I asked, “Where was your husband when you called him?”
And she put her head down, and then she said, “Well, he’s in prison.”
A few years after that, we saw that he had gotten out of prison. Debbie and I were there the day that they got baptized together. That was probably when I realized I could actually use the resources that God has given me to bless someone.
Good Givers Are Good Stewards
After I got saved, this evangelist who led me to the Lord wanted me to travel with him and speak to young people. I started speaking in school assemblies and in youth groups. I was a full-time traveling evangelist for the first seven years of my married life. I started going to this really good church and I started growing in the Lord so much. I went on staff at the church and became an associate pastor, and loved it. I loved every minute of it. I attended that church for sixteen years. I was on staff for ten of those years, before we started Gateway Church.
And then one day, during my quiet time, very clearly the Lord spoke to me about planting a church. I talked to my pastor about it, I talked to the elders about it. They said, “Well, we give you our blessing.” That church is now actually one of our campuses. We planted Gateway Church in 2000, and we’ve been having a lot of fun helping people.
[Gateway Church was] only a little over a year old, maybe two years old, and James Robison, who has a television program, came to me and said, “Would you come on the program and teach on giving?” The reason he wanted me to is because I teach it differently than some people preach it. I teach that we get to give, we don’t give to get.
“I teach that we get to give, we don’t give to get.” – Robert Morris
He also asked me if [I could] write a book. And so, I had to write the book very quickly. The book is called The Blessed Life, and you can use the book in many languages and in many countries around the world. The book talks about how God does bless us when we give. He does. But He blesses us when we give with the right heart or the right motive. And I think sometimes, even the “give to get” message is the wrong motive in the way it’s preached. It’s like, “Give and you’ll get, give and you’ll get.” So the idea is to get, rather than [being in] a mode of giving. And that’s not the right motive.
One of the books I wrote, the sixteenth book, is called Beyond Blessed. And it doesn’t mean being beyond blessed financially. It’s living a life of blessing. It’s living a life where we’re blessed, but we’re blessed for a purpose just like Abraham was. He said, “I’m going to bless you and you will be a blessing.” I really believe God wants us to take the gospel around the world. He wants us to build churches. He wants us to help orphanages. He wants us to help the poor. But we’ve got to come to a place where [we can say], “God, if you bless me, I’ll use it for the right purpose.” I do believe God wants to bless us so that we can be a blessing.
I was raised to be a good steward, to handle money, and to understand that you can’t spend more than you make. When I wrote the book, The Blessed Life, about giving and being generous, I got all these emails and all these questions saying, “Hey, I’m giving, but I still have credit card debt.” And I realized people were thinking, If I give, then my finances just magically get in order.
That’s why I wanted to write Beyond Blessed, I wanted to talk about stewardship. Stewardship involves every area of our life. If God owns all the money in my bank account, then I don’t grieve if He asks me for some of it, to use it for some reason. But it’s more than just the money, He owns my life. [He owns] where I go, where I spend my time, where I use up my energy, where my passion lies. Even in the aspect of having devotional [time] in the morning—God owns my life. So why wouldn’t I want to begin my day with God?
That’s why I wrote Beyond Blessed—for us to truly live a life of blessing, or a life that blesses others, we’ve got to be generous. But we’ve also got to be good stewards of what God gives us. In order to be a good steward, you have to have a budget. You just have to. You can’t adequately know how much is going out and how much is coming in without writing it down and having a budget.
“For us to truly live a life of blessing, or a life that blesses others, we’ve got to be generous. But we’ve also got to be good stewards of what God gives us.” – Robert Morris
I told our congregation that this really is one of the best, freeing things that you can do, because so often we make emotional purchases. You [have to] allow the budget to make the decision for you. I was joking around and I said, “You can win when your spouse asks for something, you can say, ‘Well, I would love to buy that for you, honey, but let me see what Mr. Budget says. Oh, Mr. Budget says no. I’m so sorry. Mr. Budget is mean, but I would love to buy that for you.’”
When you live on a budget, then you truly can manage your money so that you have enough to meet your needs, but you also have more to be able to help someone else.
Getting Familiar with Jesus’ Voice
I think one of the most important things that any of us can do is to spend time with the Lord every day, to spend time in His Word, and to spend time praying. Spend time with God.
One of the things that I absolutely love about Sarah Young and about Jesus Calling is it’s a tool to get people to spend time with the Lord on a daily basis. It’s one of the most effective tools I’ve ever seen in my life. I would encourage everyone to avail themselves of Jesus Calling because the more time we spend with someone, the more we get to know that person, the more we get to know that person’s heart. That’s the way it is with the Lord.
When Debbie calls me on the phone—we have caller I.D. now, but back in the old days when we rode dinosaurs to school, we didn’t have caller I.D.—I answer the phone and all she says is, “Hey.” Immediately, I know who it is, because I’ve spent a lot of time with her. I know her voice. I absolutely love Jesus Calling because of that, because it’s allowing and helping Christians to spend a lot of time with Jesus, so that when Jesus whispers in our ear, “Hey, I want you to share the gospel with this person. I want you to give this offering to be able to help this missionary,” we just immediately know that it’s Jesus. We don’t even have to say, “Lord, is that you?” because we’ve spent so much time with Him. We know His voice.
Narrator: Pastor Morris’s book, Beyond Blessed, is available from your favorite book retailer today.
Stay tuned for our interview with singer/songwriter Matt Maher after a brief message about a new version of Jesus Calling!
Jesus Calling has a wide array of book styles for all types of readers. Now, there’s something new that’s designed to appeal to the men in your life. The same beloved Jesus Calling content now comes in a leathersoft, yet durable slate gray cover that is perfect for the man on the go, and makes a great gift for dads, uncles, brothers—whoever that special man is in your life. Check out the new gray leathersoft edition of Jesus Calling today at jesuscalling.com or wherever Christian books are sold.
Narrator: God has used Matt Maher’s life in ways Matt would have never expected. Matt had a strained relationship with his father as a teen, and over the years, he’s slowly learned to peel back the image of his father from his image of God. As Matt himself has stepped into fatherhood, he’s seen many ways God has used present moments to heal his past hurts.
Matt Maher: My name is Matt Maher. I’m a singer/songwriter and worship leader. I’m originally from Newfoundland, Canada. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, I’ve now been married for nine years, I have three kids, and I love what I do.
Growing Up in Newfoundland
I grew up in Newfoundland, Canada. Newfoundland’s a very, um . . . I don’t want to say isolated, but it’s physically isolating in the sense that it juts out onto the North Atlantic, it’s the most eastern point of North America. Newfoundland was one of the first places where Irish, English, French, and Portuguese settlers came for hundreds and hundreds of years. They were isolated, living in poor communities, and they developed a very unique culture. Faith was actually a huge part of it.
Living in Newfoundland, there’s a strong sense of culture, and a strong sense of family, community, and hospitality. But I think at the heart of that is a strong faith. It’s a hard place to live in the sense that the winters can go on [and on]. There’s a lot of rain where I grew up in St. John’s. You’re kind of just out there on the North Atlantic coast and the wind howls. But faith was very much a strong current that I think moved people and motivated people and inspired people.
There’s an old order of monks called the Benedictine Order, and the first rule of their way of life is you greet every person as if they’re Jesus themselves. And I would say that that was probably one of the most important things that I learned in growing up in Newfoundland, you treat everyone as if you are encountering the face of God.
“One of the most important things that I learned in growing up in Newfoundland, you treat everyone as if you are encountering the face of God.” – Matt Maher
Letting God Undo Our Hurts
My mother was American. I grew up about two hours away from the town that my dad lived in, called the Argentia. In the forties, his whole family got relocated to a neighboring town called Placentia. The United States government had leased land from Britain, because at the time, Newfoundland was a colony of Britain, and [the United States] established a naval base there.
In the late sixties, my mom was in a folk group, and they were touring American naval bases on a grant from the USO. My dad met my mom on the naval base when she was there doing a concert. She came to Newfoundland, lived there for one summer, and then her and my dad got married. They were married until 1992 when they separated. [My mom] moved back to the United States, because she wanted to be around her parents who were getting older. My mom decided to move back to Arizona where they had retired. I decided to move kind of at the last minute. Originally, I was going to stay, but I felt like I needed to go west.
By the end of the summer, I was going back to church. Faith has never been something that’s been a stretch for me. There was never a time when I didn’t believe in God. I think there were plenty of times when I didn’t realize how much God believed in me.
“I think there were plenty of times when I didn’t realize how much God believed in me.” – Matt Maher
I realized that I was projecting my dad onto God. When it comes to the psychology of faith and how faith develops, a lot of us end up having very stunted experiences of growth. And we don’t even realize that subconsciously, we’re still praying and talking with God the same way that we did when we were four or five years old.
“When it comes to the psychology of faith and how faith develops, a lot of us end up having very stunted experiences of growth. And we don’t even realize that subconsciously, we’re still praying and talking with God the same way that we did when we were four or five years old.” – Matt Maher
As a young child, I remember playing with my dad a lot, and I remember him being very active. He had a lot of health problems and struggled with that, so he became less and less active as time went on. He’d had five back surgeries while he was in his thirties. He struggled with alcohol. He never really arrived at a point when he truly felt like he was successful in the way that he would have liked to have been. My mom tried to get him to go to counseling, but [in his mind] you’re not supposed to talk about your problems. You’re supposed to live through them or deal with them.
It just would’ve been great to have a dad to go home to at the end of the day [who] you could talk to about stuff. [Someone who] could teach you that sense of independence that comes when you know who you are. [Someone who you could talk to about] people who are just being foolish, or kids being immature and teasing you because your haircut is different, or you’re not wearing the right shoes, or your shirt doesn’t have a particular logo on it, or just stupid stuff kids do in middle school.
“There was just a lot of undoing that God needed to do. He needed to peel back a lot of layers, there was a lot of inner monologues where I was speaking for Him.” – Matt Maher
Getting to the Why of Our Lives
I gave my heart to Jesus for the first time when I was twenty years old, just shy of my twenty-first birthday, and I started helping out by playing music at church. I was also going to Arizona State University and trying to finish a music degree, and in the process, I got offered a scholarship in the jazz department.
Making the leap from being a jazz major in college to writing contemporary worship songs—I feel like that’s probably a trajectory that only God himself could plot. And honestly, it doesn’t really make sense, given the things that I was naturally talented in as a young adult. I was not a great singer, and I think that’s one of the biggest comedic ironies of my whole career, is that now I mainly make a living by singing songs. I was in a rock band. I was a keyboard player.
There’s this weird thing when you’re a songwriter, you always feel like you’re only as good as your last great song, which is one of the things that you need to contend with God and learn to let go. I’ve always said that songwriting comes out of the overflow of the human heart that [comes from] spending time with God. And that’s how I express. That’s how God made me, to express life and process the things that I see or the things that I’m going through. It’s not about necessarily doing, but doing is important, because we’re human, we’re physical beings.
“I’ve always said that songwriting comes out of the overflow of the human heart that [comes from] spending time with God. And that’s how I express. That’s how God made me, to express life and process the things that I see or the things that I’m going through.” – Matt Maher
There’s a lot of times when we spend so much time in our head, or are concerned with things, and we never really get to a space where we’re actually considering, Well, what does God actually have to say about this?
I think the great thing about what Jesus Calling does is it helps people, once again, get reoriented around that voice and how He speaks and how He speaks through the Word and what it can do for you in terms of centering you and centering your day.
“Trust Me and refuse to worry, for I am your Strength and Song. You are feeling wobbly this morning, looking at difficult times looming ahead, measuring them against your own strength. However, they are not today’s tasks—or even tomorrow’s. So leave them in the future and come home to the present, where you will find Me waiting for you. Since I am your Strength, I can empower you to handle each task as it comes. Because I am your Song, I can give you Joy as you work alongside Me.
Keep bringing your mind back to the present moment. Among all My creatures, only humans can anticipate future events. This ability is a blessing, but it becomes a curse whenever it is misused. If you use your magnificent mind to worry about tomorrow, you cloak yourself in dark unbelief. However, when the hope of heaven fills your thoughts, the Light of My Presence envelops you. Though heaven is future, it is also present tense. As you walk in the Light with Me, you have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven.”
It’s a bit of a tightrope, I guess. We’re walking where we are, what we do is important. There’s a propensity within me to just focus on the doing part and just say, “Well, if I’m doing all the right things, that’s great.” It’s not that He doesn’t care about that, but He also cares about the state of your being and what the things are that are motivating you and why you are doing these things. That’s just as important.
God Uses the Present to Heal Our Past
“For me, fatherhood has been one of the ways in which God has brought a lot of healing into my life, as I’ve been able to lean into faith and grace and extend that to my kids. God uses those moments in the present. He repairs the past.” – Matt Maher
A lot of the best things that I do as a dad, I know I learned from my dad. It’s such a solid place for your identity to be formed. I don’t have a lot of extremely painful memories with my father. I have a lot of absence of really good ones later in life.
There was a point in my thirties—before I got married, because I got married I was thirty-five—when I realized that I had reached a point where I was truly grateful for my dad in every sense, because he showed me things that I know I don’t want to emulate as a parent. I’ve reached a point where I can be grateful, and I can also grieve for him because he never got to experience that freedom.
I wanted to get my seven-year-old riding a bike on his own. He was like, “Dad, all my friends are riding bikes.”
And I was like, “Okay, we’re gonna do this.”
And so we get this bike, and the whole thing took two hours. It was incredible. It was incredibly fast and it kind of freaked me out, because that was one of the things that my dad never did for me, he never taught me how to ride a bike.
But there was this one point when he was riding the bike, and he took a really bad spill, and he started crying. I could see all this fear in him, and I said, “Buddy, courage is not about having no fear, because you’re going to have fear. You’re going to be scared. The question is, what do you want to do about it? You’re going to fall. There’s no way that you can ride a bike perfectly every time. The question is, what are you going to do when you fall?”
And he says, “Get back up.”
And I was like, “Yeah.”
And literally, less than five minutes later, I was watching my son ride away from me and get to this point where he was two hundred and fifty feet away from me, and I’m thinking to myself, There’s no way I could catch him right now if he falls, if he takes a spill. It is totally on him.
I went there, and it was my first real experience of letting go as a parent. But each of these experiences for me, now as a parent, is incredibly hopeful in the present and they heal part of the past.
If you are inspired by these stories and are looking for more encouragement about how God works through our brokenness, check out our interview with country music artist and producer Jay DeMarcus.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with music legend and singing sensation Gloria Gaynor. As she’s traveled the world sharing her talents, Gloria has encountered people from all walks of life—and she reminds us that despite our differences, there is one key factor that unites us all.
Gloria Gaynor: We are so busy fragmenting and majoring on minors that we don’t get that we could do so much more for each other. We just need to come to understand and recognize and appreciate one another, and recognize that each and every one of us are made in the image of God. That deserves to be treated with respect and with dignity.
Narrator: Do you love hearing these stories of faith weekly from people like you whose lives have been changed by a closer walk with God? Then be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling: Stories of Faith Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, leave us a review so that we can reach others with these inspirational stories. And, you can also see these interviews on video as part of our original web series with a new interview premiering every other Sunday on Facebook Live. Find previously broadcasted interviews on our Youtube channel, on IGTV, or on jesuscalling.com/media/video.