How Do We Know If We’re Hearing God? Carlos Whittaker and Sheryl Brady
Carlos Whittaker: I know it’s scary to ask for specific things, but I promise when you start asking for specific things, you’re going to see God come through in ways you never, ever dreamed.
How Do We Know If We’re Hearing God? Carlos Whittaker and Sheryl Brady – Episode #230
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Sometimes we’re afraid to ask God for what we need from Him, because we’re afraid He won’t answer us. But today’s guests, author and speaker Carlos Whittaker and pastor Sheryl Brady, share moments when they pushed through that fear and asked God to help them—and how He came through for them in unexpected ways.
As a worship leader, Carlos Whittaker graced the stages of some of the biggest churches and conferences around the US. But over time, Carlos felt God leading him in a different direction—to be a thought leader instead of a worship leader, a turn he’d never envisioned for himself. With a few keystrokes on his laptop and a lot of faith, Carlos took a leap into an unknown journey toward his brand-new calling—only to feel the bottom fall out beneath him, causing him to question if he’d heard God correctly.
Carlos Whittaker: Hey, friends, my name is Carlos Whittaker. I’m an author, speaker, and what I like to say, a “hope dealer” living in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife, three kids, four chickens, two dogs, one cat, the whole works. I travel full time for a living, speaking on stages. I like to tell people that I like to tell stories on stage, in books, and on Instagram. So that’s kind of who I am. And I’m so excited about this time.
I grew up in Pico Rivera in East L.A., California. My father is a black Panamanian from Colón, Panama, immigrated to the United States in 1960 with twenty dollars cash and a shoeshine kit. And he shined shoes at LAX for two years until he made enough money for one semester at L.A. Community College. And then he got straight A’s that semester at L.A. Community College. And then he got a scholarship for the next semester, and then he got a scholarship to a four-year university. And now my father is the American Dream. He’s Dr. Fermín Augustine Whittaker. He met my mother when she was eighteen. She’s an immigrant from Monterrey, Mexico. And so they met, got married, and my father started the First Bilingual Baptist Church in Pico Rivera, East L.A., where they started their family, which is when I bounced onto the scene and grew up in East L.A.
And you know what was really cool about my childhood, watching my father preach, is that since he was the pastor of First Bilingual Baptist Church in East L.A., he actually preached his messages in English and in Spanish at the same time. So he would literally translate himself because all the older people in his church, they didn’t speak English, yet all their grandkids and all the younger people, they didn’t speak Spanish, but they were from the same family. And so when my father saw that there were lots of older people in the church, but none of their kids were coming, he went and he asked ‘em and the kids were like, “Well, we don’t speak Spanish.” So he [would preach in both languages simultaneously]: “God is the same in English and Spanish. All right. Now we’re going to pray.”
And so, you know, it’s actually incredible to hear my dad preach like that. But when I was a kid, I’ll be honest with you, I just thought his sermons were twice as long because he was preaching the same thing both times in English and Spanish. So I just grew up in such a rich, rich household that just loved the Lord with everything inside of them. And I’m really blessed to be able to have the legacy that I’m following in my father and mother’s footsteps.
Finding Ministry With Music
You know, when I was growing up, I’ll never forget in seventh grade, I’d always sang in the church choir and so I knew I love to sing, but I guess I didn’t really know how much I loved music beyond that, beyond singing with my robe on a Sunday morning in church. And my mother had gone to a pawn shop, and she was looking for something else, but she’d seen a guitar and the guitar’s brand, it was on the headstock of the guitar, it was called Carlos. Like that was the name of the guitar.
And so she thought, Oh, I wonder if my son would like this. So she bought it for me. I don’t know, it’s five dollars, just a rinky-dink guitar, brought home to me. And I picked that guitar up and I just started, you know, plucking on the strings, and on one string I remember being able to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and I was like, Oh, I think I kind of understand that. Well, that began my love for the guitar. That began me begging my mom for music lessons. And so we went to the local music store. This was before YouTube and you could learn everything on YouTube, and actually had to find somebody to teach me to play the guitar.
And so I did. I found somebody to teach me to play the guitar, and then it grew into a love. And then my first song that I learned to play was “La Bamba” on the guitar. And my dad and mom, they were so proud. And I started a little band when I was fourteen or fifteen years old. We were really bad, but I just started playing around the neighborhood for different people’s birthday parties and that love just continued to grow.
I got into college and met another guy that played the guitar, and we started our own little group. And I guess it was kind of a hobby for me that was always something I never thought I would do professionally. I was a middle grade education major. I thought I was going to be a high school teacher, junior high teacher, maybe a principal one day. But music was something that I loved to do.
And little did I know that that love on the side would turn into my full time job. I ended up signing a record deal with Integrity Music, touring the world with Hillsong United, with John Mark McMillan, Jeremy Camp, The Newsboys. And for many years beyond the years that I was a worship pastor, for ten years in Southern California, leading worship and singing with the guitar was something that I absolutely love to do. It’s in my DNA. I don’t necessarily do it as much anymore because God has surprisingly taken my career in completely new directions that I’m absolutely in love with.
You know, I was just looking very specifically early in my marriage for some sort of devotional. And I’d done My Utmost for His Highest. I’d done a couple of other devotionals that were good for me in college. But I just didn’t feel like anything really nailed it for me. And so it was my wife that was reading this—we were probably four years into marriage. And I just saw her reading this book called Jesus Calling. I think it was like 2008, and she’d read it every single night, and it was right next to her nightstand. And it was probably six months of watching her read this every night that I was like, You know what? I’m going to sneak it away from her and read that thing in the morning.
And I remember thinking very specifically, This must be a women’s thing. Like, my wife’s reading it. This has got to be just for women, and oh my gosh, when I started reading this devotional, I think it was probably two days in, I probably used Jesus Calling for three straight years. I went through every page three times, and it changed the trajectory of what I felt encountering and hearing. You hear me talk a lot about hearing from God, hearing from Jesus, hearing the voice of God. I believe that Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling was instrumental in teaching me what it really means on a daily basis to encounter conversational intimacy with Jesus. It not only changed my life, but I honestly believe it changed my ministry and it actually changed my marriage.
Doing the Thing That Scares Us
So as I was continuing to grow in my career as a worship leader and as a worship artist with Integrity Music, I always knew deep down inside that I really loved to communicate and to talk in between the songs. Like, I enjoyed singing, but it was really what I said between the songs and more and more people began to tell me, “Carlos, have you ever thought about speaking and not singing?” And I’m like, “Oh, I mean, I’m really good at speaking for thirty seconds between a song, but I definitely would never do that.” But more and more people began to say, “I just feel like you’re more of a thought leader than a worship leader.”
And I’ll tell you what, like this was 2011, 2012. I was at the time leading worship at Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, at North Point Community Church in Atlanta, at Cross Point Church here in Nashville, Tennessee. Like I was on the up and up leading worship and on some of the biggest stages, and the thought of me giving that up to do something that many people around me that were close to me told me that maybe I was better at doing was a really scary, scary thing to think about doing. So I prayed about it one day and I felt very clearly the Lord telling me, They’re right, you are supposed to be a speaker and an author next. That is the next thing I have for you.
“I prayed about it one day, and I felt very clearly the Lord telling me, They’re right, you are supposed to be a speaker and an author next. That is the next thing I have for you.” – Carlos Whittaker
Well, let me tell you, friends, I heard that from God and said, “Thank you God, but no thank you.” And for the next six months, I just continued to ignore the call of Jesus and Holy Spirit in my life to move from this one season of faith in my journey to the next season. And so I ignored it, until finally my wife—of course, it always comes to my wife. She hears from the Lord so clearly, she said, “Hey, babe. I know you’ve been running from the voice of God. And I just want to tell you as your wife that I know it’s scary because all of our income is on worship leading. But I trust God enough to allow you to chase after His voice.”
And so in that moment, I went to my laptop and I opened up my Gmail, and I went to my booking email account, and I had eighty-seven worship leading dates set for the rest of the year. That was my income. I was at conferences, in churches. And in one single email, I emailed all eighty-seven of these events and I said, “Hey, the Lord is calling me to be a speaker and an author. So I’m going to step out in faith and become that. So I’m going to cancel me leading worship for you. So if you like your deposits back, I’d be happy to send those back. But if you’d like me to come speak at your event, I would love to come speak of your event. Just reply back and we can set that up.”
Now, I did that in full faith, full confidence that I was going to get eighty-seven emails the next morning going, “Of course, Carlos! Come to our event and be our speaker.” But of course as the story unfolds, over the next few days, I kept getting email after email from all of these events and churches going, “Congratulations, that’s awesome that you’re following the call of Jesus in your life. But go ahead and send our deposits back because we already have a speaker. But congratulations on chasing after the voice of God.”
Well, one day turned into three weeks, turned into seven, which turned into ten, which turned into thirteen. And I’ll never forget thirteen days into this wilderness of losing all of my income, watching our bank account get sucked dry from all the deposits leaving and nobody booking me to speak at their event, I began to question the voice of God.
I begin to question, Did I really hear God correctly? God, there’s no way that I heard you correctly if I’m losing all this money.
So I almost went back to my inbox and emailed all eighty-seven events going, “I made a mistake. I heard the voice of God wrong.” But instead I said, “You know what, Lord? I’m going to continue to obey.” So I went to Home Depot and I filled out an application. I went to Starbucks and I filled out an application. And I was embarrassed to do that, because I’ve been on the road with all these big bands. My platform was growing, and suddenly I’m going to be working at an hourly job. But the Lord said, “Just continue to be obedient, put one foot in front of the other.” That was day thirteen.
Day fourteen, I opened up my inbox to my booking email and I saw an email in there and it was from WhiteHouse.gov. And so before I even opened it, I just deleted it, because why in the world would the White House be emailing me, this must be spam.
Well, about thirty minutes after I deleted that email, I got a call from my publicist. And she said, “They know you deleted the email, you’ve got to go open your Deleted folder.” So I go to my Deleted folder, I open it up, and there’s that one email. And the subject line was, “The White House would like to invite you to speak at the President’s Easter Prayer Breakfast next Tuesday in the East Room of the White House.” Friends, fourteen days after I started my journey in the wilderness, I got an email from my very first booking, and it was to speak in front of the most powerful human being on planet Earth. My first speaking gig was going to be at the White House.
So fast forward seven days, and I find myself having breakfast at the same table with the president of the United States of America, giving a ten-minute devotional thought to fifty of the most powerful, influential people in our country, and then singing a song. So they actually asked me to sing a song, and I sang “What Can Wash Away My Sins? Nothing But the Blood of Jesus.” And I’ll never forget walking out of that house, knowing that it doesn’t matter how long you’re in the wilderness. If the Lord has promised you something, He will come through with it.
“It doesn’t matter how long you’re in the wilderness. If the Lord has promised you something, He will come through with it.” – Carlos Whittaker
And that was the most nervous I’ve ever been to give a talk. It’s been downhill from there. And I just, I’ll never forget the moment I got to declare the goodness of God in the White House. I got to hear voices echoing down the halls and the chambers of the White House, “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” And I just hope that this story encourages you guys. When the Lord tells you to do something scary, I promise you the risk is worth it.
“When the Lord tells you to do something scary, I promise you the risk is worth it.” – Carlos Whittaker
So my book, Enter Wild, the subtitle is Exchange A Mild and Mundane Faith for Life with an Uncontainable God. You know, I wrote this book in early 2019, so I didn’t know the book was coming out during a pandemic, but obviously the Holy Spirit knew, which is why He had me write this book.
And so the book is a call from me to my fellow Christians to really leave the safe and mild faith that they have been sitting in for far too long. And the reason why I know of this safe and mild faith is that is the faith that I had been living up until about four or five years ago. I had just been living this nice, comfortable Christian vacation kind of life. I felt like my call as a Christian was to become a Christian and then, you know, kind of wait for heaven. Like, that’s the thing. Then we get to get to heaven and we get to experience all these incredible things.
Well, little did I know when I turned forty years old that we would begin to go to a new church that began to pull out and to call out in me the fact that we’re not called to become Christians and wait for heaven. We actually are called to become Christians and bring heaven. And that potential and opportunity with the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives is available to us.
“We’re not called to become Christians and wait for heaven. We actually are called to become Christians and bring heaven. And that potential and opportunity with the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives is available to us.” – Carlos Whittaker
And I know the word wild scares a lot of people because, you know, we like safe. We don’t want to be uncomfortable again. But when we look at the call of the gospel in our lives, we were not called to be comfortable. We were not called to be safe. And so the book takes people on a journey. And it’s really my journey of freedom from anxiety and depression and a lot of things that I dealt with particularly.
Growing up, when I heard John 10:10, “A thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. I’ve come that they may have life and have it to the full,” I was kind of taught that life to the full and life with abundance means like gold thrones and Rolls Royces and big mansions, and that’s the goal. But the more I traveled around the planet and the more I’d go to Africa and visit my Compassion children and see, Well, wait a second, they’re living life to the full here, too. So obviously, life to the full has nothing to do with the abundance of things and everything to do with accessing the King.
“Life to the full has nothing to do with the abundance of things and everything to do with accessing the King.” – Carlos Whittaker
And that is the biggest switch. That is the biggest flip when we realize that life to the full, life with abundance isn’t accumulating things, and it has everything to do with accessing the King, at that point even in the midst of the worst moment of your life, you still can have abundant life in that moment. You can still have life to the full in the middle of a global pandemic. You can still have abundant life in the middle of your divorce or after loss or all of these things. That’s what’s available to you.
So I’ll be reading from Jesus Calling on September 19th.
THERE IS A MIGHTY BATTLE going on for control of your mind. Heaven and earth intersect in your mind; the tugs of both spheres influence your thinking. I created you with the capacity to experience foretastes of heaven. When you shut out the world and focus on My Presence, you can enjoy sitting with Me in heavenly realms. This is an incredible privilege reserved for precious ones who belong to Me and seek My Face. Your greatest strength is your desire to spend time communing with Me. As you concentrate on Me, My Spirit fills your mind with Life and Peace. The world exerts a downward pull on your thoughts. Media bombard you with greed, lust, and cynicism. When you face these things, pray for protection and discernment. Stay in continual communication with me whenever you walk through the wastelands of this world. Refuse to worry, because this form of worldliness will weigh you down and block awareness of My Presence. Stay alert, recognizing the battle being waged against your mind. Look forward to an eternity of strife-free living, reserved for you in heaven.
I mean, this passage resonates so clearly. I feel like beginning with that mighty battle that’s going on for control of your mind, we are living in warfare. If you look at scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, the common theme of scripture is we are in war, we are in a battle.There is a mighty battle, because for a believer to truly experience the freedom that we get to look forward to at the very end of this passage, we have to recognize that there actually is a mighty battle going on. And it just really resonates inside of me how our greatest strength is our desire to spend time communing with God, communing with the Holy Spirit.
We must have access and tap into the power of the presence of the Holy Spirit so that we can have this life to the fullest. So when the enemy comes at us, we are girded up. We’ve got the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith in the sword of the Spirit, and all of these things will allow us to be strong, not in our might, but in the strength of God.
“We’ve got the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith in the sword of the Spirit, and all of these things will allow us to be strong, not in our might, but in the strength of God.” – Carlos Whittaker
Narrator: You can learn more about Carlos and his book Enter Wild at carloswhittaker.com.
Stay tuned for Pastor Sheryl Brady’s story after a brief message.
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Narrator: Pastor Sheryl Brady serves at The Potter’s House Church, where she does ministry with lead pastor and founder Bishop T.D. Jakes. As a talented speaker and minister, Pastor Brady has traveled the world to share the good news, even when her life didn’t feel all that “good.” Pastor Brady reflects on the time she lost her mother and sister just a few months apart from each other and found herself mired in grief. As she took to the stage one December night, prepared to share a message of hope with her church, Pastor Brady decided instead to be honest about her pain. And from that moment of honesty came more healing and hope for her community—and for herself.
Sheryl Brady: My name is Pastor Sheryl Brady, and I am the pastor of the Potter’s House of North Dallas, which is a campus of the Potter’s House, under the leadership of Bishop T.D. Jakes, and we have been established for ten years. We’re getting ready to celebrate our tenth anniversary.
I have a new book that’s coming out, it is called Don’t Miss the Moment. And I really wrote it because I wanted people to understand the value of a moment. I feel like so many times we underestimate and we undervalue the moments that God has given us. Moments are small enough to be missed, and yet there they are big enough that one minute can change your life forever. And you can make one decision, it can change your life. You can get one email, one text message. You can send one email, one text message, have one conversation, and it changes your life. And I think that because so many people that I have seen, even today, we miss God moments because our attention is on grand moments.
“I feel like so many times we underestimate and we undervalue the moments that God has given us. Moments are small enough to be missed, and yet there they are big enough that one minute can change your life forever.” – Sheryl Brady
Don’t Miss the Moment took me about two and a half years to actually write, because in the middle of writing the book, I lost my sister and I lost my mother. As a pastor, when you go through things like that, it makes it extremely difficult. I mean, it’s difficult for anybody. But as a pastor, everybody looks to you for hope. They look to you to always have the right thing to say, to always be positive, to always be encouraging. It was very difficult for me because even though I lost my mom and my sister, life didn’t stop. And so every Sunday morning, people came to church. Every time they would come, they would come expecting to hear something awesome.
And at this point, if I could be really honest, I was praying for my sister’s miracle. She died of cancer. And I was so holding on and believing. And I just knew that God was going to do that. He was going to heal her, and she would not go out like she did. And it created such a low place for me when it did not happen like I thought it was going to happen.
And it really culminated one particular night. It was in December, and it was called Our Night of Hope here at our church. And it’s where we have an outreach, we reach out to the community and we just encourage people and bless people. And so the music department had done their program and it was my time to walk onto the stage. And as the pastor, I was going to put the bow around it and wrap it up and just make it, you know, beautiful.
And I was afraid to walk out there that night because I felt like I was unfiltered and I didn’t know exactly what I would say. And I walked out there, I was shaking in my shoes, and I found myself being very honest. And I told the church, “I’m disappointed, I’m discouraged, I’m broken.” And if I ever had the ear of the audience, I had it that night, because they were leaning in to my honesty. And I even told them, I said, “Because of where I’ve been, I told God, ‘I don’t even know, God, if I can tell them who I’ve always told them that You are.’” And you know, I really was at a point in my life where I felt like me and God were not on speaking terms. And that’s a scary place to be, especially when you’re a pastor.
And so it was a disappointing time for me. I didn’t know how I was going to survive it. I didn’t know how I was going to come out of it. I didn’t know if I needed to walk away and build a whole new different life of beliefs. That’s how deep I was in that.
But this is one thing I did know: I did know that I loved God, and I did know that He loved me. And standing on that stage that night, I quoted the scripture [Romans 8:38], “I will let nothing separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” Yes. Everything I believe feels like it’s on the line. But this is the one thing that’s not in question, is I love Him and He loves me. And in that moment, I’m telling you, live on that stage, that is where I felt the sovereignty of God kick in and my healing began. And I realized that God is sovereign and I can’t make Him do anything. But I also realized that if I would let Him, He would walk me through the decisions He makes that I don’t understand.
“I realized that God is sovereign and I can’t make Him do anything. But I also realized that if I would let Him, He would walk me through the decisions He makes that I don’t understand.” – Sheryl Brady
God will never do everything like we want it. He’ll never answer every prayer like we expect it to be answered. He said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts. My ways are not your ways.” And so sometimes we just have to come to the place where we say, “God, I just trust you even when I don’t understand you. I trust you when I can’t trace you. And I’m going to rest in the fact that you’re God and I’m not. And whatever life deals me, the hand that life deals me, I’m going to need you to help me get through it.”
Whenever you love hard, you grieve hard. And so I realized that for the initial stages of the grief, you know, we have a tendency to just kind of want to push it to the side so that we can keep moving. But the truth is that if we don’t allow ourselves to feel the pain, we’re never going to heal the pain. A natural instinct is to withdraw. And one of the reasons I think that being connected and staying connected is so important is because community gives us the gift of perspective. And when you’re surrounded by a core group of people that you love and that you trust, they can see things from different angles. And they can help you cross over top of those grief bridges that we find ourselves coming in contact with.
My church, my family, they were wonderful. And they absolutely helped me get through some of those moments. If you’re grieving and you feel isolated and you feel like it’s easier to isolate yourself, it might be easier to isolate yourself, but don’t do it because somebody around you has what you need to help you get through this moment.
“If you’re grieving and you feel isolated and you feel like it’s easier to isolate yourself, it might be easier to isolate yourself, but don’t do it because somebody around you has what you need to help you get through this moment.” – Sheryl Brady
Life is going to present challenges. There’s going to be choices. There are going to be changes that we all make along the way. But if we listen for His still small voice, and not be so busy aiming for the prize that we miss the journey, because there’s something about you can’t take A, B, C and D, a bypass A, B, C and D and think you’re going to stay on top when you hit E, because it is that journey upward that gives you the tenacity to stay up there. And we’ve all seen people be up one day and down the next.
But I’m going to tell you something. There’s something about the long road, something about walking that long road, not looking for shortcuts, but just listening to God as He opens one level to the next level to the next. And He is faithful to talk to us in the moments of our life.
So I am going to read this, I think it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s from Jesus Calling December 7th, and it says this:
I am with you in all that you do, even the most menial task. I am always aware of you, concerned with every detail of your life. Nothing escapes My notice—not even the number of hairs on your head. However, your awareness of My Presence falters and flickers; as a result, your life experience feels fragmented. When your focus is broad enough to include Me in your thoughts, you feel safe and complete. When your perception narrows so that problems or details fill your consciousness, you feel empty and incomplete.
Learn to look steadily at Me in all your moments and all your circumstances. Though the world is unstable and in flux, you can experience continuity through your uninterrupted awareness of My Presence. Fix your gaze on what is unseen, even as the visible world parades before your eyes.
I just want to encourage you, if I can leave you with anything, that the fluctuations of faith doesn’t equal the absence of faith. And today, I just believe that if you would just dig a little deeper, you might have to redefine what you have always called faith. But I’m telling you, God is faithful. He is faithful, full of faith. And if He is on the inside of you, you’ve got more faith in you even know.
Narrator: Pastor Brady’s book, Don’t Miss the Moment, is available wherever books are sold.
If you’d like to hear more stories about understanding a God who is for us, check out our interview with author and speaker John Maxwell.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with Grammy and Dove Award-winning worship leader Chris Tomlin for a special Christmas Eve edition of our show. In a time where so many can’t gather to celebrate the birth of Christ together, Chris has recorded a virtual Christmas worship service, available online, in lieu of doing the Christmas tour he does every year. Chris shares what Christmas songs mean to him, and why he thinks they are some of the best worship songs ever written.
Chris Tomlin: I love all the different Christmas songs, but there’s something special about these ones that are the songs of worship, and what Christmas is really about. And I think about the carols and I think about the great songs like “Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing. But, you know, when you think about those songs, they were not written by—the person who wrote that didn’t think, I’m writing a Christmas carol. He said, “I’m just writing a song of worship from a church for my congregation.” And it’s been a couple hundred years now these songs have lasted. There’s a reason, I think, that [they are] some of the greatest songs ever written.