Max Lucado: I learned a lesson that God never did give up on me. He could have. I was misbehaving. I was hiding. I was doing the very thing I promised I wouldn’t do, and I was telling people not to do. So that’s just one of the times in which God has been gracious enough to pull me back on track.
Life-Changing Grace for Our Darkest Moments: Max Lucado & Jeff Allen – Episode #372
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. We all make mistakes in our lives—big and small—and worry about letting people down, or not living up to who we think we should be. But imagine if someone saw our mistakes, no matter how grave, and instead of chastising us, still believed in us and thought we were amazing? That’s what God’s grace is like. It’s a kind of love that forgives us and gives us a fresh start over and over again, without end.
Author and pastor Max Lucado shares his personal journey from soaring to heights of success to rock bottom moments where he questioned why he was doing what he was doing. Max draws parallels between his experiences and the story of Jacob, and how God’s grace overflows to us, even in our worst moments. Veteran comedian Jeff Allen opens up about the struggles in his life caused by addiction, and the rock bottom moment that led him to seek help, and how he ultimately found his way through a relationship with Christ and the unfailing grace that comes with it.
Let’s start with Max’s story.
My role at the church has changed a bit. I’m not a senior pastor any longer. I am what we call a teaching pastor, and I love this role. It’s kind of the role we have for the former senior pastor to still hang around. I get to travel with my wife. We just celebrated forty-two years of marriage and we enjoy seeing our grandkids and then also just going on fun trips. So I’m excited about this season of life.
I’ve always been fascinated with the story of Jacob. He’s the second son, the twin son of Rebecca. And Rebecca felt that God told her he would rule over his brother, Esau. Now, we don’t know what all transpired, but we do know that Rebecca is the one who set him up to try to trick Esau out of being first born. It’s a fascinating cultural thing that to be firstborn meant everything, and Jacob tried to swindle Esau out of the birthright and ended up on the run. And then twenty years later, was about to have an encounter with Esau for the first time. He didn’t know if Esau was going to forgive him or kill him. He spent the night by the river Jabbok. He wrestled with God. He wrestled with God all night long, slippery body slipping and falling back and forth, wrestling.
He finally thought he had defeated God or he had overcome God, or that God had the blessing. And then God reached out and just touched him on the hip and down he went. It’s a picture of that moment in which we’re wrestling with God.
But Jacob, he struggles more than he doesn’t, and so many things happen to him, much of which are by his own misdoings. And yet God never gave up on him. He never did. Even after some of the most terrible events, I mean, just times in which he simply came undone and forgot who he was for God, forgot who God was. Yet God is still the one who reaches out and rescues and redeems Jacob.
There are times in which we wrestle with God, and I think back on one of those seasons in my life where on the outside, it appeared everything was going great. I’m sixty-eight years old now. When I was fifty, life was chug, chug, chugging along, and everything was hitting on all cylinders. The church was growing. We had a brand new building. It was almost paid for. I had a celebrity status. I hate to say that, but I had a celebrity status in the country.
There were times buses that would come to our church. I thought I was something special. What people didn’t know is our staff was in freefall. We had ministers arguing with each other. We had good ministers resigning because of the toxic nature of the set. And what could their senior pastor do? Well, he didn’t have time to do it. He was too busy being a superstar. And I was feeling the stress of trying to meet everybody’s expectations, angry at the staff, book deadlines, sermon deadlines. and I have a proclivity to treat problems with alcohol.
And so to treat the anxiety, I began to drive across town to a convenience store and buy a big can of beer, and put it in a brown paper bag and sit in my car and drink it. And this happened I don’t know how many times, maybe a half a dozen or maybe even ten times. And finally, on one of those occasions, I really sensed the Lord speaking to me as if He was saying, “What are you doing here? What in the world are you doing, hiding from people? Driving across town, pretending you’re something when you’re not?”
And it was a wrestling with God moment, and just like Jacob was brought to his knees, I was brought to mine. And I realized that apart from God, I can’t even make it through the day. And so God’s grace was great over me, and I shared that story with our elders, even shared it with some of our church. And the healing began.
“It was a wrestling with God moment, and just like Jacob was brought to his knees, I was brought to mine. And I realized that apart from God, I can’t even make it through the day.” – Max Lucado
I learned a lesson that God never did give up on me. He could have. I was misbehaving. I was hiding. I was doing the very thing I promised I wouldn’t do, and I was telling people not to do. So
Unmasking Secrecy, Embracing Truth
Any time we’re doing this behind-the-scenes, in the shadows type of activities, that’s a sign that we’re off the right path. And boy, we can justify it. We can explain it away. We can say it’s not so bad. And that is making excuses or justifying it or promising it is not going to last long or everybody would do it if they had my problems or nobody gets me, you know? So secrecy and excuses, those are the telltale signs that we’re off the path.
In the story of Jacob, after he betrayed his brother, Esau, he had to take off to hide out in the Highlands with his Uncle Laban. That first day on the journey when he was sleeping on a stone—here’s this son of a patriarch, he didn’t even have a pillow for his head. He’s sleeping on the stone on the desert floor. And God appeared to him in a vision, a ladder from heaven came down. What a picture of God’s grace. God found Jacob in the Badlands and came to him and spoke to him, and God will do the same for us. I believe that God will meet us in those times. He will.
“God found Jacob in the Badlands and came to him and spoke to him, and God will do the same for us. I believe that God will meet us in those times.” – Max Lucado
He comes to us, He finds us, whether it’s in a car in a convenience store parking lot or the desert on the way to Mesopotamia. Now He comes to us. He comes to us. He finds us. Be open to that, but don’t dismiss Him. Be obedient. Acknowledge what you’ve done. Find help, confess it, go to a circle of friends, begin to get your life in order, because the longer you resist Him, the harder it is to accept Him. Make sure you give problems to God before the problems get to you.
“Be obedient. Acknowledge what you’ve done. Find help, confess it, go to a circle of friends, begin to get your life in order, because the longer you resist Him, the harder it is to accept Him. Make sure you give problems to God before the problems get to you.” – Max Lucado
Navigating Anxious Moments Through Knowing God
I remember a time I boarded a flight. I knew the pilot. As I got on the plane, I said, “Hey, Joe, how are you doing?” I knew his story. I knew he flew in the Air Force. I knew he flew fighter jets. I mean, the guy was super capable. And so I took my seat and wouldn’t you know it about midway into the flight, his voice comes over the intercom saying, “Prepare yourself for some turbulence. It’s going to be rough, but we’re going to get through it.” Well, you know, when I heard his voice, knowing his experience and having a personal relationship with him, I just kind of settled down. I said, “Yeah, okay, we’ll be fine.”
I had a huge advantage over the rest of the passengers. You could see anxiety in their faces because it did get choppy there for a while, really up and down, but I was able to weather that with more confidence, not because there was no turbulence, but because I had a personal relationship with the pilot.
We have a huge advantage. We know the pilot. We know what He has guided the church through or people through. We know He’s not intimidated. We know we’ll be okay. And so the key is not trying to live a life in which we are escaping turbulence or trying to manage the turbulence on our own. The key is making sure we know the pilot.
“We have a huge advantage. We know the pilot. We know what He has guided the church through or people through. We know He’s not intimidated. We know we’ll be okay. And so the key is not trying to live a life in which we are escaping turbulence or trying to manage the turbulence on our own. The key is making sure we know the pilot.” – Max Lucado
It’s an interesting time in which we live. You know, the stress and the anxiety is off the charts and most tragically manifested in the suicide rate. This the highest it’s been since World War II.
We’re dealing with more change than ever before. The world is changing at lightning speed. There’s no shame in going and receiving pharmaceutical help. And there’s nothing at all to be ashamed about if you want to see a therapist on a regular basis. We’ve got to talk this through.
Anxiety is often the result of perceived chaos. When we think the world is spinning out of control, it keeps us awake at night. But if God is big, then our problems are small. But if our problems are big, then it usually means our perception of God is small. So make a big deal out of God. You know, spend time with Him.
“If God is big, then our problems are small. But if our problems are big, then it usually means our perception of God is small. So make a big deal out of God.” – Max Lucado
He’s not intimidated by the condition of the world. In fact, He said that the world would get like this and then ask Him for help. Just ask Him specifically everything about prayer and petition. The Scripture says, “With Thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God. So pray about everything.”
Jesus Listens, September 23rd:
My great God,
Although many of my prayers are not yet answered, I find hope in Your great faithfulness. You keep all Your promises—in Your perfect way and Your perfect timing. You have promised to give me Peace that can displace the trouble and fear in my heart. If I become weary of waiting, please remind me that You also wait—so that You may be gracious to me and have mercy on me. You hold back until I am ready to receive the things You have lovingly prepared for me. As I spend time in Your Presence, I rejoice in the promise that all those who wait for You are blessed.
In Your gracious Name, Jesus,
Narrator: You can find Max Lucado’s new book, God Never Gives Up On You, from your favorite retailer.
Stay tuned to Jeff Allen’s story after a brief message.
Spreading Hope With Samaritan’s Purse
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Our next guest is comedian Jeff Allen, the creator of the phrase “happy wife, happy life.” Jeff is in his fifth decade as a working comedian, and early in his career, while he was doing the work of bringing joy to others, he battled a personal darkness: a lifelong addiction to alcoholism. Jeff shares the events of his life that culminated in seeking help over his addiction, and how he found God—and His Grace—in the process.
Jeff Allen: I am Jeff Allen. I’m a father, a grandfather, a husband, a comedian. I do standup comedy, and I’ve been doing it since 1978.
My brother was a musician. He was five years older than me. So when I was about sixteen, he was playing in a club in Chicago. And I saw some comedians that opened for him and I thought, Boy, that would be kind of cool to do. But it’s not like they have a job fair at high school for standup comedy, so I had no idea what or how you did stand up comedy.
And then probably five or six years later, I was working for a jewelry company and they went to a comedy club after setting up a jewelry show, and I was hooked. That was it. And I got into doing comedy clubs and it really didn’t get serious until I got married and had kids. It was like, I better start paying attention to what I’m doing, and my income literally doubled in one year. So apparently my DNA is wired for panic.
The Thing You Think Will Make You Whole Could Destroy You
I started drinking at thirteen, fourteen years old, I guess. And from the minute I drank, I drank until my body rejected it. I threw up every time I drank. You’d think a normal human being, you know, wouldn’t pour that poison into their system. And, you know, if I ate beets and beets made me retch, I probably wouldn’t eat another beet. But anyway, I kept drinking until I kept it down. You know, they say alcoholics remember their first drink vividly. I was at my sister’s wedding, and the minute I took a sip of it, it was like, Holy cow, I found it, the magic elixir. And as you learn in the Bible, anything apart from God that you think will make you whole usually destroys you. So it pretty much destroyed me. From the minute I picked it up, to the minute I stopped, I just didn’t know how to quit.
“As you learn in the Bible, anything apart from God that you think will make you whole usually destroys you.” – Jeff Allen
I hit the age of thirty—I went to Alcoholics Anonymous when I was twenty-five. Didn’t stay very long. I wasn’t as sick as those people. You know, you hear the stories, you go, Oh, boy, I got a lot more living to do. And so I started back up again, and then I got married. And about a year into my marriage one night, I got on a stool in the kitchen, and I screamed at my wife in the middle of an argument until she fell to her knees and she sobbed on the floor. And I put my son to bed that night and he goes, “Daddy, you win.” I go, “What do you mean I win?” He goes, “You yell, Mommy cries, you win.”
And I said, “Holy cow.” You know, not one of my finer moments as a man. I went downstairs and told my wife, “I’m going to get some help from a therapist. I don’t know how that works or whatever, but I’ve got to get help.” And that was the start of the sobriety.
Find Something in the Universe Bigger Than You
I had no relationship with God. I didn’t believe in God, but they said, “Find something in the universe bigger than you.” And it’s amazing how arrogant—I always said the only thing that exceeded my arrogance was my ignorance. And I couldn’t think of anything bigger than me in the universe. As broken and beat up and as bad as my life was, I wasn’t going to get on my knees and pray to something I made up. So that kind of started me on the search: Okay, if God exists, what is it? What does that even look like?
And I didn’t buy the higher power thing, I thought, Look, if I’m making up a deity, that makes me delusional. So anyway, I set out through self-help, through Buddhism, the New Age, and eventually wound up on Ayn Rand. I thought, Well if there is no God, then I better figure out a way to live without it.
But, you know, it’s funny reading Atlas Shrugged as a nonbeliever and then reading it again ten years later as a believer, you realize how dark and it’s just black and white. There’s no color in there, there’s no children, there’s no joy, there’s no nature—you know, looking at trees, the sublime, there’s nothing sublime about it. It’s just hard core reason down the line, black and white, and it’s just very cold to me. So it was interesting how Jesus changed my lens in how I look at the world.
They told me to pray, and I did, because I wanted to stay sober. I knew if I drank again, I’d lose my wife and kids. And I prayed the third step prayer, they call it: “God, remove me from the bondage of myself so that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulty, that victory over them may bear witness to Thy strength, Thy power, Thy way of life.” And I prayed that prayer not believing in God. I just said, “I’m going to do what they tell me to do.” And it’s interesting. I drank and I loved being around comedy. I loved the whole process of standup comedy, but it really wasn’t until I got on my knees and I said to Jesus, “I’m yours,” that it all kind of clicked and made sense to me.
“I loved the whole process of standup comedy, but it really wasn’t until I got on my knees and I said to Jesus, ‘I’m yours,’ that it all kind of clicked and made sense to me.” – Jeff Allen
I love what I do now. I don’t think I ever loved it prior to that. It became a job, which we all know that when work becomes work—unless you’re doing it for the glory of God, it becomes a chore. But I consider myself blessed that I had the disease of alcoholism because it got me on a journey that ultimately led to Him. And I kind of gave Him the reins twenty-five years ago, and I said, “Just give me the courage to follow your paths.” And that’s been kind of my mantra for twenty-five years.
“Unless you’re doing it for the glory of God, it becomes a chore. But I consider myself blessed that I had the disease of alcoholism because it got me on a journey that ultimately led to Him.” – Jeff Allen
The Healing Power of Laughter
You know, there are just humorless people in the world. I don’t know if there’s hope for them. First of all, I know for a fact—I’ve read this a thousand times—that if you can’t make a woman laugh, she probably won’t date you. So one of the most attractive things about a man from a woman’s point of view is the ability to make her laugh.
So it’s interesting to me, you know, the Bible’s clear on it, laughter does good like a medicine [Proverbs 17:22]. But I never realized it until men would come over to me with their wife. [They] would go to the bathroom, and they’d have tears in their eyes and say, “It’s the first time they’ve heard their wife laugh for two years, and I fell in love with my wife because of her laugh. Her laugh is so important to my well-being.”
God knows the world is broken, this world is broken, and He has charged us with repairing a broken world. And that’s our tikkun olam. So find your tikkun olam. What are you going to do to help repair the broken world? That could be a smile, you know? That could be a prayer. A prayer ministry would be great. If I can heal through laughter, that’s wonderful, you know?
“God knows the world is broken, and He has charged us with repairing a broken world.” – Jeff Allen
Ask Jesus to Show You What’s in Your Heart
I have a daily prayer: a morning prayer and an evening prayer. And then we pray at dinner, and that’s how we connect. Prior to this relationship, I was a lunatic, you know? I smashed things, broke things, and was snotty and sarcastic and bitter, jaded, cynical, nihilist.
Pray to Jesus and ask Him to show you what He sees in your heart. “What do you see in my heart?” And be ready, because there will be things revealed to you that you never thought you could possibly be that dark and sinister. That’s what I am without my prayers.
“Pray to Jesus and ask Him to show you what He sees in your heart. ‘What do you see in my heart?’” – Jeff Allen
You have no control over much of today, but you can just put one foot in front of the other and smile at your fellow man and go, “It’ll get better, that’s all. Just, it’ll pass. Whatever you’re experiencing right now, it’ll pass. Trust me.”
Just pray and stop where you’re at. That’s the beauty of the Holy Spirit, you can talk to Him without moving your lips, and the Holy Spirit will speak. This is from Sarah Young‘s prayer devotional Jesus Listens, and it’s dated August 6th:
Whenever I wander away and leave You out of my life, I no longer feel complete. The restlessness I experience in these times is actually a gift from You, reminding me to return to my First Love. I need to make You central in my thoughts and feelings, my plans and actions. When You are the Center of my life, I’m able to live meaningfully, according to Your will.
You have set my feet on a pathway to heaven, and You are my constant Companion. When I encounter trouble as I journey with You, I love to hear Your words of reassurance: “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”
O Lord, in Your Presence I am indeed safe, secure, and complete!
In Your victorious Name,
Narrator: To learn more about Jeff, please visit www.jeffallencomedy.com, and be sure to check out his new book, Are We There Yet?: My Journey From a Messed Up to Meaningful Life, at your favorite retailer.
If you’d like to hear more stories about God’s grace, check out our interview with Michael Jr.
Next week: Madison Prewett Troutt
Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from author and influencer Madison Prewett Troutt, who you may remember from ABC’s The Bachelor. Madison shares her unlikely journey to find love, and how her season of singleness gave her an opportunity to be closer to God than ever.
Madison Prewett Troutt: It is possible to know the love of God, and it’s possible to like yourself, maybe even love yourself, and to also navigate the matrix of relationships with confidence and with hope, and to look to your future with joy because every single one of us were made from love and made for love.