Danny Gokey: Prayer, I think, is our greatest weapon before we ever open our mouth and begin to put our opinions out there. Prayer and working with God and being led by the spirit are going to be intensely needed right now.
Showing Up For What God’s Got Next: Danny Gokey and Hosanna Wong – Episode #297
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. When life deals a tough blow, it can be challenging to know where to go next. Perhaps the plans you’d been working toward have been blown out of the water, or maybe you’re experiencing loss that has made you wonder how to move forward. When it feels like nothing makes sense in our lives anymore, all we can do is continue to show up and look for what God has next for us. Musician Danny Gokey was encouraged by his wife to try out for American Idol, and while they worked toward that moment, she unexpectedly passed away and Danny wasn’t sure how to move forward. Minister Hosanna Wong lost her father at eighteen and longed to follow his legacy and help others learn of God’s love, but realized that it would take being present for others and really showing up in their lives to be able to live out her faith in a way that was authentic and compelling.
Let’s start with Danny’s story.
Danny: Hey, I’m Danny Gokey, and I’m an artist, songwriter, a husband, and a father to four children. I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Grandpa was a pastor, he pastored the church. So we, at a very young age, were introduced to the Gospel, which I actually really appreciate. I have four sisters and a brother. My dad was a blue-collar worker. Mom babysat kids in the neighborhood, so we always had a house full of kids.
Sometimes We All Need A Need A Push in the Right Direction
For most of my childhood and my teenage years, I had to be pushed, in a gentle way, to sing because I had no desire to do it. Parents would make us sing. And they weren’t forcing it on us, but it was just like, “Hey, we’re going to sing, let’s work on harmonies, let’s do this.” So you just do it and you enjoy it, I think, a little bit.
Then I met a youth pastor at my church who—he must have really seen the gift in me—because he would really try to push me to sing solos in front of the church and do duets and trios with him and another guy. We’d sing a lot of Phillips, Craig and Dean songs because it just fit three male vocalists singing together. It must have been in my youth group years that I started getting a hold of it. And I think a big part of it was when I was asked to be the worship leader because the youth pastor that had pushed me to sing ended up leaving, taking another ministry job somewhere else. And we had no one to do it. So I started doing it and I started actually loving it around then. That must have been around eighteen, maybe nineteen years old.
So that’s when I really got started, and then I went to a new church in town. After some time, I think I was twenty—I fell in love with their music program, and once again the pastor pushed me because I just wanted to be a background singer. I love being a BGV singer. And after that, he one day came to church and said, “You’re leading worship.” and I said, “No, I’m not.” And he said, “Yes, you are.” He said, “I need you to lead worship,” because the ministry was growing and he had to focus on preaching. And I don’t know why, most of my life, it has always is a thing that pushed me, but I’m glad God kept pushing me because it was something that I just didn’t see myself as the lead person or the lead singer.
“I’m glad God kept pushing me because I just didn’t see myself as the lead person or the lead singer.” – Danny Gokey
So I started the worship leader position there at one church, and my pastor inherited another church that was about an hour and fifteen minutes away. So the responsibilities became greater. And so I had to take over worship leading for both those locations, and the church just didn’t have enough money to pay me what I needed to survive. So I took a truck driving job as well, and that truck driving job really started supplementing. It was a lot of work. It was, you know, working a full-time job there and a full-time job. And I was willing to do whatever it took to make ends meet. I was very passionate about the ministry I was serving in, and so I would have done anything for that ministry. I was willing to do whatever because God had my heart, and I think that’s an interesting thing. You don’t have to force people to do something if you have their heart. But if you don’t have their heart, it will become about money. It will become about, What can I get out of this thing? and my whole thing was I just wanted to serve the Lord.
Difficult Challenges and Choices
There’s an interesting thing that happened in my life before I hit American Idol. I remember at twenty-seven years old, I just prayed and I said, “God, I think I missed it. I thought you had something bigger for me, but I’m twenty-seven now.” And you know, this world can kind of brainwash you into thinking that in your late twenties, it’s too late for you in the music industry, right? And I just told the Lord, I said, “You know, I’m always going to do music because I love music, but I’m just going to start working on other passions—real estate.” And it’s interesting how even when I thought it was done, it wasn’t done, and how this desire sparked up in me to start to try out for American Idol. That’s because my first wife, Sophia, would watch it all the time while I was working those two jobs. I could never watch it. During that final year, we got a DVR where I could come home late at night and watch it, and it sparked this interest to try out. And interestingly enough, what I thought was over in my life was just the beginning. But there was a darkness that I was going to tread through, and that’s one month before going on American Idol, I would lose my wife unexpectedly, and I’d be faced with this difficult challenge and difficult choice ahead.
I remember not wanting to try out for American Idol because the pain was just so intense, and it was only a month after she passed away. But it was this difficult choice because twenty-eight was the last time I could try out for American Idol, and I was twenty-eight. So it’s like you go or you don’t go. So thankful to my friends and my pastor, they would just say, “You need to do this. Do this.” And so in the most difficult time of my life, losing a spouse, all of a sudden there’s a wide-open door in the midst of that to fulfill a dream that God was giving me in that moment. And I will say this, having that dream and having that vision and having that hope, really helped me to tread through the grief, the suffering, the angst of losing someone that I thought God was going to heal.
“In the most difficult time of my life, losing a spouse, all of a sudden there’s a wide open door in the midst of that to fulfill a dream that God was giving me in that moment.” – Danny Gokey
I think one of the most interesting parts of my journey is that you’re thinking that everything’s going to work out from that point, right? Look, I made it to the stage. I have now gotten a record deal. Life is going to be smooth sailing ahead, to only find out that I would lose that record deal, sales would not go well, and to have to tread in that moment, what’s next? One of the things that I think is pretty cool is that God would give you markers along the way that keep strengthening you and keep giving you fuel on the flame. Maybe the spark is small, but a little bit of fuel to get that flame hot again to say, “Hey, this is not over.” And that’s what happened with me. I just kept moving forward, kept believing God, staying in peace, you know, because that can really take your peace away.
Keeping Your Eyes Fixed on Jesus
Prayer has been one of those tug of wars in my life. For me, what I’m learning as I get older is that prayer is the number one thing, and I think I’ve learned this through making mistakes and rushing into things. Oh, that looks like God, let me run into it. And there are a lot of things that can be avoided if we pause and are sensitive to what God is doing and what God is saying and where God is leading. And so prayer is a thing for me that I will do throughout the day—I wish I was better at it, this is full disclosure—I like to start my day out on my knees, even if it’s a quick prayer. But sometimes it doesn’t happen, there are some days where I’m like, “God, I think I’ve ignored you for the last few hours, and it kind of hurts my heart because I want to do life with you and I’ve pretty much ignored you.” And so, you know, like Paul said, pray without ceasing. It is a relational approach to having conversation with God. And it’s probably one of my favorite things to do.
Jesus Calling, April 25th:
Make Me your focal point as you move through this day. Just as a spinning ballerina must keep returning her eyes to a given point to maintain her balance, so you must keep returning your focus to Me. Circumstances are in flux, and the world seems to be whirling around you. The only way to keep your balance is to fix your eyes on Me, the One who never changes. If you gaze too long at your circum- stances, you will become dizzy and confused. Look to Me, refreshing yourself in My Presence, and your steps will be steady and sure.
Man, incredible. I think what Hebrews 12:2 is talking about, keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith. And focusing our eyes on Jesus, what’s that one song? Turn your eyes upon Jesus, you know, look full in His wonderful face and the things of Earth will go strangely dim. I think focusing our eyes on Jesus; it allows us to put things in a proper perspective. You know, David said, “Magnify the Lord with me. Let us exalt His name together.” You think about the word magnify, there’s a magnifying glass that we can use in our world. Our focus is like a magnifying glass. We can hyperfocus and get close, and it becomes so big in our eyes. And if our focus is off, we can misunderstand what God wants to do in life and we can miss the destiny that He wanted for us. And this is why we must keep–when we talked about prayer–looking up and refocusing, because this world is full of distractions.
Tuning Into The Dream God Gives You
It was five years after the show that I ended up finally releasing a song that would catch with people, and it went number one, and my career was birthed. But interestingly enough, I believe the Lord was showing me that no man was building me, but He was building me, you know, because American Idol can take a lot of the credit. Right? But that’s not my story. My story is the biggest platform in music at the time couldn’t launch me. And if that can’t launch you, well, it looks like you’re not going to have a career. But I think God was pulling away and resetting the foundation so that I would know and that people would know that [my music career] was God built. And I think more than anything, what does the scripture say that unless the Lord builds the house, those who labor labor in vain…and then if God’s going to build it, He’s going to maintain it and you can have peace.
“I think God was pulling away and resetting the foundation so that I would know and that people would know that [my music career] was God built.” – Danny Gokey
Jesus People is my most recent record that I just released, and that is the album that is bathed in prayer. You know, my prayer before I make an album is God, you’re the greatest lyricist that ever was and is and is to come. Can you write through me? Because God has power. When He speaks, His words can connect. He can say one word and change the world with that one word more than I can say a billion words through music. I’m still learning how to tune my ear and to the gospel and to the voice of God, I should say.
I learned through the process that my dream wasn’t going to give me everything I thought it would. I’m at a point in my life where I’m grateful, but I’ve worked really hard for what I’ve been able to [accomplish]. When you partner with God, there’s a lot of work that’s going to happen, right? But now I’m at a point in my life where I was telling my friend yesterday, I’m ready for some seasons of rest as much as I enjoy getting to do what I do. During this shutdown that we experienced, I was really grateful for the pause. And I started realizing in that season this is not about because even if God gave us a dream, we can make some missteps. And I started realizing God, I need to make sure that I’m focused on building your kingdom and not my dream, because we can build our dream and put the label of God on it and then just begin to justify what we’re doing. But more than ever before, I want to do what He’s doing, and I know that when I work with Him, He works out the rest, and I’m at a point in my career where I enjoy being with my kids, enjoy being with my family, and trying to stay focused on what’s important and what’s God’s vision for my life.
Stay tuned to Hosanna Wong’s story after a brief message.
Jesus Calling, Easter Edition!
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Our next guest is Hosanna Wong, a minister who grew up on the streets of San Francisco, the daughter of a heroin addict. Her father eventually found Jesus, and the whole focus of his life changed, and the childhood Hosanna remembers was being in church three times a week while her father did outreach to others who battled with addiction and homelessness. But then, Hosanna’s father would pass away when she was just eighteen, and his legacy would hang heavy over her as she strived to be as dynamic as he was for reaching others for Christ. As Hosanna wrestled with how she could be used in the world, she encountered ordinary people, just like herself, who had done mighty things for God just by showing up.
Hosanna Wong: I grew up on the streets of San Francisco. My dad was a heroin addict and fought in a Chinese gang—he had bullet holes alongside his calves from running from the police, from the various times he robbed some place. And he met Jesus, and Jesus changed his whole life, and my dad ended up starting an outreach to those living without homes and battling with addictions on the streets of San Francisco. So that’s how I grew up. We had church there three days a week. People brought their needles, people brought their bottles. I learned later in my life that when other people said they were also raised in church, I realized we were not talking about the exact same thing, but that’s where I learned that Jesus could save anyone’s soul and redeem anyone’s story. And that He would use anyone who would say yes.
A Tragic Loss Shakes a Family’s Faith
When I was eighteen years old, my dad, my best friend, and my hero got cancer and passed away. And I was eighteen, but my baby brother Elijah was twelve, and Elijah shut down emotionally. He didn’t handle it the same way that I did, even though we lost the same person. We had two very different experiences. Elijah didn’t want to open up or talk about anything, much less our dad, much less God. And honestly, I got so mad at Elijah for not seeing the world the way I saw the world and not being there for me the way I was trying to be there for him. And I tried to minister at Elijah so wrong. I was very bad at it. I kept telling him, “Stop being sad. God doesn’t want you to be sad. Pray bigger prayers. Have bigger faith. God’s going to use your testimony one day.”
At some point, I realized that this wasn’t working. And when I would call Elijah—because I was in college seven hours away—and ask him how he was doing, what he thought about God, Elijah didn’t want to talk about anything I wanted to talk about. All he wanted to talk about was superheroes. He was obsessed with comic books and superhero comics. At some point, I realized Elijah was not going to step into my world. I had to step into his. And so I became obsessed with these comic books. I would drive seven hours into my hometown and we’d go to thrift stores and read vintage comic books. When Marvel started coming out with all these movies, I would drive in, wear a Marvel t-shirt, we’d wear our T-shirts together, get a big popcorn and watch the movies on the big screens.
And it was a few years of that before I drove in to take Elijah out to a San Francisco Giants baseball game. Well, we couldn’t go inside the game because we were poor, but we were outside of the stadium holding a handheld radio walking around, and I asked Elijah what he thought about God. And he admitted, “I’m mad.” And that was a lot of emotion for Elijah to share. He had never opened up that much to me. And he shared about his regret and the things he missed and the questions he had for God. And I didn’t have the right words. I didn’t have the answers. I knew I just needed to listen and affirm his every emotion and agree with him. The thing we had in common was I don’t know why this happened to us either. I was kind of mad too. I had questions too. We can ask God together. We can pray about this together. We can read God’s word trying to figure it out together. I don’t have the answers either.
Sharing God’s Love by Showing Up
I think sometimes we shy away from sharing about God to our loved ones because we’re afraid they’re going to have questions that we don’t have the answers to, forgetting that people don’t want to be impressed. People want to be seen, people want to be known, people want to know they’re not alone. And there is no point in putting on a facade to impress the world Jesus called us to serve. There is this commonality in our shared questions that opens up the door for us to really be ourselves and to really talk about how God’s interacting in our real lives.
“People want to be seen, people want to be known, people want to know they’re not alone. And there is no point in putting on a facade to impress the world Jesus called us to serve.” – Hosanna Wong
Anyways, it was years and years of me investing in this relationship with Elijah. In fact, it was eleven years before Elijah came over to me and my husband, Guy’s house, and came to our dining room table and said, “I’m ready for the joy you have. I’m ready for the peace you have. I know it’s Jesus because I’ve heard about Him now a hundred times. I am who I am.” He has heard about Jesus. And he said, “I don’t have the right words.” And you know what the truth is, I also didn’t have the right words. I didn’t know the perfect theological words to say. And I think in the past, I had put so much pressure on myself to have the perfect words, to have the perfect answers, to be the perfect person. And that moment I realized it didn’t matter. But in that moment, Elijah made Jesus his number one. He gave his life to Jesus. He said, “I turn away from my sin and my shame and my regret and I’m going to follow you forever.”
One of the lies that I have believed for most of my life is the lie that I have to do something big to do something important, the lie that I have to do something impressive to do something impactful. I think I learned that lie because as a little girl, my dad was this powerful preacher with this crazy story. So it made sense that someone with a crazy testimony would be able to lead many people to Jesus, who also came from the background he came from. But what do I do when I’m profoundly ordinary, when my skills aren’t obvious? What do we do when our platforms are booming, when it’s not clear how God can use us today? Or when we tried something and it didn’t work out, what do we do then if we feel like our skills aren’t public, impressive? Can they still be impactful?
Saying Yes to Jesus
I remember one time asking my dad who led him to Jesus, thinking it would be something as beautiful and cosmic as all the things I saw him do on the streets. And he told me a story of a woman named Mrs. Lee, he said she was in her sixties and he was going door to door selling vacuum cleaners at the time to get more money for more drugs. And she opened the door for him, bought a vacuum cleaner, and asked him about his life. As he shared about his life–the men who were out to get him, the women who feared him, and how he was pretty sure he could never change his life around–Mrs. Lee responded with no shock and spoke with no shame. And instead of highlighting the ways their lives were different, which were many, she instead highlighted what they had in common.
She said, “I’ve also been seeking to fill a void in my life and I’ve been going to all the wrong people and all the wrong things. I never thought I could never change my life around either. But then I found Jesus, and He’s the answer to both of our questions. He can fill the void that both of you have been seeking to fill. Do you want to meet Jesus? Do you want to change your life?” And he said yes. And it wasn’t this super spiritual moment. It was a salesman on one knee and a cold dining room floor. But Mrs. Lee didn’t know that five years later, he’d end up starting an outreach to those living without homes and battling with addiction and end up leading hundreds of people to Christ.
Mrs. Lee certainly didn’t know that over thirty years after that, I’d get to be here talking to you all today, telling you about how she led my dad to Jesus Christ. Mrs. Lee perhaps never led someone to the Lord before that time, and perhaps never did after that. I don’t know, but I know she opened the door for this one man this one time and my whole life is different because of that. And I’ve decided to live my life a little bit more like Mrs. Lee, opening the door for the people in front of me, not dismissing the opportunities to love someone that God has placed right in front of me, and to not live in debilitating fear of what the end result might be, but to instead be faithful where I am–be faithful where God has called me, and Mrs. Lee never knew the result of her actions; certainly didn’t know I’d be talking about her today, but I don’t think that that was her main priority. I think she was just saying yes to Jesus where she was; at her home, about her everyday life, and I want to live that kind of life too.
Ten years ago, I packed my life into suitcases and started traveling the country to talk about Jesus through spoken word poetry. I didn’t have a plan or a home address and I went for years. I thought I was saying yes to a three month journey that I thought God was calling me to, but it ended up being four and a half years of me living from guest room to guest room, hotel room to hotel room, cot in living room to cot in living room. And during that time I said yes where I felt God was calling me to do.
He was opening my eyes and He was showing me the truth as I was having meals with all these families, with all these pastors and their wives and their kids, having Thanksgivings with them, speaking at their churches, and then staying over a couple of days to be a part of their small groups, volunteering with their churches, I mean, across denominations, across cultures, across state lines. Being a part of God’s beautiful church all over the country, I realize the truth that the church was way more beautiful than I ever imagined.
“Being a part of God’s beautiful church all over the country, I realize the truth that the church was way more beautiful than I ever imagined.” – Hosanna Wong
I’m so grateful that I’ve learned the truth about the beauty of the church and how it’s a part of God’s plan to save the world. What I love about Jesus Calling is just the fresh approach to devotion, is hearing these words spoken from Jesus himself. I think that’s so cool and so special and such a great starting point for people who perhaps are not familiar with the truth found in God’s word and not familiar with such a loving, kind, compassionate relationship.
I’m going to read a passage from Jesus Calling on the date of March 19th to just encourage all of you today.
I speak to you from the depths of your being. Hear Me saying soothing words of Peace, assuring you of My Love. Do not listen to voices of accusation, for they are not from Me. I speak to you in love-tones, lifting you up. My Spirit convicts cleanly, without crushing words of shame. Let the Spirit take charge of your mind, combing out tangles of deception. Be transformed by the truth that I live within you.
The Light of My Presence is shining upon you, in benedictions of Peace. Let My Light shine in you; don’t dim it with worries or fears. Holiness is letting Me live through you. Since I dwell in you, you are fully equipped to be holy. Pause before responding to people or situations, giving My Spirit space to act through you. Hasty words and actions leave no room for Me; this is atheistic living. I want to inhabit all your moments—gracing your thoughts, words, and behavior.
I love this passage because it reminds us to make God’s voice the loudest voice in our lives. And if we are feeling shame or guilt or like the way the world is on our shoulders, that’s not coming from God. His Word gives us truths that we need in order to live and to live abundantly. I love that this passage says that “He doesn’t give us crushing words of shame.” So many of us feel shame and feel like we’re not doing enough or that we’re not enough in this season. But that’s not what God says about us. Let us also live and love others in the same way that God loves us, not giving people shame, but also telling them the truth about who they are too.
“Let us also live and love others in the same way that God loves us, not giving people shame, but also telling them the truth about who they are too.” – Hosanna Wong
Narrator: You can find Hosanna’s book, How Not to Save the World, wherever books are sold.
If you’d like to hear more stories about how we can show up in faith for what God has next in our lives, check out our interview with Matthew West.
Next Week on the Podcast: Bubba Watson
Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we hear from Bubba Watson, a professional golfer who has made his mark in the field, including winning two Masters tournaments. He candidly shares his behind-the-scenes struggles with anxiety and depression and why having someone you can talk to is paramount to healing and wholeness.
Bubba Watson: I don’t like being famous. I don’t want to be a celebrity. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do that. So I had to voice these things, and then we had to work through it. It really doesn’t matter where you are in your life, there’s something you need to voice through.