Joshua Swanson: Welcome to The Walk; a devotionals podcast led by worship leaders. In this episode, Curtis Zachery tells a very personal story about a time he had to walk away from ministry in order to find God’s healing, newness, and restoration. So, Curtis, isn’t a Worship Leader in the traditional sense. He’s the founder of an amazing organization and he’s one of the teaching pastors at Church of the City. That means he doesn’t carry the title of ‘worship leader,’ but we feel it might be time to redefine that title. So, here we go.
Curtis Zachery: So, my wife and I moved from Nashville, Tennessee to the bay area of California, to a city called Richmond, just on the other side of the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. It was an incredible city. It was vibrant, it was full of life. And there were so many things, uh, that we were able to be a part of where we were leaning into relationship and, and serving our community.
There were many homeless friends who we were helping to find places to live. Uh, people who were dealing with recovery from addiction. Uh, there were people who were transitioning from prison into civilian life. We in our small little community were able to walk alongside them and, uh, we moved there to do that kind of work.
And we knew that the work that we were doing was beautiful. It was good. It was purposeful work for God. The only problem was very quickly I started to realize that the work that I was doing didn’t feel sustainable. I felt like I was getting tired and it wasn’t the type of tired that you could handle with a little bit of a nap or a weekend getaway.
There was something deep within me that felt fatigued. I was realizing it was my soul. My soul was, was longing for something I wasn’t able to provide and, and I think that ultimately brought the awareness to my mind that needed to happen, which was, I was the one that was doing a lot of this work for God and I wasn’t doing this work with God. And that was a very sobering reality because I knew the work that I was doing was good, but I recognized that I was trying to sustain that work in and of myself. I was talking about the gospel and how Jesus was the center of our lives. I was talking about how there was renewal and restoration that came from knowing him, but I wasn’t drinking deeply of those truths myself and it felt as though I was just divided in my personhood.
I didn’t know how to fix it. I was trying to work harder and do more, but it ultimately came down to me realizing that I couldn’t sustain any longer and something needed to change. During that same season of time my wife and I became pregnant and we were excited and filled with, uh, trepidation as we started to think about being parents and very quickly, uh, into realizing we’d become pregnant, we also realized that we had lost the pregnancy. That was devastating, because alongside of my other struggles of figuring out how to determine my identity, my worth and my value and what I was doing in ministry, I’m now dealing with a disappointment and the pain from experiencing loss.
Six months later we became pregnant again and carried further into the pregnancy only to realize yet again, that we experienced another loss. This time it was a trip to the emergency room in the middle of the night and just super devastating.
The third thing that had occurred during that season was, uh, felt deathly alone. Uh, every time I would find some sort of window of opportunity to share what I was experiencing, I would open up to someone and they would say back to me, well, you’re the guy that we normally would go to when we’re in trouble. So, we’re just gonna give you some space. And I think those three things converged together and became more than I could handle.
Sadly, I probably would’ve kept going if it was only one of those things, but there was a realization that I just simply couldn’t keep pushing. I couldn’t keep going on my own wherewithal. I needed to figure out a way to get some sustenance. Something to help me to figure out how to move forward in health. I went to a coffee shop and ordered my coffee, I sat down at the table and I just put my head in my hands and I wept.
I felt like very clearly there was a message from the Lord in my heart that said, you need rest for your soul and there’s two things about that moment that I’ll never forget. Number one, it was super clear to me that God was saying I needed rest for my soul, but I had no idea what that actually meant. I probably had said the words to other people in some sort of leadership of a moment or sharing a sermon, but in that moment, I didn’t know what I needed for my soul. The second thing that I remember about that moment is really the one that’s pretty terrifying is that I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I had heard from God, but that also illuminated the fact that I hadn’t heard from God for a long time.
The terrifying thing is I sure had been doing a lot of talking about God. I sure had been doing a lot of preaching about God, but that means I was doing a lot of those things in my own strength,
Realizing that that was true, I knew that something had to be different and packed up all my stuff and left the situation where we were serving to head, to stay with my wife’s family for an indefinite amount of time. And the one goal was to find my first love to remember what it meant to know that Jesus was enough not work that I did for him, but just to be.
And I felt like on that very first day of what ended up becoming a year long process, there was a question that was posed from God’s vantage point. And the question was, now that I’ve taken away all the things that you get to do for me, will you love and worship me with the same passion? And sadly, and very quickly, I knew my answer was no.
Now the distinction is it wasn’t like God was asking, do you love me? Because the answer would’ve easily been ‘yes.’ But really what he was saying is, is it the same for you when you don’t get to do stuff? And it wasn’t about being in front of people. I was serving homeless friends. I, I was at the local boys and girls club. It wasn’t about a crowd. It wasn’t about perceptions. It was simply about me finding worth and identity in what I was doing for God. And I just realized that so many people are in a similar situation if they were given the permission to acknowledge that reality. And so what that looked like for me was a pursuit, an undying desire to say, God, I want you to have all of who I am, and I just want for you to be enough for me.
And so, if you’re listening to this and and resonate with any of that idea, there is hope. There is healing. There is newness of life available. If we give ourselves the permission to acknowledge what’s really going on and open ourselves up to the opportunity that God, by his spirit, could restore, could renew, could remind us of what was the very essence of the reason for us stepping out to lead, to work, to do for God in any respect.
Joshua Swanson: Unfortunately, Curtis’s story isn’t unique to him. So many that serve in ministry, but also just those of us who serve in the marketplace are dealing with doing for God instead of being with God and being led by God. The good news is Curtis has some great insight for us in the second half of the show on how to realign with the restoration and newness found in walking with God.
Quickly, I wanted to introduce our audience to Find Rest, which is Curtis’s ministry. At the center of their organization is the desire to share life with individuals or couples that find themselves investigating spiritual health, sustainability, and direction as it pertains to their faith and life journey. They engage in really cool learning retreats and opportunities, and their hope is to serve those who serve and be a missionary to the missionaries. You can find out more about this awesome ministry findrest.org. We’ll throw a link in the show notes on worshipleader.com. Okay. Back to Curtis.
Curtis Zachery: So, you might be thinking what in the world could I do to find a way out of this place of feeling depleted, of feeling lonely, of feeling dry and tired. When I arrive in those situations, some of us might be thinking, man, I’m, I’m in a good season. I’m flourishing right now. I feel like everything is going in the direction that I wanted to, but then there’s others of us who go, man, I can’t even remember a time where that felt like it was true.
The thing that’s the steady, constant is many of us on either side of the spectrum are still doing work for God. So the first thing that I would say is we need to stop. And when I say stop, that doesn’t mean that we’re gonna quit everything, but there’s a rhythm built into the Bible from the very beginning of the story that tells us as human people, how to stop. It’s called the Sabbath and God created everything on the seventh day. It says that God rested from the work that he had done in Genesis chapter two versus two through three, three times. That phrase is, God rested from the work that he had done. Now, the first question that comes to my mind is why would God have to rest?
If God is omniscient omnipotent, omnipresent, why would that kind of God need any sort of rest? Well, it tells us in Exodus 31 verse 17, that God rested and he was refreshed. Now, not only did God rest, but there was something that was so refreshing that it could actually be refreshing to God. Well, this is why God rested. And it goes on to say in Exodus, 20 verse eight, that we human beings. And number four on the list of the 10 commandments are to honor this rest and to Sabbath ourselves.
Now, what was the refreshing thing? What is God wanting us to experience? Well, he was refreshed because on the seventh day he looked back at the work that could only be done by his hand alone and he said it is good. It is enough. It is finished. I am satisfied. God was refreshed looking back at his finished work. When God tells human beings to stop and to rest, he wants us to be refreshed by the work that could only be done by his hand alone.
Now some of us might go, all right, well, that’s an old Testament thing, right? Does that apply to my life today? Well, think about Jesus bloody and beating on the cross for sins, he didn’t commit. The sins that human beings could never pay for in their own work. But. He came to do a work that could only be done by the hand of God alone. And right before he breathes his last, he says it is finished.
There’s a finished work and we rest in the wake of that finished work. So, for us, it’s important for us to stop and to consider the work that’s already been done. What that does is reframe the work that we get to do for God, rather than us sustaining that work, being the ones who drive and build that work. We’re the ones who trust that he’s the great builder. In Psalm 127 says ‘unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stays awake in vain.’ That’s something that we, if we’re not careful, can be subject to all the time. We can be the ones who are building for God when God is the one who wants to give us what we need so that we can build our lives on him and ministry life for him. He provides what he requires.
So, as I’m thinking about the next right steps, there are three words that come to mind that I think are important when we give ourselves the chance to stop. Maybe the stopping for you looks like getting away and going on a hike, or maybe it just looks like sitting on your porch and turning over your phone for a bit and being able to reflect. But there are three words, no matter what the stopping looks like that I think are important for us to have help in getting to this place of refreshment.
Number one is to be intentional. We need to show up with the hope that we’ll receive the thing that we are longing for from God. I think sometimes even as leaders in worship and people who are, uh, in ministry spaces, we take for granted the fact that we can talk and sing and do for God, but not really seek to experience the fruit of the words that we’re singing in the sermons that we’re preaching. But we need to be intentional to show up to say, God, I want to receive whatever it is you have for me.
The second word that comes to mind is substantial. Now some of us probably have a very good knack of being able to establish some discipline rhythms. Like you have your quiet time, or you can show up to a place where you’re doing something in order to be with God. But if we’re not careful, we can do those things as a function and not actually show up to them with a substantial hope that there would be a substantial return. That God will meet with me there. I can read my Bible every single day, but if I don’t believe that God will meet with me in those moments, I’m gonna miss an opportunity for that refreshment.
And then the third word is sustainable. We need to think about what can we do for the foreseeable future in a way that feels sustainable for us, so that we can continue to draw from the well, the wellspring of life, that comes from him. We need to be intentional, showing up, substantial, saying I really believe I can meet with him here, and sustainable, a way that we can do that on a regular basis.
And as we do that and continue to posture ourselves before God to say, we want to only flow from our connection with you. We want to lead from what it means to know. Then we will see this restoration, this healing, the refilling that we need to be able to live for him in a way that is healthy and sustainable.
If you find yourself in a place where maybe you’ve actually finally given yourself the permission to acknowledge what’s really going on, I just wanna pray that you would find hope that you would find renewal in the acknowledgment of what is true and ultimately the reminder of where we find our help and that the spirit of God can restore what locusts have eaten, can bring freshness where things are stale can bring water where there is no water, as it says in Psalm 63.
So, I’d love to pray for you. Father, we understand our humanness is limited and our best intentions and in our deepest desire, we want to bring you glory. But also, God, we recognize how our humanness is a limitation and we can allow our thinking to pull us away from our first love to know you as the source of everything that we need.
I think of Galatians five and how it says that the flesh is against the spirit and the spirit is against the flesh to keep them from doing what they want to do, and I pray for my friends that we would listen to the voice of God who speaks and that we would respond to what you’re inviting us into.
Refreshment. Hope. Healing. And that the kingdom of self, that, that our flesh would not win in drawing us away from paying attention to what you ultimately want us to find refreshment in, which is you, God, I pray that there would be courage to take next right steps, to find a way to stop for a moment, whether that’s for a day for an hour, for whatever it looks like that they would feel the freedom and the importance of paying attention to the condition of our souls.
God, I thank you. That there is healing. I thank you. That there is a wholeness that comes from you and you alone and we’re asking that you would bring that, that you would breathe that on our lives in Jesus name, Amen.
Joshua Swanson: Thank you, Curtis so much for sharing your story with us. If anyone out there was awakened during this episode to the realization that this story may be your story too, we encourage you to reach out at findrest.org. We’ll play out this episode with North Point music’s song, Death Was Arrested, which is one of Curtis’s favorite worship songs.
As always special. Thanks to Matt McCarty for producing and editing today’s episode. Jacob Fairclough produced our theme song. The Walk is brought to you by Worship Leader Magazine, which is an Authentic Media brand. I’m Joshua Swanson. Here’s Death Was Arrested.