markstephenBack in 1991, Mac and I were getting ready to do a show on a flatbed trailer in a church parking lot. This would be our first show as a Christian band. We didn’t have a band name – I think they just called us Mac and Friends or something like that. We didn’t even really know what Christian music was. We were excited about our faith and felt God was calling us to share it through music. So we did.

That summer had been a weird one for me. As I watched high school crossfade into college, the landscape was changing around me. The most important thing in my life had been my garage band, and we had broken up just a few weeks prior. In hindsight the show we were doing that night would mark the beginnings of Third Day, but at the time it didn’t feel that way. Everything was so up in the air. With college starting, would we even be able to keep a band together? It felt like we were kind of floundering.

During a break while setting up the stage, they played some music over the PA. I was a newcomer to Christian music, but I recognized some of the songs being from artists I knew like Russ Taff and Rich Mullins. Then a song came on that I didn’t recognize. It started with a group of voices singing a cappella:

“We will abandon it all / For the sake of the call”

I would later learn that this was a song called “For the Sake of the Call” by a guy named Steven Curtis Chapman. Over the next several months, he would become one of my favorite artists. About a year later, Mac, myself, and our keyboard player Billy saw Steven Curtis on the Great Adventure Tour in Atlanta.

25 years later, literally almost to the day from that flatbed trailer concert, we found ourselves on tour with Steven Curtis Chapman. We were doing a pre show devotion with our tour pastor, Nigel, and were studying the passage where Jesus says to the disciples “Follow me.”

“Does anybody have any other thoughts about this passage?” Nigel asked, getting ready to launch into a prayer for that night’s show.

“This is actually the passage I was reading when I wrote ‘For the Sake of the Call'”, Steven said. He proceeded to give us a little behind the scenes look at the writing of one of his most beloved songs. Inspired by that passage as well as a book he’d been reading, he wrote that song as a reminder of why he does what he does. This song was already one of my favorites, but this little moment we had with Steven gave it an extra layer of meaning for me.

I know this story sounds like I’m saying, “Follow God, and he will give you non stop mountaintop experiences, like touring with Steven Curtis Chapman.” I’m not saying that at all. The life of following after God is a life like no other, as you live out the abundant life Jesus talks about. Sometimes that does involve peak experiences, like sharing the stage with one of your heroes. But oftentimes the act of climbing the mountain leads us directly to a cross.

Joy and suffering often seem to go hand in hand, and sometimes a sure calling is followed by an uncertain road. Maybe that’s why people refer to the Christian life as their “faith”.

Right now we’re in a season not unlike that summer all those years ago. We finished the tour with Steven and a few shows of our own. We’re winding down the recording of our next record. We’ve decided not to book a lot of shows this fall. There’s a feel of “What’s next?”, that brings with it a sense of excitement as well as a little uncertainty.

I recently saw the film Risen. The thing I loved most about the film was how the disciples weren’t spiritual giants – they were regular old dudes who were doubting and second guessing themselves the whole time. They weren’t good at much, but they were great at one thing: following Jesus. The one thing they were sure about was that they needed to follow Jesus wherever he leads. That’s the kind of attitude towards my faith and my life that I want to have.

I was uncertain all those years ago about my circumstances, but I answered the call God was placing on my life. Likewise, my present circumstances might be a little different from the structure I’m used to, but I will do the same thing. I will follow after Jesus and answer his call. He has shown time and time again that he’s got it.

It may not be an easy life, but it’s an abundant one. And it’s the best place you can live out of.

Answer the call.

(P.S. Huge thanks to Bill Barber for the amazing photo with Steven!)

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