Exchanging Our Desires for His
I sat on my bed in the attic of the little house in Nashville, wrestling with the reality that a lifelong dream was coming to an end. In the morning, I would be loading up the car to drive back home to Canada. Three months earlier, I had arrived in the city of my dreams with hopes to cut a record in the Christian music industry. That morning I wrote in my journal, When I leave Nashville, I don’t fully know what I am walking away from. Three months is hardly enough time to know all the ins and outs of this industry, but … I think I’ve made my first real decision as an adult. To leave it all behind and follow after Christ.
The previous ten years of my life had been lived in pursuit of a single desire: to be a recording artist. Up to that point, it had fueled my every thought and action, but at this pivotal place in my life, I realized the real reason God had brought me to Nashville: to bring me to the place of surrendering my dreams back to Him.
At an early stage in my dream to become a recording artist, I came across a verse in the Psalms that seemed to tell me exactly what I wanted to hear: “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37: 4). With all the aspiration bubbling up inside me, the verse seemed to say, “If you love Jesus you’ll get whatever you want!” Equipped with that notion, I went forward putting all my hopes, dreams, and pursuits into one day getting a contract with a famous record label, touring the world, and garnering praise and acclaim. I also wanted to please God, but even stronger was my desire for Him to bless me with what I wanted most.
Between the ages of twelve and twenty-one I sang wherever and whenever I could — at church, festivals, and in coffee houses. I became known for having a beautiful voice within our large church and the surrounding community. I was on multiple worship teams within the church, often singing in three services each weekend and performing solo pieces for special services. For a number of those years, I was on the large church stage at least once a week and loved every minute of it. I was also cultivating my own music, which I started playing at various functions, eventually recording a small three-song demo. My dreams for recognition started to become my reality.
In my late teens, I was introduced to a man who had produced a number of albums for well-known Christian artists. He lived part time in Nashville and had many connections with producers and songwriters in the Christian recording industry. In the early summer of the year I turned twenty-one, there was a plan in motion for Nashville and a recording contract. Everything was falling into place, and as I drew close to my departure, I spent a lot of time reflecting back over the last ten years of my life, and how those years had been filled with the pursuit of one thing.
In many ways it had become my identity, and I hoped desperately that my mental and emotional investment wouldn’t be a waste — that something would pull through. I wanted to get to the place in my spiritual life where I could just pray, “Lord, Your will be done,” but I was unable to, just as I was unable to surrender my dreams to God. I was convinced that it would mean a personal loss of identify and success — and could I be satisfied with whatever He might give instead? I didn’t want to appear a failure in the eyes of others if all that I had pursued was not realized in my life. So many people were following this journey — I didn’t want to let myself or anyone else down. But in the midst of all of those jumbled thoughts, God began a work to show me how to delight in Him, instead of in my desires. Just a few weeks before we left for Nashville, I wrote this journal entry: Sometimes I wonder, how long can this really last? What kind of impact will I have? I have spent the last ten years of my life investing all my creative and emotional energy into dreams of becoming a singer—the exact dream that is becoming more real in my life every day. But occasionally when I think about the span of my life, and the reality that this adventure will only constitute a part of it, I find myself asking, “What’s the point of all this? Can this truly bring glory to God, or only to me?”
These thoughts were so markedly different than anything I had considered in prior years, that it could only have been God — in all His grace — beginning to take my strong grasp on this dream and slowly pry my fingers back one at a time.
When I did eventually arrive in Nashville, the Christian music industry was no longer just a curiosity; it was my reality. The conversations started to include an increased focus on revenues, songwriting copyrights, developing a fan base, and many other “business” topics I had not anticipated. Somewhere in those three months I came to realize that despite its appealing façade, the music industry was not the romantic notion I had dreamed of. I was realizing that the “desires of my heart” weren’t so desirable. In that tumultuous time, and in the blur and buzz of the pace I was living at, I longed for the peace and clarity I knew could only be found in Christ. Perhaps it was being in a place of great uncertainty, where everything was new and unclear; perhaps it was the sense that I could do nothing to make my dreams a reality, it was all out of my hands; perhaps it was maneuvering the intimidating “business” of the music industry. Whatever it was, my dependency on God was never greater than in that three-month season of my life.
Everything moved so quickly in those months that sometimes it’s still a blur in my memory, but even though the fulfillment of my deepest desires was before me, I found myself clinging to Christ, desperate to know His will and less certain of what I wanted. In that time, He was so faithful and drew me near to Himself. Jesus became more real to me than ever before. I had once approached Him with my demands and impatience, but now my times in His Word and in prayer were rich and full of the dawning of slow truths that replaced long-held lies. He revealed to me that I had put all my hope in this dream, instead of trusting Him; that my care for the praise of others distracted me from hearing His voice; and that my identity was wrapped up in my accomplishments instead of the Truth of His Word.
Because of my great need for Him, I was more aware than ever of His presence with me amidst the hype of professional songwriting sessions, record-label performances, and vocal coaching. My desire to honor the Lord was growing stronger than my desire for my own pursuits. My heart was beginning to find delight and even excitement in His will for my life. It wasn’t what I had come to Nashville looking for, but it was a sweeter gift than anything else I could have received.
Just a few days before I packed up and left Tennessee to return home, I was sitting at the kitchen table with my Bible open, asking God to give me His peace and understanding of all that was happening around me and inside me. My eyes fell on that old, familiar, favorite verse of my youth — “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” — except this time, God opened my eyes to read it the right way. I realized that the order of the words was incredibly significant to its meaning. Delighting myself in the Lord needed to come first and He would give me His heart, transforming my desires until they were like His. And that’s exactly what He had been doing.
A quote from Elisabeth Elliot perfectly sums up what Nashville was in my walk with the Lord—the first of many “deaths” to self: “What God gives us is not necessarily ‘ours’ but only ours to offer back to Him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of, if we want to be our true selves. Many deaths must go into reaching our maturity in Christ, many letting goes.”
That small death of walking away from my dream was anything but easy. When I returned home, I had to answer a lot of questions from inquiring minds and continue processing all that had happened. But though it was difficult, having a growing, fruitful relationship with Jesus became sweeter to me than anything I had left behind. I realized that true joy came not from anything I could have in this world, but from delighting in Him.
Over the years, God has continued working in this area of my life. I still love to sing, write music, play guitar and piano, and worship with other believers. God created me to praise Him this way, with the gifts He has given. But the difference is that now I want them to bring glory to Him, not me. I thought surrendering my dreams would mean I would have to stop doing the things I loved, but I found instead that God crowns His children with love and compassion, and satisfies our desires with good things. (See Psalm 103:4-5.)
Letting go of the dream was the first step to receiving more of Him. In the emptying of myself, I was filled with something far greater: real and lasting soul-satisfaction — not the fleeting and temporary fulfillment of worldly achievements. And I have never regretted choosing that exchanged life.