My 13 year old is a drama queen. Yes, in the typical way drama oozes from an adolescent girl, but also in the strictest sense of the term. She loves acting, singing, the stage, all things thespian.

This summer, she attended a week-long drama camp and won the lead role in the end-of-the-week mini-production of Willy Wonka. There’s nothing like seeing your baby girl dressed in a purple velvet suit singing The Candy Man as grade school Oompa Loompa’s dance around her with glee. It was a proud moment, and we watched her stand up a little straighter and walk with a bit more confidence as she received accolades from her camp directors, fellow students, and the audience full of camera-happy parents.

There’s nothing like that first awakening of “hey, I’m pretty good at this, and other people are noticing.” Those are powerful, identity-shaping moments that can change us forever.

In beautiful and in dangerous ways.

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It hit me watching everyone’s favorite summer-time TV show, “America’s Got Talent” last week with the fam. An unknown performer steps nervously to the stage and wows the celebrity judges with a jaw-dropping presentation. The crowd erupts in wild applause and (cue the emotional music) the overwhelmed performer breaks down weeping beneath the mass approval.

It’s great television.

I think part of the reason we love it so much is because we all long for it so much. The way we view ourselves is shaped by how we are viewed by others, by their approval of our talents and abilities. Our identity is in the accolades, and the accolades are in our performance. But performance is a vicious taskmaster.

The truth is, our identity has been secured by the performance of Another. All the standing o’s are already ours because Jesus Christ took the stage on our behalf. And he crushed it (I mean seriously, best performance in a historical drama of all time). And because of what Jesus did, God’s applause is already raining down on you today. The approval you long for you already have when you put your faith in Him. Let that ovation overwhelm you to tears.

Because of Christ, our life performance becomes an act of love, not a frantic search for identity. The stage is yours, but the performance is already done. Find your rest and your identity in His thunderous applause today. He’s ready to give it to you (free of charge).

This week, I was honored to share with my friends at The Point Church in Seymour, Indiana. This century-old church has continued to be a force for the Gospel under the leadership of senior pastor, Steve Greene. I love every chance I get to be with these beautiful people.

Steve left the topic to me, so I talked about an issue that has been messing with me in recent months: HOW TO PRAY BETTER PRAYERS.

Prayer is this ethereal, out-there thing we know we’re supposed to do, but we don’t always know what to say or how to really embrace it. Let’s be honest, prayer kinda weirds us out – talking to the air, asking things of an unseen God, grappling for words to say – and then we read verses like “pray without ceasing” and think, “man, I got a good 3 or 4 minutes in me max. Are you crazy?”

And guilt ensues.

Perhaps the reason we struggle to pray is less about technique and more about re-learning what prayer is actually all about in the first place. Here’s a few thoughts from me (and more importantly, from Jesus):

My daughter officially hit the varsity roster on her high school basketball team this year. She’s made some huge strides for a girl who had very little playing experience until her freshman year. With summer league upon us, every Tuesday and Thursday night in June is full of “pre-season” type games, as the team knocks off the offseason rust, integrates a new crop of players, and learns to work as a team again.

I’ve been keeping the stats book for most of the games, so I get to sit close to the bench and check players in and out of the lineup. I looked up from my pencil-scratches last night to see my daughter kneeling next to me at the scoring bench.

“I’m going in for #5,” she said.

Ignoring my official duties for a few seconds of fatherly advice, I leaned into her ear and waxed some parental eloquence.

“You belong here. Go out there and act like it.”

You see, a portion of our performance isn’t talent, it’s mindset. It’s being at rest with yourself so your actions are focused outward, and aren’t all about hedging your fears and internal insecurities.

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Photo Credit: ColorBlind Images

Today, I found myself in a meeting with giants. Not literal beanstalk kind of giants. Spiritual giants. Men who have accomplished incredible feats over decades of faithful work. On my way to the meeting venue, I was feeling small. Extremely small.

What do I have to offer? What will they think of my perspectives? I don’t have the experience, the skill, or the resume. Maybe I’ll just stay quiet, nod my head, and morph my opinion to match their proposals.

I was quickly shrinking into myself, and it was no different than my daughter posting up against that six footer in the lane the night before.

That’s when I remembered my own paternal pep talk.

You belong here. Go out there and act like it.

Let’s be honest, no one likes an overconfident hack. A big mouth. A pompous blowhard. But I find that extreme timidity and fear-filled reservation are really fueled by the exact same thing:

Self-obsession.

When my focus is on me, I’m either overconfident in my ability to perform or terrified of my potential embarrassment. Either way, I am at the center. It’s like filling your camera roll with “spiritual selfies.” Life doesn’t work well when I’m constantly obsessing over who I am.

For believers in Jesus Christ, our identity was settled at “it is finished.” That’s freedom my friends. Freedom from the tyranny of me. Freedom to walk into any room at complete rest and peace with who you are. If everything I need in Christ I already have, then I can engage anyone – from the Pope to the homeless guy on the street – with a boldness birthed in love. The gospel is the only source of this kind of confidence.

“All of our praise rises to the One who is strong enough to make you strong…”
–Romans 16:25

You belong here. Go out there and act like it.

If my 9 year old studied Math and English the way he studies SpongeBob Squarepants, we would already be entertaining scholarship offers from Ivy League schools. So it was no surprise when we pulled into the CVS parking lot last Sunday that his eyes fixed immediately to the SpongeBob Movie promo plastered boldly on the RedBox machine just outside the front door.

“Dad, dad, dad, dad, DAD, DAAAAAD!!!!! Can we rent it? Can we get it?

I’ve been waiting for this day!!! Come on dad, give me a dollar.

Seriously, dad, can I just have a dollar? We can watch it together tonight!

Dad, dad, DAAAAAD! Please dad!”

As my hand reached reluctantly for some cash, I caught my daughter’s glance in the rear view mirror. Without saying a word, she was screaming at me with her eyes, “please don’t, dad….please don’t.”

You see, my son’s birthday is in less than two weeks, and his middle sister had already purchased the BlueRay of this cinematic masterpiece as his gift. It was sitting at home on her dresser, wrapped not only in festive paper and bows, but with all the love a big sis can muster for her annoying little brother. Letting him rent it now would ruin her heartfelt plans.

So I told him no.

And all  Chum Bucket broke loose.

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Photo Credit: artpipi

He begged. He pleaded. He negotiated. He called on the name of Great Neptune’s Ghost. He stood emphatically next to the RedBox machine. Stomped his feet. Asked his mom, his sister, and random people leaving the CVS for a couple of spare singles. He manipulated. He refused to get back in the car.

(If it’s not clear yet, he doesn’t easily take no for an answer – a characteristic I love about him, unless he’s using it on me).

“But why dad? It’s my favorite movie!”

“Because I’ve chosen not to let you right now.”

“But that’s not a good enough answer,” (yes, he said this). “I need to know why!”

“The answer is no, not today.”

“But daaaaaad, why not today? I want to watch it now!”

I glanced quietly over my shoulder at his sister, still wondering how all this would play out from the back seat.

“Listen, I know things you don’t know. And that’s going to have to be good enough for you right now. You’re just going to have to trust me.”

I was instantly shattered by my own words, and immediately recalled Tim Keller’s mind-blowing quote from his book on prayer:

“We can be sure our prayers are answered precisely in the way we would want them to be answered if we knew everything God knows.”

If Austin knew what I knew, my answer would’ve made complete sense to him (well, accounting for the fact that he’s still a 9 year old boy). But he didn’t have the whole picture. He couldn’t have the whole picture. Not yet. From his context, my hesitancy and delay was completely illogical. It’s summer break. We had no plans that evening. The movie was a perfect family activity that night, at least in the way his world was ordered.

But our world isn’t just about him. While I have his joy in mind, while I WANT to give him GOOD GIFTS, I know things he doesn’t know. And that means “no” is the best gift I can give him right now.

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” 
—Matthew 7:11

Is God saying NO to you? Remember, there’s a greater story being told, the characters, theme, setting, and plot of which you can’t completely comprehend or understand right now. But rest assured, He gives good gifts. Do you trust Him?

Delivering commencement speeches is apparently good money. Well known leaders, politicians, and actors are commanding big dollars for waxing eloquence at graduation ceremonies all over the country. Ben Stein reportedly makes $50,000 to drone in his famous Beuler monotone, Brian Williams will weave fictional accounts of his fake doctoral degrees for a mere $100,000, and Jerry Seinfeld will write speeches about nothing for upwards of $200,000! It’s a good 15 minute gig if you can get it.

So I thought I’d embrace the moment and share a few tips of my own for the class of 2015. For free. Here are 5 thoughts that just might make a significant difference in your future (whether you’re graduating this week or not).

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1. Add Value, Find Happiness: Everywhere you look, people are trying to sell you happiness. Find your dream job! Do what you love! Don’t settle! All good pieces of advice if you put them in the right perspective. The strange dichotomy of life is that when you go seeking happiness you rarely find it. Happiness is a byproduct of a poured out life, not the goal in and of itself. Instead of “do what you love,” I challenge you to “do something that matters.” Seek to add value wherever you find yourself, at your dream job or at a job you hate, and you will eventually find a deep sense of satisfaction (and happiness).

2. Be Skilled at Being Faithful: Faithfulness is highly underrated. It’s not super exciting, though. We naturally elevate the people with the most talent, the most flash, the most charisma. But if you get really good at just showing up – every day, with everything you have, over long periods of time – you will make a major impact. As Chicago pastor Daniel Darling so beautifully puts it, “Talented quitters are a dime a dozen, but people with marginal talent who commit to hard work in the day-to-day grind always stand out as radical.” Learn to be faithful.

3. Progress Isn’t Always Forward: We instinctively assume change is about embracing the “new.” Old ways of doing things always become obsolete, and new, enlightened ways of thinking will inevitably replace our current understanding. Or maybe not. C.S. Lewis refers to this fallacy as Chronological Snobbery, the belief that all “thinking, art, or science of an earlier time is inherently inferior to that of the present, simply by virtue of its temporal priority.” It’s just not true. So as you set out to “change the world,” I encourage you to not only look ahead, but behind you as well. Progress isn’t always forward.

4. Stand On Shoulders: When I was younger, my sincere passion to “make change” had a tendency to leap ahead of my discretion. Bringing in the new meant bulldozing the old. And while it’s true, new times require different approaches (please see #3), how we envision change and our role in the process is very important. Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.” As more and more responsibility is entrusted into your hands, make the necessary changes. But don’t see yourself as “better than,” envision yourself as “building on.” The best kind of passion is seasoned with humility and honor.

5. To Truly Love, You Must Rest in God’s Love: The only way to genuinely love the world is to be at rest with God’s love for you. It’s true. All our wild dreams and world-changing conquests will be loud gongs and clanging cymbals without the Gospel. We’ll do good to try and earn a reputation. We’ll serve others to feel more righteous about ourselves. We’ll pursue accolades as a way to secure our own identity. The only way you can truly “do good” is to rest in the the reality that you don’t have to do anything to be valuable to God. Because of Christ’s work for youyour debt has been paid, and your identity is settled. You are loved and you don’t deserve it. Rest in that love. Then you can go and love. Truly love.

Congratulations to the graduating class of 2015. Now go change the world.