Dancing with Blisters
There have been few things in my life I was as committed to as learning to play tennis. My family moved from Gloucester City, NJ to Pennsville, NJ the summer before my 6th grade. My pastor/father was called to lead a new church. It was a lonely year for me.
It took me a while to make friends, so I learned to play tennis alone. I spent hours hitting a tennis ball against the back brick wall of my elementary school. I bought some practice equipment that had a heavy base with an elastic band and a tennis ball attached to the end. I drilled that tennis ball down our driveway and it would spring back as fast as I would hit it so I could hit it again. Eventually, I made it to a court and played with real opponents. I made the high school varsity team when I was in junior high. I played all through high school and twice we won the tri-county championships. I loved the game.
Anyone who works hard at something physical experiences the same thing: blisters. Learning to play tennis involved painful blisters on the back of each heel and on my palm just under my right thumb. The sport demands movement. Movement creates friction. Friction brings blisters. Blisters hurt, but eventually heal. And the healing involves calluses. The skin exposed to repetitive friction becomes hard. Eventually, you can play without pain.
As I learn to dance with Jesus, I am expecting some pain. I know that I have developed some calluses marching with Jesus, but dancing is going to be different. When I learned how to play the bass guitar so that I could play in my high school jazz band, my callous under my right thumb from tennis didn’t help a bit. I got two more blisters on my right index and middle fingers.
There are no short cuts. No pain no gain. In the dance, there will not only be blisters, but you will discover muscles you didn’t know that you had. Those previously silent muscles will begin screaming at you after hours on the dance floor. The only way forward will be to dance through it.
Even though dancing with Jesus is new to me, I’ve spent enough time with Him to know about the pain involved in knowing and loving Him. There will be friction when He leads me to move in ways that are unnatural to me. He’s not interested in being with me once or twice a week. He wants daily time with me in His studio. It is a work out to be with Jesus.
There is also friction from other people. There are always judges that like to critique the dance. It’s easy to get offended because of insensitive words. Some don’t hear the divine beat. In fact, the majority of people in this world are moving to a contrived beat of our own making; a purely human beat. And that makes those who dance with Jesus stand out. There are some that are completely deaf to any beat. They look at those who are dancing and think they must be insane!
There is also an enemy to the dance with Jesus. At one time he was a master of divine music. But he decided to lead in the dance so that he could go his own way, dance his own dance. He fell from heaven like lightning. And now his music is all minor and dissonant. He is out of the only dance that matters and is hell bent on destroying as many of us as possible.
Garth Brooks sings a song called: The Dance. One of the lines goes like this: “I could have missed the pain, but I’d of had to miss the dance.”
I’ve had the chance in almost 30 years of ministry to lay my hands on and commission hundreds of young leaders in missions and church planting. For a number of them, I’ve led them in a service of ordination for ministry. I have a prayer that I have prayed over many of them: “Lord, give them tough skin and a tender heart.”
That prayer is borne out of experience with Jesus and ministry to people. It’s a prayer that has proven itself. It is important. You are going to have to get tough skin if you stay with Jesus. The problem is that it is also easy to get a tough heart.
In the Winter of 2011, I had the privilege of leading “A Father’s Heart Forum” at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City. I served there as Community LIFE Director. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my ministry. My son, a graduate of the Forerunner Music Academy, led the worship. I spoke at one of the main sessions and my father spoke at the other. Three generations led in ministry that day. I could not have been more proud of our family’s continuing heritage in Jesus.
My father spoke a message that I had never heard him speak before. It was entitled: “The Things I Learned from My Father.” He spoke about his father, his namesake: Harry Richard Stevenson, Sr.
My grandfather was a farmer and a master builder. He planted crops, built houses and made furniture. He worked three jobs during the depression to provide for his family. He was a stern disciplinarian. His hands were just one big callus. His heart was pretty hard as well. He didn’t give his life to Jesus until he was in his 70’s.
I will never forget hearing my dad tell this story about his father.
“I remember the first time your grandfather said anything encouraging to me. I had just finished building a room on to our cottage near the shore in New Jersey. He came to inspect my work. I just sat down and let him look at the room. I fully anticipated that he would come back and tell me where all of my mistakes were. When he came back into the room where I was, he sat down and said: ‘That’s a good job Harry.”
As my dad was telling me this story, he was in his 70’s and he was crying. He said: “that was the first time your grandfather said anything encouraging to me. I was 39 years old.”
My grandfather had tough skin and a tough heart. But my dad was different and I saw it clearly as he was preaching at our Father’s Heart Forum. He didn’t cover up my grandfather’s weaknesses as he spoke on the things he learned from him. But he had found the rays of grace that streamed through my grandfather’s toughness and he spoke with gratitude, not regret. He spoke not as a victim, but victorious because of Jesus.
That’s the power of a tough skin and a tender heart.
It comes from dancing with blisters.