If you’ve met me and you like me, you might describe me as confident, passionate, or assertive. If you don’t like me, you may choose some less kind variants but either way, you probably won’t ever start with the word “fearful”. Neither did I until I started my journey into working “as unto the Lord”. My next stop on this journey? Actors, Models and Talent for Christ. That’s right, me! Acting and modeling? For Jesus, no less?!
It all started in around the same time I began pursuing a command in the Army Reserve. At the time, I had just left (slash laid off) my high-powered consulting job and six-figure salary in Northern Virginia to attend a seminary in Texas. I was living on the GI Bill, my Army Reserve pay, and veteran’s disability; I was pretty broke but I could still pay the bills. One day, I was driving on the highway when I heard a radio ad for an audition being held by the local AMTC office. All of a sudden, I felt in my heart like I was “supposed” to audition. I was shocked! “What are you talking about, Lord?” I replied. Of course, there was no further clarity–just this feeling. Back then, I couldn’t hear God as clearly as I do, today.
I went home to look up details about the audition on their website and immediately noticed where God was wrong. “Ummm… I don’t know if you noticed, Lord, but I have drill the same weekend as the audition!” But, this feeling in my heart did NOT dissipate; in fact, it just got stronger! “Okay, okay!” I exclaimed. “I’ll sign up, anyways! If this really IS from God, then it’ll work out. If it doesn’t, it won’t.”
A month later, when the weekend of the audition came, I got an email from my Reserve unit: “Due to the government shutdown, we will be rescheduling drill for later in the year. All battle assemblies are cancelled.” My jaw dropped. “I guess I’m going to the audition, tomorrow,” I said to myself.
I showed up to the AMTC office amongst hundreds of applicants. I thought that perhaps because this was a ministry of some sort, they would not be very selective about who they accepted into their six-month training and launch program. When they mentioned the $4,000 the price tag for the experience, I about died. At that point in my life, $4,000 might as well have been $4,000,000 — I just didn’t have it. In fact, I only had $50 in my bank account but they said that if I received a call-back, I would need to pay the first of four installments the next day to begin.
I went home to pray. “Lord, it seems you shut down the U.S. Government so that I could attend this audition (a fact I politely told the person auditioning me when she asked, ‘why are you here?’) but now they want money and I don’t have any!” Just then, a new and strong urge–almost like a whisper–played through my heart: “CHECK YOUR BANK ACCOUNT.” I looked at the clock, it was 9 pm on a Saturday night when the government–my only source of income–was shut down. Yet, there it was: a $4,300 back payment from the Army for some travel expenses I had incurred six months prior. It deposited into my account just a few hours prior! My jaw dropped, again!
Me: Lord, it seems you shut down the U.S. Government so that I could attend this audition… but now they want money and I don’t have any!
God: Check your bank account.
The next morning, I went to church and shared with the ladies in my study that I was expecting a call-back from AMTC because God had provided the money. Sure as sugar, they called right on time and when I showed up to their offices, I was shocked to find that only a dozen or so people were there. When they offered a discount for full payment upfront, I felt that now-familiar heart-urge: “PAY IT ALL.” I objected. “Lord, I could pay three months of bills with this money!” but the urge remained insistent. So, with shaking hand, I wrote them a check for $4,000. And so, I began my six-month talent training and launching program.
I spent the next six months practicing how to groom and dress, how to act and model, and how to continue to “work my craft” no matter where life was taking me. Smack dab in the middle of my six month program, life took a hard left turn. My body had begun to shut down with chronic fatigue (a culmination of my chronic trauma) and I was no longer to attend my classes in seminary. No classes meant no GI Bill, no GI Bill meant no housing allowance, no housing allowance meant no place to live. So, I left seminary and went to live with my parents while I tried to figure out how I got into this pit in the first place. More importantly, I begged God to help me get out. I felt like I was only to continue two activities from my previous life: my spiritual formation program with my advisor and AMTC. I spent the rest of my time on prayer, resting, and trying different trauma therapies to heal myself. I could now see why God had had me pay the whole thing upfront; I would certainly have quit had I had to continue paying in the midst of all this!
About four months into the program, I flew again to AMTC’s Atlanta office for another weekend of training and preparation. By then, I had noticed a pattern emerge in my heart. Whenever I began preparations to head to AMTC, my anxiety would start to build and build. I would start getting crazy thoughts about how I was not good enough to do this, how I would never amount to anything, how I was wasting my time, and how I should quit. After some prayer, I realized that these thoughts were probably something I had once heard someone say: “spiritual warfare”. So, I went to a Christian bookstore to look for some sort of manual on how to fight back. I found this little pocket book and read it cover to cover on my first night in Atlanta. The next day, I experienced the WORST spiritual attack I had EVER experienced in my LIFE! I melted down in the middle of a short advertisement scene. I was shaking, I was crying, I totally lost it. I couldn’t understand what was WRONG with me! I was an Army Soldier, for goodness sake! I was practicing with the kindest, most supportive coaches I could imagine, play-acting with the most adorable little children — and I was falling APART!
That’s when I realized that I had a deep, deep fear of man inside. Having been raised in the emotionally abusive household I had been, my brain twisted with trauma, I was always expecting people to hurt me. Therefore, my brain did constant somersaults trying to anticipate HOW someone might hurt me and, therefore, HOW I might proactively protect myself from that pain. Standing on a stage, anticipating the reaction of dozens of fellow actors (and some parents), this well-hidden fear ripped my heart apart and broke me. One of the coaches walked outside with me. He spent an hour speaking positive words over me, helping me to gain my emotional balance, again. I went to my hotel room that night, and I began do everything that little pocket book said and, the next day, I was a changed person.
When I returned the following month, I was so incredibly transformed that one of the acting coaches asked if she could use me as an example for the others. “Look at Tenay,” she said. “When she first got here, she was crippled with the fear of what the audience might think of her. But now, she has shed all of that heaviness and she is free to just do what she loves doing and it’s powerful!” That’s when I learned my next lessons in how to work “as unto the Lord”.
Lesson three: You cannot work unto God where you fear man.
God had certainly spent significant time and effort getting me into AMTC but it took me three months of breaking down all the defenses in my mind (AKA all the ways I lied to myself) until I was able to get set free from the strongholds that were causing my body to fall apart. As I began to see a similar pattern in other areas of my life, I learned a related lesson in how to work “as unto the Lord”.
Lesson four: Working unto God requires effective spiritual warfare.
Yes, that’s right. If you don’t know how to conduct spiritual warfare, any work you dedicate to the Lord WILL eventually be ruined by the enemy. Experiencing spiritual attach is a promise in the Bible; but it’s not promised that you will overcome it unless you learn HOW to fight well. That’s why every believer needs to learn how to pray effectively, by the leading of the Holy Spirit and NOT by human understanding of the Bible or church traditions without the Spirit.
Today, when I work in my staging & design company, I routinely look for signs of spiritual warfare in our affairs. Some questions I ask are whether people are:
- Speaking irrational thoughts that do not fit the rest of their character?
- Making decisions based on an expectation of being hurt?
- Experiencing uncharacteristic failure in a certain area?
- Fraught with strife, dissension or disunity in a specific situation?
If you want God to open your eyes to the realities of spiritual warfare, begin by writing down this scripture in your journal and meditating on one sentence per day for four days. Then, ask God to show you how they fit together on the fifth day and what you need to do about this new understanding on the sixth. Write down all the spontaneous ideas that go through your head throughout your times of meditation.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of [strongholds]. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-6
Lord, I thank you for sending your son, Jesus Christ, to the cross so that we could be set free of everything that hurts us. I also thank you for putting in me the same power that raised him from the dead so that I can overcome all trouble by the power of the Holy Spirit. Please show me how to wield the weapons of my warfare so that Satan no longer can hurt me, what is mine or who are mine. Amen.