Breaking the Idols
About the Guest
Jennie had grown up in church. And by all accounts, she had everything going for her, including a strong walk with God. Author Jennie Allen talks about the hour when she moved from being a person who knew about God to a person who craved being used and indwelt by the powerful Creator of the universe. Jennie recalls the night that she and her husband, Zac, gave God everything, including their lives, their comfort and their family.
Jennie had grown up in church. And by all accounts, she had everything going for her, including a strong walk with God.
Breaking the Idols
Bob: Is it possible that your church has a lot of people going there who also worship idols? Jennie Allen says it was true for her.
Jennie: We are the kids that grew up in the church. We are the kids that had a lot of things going for us in a lot of ways. We were doing the right things. We were checking our boxes with God. By everybody’s standards—they would look over at Jennie and Zac Allen and would say, “You guys love God,” —but if I were really honest—and I didn’t know this prior—but I loved a lot of things more than I loved God.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, October 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What would happen in your life if you said to God, “I’ll do anything”? We are going to talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I was reading our guest’s bio; and I thought, “Well, I can see why Dennis wants to have her on FamilyLife Today.” She has a master’s from Dallas Theological Seminary.
Dennis: There you go.
Bob: That’s where you went.
Dennis: There you go.
Bob: You’re on the board of Dallas Seminary right now.
Dennis: Right; right.
Bob: She and her husband have adopted children from Rwanda.
Dennis: That’s right, too.
Bob: I thought, “There you go. Dennis will want that.”
Bob: Then, here at the bottom of the bio, it says she graduated from Mr. Rainey’s sixth-grade Sunday school class. I thought, “Well, now”—
Dennis: Now, you have it. She is one of the rare survivors. [Laughter] I had 550 sixth graders go through my class in 11 years.
Bob: She lived to tell the story.
Dennis: She admitted that she attended! We’ve got a great question for her in just a moment about that, but she’s also written a book. It’s called Anything—one word—Anything: The Prayer That Unlocked My God and My Soul. One thing you didn’t mention—she and Zac are in Austin, Texas, where they give leadership in a local church there. She has three other kids besides the one they adopted.
Jennie Allen joins us on FamilyLife Today. Jennie, welcome to the broadcast.
Jennie: Thank you. It’s so good to be here.
Bob: Now, wait. I’m curious. Do you remember little 11-year-old Jennie Allen?
Dennis: Of course.
Bob: Do you really?!
Dennis: Of course, I don’t remember because she was an early—she was one of the early attendees.
Dennis: I taught it for 11 years. So, she was in year two, I think.
Dennis: So, she got—she kind of got the material early on. I don’t recall whether Jennie caused trouble in the class and if I ever made her sit between two boys—
Jennie: I may—
Bob: Do you remember ever—
Jennie: I may have sat between two boys, but it wasn’t because I was in trouble. I just thought there were a couple of boys that were awfully cute. [Laughter]
Dennis: Okay. Here is your question from the sixth-grade class.
Dennis: What was the illustration, or the object lesson, or the teaching that grabbed you as an 11- and 12-year-old? Now, there is a reason why I’m asking you this question.
Bob: Basically, he’s saying, “Do you remember anything about the class?”
Dennis: Yes, I’m giving you a broad opportunity here, Jennie.
Jennie: Okay, good.
Dennis: No, the reason I’m asking is not because of me teaching the class. I want to illustrate this because I want parents to realize that an 11- or 12-year-old is capable of hearing much, much more than you give them credit for; alright? I’ve stalled long enough. I’ve given you a chance to kind of recoup maybe some of the lessons that I taught.
Bob: We are all waiting to see: Do you remember anything from the class?
Jennie: I do; absolutely.
Bob: What do you remember?
Jennie: That no adult had talked to me about sex, at that point. Sorry, Mom and Dad, you might have given me a book; but at that point, it was the first time that I had even—and then, it was happening in the church! So—
Bob: It was all new? This was new information for you?
Jennie: It was new information for me. [Laughter]
Jennie: I’m sure Dennis might have gotten in some trouble behind the scenes about that, but it so was brave. It was so helpful to me because, like I said, I was already liking boys. I remember good and well a boy in that class that I liked at the time. The topics that you covered—church had never been that way for me—so, I was just taking everything in.
It’s interesting—I was reflecting on it, coming today, and thinking of the ministry that you all have had all of these years. I, just now—I have a son headed into seventh grade. I look back, even with more appreciation because I did—can I say that—I did stay pure until I was married. I don’t know—
Bob: Praise the Lord for that.
Jennie: —if I want to announce that on the radio—
Dennis: Give me five, right there. Way to go!
Jennie: —but I did! I think it was the bravery of people that spoke into my life about this topic and didn’t hold back. There is no doubt—I remember sitting in that class.
Bob: Do you remember any specific subject—anything Dennis said—any illustration he used? That’s really what he’s looking for.
Dennis: This was over a hundred years ago, Bob.
Bob: I understand. [Laughter]
Jennie: I know. I mean, “Come on!” I’ve already made it back around with my kids. You know, I don’t know if it was that class and if it was you, but I—the fire. I mean, that one stuck with me—about where the fire belongs.
Dennis: Smokey—yes, Smokey the Bear.
Bob: Smokey the Bear. Yes. [Laughter] We’ve all heard about Smokey the Bear.
Jennie: Yes, so that one stuck with me.
Dennis: “Only you can prevent forest fires.” No, we did. We had little buttons later on. Probably, didn’t have them that second year; but had little buttons with the little bear, there, who was pointing his finger, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” I was trying to equip these young people to say the best way to stop a forest fire is to never start one. So, “Build your boundaries high and a long ways away from all the fire.”
Bob: Well, I know Dennis just gave you a copy of the Passport2Purity® resource that you can do with your son or daughters. Now, you get a chance to relive Mr. Rainey’s sixth-grade Sunday school—
Jennie: I love it.
Bob: —class all over again—
Jennie: And I will.
Bob: —this time as an adult.
Dennis: Yes. Well, your book—I tell you, really interesting. I love the theme of this book because it’s around something I believe strongly in, as well. It’s called surrender. You really had a moment of surrender with Zac or, at least, a time when you guys verbalized it in prayer.
Dennis: Can you take us to that spot and tell that story?
Jennie: I can tell that story. We are the kids that grew up in the church. We are the kids that had a lot of things going for us. In a lot of ways, we were doing the right things. We were checking our boxes with God. My husband was in ministry. He’s a pastor—still is. By everybody’s standards—they would look over at Jennie and Zac Allen and would say, “You guys love God, and you are serving Him in amazing ways,” —but if I were really honest—and I didn’t know this prior—but I loved a lot of things more than I loved God.
That all kind of came to a head for me one night when I was reading a blog of a girl named Katie Davis. I’d heard about her over dinner. I get home, and Zac’s headed to bed. I crawl into the bathroom with my computer and sit on the floor because everybody’s asleep. I start reading the words of this girl. This girl is living in Uganda, at 22, and had adopted 13 little girls off the street. Her words about Jesus and the implications of God just shattered me on that bathroom floor. I think what it was—was I realized and saw in myself, that night, all of the things that I was loving more than God. It really disturbed me.
Dennis: For instance?
Jennie: One thing that became really clear to me immediately, as I was reading her words, was she abandoned pleasing her parents. She said, “Okay, my parents obviously did not want their young, little girl moving overseas to Uganda,” when she had the grades and the money to do anything she wanted in life. Yet, she said, “But Jesus.” Everything was just this, “But Jesus” in her words. It was, “I’m going to give up this life for forever.”
I realized and saw my own soul pretty quickly. I had not made decisions that way. I had made decisions based on the opinions of people, and I had truly loved everybody’s approval of me. Honestly, that came in the package of a good, little Christian girl. I kind of was doing everything right. I had everybody’s approval, and I was afraid of losing it. I was afraid of doing anything to step out of that box. It was binding me. It was defining my life. All of my decisions—if I got to something, like adoption, and I didn’t know if I would have the approval of my parents, or family, or my community, I would just turn the other way. There wouldn’t be a point of dying to that. I would just want more than anything to keep everybody around me happy.
So, what happened—back to the question—the prayer. I mean, all of this was leading up to this. Reading this girl that was just 110 percent surrendered—and I don’t know that I had seen that very many times. I’m not talking about this surrender has to look like going over to Africa, by the way. I still live in a great, little house in the suburbs of Austin. We are not in a mud hut in Africa; but this heart of, “Nothing matters more than pleasing my Savior.” That was so brilliant and stunning to see!
It was like God’s glory—just pouring out of this little computer screen—of, “This is life!” because what happened that night wasn’t Katie. I love her. I’ve gotten to meet her since. I’m a huge fan of her ministry, but it wasn’t her. She would tell you, too, “It’s not me.” It’s that she was just obeying God in the story that He has for her.
Jennie: Because of that, God’s glory was just pouring out of her. My story has turned out to be different, but I wanted to live that way. I wanted to live my story.
Bob: I have to just jump back in because the first thing you said was, “I read this blog from this girl. She was committed to following Jesus, even if it meant displeasing her parents.”
Jennie: Oh, yes.
Bob: Okay, we’re on FamilyLife Today. Do we need a qualifier around that?
Jennie: Let’s do that.
Bob: I mean—
Jennie: Yes. Yes, I believe that even today my deepest desire is to honor my parents; but there had been moments where getting their approval had become a god to me—more important and more valuable than pleasing God, my Savior. I do believe that we cannot do things in the name of Jesus and just walk away from everyone’s opinions. I don’t think that; but I think, usually, especially those of us who have grown up in the church, we tend to do the opposite. We will disqualify movements of God because people are afraid of where it might lead us.
Bob: I just have to say, from the parent-perspective, it’s possible for a mom and a dad to usurp the position—
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Bob: —that belongs to God and say—
Dennis: You bet.
Bob: —“You should do what we want you to do. We know best, even though you’re 20, or 25, or 30, or 50. Follow what we say,” —rather than teach you how to read the Scriptures, and pray, and hear from God yourself.
Jennie: Yes. I think it’s such a beautiful dance. Isn’t that how every relationship is? It still is with my parents. I can jump ahead in this story and say some of the things that probably scared them to death for us—we are actually living and doing now. We’ve had these beautiful conversations about adoption. That’s one of the things that you all have already shared that we have done, and they have been so gracious. I think it is respecting and honoring but also knowing yourself and knowing the things that you are tempted to idolize more than God. For me, it was their opinion and other peoples’, too.
Bob: Here’s the other thing I’ve found curious. This epiphany that you had—reading the blog and going, “I’m not living this way,” —this was after you got your degree from Dallas Theological Seminary?
Jennie: Oh, yes. Yes, I had been to seminary. I was chock-full of God. I mean, even verbally passionate about God. If you had sat down and talked to me, there is no doubt you would have walked away and said, “That girl loves God.” I wasn’t being a fake, but what I didn’t understand was God doesn’t compete. My heart, while it was completely being controlled by others’ opinions of me—He was, in some ways, standing back and waiting for me to demolish that idol. I had to see to it. That was part of the journey and the grace of God because I have no doubt in my mind, prior to that point, I would have been in heaven. I would have faced God. That day, when I faced Him, we would have done business.
I would be there, and I would experience His grace and mercy; but I didn’t want to miss all that He had for me because the bottom line is that—if He is real—if the God of the universe is real, and created me, and put me on this earth, and spun this earth—I want to be in line with Him! It isn’t out of reprimand that God brought me to that point—although there was confession and ugly tears. I believe that God wanted to bring me to this place to see my sin and to see that sin is the love of anything more than God. I saw that, that night; and it broke me. I wanted to be about things that were bigger than my little self and the invisible thoughts of a few people. It seemed ludicrous after that.
Dennis: You and Zac actually experienced this moment together. I want to read what you wrote in your book. You say, “Zac and I climbed into bed on a completely average night two years ago. We were pretty tired. Zac took my hand and spoke the simple words we’d been processing for the past few months but had not been yet ready to say.” Those words were?
Jennie: “We will do anything.” I think, for us, those little simple words held in them 1,000 little deaths because it certainly wasn’t just people’s approval I loved. I also loved comfort. I loved planning my life. I loved control. I wanted to plan my life and live it. Now, we were acknowledging a God that we had known for a long time, and we had known Him to be trustworthy; but, honestly, we were scared of Him—and probably, rightfully so.
We knew, good and well, when we were handing up to Him little pieces of our lives that we loved and had deeply attached ourselves to that He may mess with them. Sure enough, one by one, He has taken our little tokens of our lives and has begun to piece them into this story that is so much better than one I was trying to write. [Laughter] I was trying hard to write it, and maintain it, and make it work. I realize that that effort to control my life and keep everybody happy—it was making me sick.
There was no freedom. I can’t say that I was living that verse that says, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free.” I did not feel free! In fact, one of my previous projects is called Stuck because that is how I felt. I felt so stuck in these feelings of anxiety, in these feelings of measuring up, in these feelings of actually recognizing, a lot of times, that I couldn’t control my life.
It’s just amazing that in handing up this simple little prayer to God and saying, “God, we will do anything,” we were saying, “God, You have us. We’re in. Everything that we’ve been trying to do with our lives, everything we’ve been trying to control, everything we’ve been trying to do to measure up to everybody and even to You, it’s Yours. Do with us what You will, and we’re done. We’re going to put our hands behind our back, and You have us.”
Bob: If I had asked you before then, “Does God—is He everything to you?” you would have said, “Yes;” right?
Jennie: I would have because I was comparing that to everybody around me, and we were in ministry. It would have been outward signs. I realized that, outwardly, everyone thought I loved God; and inwardly, between me and Him that night—and it was just us on that floor—He showed me that I didn’t. It was heartbreaking. It still breaks my heart that so long went by; and yet, I believed it was His mercy and timing to show me that night.
Even, just back to the book and sitting here and talking with you guys, I mean, I wouldn’t have done any of this. I wanted to sit on the back row of our church, and I didn’t—because I was so paralyzed by fear. I didn’t want everybody’s judgment. I was controlling my life in that way. I thought, “I can control better everybody’s opinions if I sit back.” I think that’s true for a lot of people. I think we are—we don’t even realize how much fear we are living in. We don’t know how much it’s got us and defines our life.
Dennis: When we fear people more than we fear God, we’re enslaved.
Dennis: We’re imprisoned to the opinions of others; and I’ve been there, too. I mean, I know what you’re talking about. I’m thinking of Bill Bright, who was really the first person to teach me about what you’re talking about here—or attempt to teach me—may I say? It has been a lifelong process for me, but he talked about how he was a bond- slave of Jesus Christ. He said, “A slave has no rights.” That’s always convicted me because you can tell if you are really in a master/slave relationship with Jesus Christ because you haven’t got any rights.
Jennie: Yes, I think this is a generation of entitled people. I think you are nailing it, and Bill Bright nailed it. We don’t understand the concept of completely giving up our rights because we are Americans. We are the generation that usually gets what we want when we want it. The idea that we would literally say, “God, even my anger towards my husband or my anger towards someone in our church because they had misunderstood me”—see I didn’t have a right to be understood. I had to realize that it is, “Oh, it feels like death,” and it is death; but in it, is freedom.
Dennis: You probably don’t remember this. The reason is, most likely, in that second year of my sixth-grade Sunday school class, I probably hadn’t landed on the class verse; but for over a half dozen years, the class verse was Colossians, Chapter 1, verse 18, “And He”—speaking of Jesus—“is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.”
Seeds Family Worship: [Singing Preeminent , taken from Colossians 1:18]
Dennis: I can’t help but think right now there’s a person listening to us who has been struggling with God, and it’s time. It’s time. It’s time to surrender. It’s time to open the prison door and get free. It’s time to burn the idols, crush the idols—whatever it might be—but today is the day. Do it.
Bob: You know, a lot of people, I think, know what they’re supposed to do. They know the prayer they ought to be ready to pray; but you really have to ask yourself the question, “Am I ready to do whatever God says? If I pray that prayer, am I ready to follow Jesus?” Jennie’s book is a great reminder that when we follow God, He leads us in good places. He takes us where we’re supposed to go.
We’ve got copies of Jennie’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. It’s called Anything: The Prayer That Unlocked My God and My Soul. You can order a copy from us at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call if you’d like to get a copy of the book, Anything. Call 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
I should mention the song that you heard us playing there—the song, Preeminent—is from FamilyLife’s new Passport2Purity updated resource. If you’ve never taken your son or your daughter on a Passport2Purity getaway weekend, let me encourage you to order the resource and do this with your preadolescent son or daughter. Help them learn that verse—plant that seed now so that, when they’re older, they’ll be praying the prayer and saying, “Lord, I’ll do whatever. I’ll do anything.” Again, more information about Passport2Purity can be found online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, some of you are aware that there is an area of new emphasis here at FamilyLife—something that we’re beginning to develop—that you’re going to be hearing about more and more in the weeks to come. Ron Deal has joined our team. Ron is probably the leading expert in America on step and blended families. We’re working together to develop resources and tools to help what we’re calling complex families—complicated families—figure out how to deal with some of the complications because the degree of difficulty in a step-marriage or a blended family is a higher degree of difficulty than it is in a first-time marriage.
This week, we would like to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who can help us with a donation to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today by sending you your choice of—either Ron Deal’s book, The Remarriage Checkup, designed to help you get a sense of how you’re doing in your remarriage and where are the areas that need the most help—or you can request CD’s of conversations we’ve had with Ron about being a smart stepdad and being a smart stepmom. These resources, again, are designed to help those of you who are in step or blended marriages and families or if you know somebody who is. This is a great resource to get and pass along to someone as a way to help them and encourage them.
Of course, it encourages us when you help support FamilyLife Today because we’re listener-supported. Your donations make this daily radio program possible. So, can I encourage you? Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”, make an online donation. Then, select which of the resources you would like to receive as a thank-you gift; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make a donation over the phone and ask for either The Remarriage Checkup book or the CD’s on being a smart stepmom and smart stepdad. Again, we’re happy to send those resources to you. We really appreciate you and are grateful for your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
We want to encourage you to join us back again tomorrow. Jennie Allen’s going to be here again. We’re going to continue to talk about what happens when you say to God, “I surrender. I’ll do anything.” We hope you can tune in for tomorrow’s program.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
Artist: Seeds Family Worship
Album: Purity (Seeds Youth) (p) 2012 Seeds Family Worship
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