Jeff Knapp: When You Hit Empty

Posted by in Faith | February 19, 2013

solitude

Editor’s Note: The world will never know the full weight of the work Jeff Knapp shoulders without complaint. A true disciple, he wrestles with the greatest truths and works tirelessly to impart them to our youth. It is encouraging to hear Jeff open up about the times when he hits empty and relies on God to fill him up. His thoughtful reflection on a recent Solitude Retreat and the lessons he learned are well worth your attention.

I believe the children are our future. And this isn’t just a play on words to remind you of an old Whitney Houston song. I really believe it! I believe it so deeply that I pour myself out, sometimes past the point of exhaustion, in order to invest in them. However, sometimes the pouring out seems to come from a shallow well, while other times it seems to be a roaring waterfall. This past weekend, I was blessed to discover a waterfall.

Back in December of last year, I was approached by a friend at Perimeter Church who invited me to be the guest speaker at their annual Solitude Retreat. This retreat is only for high school students and focuses on getting students away from the distractions of their regular environment and taking time to be alone with God. I said yes without any hesitation. This was an opportunity to not only impact the Brothers of IRON and FIRE who would go on the retreat, but also to impact their peers. This was also a great opportunity for partnering with the local church in order to support her in one of the intentional ways she is forging the next generation.

Little did I know that this would end up being one of the greatest challenges and blessings of my life to date. It started with preparation… I was going to be teaching on solitude, but I hadn’t been intentional about that in months. So the only thing to do was to get away and spend some time with God in order to prepare myself to teach others on the same subject.

The plan was to go to a monastery that wasn’t that far from my home. Unfortunately, that fell through, as did my backup plan. Thankfully, it only took one prayer team email and 20 minutes before a place was offered to me free of charge. Oh the power of prayer. So all I had to do was carve out some time from my ridiculous schedule. That proved to be quite a challenge; but I made the commitment and stuck to it. The plan was to go away for a day and a half on Super Bowl weekend and pray, journal, worship, and write.

Of course, the level of stress and static that manifested in the week leading up to my scheduled time of solitude was so overwhelming that I wanted to cancel it. But God carried me through and met me in incredible ways. That weekend, I had the most powerful and impactful time with God that I’ve had in years. In fact, the trip that was only supposed be a day and a half was extended to two and a half days! God was revealing so much to me that I just couldn’t leave.

The message that God placed on my heart was so good for my soul that I knew it wasn’t just for me. As I finished reading the encouragement cards that some of the students from the retreat sent me, I became convinced I was right; God crafted this message for them as well. The message however, wasn’t revealed thanks to efficiency or precision. In fact, it came through wrestling, waiting, listening, rewriting, and even crying out to God. The 4 talks that I gave ended up taking over 70 hours to write; and interestingly, the best one had the least preparation.

Be careful what you pray for. Just 1 hour before I left to drive to the retreat, I sat down to pray and journal. In that journal entry I wrote, “Your strength is made perfect in my weakness. So please weaken me. Help me to feel my need for you and rest in your sufficiency.” Well, that prayer was answered!

After over 70 hours of preparation, I got to the retreat with the sinking feeling that 2 of the 4 talks were not only incomplete but needed rewriting. So I stayed up into the wee hours rewriting them. Then, as if that wasn’t trouble enough, on Saturday night I shared the rest of the content I had prepared for the weekend, leaving me without a sermon for Sunday morning!

So there I was. I was tired and found myself unable to connect with the message or hear from God. I have never tried so hard to write a sermon. The next morning, after falling asleep while studying, I woke up early, still exhausted, but determined to quickly knock out a sermon. Thankfully, the Lord had other plans. After struggling unsuccessfully, I fell to my knees at the end of my bed and confessed my worry and proclaimed His faithfulness, adding that He would have to show up and deliver the sermon himself because I had nothing.

Soon after that prayer, Jameson Elder, the worship leader for the weekend, came into my room and asked, “So how’d it go last night?” I told him, “Honestly, I got nothing.” With surprise in his eyes he said, “Nothing?” “Nothing.” I responded. Then, as we chatted, I heard Jameson mention 2 Corinthians 3. Just as he said it, I remembered the only two things I had typed on the worship order the night before: 2 Corinthians 3:3 and 2 Corinthians 3:18. I also remembered Jeff Summers, the leader of the high school ministry I was partnering with, mentioning the same verses the night before! I told Jameson that I needed to be alone and immediately turned my Bible to 2 Corinthians 3. It seemed to come alive and my heart began to pound. I felt like I was being supercharged with the Scripture! After about 20 minutes, with no outline, only highlighted verses and a soaring spirit, I walked out to worship as Jameson began the session.

And what a worship time it was! The 70+ attendees were belting out praise and adoration with such passion that I almost began to weep! I led them in confession and gave an assurance of pardon before Jameson sang his last song leading up to my sermon. The song had become a sort of theme song for the weekend. It was called, “All the Poor and Powerless,” by the group All Sons & Daughters. My heart was laid open by the end of that song and I felt completely at peace.

Over the next 30 minutes, I poured out all that the Lord had given me; and I closed, knowing that He had indeed preached that sermon for me. Words cannot express what I felt or what truly happened there. But I know, without any reservation, that God turned my shallow well into a roaring waterfall.

Now, as I sit here contemplating the journey of the last few weeks, I am convinced that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. I have no arrogance about the role I played at the retreat. I am saved from feelings of shame over my pride. I am merely in awe of our God who invites me to trust in Him and serve Him in response to His unfailing love and faithfulness.

Regardless of whether we are teaching at a youth retreat or just doing homework, the God of the universe is inviting us to engage with Him and humbly walk into every situation with faith and joy in the One who is fearfully and wonderfully shaping us.

I pray you enjoy the shaping process and that you too would be weakened so that you may feel your need for Him and rest in His sufficiency. May God bless you today.

Jeff Knapp

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