Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

The Backwards Invitation of God: In Order To Live We First Must Die

As you probably know, I’ve been spending the last ten days exploring the Holy Land in Jordan. I’ve had an amazing time experiencing the beauty and hospitality of this land, and certainly have discovered there’s plenty here in Jordan to write about.

However, the other day I experienced a moment I hadn’t budgeted for. Yes, one expects to see and experience the sights, take in the beauty, immerse oneself in history and everything else, but what I hadn’t really expected was to experience God in the Holy Land. Honestly, I’m embarrassed to say that out loud because it’s not very spiritual of me, but my commitment to walking authentically with you bids me to put that on the table.

Our family has had past struggles, and currently we are in a chapter where our future is uncertain. Like everyone else, we have hopes, dreams, and goals for our family… some which have come true, and some which only exist as a painful thorn in our sides- a constant reminder of what never was, or may not be. These issues have sat on my chest lately like a team of elephants to the point where I was beginning to have anxiety attacks when they crept into my field of vision. If dreams could become something that haunt, mine certainly do.

And so, while having a few minutes of quiet and solitude at a holy site, I sat down and had one of my direct and blunt talks with God (the kind that I describe in my book, Undiluted).

I sat on top of Mt. Nebo- the place where Moses stood after years of wandering, and finally saw the land God had promised. From that quiet spot, I laid all my hopes and dreams on the table before God. I asked him if there would ever be an arrival at a Promised Land for us, or if like Moses, I’d be excluded from ever entering in. I just sat there, at the “golden hour of the day” and one by one marched my unfulfilled hopes and dreams before him, and wept alone over them.

It was then, at my most broken moment, where I feel like I finally heard God whisper in my ear. It doesn’t happen that often, but I feel like I can tell when that quiet voice is God- because what that voice says typically flies in the face of my own logic, never seems to line up with what I’d tell myself if I could, and often presents a challenge to myself that I’d rather pretend wasn’t posed.

Like when God spoke to Elijah (whose hometown I visited) in the “soft still voice” after the wind passed, that’s how he came to me during my moment on Mt. Nebo. The soft rustle of the wind blew some wheat back and forth before me, as can be seen in this picture I took with my iPhone:

IMG_1055 And then God spoke to me about my hopes and dreams. Not in some new, strange way, but simply by reminding me of some words of Jesus which it seemed he was inviting me to apply to my own life. The words were hard to hear, but as I watched the wheat gently blow back and forth in front of me, I knew that God was speaking to my heart when he quoted:

“Very truly I tell you: unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it will produce even more fruit.” – Jesus (John 12:24)

As hard as it was to hear, I couldn’t deny it: I knew that God was inviting me to let go of so many hopes and to let them fall to the ground. Not exactly the advice I would have given myself, but my heart knew it was his invitation. How does letting go and embracing death bring new life? That’s always the unknown question. When I posed it to God, I just got a clear sense that he was telling me: “Your job is just the dying part. New life is mine.”

I continued to cry over these broken dreams and unfulfilled hopes, but knowing that God was speaking at that moment, I symbolically plucked a piece of the wheat before me and separated the grains in my hand. One by one, I dropped each to the ground and said, “I embrace death to this dream, God. I trust you to grow the fruit.”

Letting go and embracing death to ourselves, death to hopes, and death to our own dreams so that something new and beautiful can grow out of that death is hard– especially since our part is just the dying part– and that we have to wait and trust for the fruit it will bring. Yet, I believe with all my being, that this is the crazy, illogical life that God invites us into.

And this is the backwards invitation of God: if we want to truly live, we first must become willing to die.

The following day I felt like God unexpectedly spoke again- affirming his invitation to put so many parts of myself to death so that he can grow something new. As I was walking through the gorge on my way to the ancient city of Petra, I came upon this sight: a tree growing out of a rock:

IMG_4161 As I stood and looked at that tree– life growing out of death, it was as if I could hear God whisper: “See Ben? I can grow things anywhere- even out of death. Your part is just the dying part.”

My journey to Jordan has been many things, but perhaps more than anything, Jordan is where I remembered that God invites us to let our kernels of wheat– whatever they are– fall to the ground and die, so that he can grow something new out of death… something that he promises will “bear much fruit.”

What are your kernels of wheat? What is it that you are still holding onto, that haunts you in the middle of the night or that travels with you like a thorn in the side?

Whatever your kernel of wheat is, I’d invite you to continue walking with me on this spiritual journey by dropping it to the ground and embracing the truth that unless our kernels of wheat fall to the ground and die, they remain a single seed- but if they die, they produce much fruit.

God can grow new life anywhere. He can bring forth new life out of death, and produce infinite fruit with our small kernels. But to get there, we must embrace that God’s invitation is a backwards invitation where he invites us to discover vibrant new life… by first becoming willing to die.

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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  • This brought me to tears. There is something so profoundly beautiful (although painful at the same time) about letting go of all our hopes and dreams and just living in the moment and trusting God. I grieve the loss of my own health and the loss of my husband whose body is still with me but his mind is not. But at the same time there is joy in me that can’t be denied, and a feeling that good things are ahead. I only have one goal in life now, to be always watchful for opportunities to be a blessing to others. And that fills me with peace.

  • This has been shown time and time again to me in my own life. I graduated college in 1990 with degrees in Elementary and Special Education, and I got married the same year with my heart buying into the view of being a submissive wife, losing the friendship of my lesbian best friend because of my conservative beliefs at that time. That year I lost our first child due to miscarriage and slowly lost my dreams of my own classroom due to my severe, disabling depression that left me increasingly un able to function except for the days I was substitute teaching. In 1992 we had our daughter and her presence saved my life, forcing me to at least function at a bare minimum for her sake, but I stopped even dreaming of my own classroom. But Jesus was with me stronger than ever, every day, and being a mom connected my heart to Him in new ways. In 1997 after four years of infertility, (what had felt like another death) finally my son was born after a difficult, scary pregnancy. I knew some thin was wrong within two weeks of his birth, but it took until he was nine years old to finally get his diagnosis of high functioning autism. Raising two children who are both labeled gifted together is it’s own journey, not all joy, but when one is also “special needs”, not only are your days filled with the utter joys and heartaches from one moment to the next that don’t leave you a minute to think or breathe, let alone pray some days, but raising two amazing kids together like that is also a death inside. You can’t help know where this child should be by a certain age, and as he gets older you wonder how his gifts and dreams will possibly be realized and it kills you. On top of that it turned out the depression was one of the first symptoms I was having of my two autoimmune diseases that became full blown in 1998, a year after my son was born. I simply was fine one day, and one Sunday I had to miss church, sleeping 24 hours straight, and I simply have never been well since, every year bringing more complications and mysterious symptoms and always fatigue and pain that mean I had to even stop teaching first grade Sunday School and substitute teaching, and could not be the mom to my son I was to my daughter, with constant books and walks and crafts, etc. and we only have my husband’s low income. A lot of dreams dying, large and small. But in all of that, through all of that the seeds of my faith, my life and love of Jesus, my confidence that He was there just kept growing deeper and stronger and wiser and wider, just like the plant he says grows from the mustard seed, exactly, exactly like that. Through my son’s autism and my own illness I have met people and people have been able to connect together with me, people I love and have been touchstones and rocks in my life, and my relationships in my own congregation and family are deeper and stronger and more honest and real. When you get this far with these things, you tend simply not to have time for shallowness or games, not tolerating them in yourself least of all. Now I have come in a circle of sorts, this summer after graduating college my daughter and other family members have come out to me, along with life bringing some LBGT strangers into my world at weird times to share their stories with me, sort of the Spirit wopping me on the head this year to bring my developing,unfocused thoughts right into focus pretty quick and say, I want you to be there for your child, and I want you to stand up and say what is right whenever possible, lovingly. But the main thing is, it is terrifying to give up those dreams that aren’t working out, scary to not have control. I’m not going to lie and sugarcoat that, but I can tell you Jesus means it when He says He loves you, that He is with us, that He is love itself,and the way to live life is love Him and just live the way He says. His peace stays with me in all of this, He will stay with you.

  • Thank you, good sir… saving this to re-read at those moments when they’re needed the most, as they increasingly seem to be.

  • I’m sorry your family is having rough times, but I hope your moment of connection brings you both peace with what is and happiness with what comes. You deserve both.

  • Thank you for sharing your sacred moment with us. It has been a season of dying for me as well, and it only confirms the painful necessity in my spirit to know that others are experiencing the same thing.

  • Love the way things of the earth witness to us in real time. The actual seeds, there in front of you, the tree in the cleft of the rock, just happened upon…… and then His affirming and loving words. Very timely message to me also, carrying so many ways of being let down and not happenings. What better way to let them go than planting back into the nourishing earth of His dear self? Thank you!

  • Thank you so much, Ben. I’m not going to dilute you message with my own thoughts. Instead, I will carry your words around like a wrapped gift. You make it possible for me to breathe.

  • I get chills, goosies all over, when one whose heart and mind I share realizes more deeply the Source for peace and joy in his/her midst. Thank you Ben for your authenticity!

    This week I have wrestled with, attempted to support and was supported by several founded upon just what you shared in this near catharsis released to us. I don’t know how many times I shared Luke 14:26, John 3:8 and Matthew 3:16 just this week alone trying to shine the light on what you just illuminated so well.

    I was born of Man, the flesh, by no choice of my own when my mother’s water broke. I was born of God offered, the Spirit, by my choice alone when I broke and died to the flesh.

    It seems too good to be true but our hopes and aspirations for us and ours are realized more surely when we submit to the Guide who intimately knows each and every one of our hearts and minds than when we try to succeed on our own. I have wrestled with some this week who think they’re leading but they really know not where. I supported some this week who know the Truth is not illusive when they risk to vulnerably open their heart and mind only to the Truth and follow wherever He may lead. I was supported this week by many clearly in my tour group sharing our hearts and minds with two eyes each open to see and share as we are ready, individually and united.

    Peace and joy become the eraser for all our self imposed anxieties, to be the most responsible as expected by Man, when we realize we’re all way too immature, as little children no more than 120 sun years old, in the scheme of God’s when we fully trust 24/7 in Him of no beginning and no end to provide and lead. It’s a brand new Family we become a part of that can include, by their choice alone, our family of old. It’s a divine Family complete with siblings, especially an elder Sibling with perfectly capable authority, and the most perfect Parent.

    Look for the new name you have been given! Love you as always! Peace from all teams of elephants once and for all! Serena Rene Christianson

  • So very, very powerful Ben. I have a feeling this article is going to be a huge help and blessing to many, many people! While our circumstances may differ, we are right with you in this one, and very much more is the Lord of life himself!

  • Ben, I’ve read many of your articles; but this one is the most transparent yet. Thank you so much for sharing. The Lord has been giving me a message lately about the difference between plan and purpose. We often talk about God having plans for us, but combine it with a loving God that gives us the desires of our heart only to be in the position you speak of in your article. I am learning that plans can change, we can make mistakes or have great success; but the greater reality is our purpose. Purpose is somehow beyond and bigger than the plan. We may think the plan is what defines us, but it’s not. However our purpose never dies (just like Joseph in Egypt). I am beginning to question whether I should put my weight on the purpose and enjoy the current plan as really a path to walk out my purpose – but that path sometimes has dead ends, forks, trails, and more. I suspect your purpose has never changed….

  • Ben…I think the fourth paragraph from the bottom metaphorically captures your experience well. This was your “journey to Jordan.” Jordan, the place of baptism, the place of death and re-birth. Sounds like this is what happened to you in “your Jordan.” Never easy, but often necessary. Been there…done that…doing that 🙂 Peace.

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