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Finding Humility on the Set of ‘American Idol’

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Musicians Edwin Hawkins, Phil Stacey and the Blind Boys of Alabama perform onstage at the 40th Annual GMA Dove Awards held at the Grand Ole Opry House on April 23, 2009 in Nashville, Tennessee. Finding Humility
Rick Diamond / Staff via Getty Images
The moment I realized that God would use me, in spite of my weaknesses

I WAS BACKSTAGE ON THE SET OF “AMERICAN IDOL, and I was absolutely terrified. Tens of millions would be watching the live show, and my nerves were shot. Simply breathing was difficult. I was sweating, and my legs were trembling.

As I waited for my cue, I softly sang a Rich Mullins classic—“Hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf . . .”

In a few minutes I would be escorted to the stage to perform. While I was waiting, I wondered, Why in the world have I gotten myself into this? All my dreams are right in front of me, but one misstep could cost me everything.

A message in the moment

The pressure had been building steadily, to the point where I was having borderline panic attacks before each show. It had been this way for a few weeks, and it wasn’t getting any better.

Finally, the most wonderful woman in the world decided she had seen enough. My wife looked at me with all the love she could muster. 

“Phil, you need to know that this is pride,” Kendra said. “It’s eating away at you, and you need to get rid of it or it will destroy you.”

I was perplexed. “If this were pride,” I replied, “I’d have at least some measure of confidence. What you’re seeing right now is humility.”

Finding humility and peace

“No, Phil. This is you being worried about how you come across on television because you want everyone to think you’re good. But this isn’t about you. There were thousands of auditions this year, and most of them were good. But those other singers aren’t here. You are. And I imagine the only way that’s possible is because God has prepared a way for you to be here.

“Seems to me that He has a purpose in all this. Seems to me that it’s in His hands. And if you can fully trust Him, you’ll stop worrying about how good you look and just start enjoying the ride. If you get eliminated, God has opened doors for you. If you make it through, God has opened doors for you. Either way, God will give you the grace to do whatever’s necessary to accomplish His purpose.”

Not only was Kendra right, but her words also gave me a sense of peace. It wasn’t about me. I’d bought into the idea that I was born for this, that this was my big shot. But my life was not in the hands of the “American Idol” judges—Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul. My life was not in the hands of the millions of viewers—voters!—tuning in at home. My life was in the hands of a loving heavenly Father who was fully capable of giving me supernatural singing abilities if He chose to do so. He was also capable of extending my run for no other reason than to use my “Idol” experience for His glory.

A timely connection

I know that He did use me. I received countless messages from fans telling me how one performance or another moved them in some way. But my favorite message had very little to do with me.

The woman who wrote to me was a Navy wife. She and her husband were on the brink of divorce, and one of the few times the two of them were in the same room together, they were watching “American Idol.” Since I was also in the Navy at the time, she was rooting for me. Unfortunately, this particular episode was not one of my best moments. It was actually quite terrible. She recalled how Simon Cowell was dumbfounded by my whole performance.

That’s when a camera focused on a woman in the audience. Kendra has a beautiful smile, and apparently she was beaming as she made eye contact with me from the crowd. The image cut back to me, but I wasn’t looking at Simon while he delivered his critique. Instead, I was staring right at Kendra, which brought a smile to my face as well.

The Navy wife described feeling an overwhelming presence of love. She began to cry. Later that night, having looked me up online, she discovered I was a part-time worship leader. Strangely, it was her husband who first commented on the connection they’d witnessed between Kendra and me that night. That special connection, she told her husband, was because we had put God first in our relationship. After a conversation about how badly they both wanted their marriage to work, the couple made the decision to seek out a Christian counselor and give it one more try.

God’s strength, my humility

She ended by telling me that they had both committed their lives to Christ and were now attending a church close to their home. She said their marriage was reborn as they actively pursued a love built not on selfishness but on a foundation of faith. At the time, I was probably more concerned about my lackluster singing, but God had done something special with that couple. God can create beauty from ashes, whether it’s a poor performance on “American Idol” or a rough few years in a dying marriage. He can work all things together for our good. and teach humility at the same time

That woman’s message moved me to find humility. Even when I’m at my worst, God is still able to use me! How liberating is that? It takes the pressure of a perfect performance off my shoulders. My purpose isn’t to entertain people or somehow manipulate them through the power of my vocal prowess. It’s to bring glory to God.

I’m not a singer; I’m a worshiper. When I humbly place what little I have in God’s hands, He takes it and blesses it and uses it far beyond my wildest expectations. And He can do the same for you. 

Adapted from Made to Worship, a Focus on the Family resource published by Tyndale House Publishers.

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