Jentezen Franklin is no stranger to the hardships of life.
The senior pastor of Free Chapel, a multi-campus church with a global reach, shared with The Christian Post how he clearly felt God’s call on his life as a teenager.
“At 16 years old, I heard a preacher preach and it moved me to my core,” he recalled. “I was fighting back to tears. I went to the altar and whispered a prayer: ‘God, if you want me to preach, I want to be able to touch people.’ And I felt like God had heard my prayer and that all would be well moving forward.”
But within six months of his conversion, Franklin experienced what he referred to as the “trial of a lifetime.” After developing a deficiency in his blood, boils broke out all over Franklin’s face and body, severely impacting his quality of life.
“I went to doctor after doctor and I ended up having to drop out of school,” he said. “Teachers were kind enough to let me do my assignments from home, but I lived an isolated life for a full year. It was depressing. It became the worst nightmare of my life. I looked like a freak. Kids would laugh at me at school. I felt like a monster.”
In the midst of his pain, Franklin cried out to God and asked, “Why me, Lord?”
In that moment, he was faced with a decision: “I could either let roots of bitterness grow or choose to produce the fruits of the spirit,” he said. “So I began truly reading the Bible for myself and pray and listening to cassette tapes of the preacher. I was getting the Word in me and developing a relationship with God like never before.”
Today, The New York Times best-selling author said he still draws on those times of solace with God when preparing for sermons: “The Holy Spirit will take me back to that year of life when I was totally isolated, cut off, and lonely,” he said. “I wouldn’t change that year for anything.”
“Sometimes,” he added, “we ask God for something, and He sends it in strangely-wrapped packages we don’t recognize. When I asked God for the ministry, I thought it would come with a pulpit and microphone. I never dreamed the package would come in suffering and boils and through questioning God.”
According to Franklin, abundant life can be found in every setback: “If we don’t give up, God will prove Himself faithful,” the pastor said. “When you get there, it won’t be about the reward. It will be about God and the process He took you through. You’ll give Him the glory. It’s the process of sanctifying the dream, purpose, and mission.”
The husband of 32 years and father-of-five draws on his own experiences to inspire others to uncover the hidden potential right where they are, even in the midst of life’s challenges and difficulties, in his new book, Acres of Diamonds: Discovering God's Best Right Where You Are.
He encourages readers to learn the art of contentment and find joy in every opportunity. Doing so, he says, reveals the hidden potential within one’s family, job, ministry and community.
“This book is a life message from God to people,” Franklin told CP. “I’ve always believed that God has a great purpose for every person, and I believe the takeaway is don’t devalue where you are right now. Don’t despise the day of small things or give up on where God has called you to be, especially when the grass looks greener. I believe God is saying to rediscover His best right where you are.”
Sometimes, Franklin argued, success is a four-letter word: “Stay.”
“It’s a word this generation needs to hear,” he said, adding that the pressures, comparison, and temptations perpetrated by social media undermine “God’s best for our lives.”
“God is doing a work and taking you to His promise,” he stressed. “People want the quick way, instant success, and God tells the children of Israel, I’m going to take you to the Promised Land, but you won’t get here instantly. It’ll be little by little.’ That’s the intense heat and pressure that gives birth to diamonds.”
In his book, the pastor writes: “You can’t choose what happens to you, but you can choose to let it take you down or take you up.”
He explained: “Our attitude in difficult circumstances is more important than what happens to us. Everything that comes at us in life, there’s a line spiritually where you have to make a decision: This will either take me up and I’ll produce the fruits of the spirit, or I’m going to let it turn into roots of bitterness of my life.”
Those who make the latter choice become “bonsai Christians,” the Georgia native said.
“Bonsai trees should be huge, but their roots are clipped so they become miniature,” he explained. “There are a lot of bonsai Christians, bonsai marriages and bonsai families. It’s the storms that bring about the strength to stand.”
“Without struggle, without storms, without adversity, we will not stand. Our attitude is what will determine whether we reach those acres of diamonds.”
To those discouraged by their life circumstances — whether it’s ministry, work, or marriage difficulties — Franklin offered a word of advice: Don’t give up; the best is yet to come.
“It’s not about us just getting to the place of success and dream, it’s about surrendering to the process,” he stressed. “If your dream has been torn and tattered, if your marriage has been torn, God has a way of making it more valuable after you go through the tattered and torn place. That’s the truth in marriage, family and other areas. Put your tattered dreams in God’s hands, because He can restore them.”
“Life is full of hardships,” he added, “but we must be willing to trust God to give birth to diamonds in our lives.”
Acres of Diamonds: Discovering God's Best Right Where You Are is available now at Chosen Books (Baker Publishing Group) and everywhere books are sold.