LAKE FOREST, Calif. – Texas megachurch pastor Matt Carter told the crowd at the Radicalis Conference on Tuesday to "never trust a man of God that doesn't walk with a limp."
"I want to share with you today how I got my limp… when my wrestling match with God started," said Carter, who gave a message about absolute surrender.
Basing his message on Genesis 32, Carter noted that when Jacob wrestled with God in order to reconcile with Esau, his name changed to Israel and he suffered a permanent limp.
Carter confessed that looking back on his life there were some things that he did not surrender to God even though he was walking with the Lord.
Pornography and gluttony were amongst the things Carter had struggled with. Consequently, he was overweight and watched pornography one or two days a year. Each time, Carter said, he would hear a voice telling him, "this is not who you [were] created to be."
But in 2005, Carter began his personal metaphorical wrestling with God.
After having his appendix removed, Carter said that doctors found a rare malignant tumor near his appendix. They were not sure whether his lymph nodes were affected, but knew the cancer had spread outside of his appendix. Only a series of tests would confirm whether Carter would live.
"I fell on the ground. The first thing out of my mouth was 'God, I need you to speak to me… I don't understand,'" shared Carter.
He turned to his Bible for comfort but found no such thing after reading a few passages.
But then he came across Jeremiah 2:13: "My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water."
Another verse he read was Jeremiah 2:5: "What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves."
Carter recalled, "In that moment, I realized that the Lord was trying to change me…that the Lord was disciplining me."
He continued by telling the audience to remember their identity as sons and daughters of God, and that "God disciplines those He loves" and "He disciplines us for our good so that we might share in His holiness."
"All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful but sorrowful, but to those who have been trained by it afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness," the Texas pastor said. "The reason that you've gotten this far in your faith is because God is behind you, making sure you're getting there, disciplining you as you go."
Carter then listed three things he learned from his ordeal: surrender when God asks for surrender; live with a holy urgency; and trust in God.
Later, the 31-year-old pastor recounted an experience he had dining with Minnesota pastor John Piper. All throughout the evening, Carter recalled, Piper did not smile. Piper then asked Carter how he felt about living with cancer.
"Cancer might be one of the best things that happened to me as far as my walk with Jesus," Carter had replied.
Finally Piper smiled and said, "Suffering is a beautiful hermeneutic."
To which Carter responded, "Absolutely," not knowing what Piper meant at the time. He later learned that Piper himself had been diagnosed with cancer.
As he underwent testing for cancer, Carter came upon an epiphany. "When Jesus was on the cross, he was trusting God," he shared. "For Jesus, to trust God in that moment meant that he had to stay on the cross, not get off the cross."
He felt that the Holy Spirit was speaking to him and telling him to trust in God even if it means to not get off the cross.
"I went back to the office, got on my knees, and this was my prayer. 'Lord, if you want to take my life, for your glory, I trust you,'" he recalled praying in surrender.
Three days later, and much to his relief, Carter tested negative for cancer. But the trial allowed him to learn a valuable lesson.
"The point was not that God will cure you if you're obedient," he maintained. "The point is that God is going to complete the good work [in you]."
Referring to the conference theme, Carter said he learned to surrender in order to truly say "yes" to God. Only then, he added, was he able to live radically and with a holy urgency for Christ.
Carter concluded with a call to prayer amongst conference participants.
"God, I'm yours. In your strength, in your power, I don't know how, I just want to give all of me for your glory," he prayed.
Matt Carter is currently the senior pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church, which has 6,000 people in attendance every Sunday. He helped create For the City network, which spreads the gospel through community outreach. He is also co-author for the upcoming book For the City.