Pastor Michael Phillips of the T.D. Jakes Foundation preached at Jakes’ Potter's House megachurch in Dallas to share his faith journey and why he turned away from God following the sudden loss of his father. Phillips told the audience that pain can often blind God’s creations.
As a boy growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, Phillips said during the Jan. 23 sermon that his father worked as a full-time pastor and a part-time truck driver. His father would often take him up to the top of his 18-wheeler for picnics and taught him to admire God’s creation, the vast universe and the “countless” stars in the sky.
Phillips’ father told him that if there ever came a time in his life where he felt stuck or as if he couldn’t make it through some ordeal, he should “look up.”
“He would tell me this because he would then say, ‘Because you don’t know that you have already been brought a mighty-long way,’” Phillips said. “When I was a little kid, I didn’t really understand that. I would just shake my head and nod.”
But by the time he was around 11 years old, he was on a trip to New York with his father. During this trip, he questioned what his father meant by “you have already been brought a mighty-long way.”
“And that’s when [my father] began to grin, and he said to me: ‘You have to understand that you’re moving right now, and you don’t even know it,’” Phillips said.
With a grin, Phillips recalled his father telling him that he was already moving because the Earth is spinning around its axis at a speed of 1,000 miles per hour.
Every 24 hours, his father said, the Earth makes a rotation around the sun. This means that when he lays his head down at night and wakes up the following day, the sun is up because the Earth’s spinning axis has already made a turn.
“I need somebody to understand in this room that God has already set things in motion to the point where it cannot be altered, it cannot be changed, it cannot be undone,” said Phillips, who works as the chief engagement and fulfillment officer at T.D. Jakes Foundation. “Not only are you moving at a fast velocity. … The sun’s going to be up in the morning.”
In a similar way to what his father once explained to him, Phillips shared that whatever might be making Christians feel stuck doesn’t have the power or gravitational pull to keep them where they are because “God has already set things in motion.”
“While you were up last night worrying about your bills and worrying about your baby girl and worrying about your husband and worrying about your house, you were moving, and [you] didn’t even realize it,” Phillips said earlier in the sermon. “While you were on your bended knees praying to God, talking to Him about a predicament, a problem or a situation, you were already moving, and you didn’t even realize it was taking place.”
“Incarcerated, yet you’re moving; in-debt, yet you’re moving; suffering anxiety, yet you’re moving; in pain, yet you’re moving, and you don’t even realize it,” he added.
Phillips remembers one time his father brought him into the bathroom and asked him to look into the mirror. His father said to him: “‘As marvelous and as [splendid] as the heavens and the earth are, it’s nothing compared to what you’re looking at.’”
“Let me say it for you in scriptural terms: ‘I am fearfully and I am wonderfully made.’ The Lord’ knit you together in your mother’s womb,’” Phillips said. “So when I see me, I’ve got to see Him. ... Every time I look in the mirror, yes, I’m looking at a miracle. But, I’m looking at the marvelous work of God.”
“We are His’ handiwork, His workmanship’ that was created to do good works. You’re looking at something incredible, but why don’t we see that?” Phillips added.
Phillips said that people tend to allow their pain to go undealt with, and the pain “blocks the precision of what God created.” The pastor warned that those people become blind to the notion that tomorrow can bring less pain.
Phillips understands the plight that people face with the pain of loss because his father died when he was 12 years old. In 1986, Phillip's father suffered a stroke and heart attack, causing him to slip into a coma. He died weeks later.
“My father suddenly, tragically, died. And my entire orientation of the Word of God was completely disrupted. Everything I thought about God changed,” he recalled.
“Every time I heard: ‘God was good,’ I was suspicious of His goodness. Every time someone say, ‘God is just,’ I was suspicious of His justice. Every time someone told me about a characteristic or attribute of God that He’s omnipotent, omniscient, that He’s all-powerful, all-knowing and all-seeing, I was suspicious about it because [my] father was gone,” Phillips recounted.
After his father’s death and funeral, Phillips remembers questioning God: “‘How could you do this to me?’”
“Pain entered into my life at this moment, and I could no longer see the stars. I could no longer see the skies. I could no longer see the reflection of His creation in the mirror. All I could see was pain,” he said.
“Obscured by the loss, obscured by the devastation, obscured by the tragedy, and I had no way to acknowledge that to anybody because I was too young. And so consequently, when tragedy goes unacknowledged, it also goes uninterrupted,” he added.
At his father’s funeral, the preacher quoted Job 1:21: “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.”
“When you experience a traumatic event, no one can acknowledge it and you don’t have a language for it. The traumatic things of life that come, the tragedies of life seemingly can’t be interrupted. And that’s what I was facing and that funeral. It was the biggest blow to my psyche — more than the death of my father,” Phillips recounted.
“And I said to myself: ‘If that’s the type of God He is, I don’t want nothing to do with that type of God. And I shut God out of my heart completely,” Phillips continued.
“I didn’t want to know Him. I didn’t want to feel Him. I didn’t want His presence in my life. Because of the loss that I suffered.”
Phillips said many people face losses in life that give them the “wrong” perception of who God really is.
When a loss happens, other losses often follow and leave people with unanswered questions, according to Phillips.
“You sit here living a quiet life of desperation knowing in your heart; ‘God, what about that? And God, why did that happen over there?’ And ultimately, what we are asking is: ‘What kind of God are you?’ What we are asking God is simple: ‘God, what type of God are you?’” Phillips explained.
Phillips said many believers have experienced they describe as the “goodness of God.”
“You know that He’ll ‘never leave you or forsake you.’ He will be with you ‘to the very end of the age,’” Phillips said.
“You know some things about God in hindsight, but I didn’t have that luxury. I had yet to have the experiences that I have at this very moment.”
Everyone suffers losses, Phillips said, but Christians should reflect on the positive attributes of God to garner a complete perception of who God is.
“I think we do ourselves a disservice, oftentimes, when we come to God with hindsight alone, without the complete and total perception and angle of what He’s trying to do,” he said.
Sometimes, Christians treat their pain with relationships or things outside of God because they might think God doesn’t have the answer. And Phillips said, if the pain goes undealt with, it cannot be transformed.
“It is human to block suffering and pain,” Phillips said. “[Nobody] wants that. … But hurt cannot be healed until it is heard. … Anger is easy to deal with more than sadness because anger allows me to omit my pain to somebody else and to project it somewhere else so that I don’t have to deal with it.”
“If you don’t transform you will always transmit, and the problem with that kind of transmission is it spreads quickly, faster than omicron,” he added.
Pain can be transferred generationally, according to Phillips.
“It doesn’t just stay with you. It goes through your DNA and confines your kin all the way down to the fourth generation, where they have a design team without an experience; where they have a fear for an experience they never even had,” he said. “Because your children were parented based upon your past situation.”
The pastor said that the enemy wants Christians to feel stuck. But God set each person in a day that never stops moving.
“As sure as you open your eyes up tomorrow, you’ve stepped into another term. When you woke up this morning, you didn’t realize that you woke up to another term. … That means you got another shot. That means you got another 24 hours,” he preached. “That means whatever happened yesterday is stuck in yesterday. God designed this thing so that pain had a barrier to not reach you in your tomorrow. But, it’s really up to you.”
There are some things that Christians cannot stop from happening, such as pain and the inevitable response: weeping.
“God set you in motion already. … To deal with the pain … you got to go into weeping mode,” Phillips said. “Baby, you got to cry that out. … Get all of that out of your system. If you don’t go through weeping mode, you’ll try to fix the situation and control the circumstance and rebuke the suffering.”
“You got to learn how to use what you’re going through as momentum to go to the next dimension,” he said as the crowd burst into applause.