by Seth Williams
June 26, 2014
"The most important thing that can happen under my roof on any given day is for dad to spend time alone with God."
I first saw Steven when he was playing music at Crossroads in Cincinnati one weekend years ago. Then, about five years ago, my wife, Kelly, and I took a class at Crossroads that was led by Steven. He is one of the most gifted spiritual teachers I've ever been around and I am so thankful for the ways his teaching has helped to grow my faith and intimacy with God. Kelly and I are currently taking another class led by Steven at the same church. Steven is incredibly honest and raw and his love and passion for Jesus is evident in the way he lives his life and leads his wife and daughters. I have experienced so much freedom in my life due to Steven's willingness to challenge and lead others through his genuine vulnerability. He is a man who deeply desires for everyone to experience the great love and grace that can only come from Jesus. His story will nudge your heart closer to God. Steven lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Dora, and their two daughters, Joy and Ada.
What's your favorite album of all time?
That is not a simple question. Let's go with Sting's Nothing Like the Sun.
What's your favorite film of all time?
My normal answer to that question is Bottle Rocket, which is Wes Anderson's first movie. There's a little Texas connection to it. He made it in Dallas, outside of Waco. Me and a group of buddies had a great affinity to the language and the style and the whole feel of things. It was kind of perfect for us at the time. I've become a big Wes Anderson fan.
I'm a big Royal Tenenbaums fan.
Yeah, in that one, it felt like he had successfully communicated Wes Anderson-ness. And I'm a huge fan of Gene Hackman. I loved it.
I know you're a big basketball fan, so how are things looking for your Dallas Mavericks next season?
Well, I'm really excited. Have you heard about this trade that just happened?
Yeah, Tyson Chandler. Is that right?
Yeah, it was a little concerning because they had to give up Jose Calderon to get him. But I can see how having Chandler and Nowitski as the big guys in their lineup will help them land guards, specifically small forwards. What the move tells me is that they're not going to stay pat and hope that they develop something over the next four years. They're moving right now. And they want to get one of these guys that's available this year and/or one of these guys that's available next year. So that's kind of exciting. I'm a Texas Aggie, so this last year, just to be on the national map because of Johnny Manziel, fine, great. We're getting talked about, we're in the mix somewhere. That's how I feel about the Mavs. Just to be mixing it up is great. We don't have to win the conference every year. Just to feel like they're doing something is exciting enough.
What's the most important part of your life?
I believe the most important part of my life would be my spiritual health and I think that has knock-on effects to everything else. And getting even more specific than that, I think the most important part of that is my maintenance of my relationship with God. I think that is the most important part of my spiritual life and I think my spiritual life is the most important aspect of my effectiveness, what I have to give other people, the way I am with others, my priorities and the decisions I make. So that's what I think is the most important part.
How does your faith in Jesus define who you are?
Every other identity that you want to clothe yourself with is ultimately a false one because it's not permanent and it's not dependable. And so, one of those outfits that I tried on for years was being a musician and it's a very easy identity to take because it's public and because people are interested in it and it makes you seem like you have something special. But unless you're the Rolling Stones, that identity just doesn't have any legs to it. It can't sustain me into old age. It can't tell my family what to do. It's certainly not there for me when I'm not popular or I do something stupid or make any number of bad decisions. So I think I've sorted that process a little bit and realized that the only unmoving center from which an identity can spring is God and His opinion about me. And so I think the basis of my identity must always be in my sonship in Him, and that's something that I try to practice so when people ask me who I am in that sort of cocktail party way that the first thing I say is, "well, I guess the first think you should know about me is that I feel like I'm a son of God and that He tells me who I am and I have a really sound relationship with Him." I think that identity part is huge and if that's wrong, everything else is a mess. That's what I think.
An incredibly powerful story that I've heard you tell before is about you and your wife's challenging journey with getting pregnant. And I would love, if you're open to sharing, to hear how that challenged, grew, and strengthened your faith.
Well, I think the first thing I'd say about this story is that it was not the first challenging thing that I went through with God where my faith could have been threatened. That's really important to know based on how I'm going to describe how I reacted to it because I didn't just drop out of the sky and have this minor trauma in my life. I've been trying to walk with God for decades now and we started getting people talking to us about children right about when we first got married, and at that point, my wife didn't want any kids at all, and was very uncertain about the whole thing. Then we started trying to have children and time went by, years went by, and we weren't having children. So at some point you realize, oh, this is a trial. And once I realized that, something kicked in that has been developed over time. It's a resolve that comes, I think, as a result of God's grace at work in my life. And my resolve was that I told my wife, "I feel like God has made these promises to us about children that we didn't ask to be made, but they were made." And that being the case, God attaches His name to His promises. His making a promise is the same thing as that thing happening. It is a reality. If God makes a promise, it is a reality. It's done. And we hadn't been through this exact thing before, but I had been through similar trials with God. And I said to my wife, "I think of Abraham, and he was eighty-five, I believe, when God told him he was going to have a son, and he thought that was ridiculous. And if we have to wait till we're eighty-five till we see children, I don't care. God's just right. He's going to do what He's going to do. And we'll make it." So it was right at about five years after we started trying for children that we actually got pregnant. So to answer your question, what did that do to try my faith? Honestly I didn't really feel like my faith was threatened by the circumstance. I know that my faith was on the line and was challenged, but I felt for both of us, oh gosh, we're going to make this. I don't know how long this is going to take and maybe our endurance will prove faulty or we'll get tired out of waiting or something, but I think we can do this. And having come out of it, and now having two children, I'd say that my faith is much stronger having been through that. I mean, that is going to be one of the family legends that endures for generations, I hope. It's certainly something that our whole community knows. We remember it to each other all the time. And we're trying for our third now, and we haven't gotten instantly pregnant, but it's funny, all these promises that I'm referring to that we heard back ten years ago, all of them were about a son. And we now have two girls. So we know that a boy is coming, and I can say that we are not freaking out. We just know that it's going to come at some point. And kind of on another subject, that's the real value in what God does with Israel all the time is that He constantly reminds them what He's done in the past. And He's constantly saying, "Now remember, I brought you through the Red Sea." And they'll go, "Yeah, yeah you did." And then He makes a promise, and they go, "Yeah, that's right, you're our faithful God. We can trust you." And so we really want to curate our backlog of family stories of what God's done for us, so that it's easier for us to trust Him going forward. I think that's the way God plans it, is that we start to get reps under our belt of small ways that He's faithful to us and then He starts taking bigger chunks and then at some point we just believe Him. And He doesn't have to prove Himself any more. So it's really easy for me to see in my life Him having taken those very specific steps to develop my faith now and sometimes I think about how you hear about people struggling with their faith and I wonder at God how He has developed my faith with Him so carefully and specifically. And I am not asking for trouble when I say this, but I am amazed by it, that I observe myself and think, I can't imagine a scenario at this point where I doubt Him. I can't conceive of a situation that would make me not follow Him or turn my back on Him. I'm so far gone. He's proven Himself to me so many times and I'm delighted by that. There's such a freedom in that. And I didn't do it. I want to make that clear. I didn't develop this in myself. I'm sure that I agreed with the process that He took me through, but He's done it again over decades, and I'm so glad.
I've heard you play music before and I think you're a really gifted musician, so I wanted to ask you if you've been writing any music lately.
Not very purposefully. I'll be worshiping and I can't think of a song that expresses what I want to say, and so I'll just sing in the shower or when I'm alone. So sometimes I think, well, that's kind of a unique thought, and I'll grab something and write it down. But no, I'm not sitting down trying to write presently.
Does having two little girls inspire you creatively in any new ways?
Well, God bless you and everyone like you, but the answer is no (laughs). You always hear about these people writing songs for their kids. Jason Upton is a worship leader I listen to and he always talks about, "Boy, I really understood him speaking for the first time and I know God's grace for me." So I expected great revelations and inspirations, like oh, I'll be writing songs about my baby girl all the time. No, none of that stuff. I think the one offshoot is that I feel that most musicians, and most artists, know that while they're bringing beauty to the world, don't feel like they're bringing a lot of utility to the world. Rich Mullins used to talk about how he was happy to make music because he knew that it was so unnecessary. With little children around, I see the usefulness and utility in music and so whether it was playing music for my little infant daughter or playing with them now when they can participate and join in, music feels a lot less selfish or about posing or whatever. It just feels very useful. I'm glad to have that tool in my home because I think it helps create bonding. Having kids has helped me get off of an artistic high horse.
If you could go back in time and have a chat with your teenage self, what would you say to him?
I would say the sooner you can die to all of your plans and ambitions, the better, because those are one of the conditions of being a disciple of Jesus and really following Him. But it's very tricky. Even what I just said can be misleading. It's a very tricky thing to know, "Well, has God put this in my heart, and faithfulness is to go execute these things, or is this something that I want to do and that I need to lay down. I would certainly talk to my teenage self about grace and judgment. I look back at my teenage self and see that I was trying so hard to be a good kid and to honor God. I just had that religious, knee-jerk reaction of condemning anybody that wasn't trying as hard as I was. And that attitude is based on ignorance and I could have maybe saved myself some pain or wasted time by spending a little more time understanding grace earlier on. That's probably the main thing that I would want to impress on myself.
And I know you work at Crossroads as well as having your own event-planning business. How do you see your faith play out in the work you do?
Well, it's really fortunate the work we do, because we're in the communications and messaging business. Companies want us to come in and work with them on a project or event or training module or something, and they want us to turn that into a message that will communicate with people. I find that it's so easy to inject the influence that we're giving with God's truth and with gospel truth and to be able to find avenues for something like, "Well of course we want to be people of integrity, right? We're always going to do something with integrity because honesty is always the best way to go and we're going to be people who follow through and have faithfulness or whatever," and they'll go, "Oh, sure, sure, sure." Whether we're hyping love or the power of ancient stories or the connection between people and how serving people is the best way to meet the real them, whatever it is, I always find that if I can influence the ten biggest companies in my city to be preaching God's word, whether they know it or not, I feel like we can have a huge impact there. And that's the work. That doesn't even include all the personal relationships we have with people. It's funny how many people will affirm the way we do business, the kind of people we are or whatever, and we're thinking to ourselves, the way we are is not unusual in the circle that we run in. To be joyful and patient, forgiving and hopeful, encouraging and loving, that's pretty run of the mill for people that we see all the time. But you get in these corporate scenarios and they're like, "You're such a breath of fresh air." And so I love it, being out there and mixing it up, and the opportunities that come because of that.
What's your greatest fear as a father?
I would say it this way. I think the greatest possibility that I want to actively fight against or prevent from happening is that my children would be blasé about God. Because I understand my job description being to raise my children in the fear and admonition of God. And so, if they were so familiar with God-talk that they were casual about Him and didn't fear him and thought obedience was an option, that would be a failure that you couldn't overcome as a father. So I would say that's the thing that I want to fight against the most, and on that note, I know that I am constantly tutoring my children about how to interact with God. The way that I'm teaching them how to do that is how I'm training them to interact with me. And so, to use some buzz words, I have to be comfortable and zealous to balance invitation and challenge both with them, and I have to be willing to oppose them; I have to be willing to demonstrate to them in painful ways, i.e. spanking and etcetera, that my word, when I speak to them and give them a command, is the most important thing in their life at that moment. And I take very seriously the responsibility to shape their world view. What I want to fight against, again, is them being presumptuous toward God because they have a familiarity and treat Him and His words with anything other than Holy fear. So that's a ball I'm keeping my eye on.
What's your greatest dream as a father?
That I would have a family line, starting with me going forward, and what the record would show is that I am the least anointed in that line; that I have the least intimacy with God; that I have the least fruitfulness from my life; and I am the one who wasted the most time with my life. I simply want to serve my subsequent generation's greatness in the kingdom of God. That's what I want.
What do you feel challenges your faith most in life?
I think it's some version of phariseeism. I think I would just say familiarity. That because I've been at this a long time I know a lot of information and that I can predict what it'll be like if I spend time with God today. It can produce apathy and laziness.
How do you find time to spend with God? What does that look like for you?
Well the best thing for me to do is to get my butt into bed at night, and if I do that, I can get up in the mornings. And it has to be quite early, because it's always a roll of the dice when my kids are going to wake up. And that's far and away the best because the cares of my life have not yet been visited when I first wake up. Now, if that gets interrupted, I have an advantage over lots of people in that my time is my own pretty much. For the large part, I create my own schedule. I work when I want. And so I can take a half hour or hour pretty much any day and make that time up. But that's still not the best time because people have access to me, an emergency could arise, something could cross my mind, or oh, I just need to do that right now or send an email right now. What I think I'm growing in at this stage in my life, with toddlers, etcetera, and these great impositions into my time and how I don't run my own life, is discipline. I think God has set up life and the process of marriage and child-bearing to force out of us our youthful selfishness that says, when the kids get in bed, now I need two hours of me time. I need to watch my shows. I need to read a magazine. I need to do my thing. I just think His plan is to squeeze that out of us, and I confess it's still fighting and kicking strong in me. But what I think these demands on our time require is greater discipline and a death to this idea that I have to have my fun. And I've had a lot of fun. I'm good on fun. The statement I make is, the most important thing that can happen under my roof on any given day is for dad to spend time alone with God. Period. And it's hard to live that out sometimes but I believe that's true.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your children?
Well, honestly, the first thing that jumps into my head when you ask that question is financial, as unspiritual as that sounds. I want to build a family that will never be removed from the earth. And in all things, not just financially, I want to create a freedom for my descendants so they don't have to jump through the same hoops that I jumped through and start from zero. For instance, I learned about the laying on of hands and how to pray for healing when I was probably thirty years old. Well, that's ridiculous. My four year old should know how to lay hands on people and pray for them. And in that way, she's going to go farther in her hundred years on earth than I was able to go with my hundred years. And there ought to be a snowball effect in the family spiritually, and I want the same thing to happen financially so that there's freedom for generations to come. I don't want my descendants to have to think about rent the way I have had to. I want them to be thinking about bigger-picture problems. I want them to be people that change the course of cities, states, and nations. I always think of the Kennedys. When I was in college I was learning how to balance a checkbook. And when they were in college, they were learning how to do mergers and acquisitions, and they were thinking about global politics because that was the level that that family operated on. And I don't want to make it sound like I need to have world leaders in my family tree, but I want them to have freedom. I don't want them to have to reinvent the wheel every generation. So that's the legacy I want to leave. I think my responsibility is to try to faithfully pass on everything that has been developed in me over my lifetime, and make sure that those things are preserved and passed on. I don't know when this will happen. It could happen in the next couple of years or it could happen when I'm in my eighties, but I expect that at some point I'm going to do something like write a book to try to capture the way that I dream and pray about this family, who I am, what's happened in my life, capture some of these legacy stories, and try to preserve those things for subsequent generations. That's the legacy I want. That nothing would be lost. That's what Jesus said when He fed the five thousand and they started gathering up the extra buckets. He said, "Let nothing be wasted." And I don't want anything to be wasted. That's all.
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