“I was that pastor who wanted to do everything just right and solve every problem, answer every question, and developed insomnia, stressed out,” he explained. “My wife was depressed, clinically depressed. I was a mess. I couldn’t sleep at night. And that’s when I began to understand John 14 of the Holy Spirit as a friend and a comforter.” During the podcast, Lucado shared how his understanding of the Holy Spirit has deepened over the years.
When Lucado turned to alcohol at age 50 to deal with the pressures of ministry, he was secretive about his drinking. “I was the guy you see at the convenience store who buys the big can of beer, hides it in a sack, and presses it against his thigh so no one will see as he hurries out the door,” he wrote. “My store of choice was on the other side of the city lest I be seen. I’d sit in the car, pull the can out of the sack, and guzzle the liquid until it took the edge off the sharp demands of the day. That’s how ‘America’s Pastor’ was coping with his world gone crazy.”
Despite what was clearly unhealthy behavior, Lucado told God that he had “everything under control. The staff issues were manageable. The deadlines were manageable. The stress was manageable. The drinking was manageable.” He described his conversation with the Lord as a “divine wrestling match,” comparing it to the Old Testament account of when Jacob wrestled with God.
“The wrestling match lasted for the better part of an hour on a spring afternoon,” said Lucado. “God didn’t touch my hip, but he spoke to my heart. Really, Max? If you have everything together, if you have a lock on this issue, then why are you hiding in a parking lot, sipping a beer that you’ve concealed in a brown paper bag?”
Lucado noted that “Jacob” means “deceiver.” When Jacob wrestled with God, God touched his hip, disabling him, and he gave Jacob a new name: “Israel,” which means “God fights” or “God strives.” As God showed grace to Jacob, God also showed grace to Lucado.
“God extended it to me. Abundantly,” said the pastor. “I confessed my hypocrisy to our elders, and they did what good pastors do. They covered me with prayer and designed a plan to help me cope with demands. I admitted my struggle to the congregation and in doing so activated a dozen or so conversations with members who battled the same temptation.”
Tourists no longer show up at Oak Hills, and Lucado does have a beer now and then, but not in order to cope with life’s strains. “If anyone mentions the ‘America’s Pastor’ moniker,” he said, “an image comes to mind. The image of a weary, lonely preacher in a convenience store parking lot.”
“God met me there that day,” he concluded. “He gave me a new name as well. Not Israel. That one was already taken. But ‘forgiven.’ And I’m happy to wear it.”