Jeff Norris: Rooted
About the Guest
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Jeff NorrisJeff Norris is the senior pastor of Perimeter Church in Johns Creek, GA. Jeff graduated from Metro Atlanta Seminary and was previously on staff with Cru as a college campus minister for thirteen years. He is married to Rachel and is father to Samuel, Ellie Kate, Abby, and Annie. jeffnorris.org
Does leaning on God feel like more duty than delight? Author Jeff Norris offers habits for a lagging heart to find an undeniable, indispensable rootedness.
Jeff Norris: Rooted
Dave: Alright, if you think of a moment in your life—or even in our life—
Dave: —where you felt like, “I absolutely can’t do this if God doesn’t show up.”
Ann: Oh, so many—
Dave: What’s the first one?
Ann: The first one that comes to my mind is the first one—
Dave: Marrying me; I know that. [Laughter]
Ann: Yes, I should have thought, marrying you.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
It was the first time I was speaking at a Weekend to Remember® marriage conference—
Dave: That was 30-plus years; yes.
Ann: —and I was 29 years old—29. There were a thousand people in this ballroom; and I thought, “I have no business being up there. I have nothing to say apart from You, Jesus.” I was in the shower that morning, on my stomach/on my face, begging God that He would use me.
The second thing that comes to my mind is when we came in to do radio—[emotion in voice] it makes me teary, thinking about it —because it was, again, that feeling, like, “Lord, we can’t do this apart from Your grace/apart from Your Holy Spirit. This is above our pay grade, and our abilities, and our giftedness.” We got on our knees in the studio and said that: “Lord, we can’t/we can only do this, empowered by Your Spirit.”
What were you thinking?
Dave: I mean, I don’t want to make this about us—but there were a thousand moments—but that last one was one of the first ones I thought of: “How are we going to fill Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine’s shoes in a ministry they built over three decades that God blessed? We have no right; we have not the gifts.”
Ann: And we were so afraid: “We’re going to wreck it!” “We could wreck it!”
Dave: Yes; “We are going to ruin something that is great.” We got on our face, right there in the dark—there was nobody there in the studio yet—and we asked God for that.
The reason we brought that up is because we’ve got Jeff Norris in the studio with us today, who—Jeff, welcome to FamilyLife—you’ve never been to FamilyLife Today; have you?
Jeff: No; first time.
Dave: First time.
Jeff: And I love it.
Dave: First impressions?
Jeff: Just awesome.
Jeff: Yes, everything from—
Dave: What else are you going to say? You’re on air right now. [Laughter]
Jeff: —well, but I mean it—gosh, the studio, the hospitality, you guys.
Ann: And you’ve been friends—oh, you’re so nice—you’ve been friends with our president, David Robbins, for how many years?
Jeff: Oh, let’s see: David and I go back 20 years, I guess; yes.
Dave: If you go back 20 years, can you give us something?—something on David?—a little dirt? [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, some dirt/like a little dirt?
Jeff: Oh, man!
Dave: Not dirt; but you know, like something nobody would know about this guy?
Jeff: Well, I don’t know that I can do that on the air. [Laughter]
Dave: Will you tell us later?
Jeff: Yes; yes.
Ann: Did you ever see him dance?
Jeff: Oh, I can’t count how many times.
Dave: He can dance!
Jeff: Have you not seen him dance?
Dave: Well, hopefully, our listeners will get to know that side of our president; you know?—David Robbins, the dancer.
Dave: And Meg, actually, as well.
But you’re not here to talk about that. You’re here to talk about a book you wrote called Rooted, which is subtitled A Lifestyle of Radical Dependence—
Jeff: Yes, yes.
Dave: —great book. As I was reading it—and you start, right at the beginning, where we were talking about this moment, where you were like, “I cannot do this,”—tell us about that.
Jeff: Yes; so as you guys were just talking, it resonated with me so much—even/again, what you were all saying just about stepping into this role/stepping into the shoes of Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine—and feeling that so deeply in my own experience.
A guy named Randy Pope is who planted a church called Perimeter Church in 1977; he led it for 42 years. God used him; he is just incredibly humble. The church grew significantly, but he is probably the farthest thing I could imagine from a celebrity pastor. It’s never been about him; it’s always been about the kingdom. In so many ways, words really fail me to express what I think of him: how much I admire him, what a mentor he has been to me.
Dave: Now, he has mentored you since college; right?—
Jeff: —since college.
Dave: —since you were in college?
Jeff: Yes; many, many years.
Back up six years, and he invites me to come be on the staff at Perimeter Church as one of the assistant pastors. I had been on staff with Cru® for 13 years at that point. After Rachel, my wife, and I prayed a lot, we felt like, “Yes, this is what the Lord is saying, ‘Yes,’ to.” We made the move; and fall of 2019, I’m taking over as senior pastor, following in his footsteps.
That was the most poignant, the most significant, the most just overwhelming moment of: “Lord, I have to be radically dependent upon You.” That was the phrase that came to my mind: “I have to be radically dependent upon You if I’m going to do this/if You are going to do this through me.”
It’s not an optional thing; it’s what He’s called us to. Yet, it’s one of the hardest things to do; because we just so easily default into our own ability, our own power, our individualistic mindset that we have so deeply in the West.
Ann: I think we just want to be safe; you know?
Jeff: Yes, yes.
Ann: “I just want to be safe,” “I want to be happy.” That part of—to be radically dependent upon Him—requires jumping out of the boat, and that is a scary place for us to be.
As I’m thinking about that, is it a necessary place for us to be; do you think?
Jeff: As I’ve shared this with others—in even thinking about that word, “radical”; I didn’t love that word; it’s just been used so much—it’s/I wrestled with: “Do we even name it that? Do I name the series”—when I taught it—"that?”
Dave: Yes; like it’s lost its meaning.
Jeff: It’s been overused; so with it, lessening in the meaning of it. But I kept coming back to it; because I think that is the word that we need, because it pushes us toward something that is so very uncomfortable.
Dave: So that’s how you would define it? How would you define it?
Jeff: Yes; well, the irony of it is—what we are saying is radical is actually normal in the kingdom of God—but the title, Normal Dependency, doesn’t catch the same as Radical Dependency; right?—but that’s it. What we say: “Oh, man, that is radical dependence,”—you read the pages of Scripture, and you go—“No, that is what God calls you to; that’s normal dependence in His economy and His kingdom.”
But because of our sin nature, because of our struggles, because of our doubts/our fears, and because of our sin, we feel as though: “Wow! That’s radical.” Radical would be: “Okay, I’m going to walk in what God has called me to walk in,”—in the way of self-sacrifice/dying to self. You know, when Jesus said, “If you want to follow Me, you must take up your cross daily, deny yourself, follow Me.” What does He mean by that? Does He mean what I think He means? On one hand, it’s just that simple: you die to self. But on the other side of the coin, it’s: “Wow, there is a lot to that, that I’m not sure I want to sign up for.” Jesus didn’t mix any words as it came to what it meant to follow Him—you have to count the cost of discipleship—so being rooted in discipleship, it’s also anchored in self-sacrifice.
But there is a beautiful—I think/I try to paint a picture of a beautiful dependence that is, not only vertical, of a vertical dependence upon the Lord, first and foremost—but a horizontal dependence on each other—that we are not going to radically depend upon the Lord unless we have that body of Christ surrounding us, and we’re doing life deeply together, helping each other be dependent upon the Lord and leading each other to the cross.
There are so many things I walk through in the book about:
- “Well, this means that we are, not just thankful, but radically thankful,”
- “We are, not just people who pray, but we radically pray in the sense of prayer is the ultimate expression of dependency.”
It’s not to be a statement of condemnation—“Well, I don’t pray much; so I guess I’m not dependent,”—but more of motivation: “Okay, well, if I want to be dependent/if that is what God has called me to—that His power is made perfect in my weakness—then weakness is an advantage; and therefore, prayer is what I long to be true of me more and more.” I want to pray, not out of guilt, but out of desire and longing in that even pursuit of dependence.
Dave: It’s interesting—even as I hear you say weakness is almost an advantage, because it forces us to be dependent—everything in my human DNA is like, “No, no, no; we hate weakness. We like strength; we celebrate strength.” Yet, you are exactly right—it’s all through Scripture—the only way we are going to even need to be dependent is we’ve got to be weak.
Jeff: Well, just even talking with you before/earlier today, we were getting to know each other just a little bit today. I’m already picking up on your story—football, athletics—that was my background as well. Man, what are you taught?—"You can’t be weak.
Dave: Yes; no way!
Jeff: “You never show weakness”;—
Dave: You’ll be on the bench.
Jeff: Yes; and there is so much that’s just pressed deep into our DNA through—not only what we are born into, with our self-sufficiency of who we are spiritually—we are self-sufficient; we are independent—I mean, that is Adam and Eve.
Ann: Well, none of us want to be needy.
Jeff: Right; right. So we inherit that nature from Adam and Eve. We have that—what I call, Adamic residue—in us, of: “I’ve got this. I’ll pursue my own glory and my own story. I see what You’ve got for me, God, but I want something better.” We have that within us anyway—but then there are these things, culturally—whether it be football/whether it be anything in life that produces and values and glorifies that: “Man, I can’t show weakness.”
Now, here is the interesting piece; alright? I’m a—and I don’t want us to get off on a rabbit trail here, but I think it matters—I’m Gen X. For however many years—over a decade—I invested in Millennials. Now, I have kids, who are Gen Z; I have teenagers in my home. Well, what’s become incredibly attractive to Millennials, and then even more to Gen Z, is vulnerability/—
Dave: I knew you were going to say it.
Jeff: —weakness/weakness: “Talk about your weaknesses.”
Ann: “Show me,” “Tell me.”
Jeff: For me, Gen X, I’m like, “Okay, I kind of get that.” I’m an in-betweener; right? Boomers—I probably am way more vulnerable than they want to be—but the point is, now, we are dealing with younger people, who say: “Yes, be vulnerable,” “Yes, show weakness”; but to what end? That’s the question I ask younger people: “Why?” I love it—“Be vulnerable,” “Please be vulnerable,” “Please be weak so that”—what?—the answer to that, from a biblical kingdom mindset, is so that we can fall into the strength and the power of Christ.
It’s not just vulnerability for the sake of vulnerability. It’s not just weakness for the sake of weakness. It’s not just—“Hey, I can’t get it together; so I’m going to wallow in my weakness and sin,”—but it’s so that we fall into the strong arms of Christ so that He is the One who is powerful through us.
Dave: Yes; you know, it is interesting—you know this as well as anybody, as a pastor of a church—you set the vision, and the mission, and core values; right?
Dave: I’m a founding pastor, 30-some years ago. When we were writing a core value around this very one—Ann probably doesn’t even know; she wasn’t in that meeting—as we were debating: “How do we—words matter, and words have power—so we’ve got to say this right.” I’m not kidding; this is how the conversation went: Somebody said, “We’ve got to talk about this weakness thing that points to the strength of Christ.”
Okay, so we write—here is what we wrote: “We want to be a church, where we recognize and reveal our weaknesses,”—everybody was like: “Yes, that’s really good; because so many places pretend, and they only put up the things—so not only are we going to reveal it—you’ve got to recognize it in yourself: ‘I am a sinner,’—and then we are not going to hide that; we are going to reveal that.” They are like: “Done!”
I’m like—I’m not kidding; I’m not like patting myself on the back—I was like the guy: “Wait, wait, wait. It’s not done.” [They respond] “No, no, no, that’s really good.” I go—just what you just said; I didn’t use your words—but: “To what end?” I’m like, “That’s only half the story.
Jeff: Right; right; yes.
Dave: “Why are we going to recognize and reveal our weakness?”
Here is what it ended up being: “We recognize and reveal our weakness to point to the power of God”; because it’s got to be both. I mean, even Gen Z would tell you: “Yes, I don’t want the end of the story to be: ‘I’m weak, and I can’t do anything.’ I want it to be: ‘Yes, but is there victory?’” Yes, there is victory—it’s not in me—it’s in Christ, who lives in me,”; right?
Jeff: Right; right.
Dave: As I read through your book, I’m like, “That’s what Rooted means: that I’m rooted in radical dependence, and that dependence forces me to glorify and have power that I don’t have but that He has.”
Here I am, trying to tell you what your book is about. [Laughter]
Jeff: Yes—no, no—but you are right.
Dave: That’s it; right?
Jeff: I love it; keep going; yes!
Jeff: Because it is radical dependence in—[whom]?—right? Because it’s we are dependent on what—oh, it’s Jesus/it’s Him—it’s His strength; It’s His power; It’s the Holy Spirit within us.
It’s/we can be dependent upon all kinds of things—this gets back into the classic idolatry—and I talk about idolatry in the book. But there are all kinds of things we can be dependent on, and there are all kinds of things that our weaknesses can lead us to in dependence. So how we finish that sentence: “Radical dependence on what or [whom]?”—and fill in that blank. What’s going to fill the blank makes all the difference in the world.
Dave: Yes; and I want to hear your thoughts on this, because you are leading us somewhere that we’ve got to answer. For some reason, this came to my mind—my youngest son is in ministry—he was preaching with me at my church for seven years; and there would be moments, where you are sitting there, you are like, “Oh, my goodness; he just said something profound!” It’s like, “That’s my kid?! Really?—that came out of him?” I’ll never forget—Cody said one day in a sermon—he said, “If Jesus is enough, I don’t know Him enough for Him to be enough”; in other words, “I’ve got to know Him better.”
You were just talking about radical dependence on Jesus. I think, often, we get stuck because we don’t know Him well enough for Him to be everything. Explain that.
Jeff: Well, I want to be careful to say, “Man, we are all on this journey”; right? I feel that, often, what Cody said. There are days where—more days than not—where I feel that: “Man, I was dependent on so many things other than Jesus today.” That’s the beauty of a daily walk with Christ of repentance and faith—and His grace covering us every day—and not presuming upon His kindness, but also knowing that His kindness leads to repentance—and being able to just be honest about that and keep coming back to the strong arms of Christ.
Yes, I think back—when you say that, I think, “Okay”—the very first thing that popped into my mind is—I started walking with the Lord in college, through the ministry of Cru; and fairly early on, someone handed me the book, Knowing God, by J.I. Packer. Back then—I’m still this way a little bit—but back then, I was not a reader; so I think I read like the first two or three chapters, but what I read really changed me.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jeff Norris on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear what it was in the little he read that changed him.
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Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann with Jeff Norris and the important difference between knowing about and knowing.
Jeff: I’ll never forget reading, at the very beginning of that book, where he talks about the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. I think, when we talk about dependence, we have to be very careful; because we can know how to talk about dependence upon the Lord versus being dependent upon Him—but even then—okay, what does that mean? What does it mean to be dependent upon the Lord? It starts, in my opinion, and in my own experience, with creating habits that often outpace my heart. What I mean by that is this: I’ve never been a person, who is just naturally prone to spiritual disciplines.
Ann: And you are a pastor?!
Jeff: And I’m a pastor!
Ann: What is happening?!
Jeff: I know; I know. And I’m following a guy—Randy Pope is one of the most disciplined people I’ve ever known—ever. If he puts his mind to it, he does it. So again, I am walking into those shoes, thinking, “My goodness! Who am I?”
But what I’ve learned over the years is that I kept waiting—one of my tendencies is I want my heart to be in it—and we wait to be dependent until our heart is in it. Does that make sense?
So what I am getting at is this: I failed for so long to have good habits/good disciplines because I thought, “My heart is not there.” So I just wouldn’t pray a whole lot because “I want my heart to be genuine.” I didn’t read the Word a whole lot, at certain times in my walk with the Lord, because: “Well, I just feel like I’m doing it out of duty; I want it to be delight.” Of course: “Yes, please, God, make it delightful,” “Yes, Lord, I want it to be because I so desire it,”—but human reality—our life in the battle against sin and darkness in this world is that there are so many mornings, where that is not there. So what do we do?
Well, a lot of times, dependence flows out of the habits that we create; and then our heart catches up. In the book, I call it “The Lagging Heart Syndrome”—or something like that—but I find my heart lagging a lot of times; so I fail to depend upon the Lord, because my heart is not in it. I feel like God has shown me, over the years: “Okay, if I can create habits, those habits oftentimes will outpace my heart; but my heart will catch up.” As my heart catches up, then I find myself very naturally living out a faith lifestyle that is very dependent upon the Lord.
Now, the habits aren’t the focus—Jesus is the focus—but how are we taking those steps to say:
- “Okay, if I want to be dependent, I want to be in prayer; and so let’s pray,”
- “I need to be in the Word, so let’s get in the Word. Let’s get in the Word individually; let’s get in the Word corporately.”
Now, you guys have been around FamilyLife, Cru, church—
Dave: I thought you were saying we were old there.
Ann: He was; that was his like code word.
Jeff: No, no, no!
Dave: “You guys have been around.”
Jeff: I paused too long there; didn’t I? You guys have been around for a long time; yes.
Dave: —“long time.” [Laughter]
Jeff: But you’ve been around Cru, FamilyLife, church: I mean, these are things we’ve talked about for so long [in those places]. So much so that, again, the younger generation feels probably, at some level, that we’ve made it legalistic—we’ve made it about the quiet time—so I want to be careful with that.
But I also feel like it might be time, generationally-speaking, to come back around and push those things in again—just say, “You may not have liked how the older generation made it legalistic,”—if some were guilty of that; I’m sure we were—“But let’s just stop and think about: ‘What are the means of grace that God has given us that draw us into a deeper, dependent relationship upon Him?’” And it is those things: it is prayer; it’s the Word; it is the gathered body—it’s the means of grace; it is the disciplines—so those things help us to be more and more dependent.
Dave: It’s interesting—if you think about our generation or any generation; and especially, the younger generation—if there is one thing they do understand; it’s that: “If I want this body, that I don’t have right now, I’ve got to work for it.” Nutrition and exercise is at an all-time high, and they do understand—we all do—“If I don’t feel like working out—guess what?—I’m going to work out anyway; because I want that body, and my heart is going to follow.” Same thing—it’s just what you are saying—it’s no different spiritually.
Dave: I’ve always said: “It’s not the size of your faith that matters; it’s the size of your God.” But here is the thing: we don’t know who God is. How do we get to know God?—when you open His Word, and look at it—even when you don’t want to—you start to go, “Oh my goodness! I forgot this is who He is.” And that is the kind of God I’m going to be radically dependent upon because I see Him in all His glory. I forget when I’m not there—and I’m not reading and I’m not looking—but I read stories, and I’m like, “I forgot that is who He is! Why would I settle for anything but radically being dependent upon that God because I know who that God is?”
And He is so—the more we get to know Him—the more we see how big He is/how majestic He is. We end up, at least, in spirit—maybe, not literally/maybe, literally—on our faces, like Isaiah: “Woe is me. I am a man of unclean lips,” “I’m a people/I’m part of a people of unclean lips.” And that’s not just this beat-yourself-up-condemnation thing going on with Isaiah; it’s what happens when you are in the presence of God. You see your inability and His ability; and you go, “I want more of Him, not me.”
I mean, we all struggle with pride—all of us—it’s part of that Adamic nature. But if we have people, who are perpetually prideful in the church, then that gives me indication as to who has not been sitting in the presence of God. Because you show me a prideful Christian, and I’ll show you a Christian who is not sitting in the presence of God. Again, not making a condemning statement—I’ve seen that be true in my own life—right?—
Dave: Right; right.
Jeff: —of: “Man, when I am prideful—oh, there is a connection here—I haven’t been in the presence of God. I haven’t been sitting with Him.”
Dave: I mean, based on all we’ve talked about, I would think the next step for me and anyone else is: “Get in the presence of God immediately,—
Ann: —“even when you don’t feel like it.”
Dave: —"right now, today.”
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jeff Norris. His book is called Rooted: A Lifestyle of Radical Dependence. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com.
If you know anyone who needs to hear conversations just like this, tell them about this station; and you can share today’s specific conversation from wherever you get your podcasts. While you are there, a simple way you can help more families discover God’s plan for marriage and families is by leaving a rating and review for FamilyLife Today.
Tomorrow, we’ll be back with Jeff Norris to talk about how refocusing on Jesus can be the cornerstone to building your children’s faith; that’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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