Interview with Denise Lee Yohn from Modern Witnesses

Today, Denise speaks to us about a book that was like living water, belonging and ambition. Thank you for your vulnerability and the wisdom you shared, Denise.

Tell us a bit about how you grew up and your childhood: I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. Although my family participated in a vibrant Chinese American community there, I was one of very few Asian Americans in my school, and I experienced discrimination and exclusion.  As a result, I worked very hard to fit in and earn people’s respect and affection. It was only after college, when I became a Christian, that I discovered my identity as a beloved child of God — but even then, I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. To this day, I’m continuing in my journey of learning to derive my sense of worth and belonging from God and not from other people.

Spiritual growth focus at the moment: I’m learning to be open to God and to others. For the longest time, my idol of approval and my need to control the way I am perceived kept me from being authentic and transparent in my relationships. I wouldn’t want to admit when I needed help or was struggling with something. This translated into my relationship with God, in that I wouldn’t allow the Holy Spirit to work on my emotions below the surface. I got really good at stuffing down my emotions. I still need to work on this a lot, but, by God’s grace, I’m learning how helpful it can be to share my burdens with others and trust that God can and will redeem the depths of me. 

“I’m learning how helpful it can be to share my burdens with others and trust that God can and will redeem the depths of me.”

Profession/Mission: I currently wear two hats. One is as a professional keynote speaker on brand leadership. I get to speak to business leaders at companies and conferences around the world.  The other is Founder/Director of Faith & Work Journey, which offers spiritual formation and professional development experiences that help Christian professionals integrate their faith and work.

When did you first encounter God and how did you encounter Him? I had grown up going to church every Sunday but I wasn’t following Christ. In college, I rejected church and ignored any sense of faith.  But in my first job out of college, a co-worker invited me to a seeker-friendly church and there — seeing people who I could relate to — ambitious professionals who were serious about seeking God — God found me and enabled me to accept His gracious gift of faith in Jesus. One of the first sermons I heard was by Doug Sherman, a former Air Force fighter pilot, who wrote the book Your Work Matters to God.  His message opened my eyes to God’s call on my life as a businesswoman and started me on a journey of integrating my faith and work.

How would you describe Jesus? Gracious Savior!

How has your relationship with Him changed you? My life now has purpose, power, and peace. Purpose — I know that God designed me with unique gifts and skills to be used for His Kingdom.  Power — I have the Holy Spirit guiding and empowering me, so I can “even greater things,” as Jesus says in John 14.  And peace — I know that I am loved far more than I could ever imagine, so I can trust in God and experience true freedom and rest.

Just read/currently reading (and what has it taught you?): Life of the Beloved by Henri J. M. Nouwen. It helped me to understand just how beloved I am by God — and how to live out of that belovedness.  A very wise friend gave it to me because he knows the high expectations I hold of myself and how hard I can be on myself. Reading the book was like drinking Living Water.

Hobby: I’m a fitness enthusiast, so on any given day, you can find me working out (and sweating profusely) — whether that’s running, cycling, lifting weights, hiking, or taking dance class.

Favorite person in scripture? Actually, it’s Martha in the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10. I relate to her so strongly. Like her, I don’t shy away from work when it needs to be done; I like to work hard and do things; I definitely understand that someone has to prepare the food when you have a party!! But as I’ve studied that passage, I’ve discovered that Jesus was not rebuking Martha for being like that – just as He does not rebuke us for being ambitious. If you read the text carefully, you’ll see it’s about Martha inviting Jesus to her home but then being distracted, worried, and upset. The passage is not a lesson about being busy vs. resting at Jesus’s feet — it’s about Martha expecting Jesus to support her agenda instead of Martha getting in line with Jesus’s agenda. That’s why Jesus says, “Only one thing is needed.” 

Thing you want to raise awareness about: The gospel of work — that is, the good news of work: Your work matters to God and God matters to your work. Too often we don’t see what our work and careers have to do with our faith and spiritual formation. But the truth is, they are inextricably linked — and God not only wants to grow us closer to Him as we work, He wants to use us and our work for His Kingdom.  God is renewing all things and amazingly, He wants us to be a part of His renewing work! 
What’s more, God wants us to be ambitious. So often, we Christians, particularly as women, are discouraged from working hard, setting big goals, and being ambitious. But God doesn’t want us to dampen or deny our ambition. Instead, He calls us to re-direct it. We are to be ambitious for His goals, His purposes, His Kingdom.

“We are to be ambitious for His goals, His purposes, His Kingdom.”

What does your morning routine consist of? I’m a morning person, so I get up pretty early and I exercise every morning (six days a week).  After showering, etc., I spend some time with the Lord.  These days, I’ve been trying to do The Daily Office at least a few times a week, so that involves scripture reading and scripted prayers. Then I pray through my purpose and values, my calendar and to-do list for the day, and for the people and organizations that I care about. And then, I tackle all the messages that have come through since I signed off the night before!

by Gabriela Yareliz
As posted on Modern Witnesses

Faith & Work Journey is about faith and work integration. We offer spiritual formation and professional development experiences that help Christian professionals cultivate a vital integration of their faith and work. We are a faith-based non-profit Christian ministry. We offer opportunities to learn how to integrate faith & work, what is the relationship between God & work, how to work as a Christian even if you don't work in a Christian workplace, what is the biblical view on employment, what are biblical principles for career success, how to make Christian career decisions, how to approach evangelism in the workplace in a way that honors God and respects your co-workers, and more. Inspired by Redeemer Church's Center for Faith and Work, Gotham Fellowship, Faith Driven Entrepreneur, Faith and Work Movement, and other organizations including faith-based employee resource groups, Faith & Work Journey is designed to equip and empower Christ-following businesspeople to steward faithfully their professional vocations.