I have shared that my mother once brought an astrologer to our house to read our palms and tell us our future. Examining my hands, the soothsayer confidently pronounced that I would not travel far or much in my life. “That’s what the lines on your hand tell me. There is no future for you abroad.”
I was deeply disappointed to hear this, but oh, how mistaken he was! After 45 years of spanning the globe and speaking in countless countries, I am persuaded that God alone, the Grand Weaver, knows our future and knits our lives. He has brought lasting change not only in my own life but in my family as well. Sometimes this has happened seemingly instantaneously; hearing Jesus’s words in John 14:19, “Because I live, you also will live,” literally brought me from the brink of death in a hospital room to new life. Other times, such as in the remarkable conversion of my father years later, many seeds were planted prior, but the change was no less profound.
I recall, too, that I was never much of a reader growing up, preferring to watch movies or discuss issues with people. I very rarely picked up a book out of interest. But then one evening in my late teens, and a few months since coming to Christ on a bed of suicide, I walked out the back door of our house and saw something lying on top of the garbage heap in the alley. As I looked closer, I saw it was a book with no cover—an old, tattered copy of a volume I realized my dad must have thrown out.
Curious, I picked it up and read the title page: The Epistle to the Romans: A Commentary by a man named W. H. Griffith Thomas. I had no idea who this author was, but my hunger was so fierce that I immediately opened it and began to read. Over the next few days, I devoured that book—of all things, a Bible commentary! It became a treasure, and I still have the tattered copy of that commentary in my possession.
Just like that, I was plunged into a world I’d never known—the world of reading. One of the first volumes I was presented with was The Cross and the Switchblade, an amazing story of the conversion of Nicky Cruz the gang leader and of the work God was doing in the lives of such young people through the ministry of David Wilkerson. I loved the book so much that I began seeking out biographies. I lapped up the stories of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army; David Brainerd, the missionary to American Indians; and, most intriguing of all to me, C. T. Studd, the English cricketer who gave up everything to become a missionary. Studd had been the captain of Cambridge’s cricket team, had turned down an opportunity to play for his country, and even refused his family inheritance—all to help take the gospel into China and India.
As I read about these inspiring lives, the old adage became true for me: “Fire begets fire.” The standards these Christians set by their examples raised the bar for me. Though I later learned, as I grew in my faith, that these saintly lives weren’t as perfect as their biographers made them out to be, the basic truths were undoubtedly in place, and their examples stoked my consciousness as to what the Christian life could be.
For the first time, I felt my mind being stretched—and I loved it. I realized that thinking could be fun, and with that simple realization I was sent headlong into the lifelong discipline of reading.
I also cannot say enough about the significance of the role that Youth for Christ (YFC) played in those early days of my conversion. On the day that I tried to take my life, it was these friends who prayed for me. A man named Fred David—sent, I would discover only recently, by YFC Asia director John Teibe, another gift from God—brought a Bible to my hospital room (and, by proxy, the words that breathed eternal life into my broken body). Both before and after my suicide attempt, they showed me that I meant something and that God loved me as an individual. It was my relationships at YFC that gave me hope of coming back to a caring group. And it was they who, as time passed, gave me opportunities for leadership.
So there it all was, the unlikely strands that came together, weaving the small patch of fabric that was my conversion: a soft-spoken man who drew me to the message of truth, a group waiting to share the love of Christ with me in my time of greatest need, a Bible brought to my mother for me, and a passage of Scripture that sprouted in the moisture of God’s sovereign grace. It all came together for me in the hospital room, but Youth for Christ is where those seeds were sown. I had now found a new home in my faith—and I could say I was finally home.
Along with everyone else, I wondered how such a turnaround could have taken place, and so swiftly. The key was that now I looked at life through a window of meaning. And that was the one thing I had been desperately longing for: meaning. Now everything in my life was packed with it: my studies had meaning, my family had meaning, my friendships had meaning, my sports had meaning.
All the things I had thought were the causes of my despair—my failing studies, my senseless wandering, my hopelessness—had actually been the results of my despair. The Austrian concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl wrote, “Without meaning, nothing else matters. With meaning, everything else falls into place.” If you can’t see the why, you cannot live for the what. And as soon as I was able to answer the “why,” even my failures began to make sense.
The rapid changes taking place in me daily were beyond my power to describe. Yet, from everything I had learned in my life with Christ, I knew that He had not just changed what I did but what I wanted to do. One day, I had been a creature of despair, irresponsibility, and failure. Then I became a creature of hope, diligent and accomplished in the things to which I set my hand. To me, the reversal was staggering. Nobody fully understood the dramatic transformation on the inside. This was the work of God.
It was also a huge paradigm shift for me to suddenly see life—my own and others’—through the eyes of God. For years, I had looked at life the way a kid might work through a puzzling, new toy, taking it apart but not knowing how to put it back together again. He wonders, “What makes this thing tick?” So he takes a screwdriver and tries to unpack it, but with each piece he removes, it makes less sense.
Only Jesus could legitimately explain the multifarious strands of human personality locked within me. He could explain my emotional life, my actions, and my reactions. He could explain why I longed for human touch, and why it was actually the touch of soul that I was ultimately after. Without Christ, I still would have the gnawing undercurrent that had run through everything in my life and that had led me to the tragic choice that very nearly brought me to an end.
Jesus wasn’t just the best option to me; He was the only option. He provided the skin of reason to the flesh and bones of reality. His answers to life’s questions were both unique and true. No one else answered the deepest questions of the soul the way He did. And because Christianity was true, it was emotionally experienced. There was no greater example of this than my own life.
The story of my early days was that only God’s grace could have brought about this new life for me. This was a new DNA, a new birth. There simply was no other explanation. The songwriter George Wade Robinson said it well:
Heav’n above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow,
Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His, and He is mine.
Posted by Ravi Zacharias, on September 1, 2017 – Just Thinking Magazine