I love the story of Louis Zamperini, told in the best-selling book Unbroken and two movies. Louis was an Olympic athlete and soldier in World War II who endured unimaginable torture in a Japanese war camp. He survived, only to have personal demons threaten to destroy his life.
One day, he found himself sitting under a big tent, listening to the stirring words of Billy Graham, which were calling him to a new life in Jesus. Louis fought the invitation. He wanted to get out of there. But after an intense internal struggle, he started to yield. He surrendered to Christ. And then, everything changed. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Louis turned his life around and forgave his former oppressors.
That day in the tent, Louis experienced a “Damascus road” moment. Like the dramatic conversion of the Apostle Paul, it was a turning point. As Christ followers, we all have some version of this moment. Mine was at a Promise Keepers conference in 2002. I had the same reaction as Louis — I wanted to get out of there! But then I started to yield, and I never stopped.
What about you? Even if you have been blessed to know the Lord intimately your whole life, there was surely a point when Jesus became real to you, and you made him the Lord of your life. I don’t believe you need to be like Paul — struck by the audible voice of Jesus while persecuting Christians and blinded for three days — for your experience to count. Christ will meet you where you are.
God has a clear purpose for these turning points. It’s not changing our direction without reason. It’s turning us toward something — toward a mission he has prepared for us.
… when we yield to the Spirit, the Miracle Worker takes over!—Edgar Sandoval Sr., World Vision U.S. president
For Paul, it was to spread the message of salvation through Christ to the gentiles. For Louis Zamperini, it was to embody the forgiveness we can only achieve through faith. For me, it was transformation: of myself, my family, and now, with World Vision, joining a global movement to transform the world in the name of Christ. As a World Vision supporter, you are part of this mission too.
The challenges affecting vulnerable children around the world are numerous and immense. The work of removing obstacles is unending and intense. I could spend all my time executing strategies and examining reports. I would be busy, but would I be effective? Not if I rely on my own strength.
Friends, we can never get too far away from our “Damascus road” moment. We can never forget that we are surrendered people. And we can never stop allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us, more and more, into the image of Christ. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” Paul says in Romans 12:2. As the Holy Spirit transforms us, all we need to do is yield willingly and expectantly.
And what can we expect? Nothing short of miracles. You see, when we yield to the Spirit, the Miracle Worker takes over!
When enemies become friends and cultural barriers come down in the Middle East, we know why — the Miracle Worker has taken over.
As you read, think about your own “Damascus road” moment and journey of transformation. Ask yourself, “Are my eyes open to what the Miracle Worker is doing in and through my life?”
For as long as I can remember, the birth of Jesus has always been central to Christmas. My family had a nativity set, and each year we arranged Mary, Joseph, and the animals in the stable. But we would not add baby Jesus until Christmas day. Everybody in my family wanted to be the special one to place baby Jesus at the center of the nativity.
It wasn’t just at Christmas that I waited to put Jesus at the center. Unfortunately, that became a theme in my life.
For many years, there were people around me who told me about the saving love of Jesus Christ. Some were friends, and once it was a pastor sitting next to me on a flight who invited me to accept Jesus right then and there at 30,000 feet in the air! I wasn’t ready. I was doing all right on my own. My career was going great; I was an executive at Procter & Gamble. I had a wonderful family.
But deep inside, I knew it wasn’t enough. A good friend at P&G became my spiritual mentor, and he was the one who invited me to a Promise Keepers conference in Dallas in 2002. When I walked into the stadium filled with 14,000 men, all singing and worshipping God, it was completely unfamiliar — and very uncomfortable. What am I doing here? I wondered.
Then the band played a song I had never heard before. The lyrics said, “Here I am to worship / here I am to bow down / here I am to say that you’re my God.” Tears started rolling down my face. I realized I had never bowed down to anyone. It had always been all about me.
In that powerful moment, I bowed down and began the journey of recommitting my life to Christ. And that changed everything. Since then, my journey has been one of pressing into Jesus more and more.
It transformed how I led my family and lived my daily life. And it caused me to seek opportunities to serve the Lord. That’s what brought me and my wife, Leiza, to World Vision in 2015, leaving a for-profit company to go to a “for-impact” ministry that cares for the poor in the name of Christ.
Now I realize what a miracle it is that someone like me — who, as a kid in Latin America, once experienced hardship — could become the president of this world-changing organization. God was always at work in my life, preparing me.
World Vision’s founder and all the World Vision presidents before me prayed: “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”
That is the prayer of someone pressing into Jesus. We know Jesus loves all people, no matter who we are, and that he has compassion for children and the poor. When we love him, we care about those he loves too.
This Christmas, as you celebrate how much God loved this world — so much that he placed Jesus at the center of human history — it’s the perfect time to ask yourself, “Is Jesus at the center of my life?”