A Time Of Small Beginnings
(Extracts from The Zac Poonen Story)
(By: Zac Poonen)
A Help In Time Of Need
In July 1959, I was living in the Naval Base at Cochin. I had just been commissioned as a Naval Officer. I had also received the assurance of my salvation in the same month, and had decided to live totally for the Lord.
One evening, two of my fellow-Naval-officers came to me and told me that a good movie was going to be shown that evening in the Naval Base cinema theater, and suggested that we all go together to see it. I had often gone with them to the movies previously. But now that I had been born again, I had decided that I would not go to such movies anymore. The Lord had also taken away from my heart the desire to go to the cinema. But I did not have the courage to tell my friends that I was now a born-again Christian. So I went with them. But all along the way to the theater, a constant cry was going up from my heart to the Lord to somehow save me from this situation.
When we reached the cinema theater, we saw a notice pasted on the front wall, saying that because the reel of the movie had not arrived, the movie scheduled for that evening was cancelled. My friends were utterly disappointed as we returned home, but I was thrilled. I was overjoyed that God had done a miracle for me. This incident strengthened my faith greatly and I realized that I did indeed have a Father in heaven who would be 'a very present help to me in my time of need' (Psa.46:1). He answered a cry that was only in my heart and that I had not even expressed with my lips.
That was my first experience of a miraculous answer to prayer. God is a Father Who does miracles for His children. The Bible says, 'Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart'. I was delighting myself in the Lord alone that day and wanted nothing but Him. The desire of my heart was that I should be kept from seeing that movie. And God granted it.
But after I came back to my room, the Lord told me that He would not do that for me a second time. Next time, He wanted me to say 'No' to my friends myself - for only thus could I grow strong in His grace. If God did a miracle like that for me every time, I would never become bold or spiritually strong. The next time my friends invited me to the movies I told them boldly that I was now a Christian and would not go with them to the movies anymore.
I understood then why God does not grant many of our prayer requests - because they are actually asking God to do miracles that will make life easy for us. But if God granted all those requests, we would become fat and lazy Christians and not strong, vigorous and bold as He wants us to be. God will encourage us by giving us miraculous answers to prayer occasionally. But many a time, He does not grant our request, lest we remain weak and cowardly. Understanding this truth has solved many mysteries about prayer for me.
In these past 46 years, God has answered ALL my prayers, yes, 100% of them. Are you surprised to hear that? Let me explain. Like the three colors in traffic lights, God's answer to me has, at times been 'Yes' (Green), sometimes 'Wait' (Orange) and at times 'No' (Red). But He has answered every prayer.
There is great safety in obeying the traffic lights. I have found great safety in accepting God's answers as well, whatever they be.
To Buy Or Not To Buy
In early 1961, when working at the Naval Base at Bombay, I saw an accordion in a shop-window of a music shop. I thought of buying it to learn how to play it. I knew however, that as a child of God I should seek God's will in all matters, both great and small. So I prayed and sought God's will. But I did not know how to find God's will in such matters. So I asked God for a sign. I told Him that if the price of the accordion was within a certain amount, then I would assume that it was His will for me to buy it. If it cost more than that amount, then I would assume that God did not want me to buy it. Since I was very eager to buy the accordion, I eagerly hoped that it would cost less than the figure I had quoted to the Lord.
But the lowest price the shop was willing to sell it for, was slightly above the amount I had quoted to God. I began to think of a number of factors. First of all, I did have enough money with me to buy it. Secondly, the government had banned the import of accordions and so this was probably the last accordion available in any shop in Bombay. Thirdly, I wanted to learn the instrument only for use in Christian meetings.
But all these factors were overruled by the fact that I had asked God for a sign and the sign was not fulfilled. So I decided not to buy the accordion, and walked out of the shop. I was disappointed that I could not get the accordion but happy that I had obeyed the Lord.
A few days later, I was witnessing about Christ to one of my non-Christian colleagues. He asked me a question from the Bible for which I did not know the answer. I was ashamed that as a Christian, I did not know the answer to something from the Bible. I went back to my room and decided to study the Word thoroughly, so that thereafter, I would know the answer to every question for which there was an answer in the Bible.
From the time I received assurance of my salvation in 1959, I had found a desire within me to read God's Word daily. First of all, I had decided to read through the whole Bible quickly - and had done so in about 6 months. I understood very little of what I read - but my faith was strengthened by whatever I read. But I was not a deep student of the Word.
But now, the study of God's Word became my passion. I began to spend hours with the Bible, day and night, in my spare time. I saved some money and bought a Young's Concordance and used it to study the occurrence of different words in the Bible. Very soon I, who knew almost nothing of the Bible, began to understand deep truths from the Scriptures.
Then I realized why God had not wanted me to buy the accordion. If I had bought it, I would have spent hours learning to play it more and more perfectly. And as all musicians know very well, there is no end to being perfect in playing any instrument. That is an endless pursuit. I would have become a slave to the accordion.
Interestingly enough, six years later, I was able to buy an accordion from someone who sold his instrument to me. But by then I had become so deeply devoted to the Word that the accordion could not master me. It was my slave. I never became an expert musician, because God had something better for me, which I never knew in 1961. Today, how thankful I am, that I am a Bible-teacher and not a musician and that I spent my life studying the Bible and not music. There are many good Christian musicians but not many anointed Bible-teachers.
Large doors swing on small hinges
Directed by God
I left the Indian Navy to serve the Lord full time in May 1966. I was single and decided to live in Vellore (Tamilnadu) as a base from which to travel around serving the Lord. In October 1967, I was invited to speak at a camp organized for students and graduates by the Evangelical Graduates Fellowship in Ahmedabad. So I took the train and reached Ahmedabad early in the morning after a two-day journey. As soon as I arrived there, on the very first day of the camp, I got an urgent telegram from my father (who was also living in Vellore) that he had been diagnosed with cancer by the doctors at CMC Hospital Vellore and needed to be operated on urgently. Since I was his eldest son (and the only one of his three children in India), he requested me to come home immediately to be with him at the time of his operation.
I wondered what to do. Since there was one more speaker at the camp, the organizers of the camp would have understood my situation and allowed me to go, if I had asked them to relieve me of my responsibilities as a speaker, although the burden on the other speaker would then have been immense. But I wanted to know whether this was a scheme of Satan to prevent me from speaking at the camp. So I sought the Lord about it.
I had the habit of reading through the Scriptures, chapter by chapter every morning. My daily reading that day was Deuteronomy Chapter 1. I read there in verses 3 and 7: 'On the FIRST DAY OF THE ELEVENTH MONTH, God said, Turn and set your journey and go''. I wondered whether God was showing me there as to when I should start my return journey. I did not have the habit of finding guidance from verses of Scripture taken out of context, for I knew that that was a dangerous practice. But I also knew that God did guide His servants on rare occasions through such means. So I prayed and sought the Lord's will. As I prayed about it, I felt an increasing assurance and peace in my heart that this was indeed guidance from the Lord. So I went to the railway station and booked my return journey for the first day of the eleventh month (November) ' which was the second-last day of the camp. This meant that I would stay on in Ahmedabad for the entire period of the camp and would miss only one meeting on the last morning of the camp. So I sent a telegram to my father to postpone his operation to the first week of November, since I could come back only by then. [Let me give you a warning here: Don't read spectacular guidance into every verse that you read in the Bible. God has given me such spectacular guidance through a verse, on only two or three occasions in my 46 years as a believer.]
I spoke at the various sessions in the camp throughout the week, and the blessing of the Lord flowed in our midst. Thirty years later, I met people who told me how they were blessed and challenged by my ministry at that camp. I finally left Ahmedabad on the first of November and reached Vellore two days later.
When my father got my telegram and realized that I would not be back for a whole week, he decided to use the time to get the opinion of yet another doctor. So he sent his Xrays to another radiologist (a better one) for a second opinion. This doctor looked at the X-rays and told my father that he was certain that there was no cancer and that there was no need for any operation. Thus my father was saved from going to the operating table. He lived for another 15 years after that and never got cancer.
If I had returned to Vellore as soon as I had gotten my father's telegram, my aged father would have underwent an unnecessary operation. And who knows what complications that might have led to, at his age. And the young people at the camp would not have heard what the Lord wanted to tell them through me.
It is good to seek the will of God in even the smallest matters of life, for there may be big doors that turn on those small hinges.
Saved From Death
'He delivered us from death and will still deliver us' (2 Cor.1:10)
In all of our lives, there must have been occasions where we were saved from almost certain death by God's intervention. I can think of a few such instances myself. God has a purpose in thus saving us.
The first incident I can think of was when I was about 12 years old in 1951. My parents and I were sitting outside our home at night with a table lamp for light. Suddenly the lamp went off, while there was still electricity inside the house. I felt this must be due to a break somewhere in the electrical cord of the lamp. Foolishly, I picked up the cord and felt my way along it to see where the break in the wire was. Suddenly when my fingers touched the broken part, the current ran through my body and threw me on the grass with the cord still clinging to my fingers. I screamed. My mother seeing what had happened, had the presence of mind to switch off the electrical main supply immediately. Thus my life was saved. I was not born again at that time. If I had died, I would have certainly gone to hell.
A second incident that I can remember was when I was in the Navy. I was posted as the Executive Officer of a minesweeper in Bombay during the war with Pakistan in 1965. Our Naval fleet had planned to bombard Karachi harbour. My ship's job was to go ahead of the large ships in the fleet and to clear the mines that the enemy would have laid to protect their harbor. Only thus would our fleet be able to move in. Clearing the mines could be done easily, because we had both the equipment and the expertise in our ship to do the job. But our ship would have been an easy target for the long-range guns from Karachi that would be firing at our fleet. And our ship would almost certainly have been sunk. That would be the price we would have to pay for clearing the way for the rest of the fleet to bombard the harbor. The war had been going on for about two weeks and we were all set to leave for Karachi, when a ceasefire was suddenly declared - and the war ended. My life was thus saved. If the war had continued for even a few more days, I would almost certainly have died outside Karachi harbor. But God had made a plan for my life from before the creation of the world, and in that plan I was not to die then. So He stopped that war for my sake. There is nothing that God will not do for His children.
A third incident also comes to my mind: This was in August 1993. I was riding my moped in Bangalore returning home from the market and going past a railway-crossing (about 700 metres from my house). I had crossed one side of the crossing and had gone across the railway lines. Just before crossing the other side, the gateman lowered the bar (without seeing me). The bar hit me squarely on my chest and hands and knocked me and my moped down onto the railway track, where my head hit the ground. I lay there unconscious. (I later found out that the gateman was not the regular gateman but a substitute who was not familiar with the procedure for opening and closing the gates). I still do not know for how long I lay there unconscious. Someone picked me up and I regained my consciousness. When I was taken to the hospital I discovered that my skull had a hairline crack in it and my shoulder was dislocated. But otherwise I was all right. I said to the Lord at that time, 'Lord, I have not yet finished saying 'Thank You' to You for dying for me on Calvary. Give me a few more years to express my gratitude to You for that, by serving You.' My arm was in a sling for a few weeks and I was soon back to normal health in every way. The Lord has given me 12 more years of perfect health thus far, since that date, to serve Him and to show my gratitude to Him for saving me.
Besides these incidents, I can think of numerous occasions, when riding my scooter in Bangalore, where God saved me from accidents, once when my brake-wire snapped and at other times when my own carelessness or the carelessness of other drivers threw me off my scooter. I have driven cars and scooters for 43 years now. But by God's immense mercy, I have never been seriously hurt myself and have never hurt anyone else either.
These incidents are constant reminders to me that I might not be living on earth today, if small things had been otherwise at any of the above times. I have often thought back to these incidents and asked myself why God saved my life. It was certainly not that I might live for myself but that I might live only for Him.
Recollecting these instances now and then has helped me again and again to devote myself to live for the Lord alone.
We should all remember such instances when God has saved us from certain death and ask ourselves why God spared our lives. Such memories will help us all to re-dedicate our lives to the Lord again and again.
A New Location And A House
We moved to Bangalore in April 1972. We had no savings and very few earthly possessions at that time. All that we owned on earth fitted into one small van, with which we moved to Bangalore.
When we seek His kingdom and His righteousness first, He gives us all the earthly things we need for life in this world too. Christians tend to go to two extremes in this matter. Some imagine that God is interested in blessing us with earthly blessings primarily. Others imagine that God has no interest in our earthly needs at all. Both are wrong. God cares for us more than any earthly father cares for his child and He wants to provide our every need ' spiritual first and earthly next.
God knew that housing would become very expensive in Bangalore in future years. I did not know that. So God made a provision to meet that need for me. My father was a retired pensioner without much money. But he did have a small ancestral house in Kerala, in which he had not stayed for 40 years. It had been leased out to a tenant. When my father tried to sell that house, the tenant caused difficulties. The Communist party that had been ruling Kerala for many years always supported the tenants. So my father gave up all hope of ever being able to sell his house. But God had a plan. A little later, the Communist party lost the elections and a new government came into power. However, in a short time, this new government also fell and the Communists came back to power again. But during that short interval, when the Communists were not in power, God enabled my father to sell his house! He did not get much money for it. But he gave me my share from that.
With that amount, I bought an old house in Bangalore in 1972. When negotiating the purchase of this house, I told the owner (a respectable lady) that I had no 'black money' to give her, but that the entire price of the house would be paid by cheque as 'white money.' In India, almost everyone buys and sells houses with a large percentage of the price paid in 'black money' (money kept as cash because it is unaccounted for). This lady had received more attractive offers than mine from her own relatives. But she told them, 'Mr.Poonen is a righteous man and I will sell it only to him!' We owned no furniture. But we discovered amazingly that she was selling all her furniture also along with her house! And she sold us that too at a very reasonable price. We still use that very same furniture today. God's care for our needs was so exact! Above all, this house became the birthplace of the church three years later, in 1975.
When I gave away all my earnings for God's work and left the Navy to serve the Lord, I never thought I would ever own a house in my entire life. But God had plans that I knew nothing about. He even removed a government in Kerala so as to enable me to buy this house in Bangalore. It is wonderful to see the perfect timing of God in everything He does. As we seek to honor Him, He honors us. Hallelujah!
Staff Note: Zac Poonen pastors a church in India. The church he pastors has an excellent website with many informative articles God has inspired Him to write: www.cfcindia.com Another website he's a part of that offers many excellent spiritual resources is: http://poonen.org/zac
Additional Church Information:
Christian Fellowship Centre, #40 Da Costa Square, Bangalore - 560 084. Karnataka. India
Tele: +91-80-25477103 Fax: +91-80-41251291
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