It is very humbling and a great honor to receive this prestigious Templeton prize, which, to me, because of its nature, is to be desired above every other prize given for whatever purpose.
I would like to thank and commend Sir John Templeton for establishing the Templeton Prize, which emphasizes the most important aspect of life — the spiritual dimension — upon which all other considerations of life find fulfillment. I receive this prize in the name of our wonderful Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, whom I have served for more than 50 exciting, fruitful years, and on behalf of my beloved wife, Vonette, our wonderful sons Zac and Brad, our dedicated and gifted fellow staff members, a great board of directors, and a mighty movement of faithful and generous supporters. I feel I am the most privileged and fortunate man in the world to be associated with such a remarkable team.
The late Dr. Charles Habib Malik, Ambassador to the United Nations from Lebanon and President of the United Nations General Assembly in 1959, was a very dear, personal friend for approximately 25 years. Dr. Malik was one of the intellectual and spiritual giants of our century. In addition to his earned doctorate from Harvard University, he was given 50 honorary doctorates from many of the most prestigious universities of the world. He was a professor at both the American University in Beirut and in Washington, D.C.
It was my privilege to hear him speak to a meeting of world leaders in Washington. I was deeply touched by his strong witness for our Lord. When he said, ‘Only those who stay close to Jesus Christ can help others who are far away. Only those who prefer Him to everything else, even to the call of the needy of the world, can be used of Him for the need of the world… The heart of the whole matter is faith in Jesus Christ.’ He went on to say, ‘I really do not know what will remain of civilization and history if the accumulated influence of Jesus Christ, both direct and indirect, is eradicated from literature, art, practical dealings, moral standards, and creativeness in the different activities of mind and spirit.’
Following his address, I approached him. ‘Many political leaders speak of God, the Bible and prayer in a general way,’ I said, ‘but I never heard one in your position of worldwide leadership who has spoken so powerfully and so convincingly of your faith in and your love for Jesus Christ.’ His response moved me deeply. ‘I am sobered by the words of our Lord,’ he said, ‘Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will 1 also deny before my Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 10:32–33, King James Version).
Like Dr. Malik, I am also very excited about our wonderful Lord and, in the words of the apostle Paul, ‘Everywhere we go we talk about Christ to all who will listen’ (Colossians 1 :25–29, Living Bible). Therefore, because of the nature of this gathering it seems appropriate that I use this occasion to describe to you something of my own spiritual journey, and how the sovereign unseen hand of our dear Lord has shaped and directed my life and ministry for His glory.
Time has passed so quickly that it seems almost impossible that my spiritual journey began five decades ago as a young businessman in my twenties. My ministry began by working with students, challenging them to ‘come help change the world’. Through the years the ministry grew to include ‘youth of all ages’; that is, people of all ages in all segments of the population who, like students, want God’s best for themselves and their future world.
Years ago, an unseen hand, whom I discovered has a name, became the driving force in my life — an inextinguishable fire in my bosom that will not go out, but just keeps burning and burning, and burning, all the more brightly — a spiritual flame that has started brushfires, then raging conflagrations all over the world.
As a young man, I was a materialist and humanist. So I can identify with multitudes of men and women, young and old, throughout the world, who have little knowledge of God. I was committed to whatever it took — hard work and long hours — to accomplish the materialistic goals I had set for myself, to build my own business and financial empire. I was the centre of my universe.
I had the good fortune to be reared in a wonderful home by a materialistic, nonbelieving father and a saintly mother who prayed for me every day of my life. I was vaguely aware of this, but wrongly assumed that all mothers were equally devout. So it did not affect my beliefs. However, her example did affect my morals, resulting in a high standard of ethics and integrity. But for all practical purposes, I was an atheist. The idea of God, the Bible, or a Saviour had little place in my life.
All through high school, college and graduate school, on the extension faculty of Oklahoma State University, and later as a businessman in Hollywood, California, where as a young man I developed my own business, I was motivated by selfish, materialistic goals and desires.
Then one day, I remember distinctly, I first sensed that unseen hand in my life, in a powerful way. I can only describe it as a sovereign visit from God. Through the influence of an elderly couple, I was drawn to the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. It was there for the first time in my understanding that I heard about the great Creator God of the universe who, according to the Bible, spoke and some 50 million or more galaxies, according to recent Hubble telescope discoveries, were created. It is even more overwhelming to consider that each of these galaxies contains billions of stars and perhaps planetary systems. To better understand what that means: This planet earth is like a grain of sand in our solar system, which is like a grain of sand in our galaxy, which is like less than a grain of sand in the vastness of all creation.
Simultaneously, I discovered that my head had been in the sand of mundane, selfish interests and temporal pursuits.
But there at that wonderful church in Hollywood, I was moved to look up, beyond my microscopic world, at the wonder of creation, behind which was an obvious Creator. And one day I met this One who, according to the Bible, came to this earth disguised as a slave in the greatest act of love the world has ever known, He revealed Himself to humanity with the appropriate Hebrew name of Yeshu’a, which means ‘salvation’. Christians worship Him as Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus the Christ, or the Messiah.
I discovered the amazing truth that this magnificent Creator, this all-powerful Almighty God, not only created the universe, but He loved me — little, insignificant me, less than a nameless speck in space — and He devised and through His prophets revealed an elaborate plan to redeem me and all mankind by personally visiting this planet as the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth, the only begotten Son of God. He even declared that He will share His eternal kingdom with me and all people of the world who will accept His free gift of love and forgiveness.
The sheer strength, power, love and majesty of this man, the Holy One of Israel, the Son of God, totally captivated me, I was drawn to know Him better, and personally. This began a lifelong quest and inquiry, an exciting spiritual journey, which continues to this day. But what else I very quickly discovered was absolutely astonishing.
I don’t know how I had missed it before, possibly because I wasn’t paying attention, or maybe I was just not ready. But to my surprise I became aware of approximately 300 details of Jesus’ life that had been predicted hundreds of years before He was born by ancient Hebrew scholars and prophets, and fulfilled in His miraculous birth, His life, His teachings, His miracles, His death and His resurrection — something that had not happened to any other person in history. These prophets were given glimpses of the future Messiah, the one whom Isaiah proclaimed would be called ‘God with us’, Prince of Peace, Counselor, and Everlasting Father. Different prophets predicted various details of His life. Micah predicted that he would be born in Bethlehem; Moses that he would be from the tribe of Judah, and from the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Daniel the actual time of His coming; Isaiah that he would be born of a virgin, a conception necessary for the God-man; Isaiah also predicted His vicarious death for the sins of man; David His resurrection and ascension into heaven. Such amazing prophecies and their fulfillment had not happened to any other person in history. And the many prophecies with the details of His life and mission are a matter of impeccable record, with documentation. Scholars say that one purpose of God in giving such prophecy was to authenticate in advance the credentials of His Son whom He would send.
But I also learned that this Jesus was His own authentication. In all of history, He was truly unique among all men. Philosophers say that He spoke the greatest words ever spoken. He cleansed the lepers; He healed the sick; He cast out devils; He raised the dead; He performed miracles such as no other person has ever performed. He claimed to be God in the flesh. He claimed to be the only way to the father, and that He came to show us the way to eternal life. He predicted his own death and resurrection, which happened just like He said. After His resurrection and before His ascension to heaven, He was seen by the disciples on several occasions and by more than 500 people at one time.
Needless to say, as I continued my research, this Person, Jesus of Nazareth, began to capture my full attention. As I discovered more of these incredible confirmations and affirmations of the truth of the Bible and the identity and nature of this towering figure of all time — the Son of God — I became more and more devoted to Him and His teachings, and more in love with Him. His many words of truth and external wisdom burned constantly in my soul.
For example, His words recorded in Matthew 7:24–27: ‘Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. Now everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds came and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fail’ (New King James Version).
Some of you know my beloved wife and partner in life and ministry, Vonette. We both had been very materialistic in our youth. But when we received Christ as our Lord and Savior, we discovered many things that were far more important than making money, living in lovely homes and enjoying ‘the good life’, which I promised when I proposed to her. I said we would travel the world, that we would live in prestigious Bel Air, California. I promised her everything her heart could desire before we were married — and she believed me!
But within a couple of years our desires and interests had changed. We had fallen in love with Jesus. I had already studied in two internationally acclaimed theological seminaries, Princeton and Fuller, for five years. I ran my business in the afternoons and evenings and studied at the seminary in the mornings. Vonette was a vital part of everything I was doing. And it was together that we came to the conclusion that knowing and serving Jesus was more important than anything in the world. So on a Sunday afternoon in the Spring of 1951, Vonette and I, in our home in the Hollywood Hills, got on our knees and prayed ‘Lord, we surrender our lives to your will. We will go where you want us to go and do what you want us to do. We want to be yours completely, irrevocably.’ And we did something very unusual. We wrote out and actually signed a contract with the Lord, surrendering our whole lives to Him. On that day 45 years ago, Vonette and I made a decision to relinquish all our rights, all of our possessions, everything we would ever own, and gave them to our Master and Lord. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome in approximately A.D. 55, as recorded in Romans 1:1, ‘This letter is from Paul, Jesus Christ’s slave, chosen to be a missionary, and sent out to preach God’s Good News’ (Living Bible). That Sunday afternoon, like Paul, we chose to become slaves of Jesus. Since then, we have experienced a most incredible, rich, fulfilling and rewarding adventure.
We are deeply inspired by the Lord’s challenge recorded in the eighth chapter of the Gospel according to Mark, where Jesus said, ‘ “If any of you wants to be my follower,’ He told them, ‘you must put aside your own pleasures, and shoulder your cross, and follow me closely. If you insist on saving your life, you will lose it. Only those who throwaway their lives for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will ever know what it means to really live’ ” (verses 34–35).
To really live! Vonette and I had known a pretty exciting life, individually and together for our two years of marriage, but there was a promise that exceeded everything we had experienced. We were further encouraged by that wonderful passage in the tenth chapter of Mark, where Jesus was approached by Peter, who said, ‘We’ve given up everything to follow you.’ In effect, Peter was asking, ‘What are your plans for our future? What is going to happen to us?’
Jesus replied, ‘Let me assure you that no one has ever given up anything — home, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or property — for love of me and to tell others the Good News who won’t be given back, a hundred times over, homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land — with persecutions! All these will be here on earth and in the world to come he shall have eternal life’ (verses 28–30).
Well, I submit to you, as a businessman that sounded like a good investment to me! Whatever I invest in His kingdom, Jesus said will be returned a hundredfold. How could anyone turn down such a remarkable offer from our Lord Himself? However, I must say in all candor and honesty, my real motive in living for and serving Jesus is because of who He is — the visible expression of the Godhead — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and for all He had done for me. Like Paul, the apostle, ‘The love of Christ constrains me.’
I grew up on a ranch in Oklahoma. My father and mother, with five sons and two daughters, grew grain for livestock. I remember one summer it was unseasonably rainy, and a big rain came at harvest time. There was a particular area near a small river where the soil was very rich. The grain was magnificent. Suddenly, all of that harvest was deluged with water. Then as the water receded, my father made an important decision. We could save that grain if we resorted to an all-out effort. So all of us, including many men who were involved in the harvest with us, went out into the field, in mud and water, with heavy equipment, tractors and binders, and with great difficulty we were able to salvage that grain. My father’s view was that other things can wait. We had to save that grain. It was an economic necessity.
I learned later that this is a principle of God. There are a lot of things that are important in life, but there is nothing more important in God’s economy than salvaging the immediate harvest — the harvest of souls that will otherwise soon be lost.
This was an early and important lesson for me. That is why I believe God called me with one great overriding goal and focus — to help bring in the harvest by working together with others who love Him to help complete the Great Commission given by our Lord Jesus Christ shortly before He ascended into heaven, as recorded by Matthew, chapter 28: ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and earth. Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then reach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you: and be sure of this — that I am with you always, even to the end of the world’ (verses 18–20).
By God’s grace, and with His help, Vonette and I and our wonderful team referred to earlier have since had the privilege of working together with millions of Christians in thousands of churches of all denominations and hundreds of missions groups, whom we have helped to train. In helping to fulfill the Great Commission, Campus Crusade for Christ now has more than 40 separate ministries dedicated to that one objective; nearly 13,000 full-time staff members and approximately 101,000 trained associates and volunteer staff members in 165 countries. We have had the privilege of helping take the gospel to well over 2 billion people, and tens of millions have indicated salvation decisions. The ‘JESUS’ film alone, a full-length movie on the life of Christ, which the Lord impressed upon me to produce very early in my ministry but was not completed until 33 years later, has been viewed by more than 750 million people in 361 languages in 217 countries. Billions more are just waiting for someone to tell them the truth about God, like the young man whom I encountered some years ago.
While I was speaking on a large university campus, a young radical confronted me. I discovered later he was head of the Communist Party on this big campus. He demonstrated his anger as he stood up before all the students and railed at me. He didn’t like the idea that I was encouraging students to follow Christ as their Lord and Saviour. He had other plans for those students. Rather than argue, I invited him to come to our home for dinner, which he did.
He was a very brilliant young man, articulate and winsome. As we sat chatting through dinner, we talked about many things, I found him to be a delightful guest. Finally, at the conclusion of our dessert time, I reached over and picked up my Bible and said, ‘I want to read something to you from the Bible.’
He reacted with obvious irritation. ‘I have read the Bible from cover to cover,’ he exclaimed. It’s a ridiculous book. It’s filled with contradictions, lies and myths. I don’t want to hear anything from the Bible.’
I replied, ‘If you don’t mind, I will read it anyway.’ So I began to read to him from the gospel according to John: ‘Before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. He has always been alive and is Himself God. He created everything there is — nothing exists that He didn’t make. Eternal life is in Him, and this life gives light to all mankind. His life is the light that shines through the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it … To all who received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God. All they needed to do was to trust Him to save them. All those who believe this are reborn!— not a physical rebirth resulting from human passion or plan — but from the will of God. And Christ became a human being and lived here on earth among us and was full of loving forgiveness and truth. And some of us have seen His glory — the glory of the only Son of the heavenly Father’ (John 1:1–5, 14).
Now remember — he had told me that he read the Bible. But when I concluded reading this first passage from the Gospel according to John, he said, ‘Let me read that. I don’t remember seeing that.’ He read it thoughtfully, and handed the Bible back to me without comment. Then I turned to a passage in Colossians, which records, ‘He [God] has liberated us out of the darkness and gloom of Satan’s kingdom and brought us into the kingdom of His dear Son, who bought our freedom with His blood and forgave us all our sins. Christ is the exact likeness of the unseen God. He existed before God made anything at all, and, in fact, Christ Himself is the Creator who made everything in heaven and earth, the things we can see and the things we can’t; the spirit world with its kings and kingdoms, its rulers and authorities, all were made by Christ for His own use and glory. He was before all else began, and is the power that holds everything together … God’s secret plan, now at last made known, is Christ Himself. In Him lie hidden all the mighty, untrapped treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (1:13–17; 2:2,3).
Again he said, ‘I never have seen that before. May I read it?’ I handed it to him. Again he was very sober when he handed it back to me. I turned to the book of Hebrews: ‘Long ago God spoke in many different ways to our fathers through the prophets (in visions, dreams and even face to face), telling them little by little about His plans. But now in these days He has spoken to us through His Son to whom He has given everything, and through whom He made the world and everything there is … all that God’s Son is and does marks Him as God. He regulates the universe by the mighty power of His command. He is the One who died to cleanse us and clear our record of all sin, and then sat down in the highest honor beside the great God of heaven’ (1: 1–3). By this time the young man was obviously very moved.
He didn’t comment and I continued to read from the First Epistle of John: ‘Who is the greatest liar? The one that says that Jesus is not Christ. Such a person is antichrist, for he does not believe in God the Father and His Son. For a person who doesn’t believe in Christ, God’s Son, can’t have God the Father either. But he who has Christ, God’s Son, has God the Father also’ (2:22–23). His entire attitude and countenance had changed. We chatted briefly, and after a time as he stood to leave, I asked him if he would write in our guest book. He penned his name and address, after which he wrote these words, which I shall never forget: ‘The night of decision,’ a decision to receive and follow Jesus.
I have discovered that there is sadly a great, great need in the hearts of multitudes of people, and also a very great misunderstanding of who God is and how He is eager and able to fill that vacuum and emptiness that haunts the lives of untold millions.
Needless to say, in the past 50 years I have had many moving experiences in trying to help people in their quest of peace with God, meaning and purpose in their present life. Probably none is more of a contrast than when, some years ago, I was invited by the warden to speak to the inmates of one of the most infamous high-security prisons in America: the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a place where prisoners who had committed major crimes, such as murder, were incarcerated. Some of our Campus Crusade staff members had been working with hundreds of inmates, and many of them had become Christians.
When I arrived at the penitentiary assembly room, several of the inmates rushed over to me, embraced me, and called me ‘brother’. They told me they had heard my messages on tapes, read my books and how they had been helped by them and by our staff. Before I spoke, several stood and gave testimony of how they had been forgiven by God through faith in Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection. One man spoke of how he had murdered five people. Another three. Others had committed similar crimes. They told of how they came to the prison full of hate and fear — and then they met Jesus, and were transformed.
Tears streamed down my face as I listened to these testimonies of God’s forgiveness, grace, goodness and love. Again and again different ones said, ‘I’m glad I’m here. If I had not been sent here, I would not know Christ and I would probably be dead because of my life of crime.’
These prisoners — these men behind bars — had experienced the wonder of God’s eternal pardon from their sins. They had received peace of heart and mind. They were experiencing purpose and meaning for their lives. And they had been given power to be different, even in their prison cells.
As I sat listening to their moving testimonies, my mind raced across the continent to Hollywood, California where just two nights previously I was privileged to be a guest in a great gathering of Hollywood personalities, many of whom were the famous movie stars, producers, directors and entertainers of the world, gathered to honor one of their own. I sat between a man who for more than 30 years had been one of the great actors of our country, and the daughter of one of the founders of the Hollywood industry and presently the wife of a famous actor. I had hardly taken my seat when the woman began to tell me how miserable she was and how she was thinking about committing suicide. She said she had nothing to live for. Her little dog, the most prized, beloved possession she had, died the day before, and she was devastated. She lived in a palatial mansion. She was world-famous. She had a great fortune at her disposal. And yet she felt she had nothing to live for. I was happy to share the most joyful news of Christ’s love for her, and I saw with my own eyes a dramatic change in her countenance. She seemed overwhelmed to learn that God loved her and had a wonderful plan for her life. She asked if she could keep the evangelistic Four Spiritual Laws booklet which I had shared with her, stating that its content was so wonderful that she wanted to read it over and over again.
I turned to the man on my left, known to most Americans. He was inebriated. I tried to initiate a conversation by speaking to him of my work with students, whereupon he responded angrily, saying ‘Why waste your time on students? They are just a bunch of hot-headed radicals. Why doesn’t someone work with older people?’ He began to sob, saying ‘Why doesn’t anybody work with people like me? I need help.’ I was able to help that dear man. Later he was baptized in one of the leading churches in southern California.
I was overwhelmed with the contrast. I thought of these people of wealth and fame and power in Hollywood, in prisons of their own selfish, egocentric and materialistic desires and pursuits. They thought they were free, but they were actually in prison — a self-imposed prison. Sadly, this is true for most people throughout the world today.
Then I thought of the men in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta who were free, even though they would never see the light of day outside those gray, bleak prison walls, because of their life sentences. They were still free, happy, rejoicing and giving thanks to their Savior. Oh, what a contrast! God’s pardon, peace, purpose and power are available to everyone, from prisoners to professors.
Some years ago a friend of mine, who was working for his doctorate in one of the most prestigious theological seminaries in the world, asked if I would go with him to call on the head of his seminary, who was also a professor under whom he was working for his degree. He explained that his professor was a good man and a brilliant scholar, but that he denied the deity of Christ.
We went into his office. I shall never forget the experience. The professor was one of the great church historians of this century. He was a theologian who had helped to train thousands of young men to become pastors and other Christian leaders. I was introduced to him as the president of Campus Crusade for Christ. His immediate response was, ‘Mr Bright, when you talk to college students about become a Christian, what do you tell them?’ I was not sure he was sincere and I was weighing my words carefully, when he came with a second question, ‘Better still, what would you tell me? I would like to become a Christian?’
I must tell you, I was very surprised. He was world famous as an agnostic, he denied the deity of Christ, yet he was head of one of the most famous seminaries in the world.
He told me that his father was a great scholar and how he was greatly influenced by his father’s views. The father did not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. He believed Jesus was a good man and had profound influence upon the world, but was not God. The professor continued, ‘About five years ago I began to reevaluate my beliefs and I began to study in earnest the writings of the church fathers and the original manuscripts concerning Jesus. The more I studied, the more convinced I became that Jesus is the Son of God.’ But when he asked, ‘Will you help me,’ and this phrase I will never forget, ‘know Him as my personal Savior?’ I was deeply moved.
At this point, he made a profound statement, which I am sure I quote verbatim: ‘I am convinced,’ he said, ‘that no honest person who is willing to consider the overwhelming evidence proving the deity of Christ can deny that He is the Son of God.’
Because of a previous appointment with another person, who had arrived, we were not able to continue the conversation. He invited us to return two days later.
When we arrived, we went into his study, where there were no telephones. He locked the door behind him. He said, ‘I came early this morning to take communion. I wanted to prepare my heart for your prayer for me. Now, will you pray for me, that I will know Jesus as my personal Saviour?’
I prayed for him, he prayed, and my friend prayed. And that day, this great scholar met the living Christ in the spirit of the little child. He immediately began asking me questions like a little child.
I said to him, ‘I am sure you know the Scripture where Jesus says that except a man become as a little child, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. If any body with whom I have prayed has ever demonstrated that quality, it is you.’
You will observe that I purposely do not speak of religion, or the church, which I love, but I speak of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as God incarnate. This relationship is available to all people, everywhere, in every country and in every culture, regardless of race, age, or gender. Unfortunately, there is much skepticism about the church on the part of many nonbelievers and believers alike. They fail to see the power of Christ in much of the twentieth- century church because all too often they are exposed to a Christianity that is impotent and fruitless.
Surveys have shown us that most people, even Christians, lack an understanding of who God really is. They need an understanding of His attributes. The God who created the universe is totally sovereign; He is omnipotent (or all- powerful); He is omnipresent (or everywhere present); He is omniscient (or all-knowing); He is all-wise; holy, perfect, loving, and merciful.
We are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. We are commanded to obey and trust Him. But without an understanding of who He is, we are trying to trust someone whom we have not yet experienced to be trustworthy. Therefore, to truly love, obey and trust God, we must know who He is.
We have also learned that many people in the church have never made a full surrender to the lordship of Christ. One cannot truly experience the dynamic of His leadership in their lives and in the world apart from making Him Lord, Master and King of their lives. It’s like not fully trusting a chair to hold you until you sit in it; or a parachute to work until you jump out of an airplane, fully dependent upon the parachute.
Also, many do not understand this great and most wonderful mystery, the mystery which the apostle Paul wrote ‘has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested … which is Christ in you, the hope of glory ‘(Colossians 1:26–27, New American Standard Bible). The Bible repeatedly makes it clear that when we receive Christ by faith, He actually takes up residence in us. He lives inside of us, at the deepest level of our spirit, filling that former void and emptiness, an emptiness that pains to many people — that pain which many anesthetize with drugs, alcohol, unhealthy obsessions, and sometimes even hate — all of which are self-destructive.
Dear friends, the driving force of my life is to live and walk and work in the same reality and in the same power and vitality of the New Testament Christians, and to help complete the Great Commission given by our Lord — and do it by 31st December of the year A.D. 2000.
That does not leave as much time. As of this day, 9th May 1996, we have four years, seven months and 22 days — or 40,704 hours remaining to complete the task.
It is obvious that because of our disobedience America and much of the world are already coming under God’s judgment. Unless there is a worldwide spiritual awakening and turning back to Him, the modern-day potential for increased disaster upon disaster is too horrible to contemplate. Already, violence is of epidemic proportions, nuclear and biological weapons are available to terrorists who will not hesitate to use them, new strains of diseases are epidemic and scientists predict more. The interdependent world economy is a house of cards built on debt, electronic monetary transfers and computer entries which could collapse with one major disaster.
The warning God gave to Israel, as recorded in Deuteronomy, chapter 8, is also true for America and every other country. If we obey God, He blesses us; if we disobey God, He disciplines us. Through Moses, God told the Israelites:
‘For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land — a land filled with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranites, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing’ (Deuteronomy 8:7–9, New International Version).
But God also gave them a stern warning:
‘When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees … then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God … If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed’ (verses 10, 11, 14, 19).
I have been greatly concerned about the spiritual condition and future of my own country. Modern research has proven conclusively that America was founded largely on biblical principles by committed Christians. America’s Founding Fathers received most of their ideas about government from people such as English legal scholar, lecturer and writer, Sir Charles William Blackstone, who got most of their ideas from the Bible. According to a recent University of Houston study, 34 percent of all the quotes of the Founding Fathers came from the Bible and another 60 per cent of their statements from men who used the Bible to form their conclusions. A total of 94 percent of their assertions were based on the Bible.
For example, the beloved father of our country and first president, General George Washington, said, ‘It is impossible to rightly govern … without God and the Bible.’ Sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams said, ‘The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government and the principles of Christianity.’
God has blessed America in prosperity and power above all nations of history. With only six per cent of the world’s population, America owns 50 percent of the world’s wealth. But there is no doubt — because of the more than three-decade anti-God trend in our government and society — America is now losing God’s former blessings and is under His discipline. To give a better understanding of what awaits us if we do not turn back to the God of creation and of our Founding Fathers, we need only look at modern-day Russia. Russia had over 900 years of Christianity, rich in culture, art, literature, music, poetry, with vast resources of oil and precious metals — one of the great nations of the centuries. But after 72 years of atheistic Communism, when God was outlawed from every segment of society, it is today a devastated country, a pathetic basket case — morally, spiritually, economically and politically.
The great and wonderful people of Russia are victims of a cruel and godless system of tyrannical leaders who rejected the truth of what Jesus taught, and led the nation astray. I have loved the Russian people since I began praying for them 50 years ago. I am grieved that they have suffered so terribly during this century under the oppressive tyranny of atheistic Communism.
By contrast, South Korea was a devastated nation at the end of the war in the 1950s. In my first visit there in the early 60s, it was an oxcart economy. Starvation was a serious problem. There was a constant threat of invasion from North Korea. Because of their desperate plight, people were forced to pray, fast, and cry out to God for help. And now, miracle of miracles, South Korea has become a model for the Christians of the world. In less than 25 years, that desperate country has become one of the vital, dynamic spiritual countries of the world, with a thriving, healthy economy. The followers of Christ have grown from approximately one million in the 1950s to 11 million in the 1990s. More than any other nation, multitudes pray and fast as a way of life, many for 40 days at a time.
Dr. Joon Gon Kim, one of the giant Christian leaders of the world, who began the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ in South Korea in 1958, has been very instrumental in the spiritual awakening there. Dr Kim and his associates invited leaders from around the world to join them in the Olympic stadium in Seoul, in June 1995, to dedicate 100,000 missionaries to serve Christ on every continent and in most countries of the world. From that little country of Korea, I have personally observed how the good news of Jesus Christ has gone to the ends of the earth.
What is a nation to do when it comes under God’s discipline and is in danger of losing everything? America’s great former president, Abraham Lincoln, faced that crisis during the bloody Civil War of the 1860s. Lincoln was a man who prayed. He read his Bible. And he knew what to do in this hour of great crisis. In 1863, he issued his famous Proclamation for a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting and Praying. Here is an excerpt:
‘We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God … Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray to the God that made us! Now, therefore … fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th day of April, 1863, as a day of National Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer.’
Lincoln and the nation honoured the God of heaven, the God of our Founding Fathers, and petitioned Him with humiliation, fasting and prayer. God heard, and answered. The war was soon concluded, and the nation was set on a course of unprecedented prosperity and blessing.
The crisis which America and the world face today far surpasses the one Lincoln faced. Ours is a crisis of spirit, character and the soul. All too often secular education has failed us; science and the military have built monsters to destroy us; and the media and government have deceived and misled us. The church is largely impotent and the family structure is crumbling. But Lincoln’s biblical solution still applies. There is only one hope, and that is the forgiveness and blessings of God.
We have tried every possible solution to the gargantuan problems which face us. None of them have worked. Now, through the process of elimination, many are returning to the God of our fathers.
That is why I believe so strongly that God has led me to fast and pray for a worldwide spiritual awakening and the completion of the Great Commission, and to encourage others to join me in fasting and prayer. During July and August, 1994, I felt impressed to fast for forty days. This was followed by an invitation to 650 Christian leaders to join me in Orlando, Florida to fast and pray. Again, in 1995 I was led to experience another forty-day fast. This was followed by more than 3,500 Christian leaders meeting in Los Angeles in November, 1995 to fast and pray. I feel led of God to ask for believers around the world to fast and pray with me for God’s grace and mercy on this world of darkness and sin. I am praying for two million people to fast for forty days for a worldwide revival and the fulfillment of the Great Commission by the end of the year 2000.
Please know that all the proceeds from the Templeton Prize will go to that Divine purpose. Through literature, seminars, radio and television, I trust that we shall help to encourage and equip millions of Christians around the world to join us in our fasting and praying for the world revival.
Some may wonder if the money could not be better spent by giving it to the poor, or to direct evangelism. But the roots of poverty are spiritual, and the power for evangelism comes through fasting and prayer. In both cases, it is most important to seek God’s face and ask for His help and intervention. He can do more in one second that humans can do in a thousand years of their own effort.
An example is Moses, who led the children of Israel fleeing the Pharaoh’s army. They seemed trapped at the Red Sea. Their destruction seemed imminent. There was no human solution. But the people cried out to God. He was their only hope. God answered, and miraculously parted the sea, allowing their escape and victory over their enemies (Genesis 14).
Another biblical example is Jehoshaphat, King of Judah. Powerful neighboring nations came against him in battle with overwhelming force. Jehoshaphat was desperate. He knew that his nation would be lost without God’s help, and he proclaimed a fast throughout all of Judah. The Lord answered and said, ‘The battle is not yours but God’s … You will not need to fight! Take your places; stand quietly and see the incredible rescue operation God will prepare for you.’ Jehoshaphat and the people worshipped and praised the Lord, and as they did so, the Lord miraculously turned Judah’s enemies on one another, and they destroyed each other! (2 Chronicles 20, Living Bible).
What God did for Moses, Jehoshaphat, and multitudes of others through the centuries who earnestly sought His help, He will do for us.
God’s promise to Solomon for ancient Israel, recorded in 2 Chronicles 7:14, can be claimed by believers of all nations: ‘If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land’ (2 Chronicles 7:14, New International Version).
No other Christian discipline meets the conditions of God’s promises to heal our land as powerfully as fasting with prayer.
Nothing is more urgent. Nothing deserves greater priority. I urge all in reach of this message to joint with us — to humble ourselves before God, to fast and pray, seeking His face and asking Him for a great spiritual awakening, and soon completion of the Great Commission.
I also urge personal involvement by young people, and men and women of all ages whom God has uniquely blessed with abilities, influence and with funds, to join us in completing the greatest opportunity the world has ever known to tell the greatest love story ever told, to proclaim God’s love and God’s forgiveness to every person on planet Earth — to reach out to the needy of the world, the widows, the orphans, the poor, the prisoners and to the leaders who influence the governments, the business and professional world, the media, the military, and the religious and educational systems of each country of the world.
With this milestone event — The Templeton Prize — coming in the lengthening shadows of my life, I am preparing to pass the torch to you and others. I speak to you after 50 years of ministering to the intellectual world — students and professors — and other segments of society. In thousands of lectures and in some fifty books and booklets, I have endeavoured to communicate spiritual truths that will inevitably change the lives of men and women who respond. They, in turn, continue this process of spiritual multiplication, resulting in changed societies and countries.
Will you accept that torch and join me and millions of others who are already committed to following Christ, proclaiming ‘the most joyful news ever announced’, to help populate the kingdom of heaven , and to help build a better world here on planet earth? Over half the people who have ever been alive are alive today. Those who do not know Him desperately need to meet and know our great Creator God and heavenly Father, who ‘so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.’