Changed by Faith: Dare to Trust God with Your Broken Pieces . . . and Watch What Happens
by Luis Palau
The convertible lay upside down in pieces across the rainsoaked motorway just outside London. Tire tread, debris, and scraped pavement trailed behind the car for more than forty feet. Steam hissed from the smashed engine. Metal crunched and glass cracked as the small car rocked back and forth on its hood.
Grant, the nineteen-year-old driver, had been thrown from the wreckage, sent flying over the side barrier upon impact. He lay limp and unconscious in the bushes beside the road. Though he was bruised and battered, his wounds would not prove fatal. Brandy—his passenger and girlfriend—was not as fortunate. Held tightly in her seat by the belt across her lap, she had been flipped and flung as the vehicle cartwheeled across the road. She was dead before the car came to a stop. It was three days before her sixteenth birthday.
I received the news just a few hours after the accident— awakened by the telephone in the early morning hours. I rubbed my eyes and reached for the phone. It was my good friend Bill, Grant’s father, and I could tell he was shaken up.
“Luis, it’s awful,” he began.
“Bill, what’s going on? What happened?”
“Grant and Brandy—they were in an accident. You remember Brandy, right?”
“Of course I remember Brandy. How is she? How are they? Tell me, what happened?”
Bill hesitated. I could tell he was fighting back tears. “It’s not good, Luis. Grant is in hospital. But Brandy . . . Brandy is gone.”
“Luis, it was stupid. The two were out for a drive—just heading to the store. Grant was driving too fast through the hills in the rain, and he lost control of the car. One split second.”
“Bill, I’m so sorry. What can I do?”
“Come. Come to England. We need you here. Brandy’s family needs you. Her mother asked for you specifically.”
I was quiet, still trying to absorb the news.
“Come do the memorial service, will you?” he insisted. “You played such a significant role in Brandy’s life. I know It’s what she would want.”
“Of course I’ll come, Bill.”
I was on a plane to London’s Heathrow Airport before the week was out.
7 7 7 As I sat in the airplane, jet engines humming in the background, I couldn’t help but think back to the first time I met young Brandy. It was three years earlier, at a youth gathering where I was scheduled to speak. She had come with her new boyfriend, Grant, and she was beaming from ear to ear. Little did I know that her smile masked a world of pain.
To all appearances, Brandy had everything going for her. She was bright and beautiful and came from a well-to-do family. Her father was a classical musician, and her mother was a television personality. And now she had a handsome boyfriend from a good family as well. Her future looked bright. I would later come to find out that her life was nowhere near as perfect as she let on.
As I shared my message that day, challenging the crowd to give their lives to Jesus Christ and to let him take their ashes and turn them into something beautiful, I had a sense I was speaking directly to Brandy. Sure enough, at the end of my talk, when I gave the invitation, she was among the first to stand and make her way to the stage—running, not walking, with Grant following quickly behind.
I jumped off the stage and found Brandy in the crowd. I could see she wanted to talk, and I wanted to offer her encouragement and guidance. As we sat down together, along with Grant, I asked her questions about her life, knowing that my message had struck a chord. Now, even three years later, her story was still fresh in my mind.
“Brandy, what’s on your heart?” I asked. “I need help.”
“What do you mean?”
“My life—it’s just not what I would have ever dreamed it would be.”
“I feel so alone. I feel unloved. My parents don’t get along, and they’re too busy for me. I don’t even live with them. No one seems to care.”
I could sense the pain hiding just below the surface.
“Why don’t you live with your parents?”
“They divorced several years ago and live in different areas. I’m just a distraction to them. They sent me to live with my aunt and uncle, so I only see them on occasion. I feel tossed around—and that’s just the beginning. Why is life so difficult?”
“Brandy, I’m sorry,” I said. “Sometimes that’s just the way it is. But you’re wrong about no one caring. There is someone who cares. There is a reason for hope. You were made for more than this.”
I could tell she was still processing my message, but it was beginning to click in her mind.
“Do you go to church, Brandy?”
“No. My parents have never been into religion. And my aunt and uncle are atheists.”
“Have you ever read the Bible?”
“So, what do you believe?”
“I don’t really know. But your message—it made sense.”
“Brandy, there is someone who cares about you. There is someone who wants to see you succeed. He wants to give you purpose, joy, and a truly meaningful life. His name is Jesus.”
“I’m just not sure,” she said.
“I know. The world is full of trouble. Your life isn’t perfect. You have struggles. You have pain. But Jesus came to overcome the trouble and pain of this world. He came to give you life!”
Over the next several minutes, Brandy continued to pour out her pain and her struggles as Grant and I tried to encourage her. She was so lonely, so broken, so discouraged. She wanted hope. She needed a fresh start. She craved something or someone she could trust. Her parents had let her down. Her aunt and uncle, though they had opened their home to her, were not always there for her emotionally. There were so many insecurities, so many painful memories, and so many unanswered questions. And she was still so young. Finally, I knew it was time to challenge her. Looking her straight in the eye, I said, “Brandy, do you want your life to change? Do you want to see success where there is failure now? Do you want real, transforming purpose in your life?”
“I want it more than anything in the world,” she said, now on the verge of tears.
“So tell me, Brandy, why did you come forward?”
“Because I want to know Jesus!”
As we continued to talk, I was amazed by her humility, hunger, and eagerness to learn. You could tell the message had shaken her. And as I explained in more detail what it meant to follow Jesus as her Savior, she understood perfectly. She got it. That day, Brandy gave her life over to Jesus and became a new creation.
Over the next three years, Brandy’s life was radically transformed. Even as a young teenager, she saw God do powerful things. She became a winsome encourager among her friends, and her life exuded purpose, hope, and joy. She couldn’t stop talking about Jesus, and she couldn’t keep from smiling. Even her parents saw something captivating in Brandy. As she spent more time with her mother and father and their high-society friends, they were all encouraged and blessed by her. People were drawn to Brandy, and she was always quick to tell them that the real attraction was Jesus. Even her aunt and uncle—both staunch atheists—eventually made their own commitment to Jesus Christ. They both admitted to me personally that it was a direct result of Brandy’s life and testimony. Brandy’s life had been powerfully transformed. There was no question about that.
At the memorial service, the church was packed with musicians and movie stars, high school students, family members, friends, and acquaintances. As I stood in front of the casket and shared about Brandy’s life, I was amazed at how in three short years this sweet, little girl had touched the lives of literally hundreds of people. Her life had gone from painful to powerful. She and everyone around her had seen her ashes turned to beauty. Her life and her story had been redeemed.
This young girl accomplished more in those three years than many people accomplish in a lifetime. And her story is a challenge to each one of us. Brandy was a baby in terms of her spiritual walk. But she was faithful. And she saw God use her in powerful ways.
Ashes into beauty. Pain into power. Rejection into rejoicing. It’s something we all desire. And it’s within our reach. So why don’t we see more of it?
Why don’t we see more radical transformation in people’s lives? In our own lives?
Why don’t we experience a more thrilling adventure of faith and trust—just like Brandy?
To be honest, many of us have become comfortable Christians. We go to church; we believe that the Bible is true; we’ve been to Sunday school; and we have the right answers and can cite the right verses; but in many ways we have become lethargic, pew-sitting believers. Others have given up on church completely. Their fire has died down to embers, and they’ve resigned themselves to the conclusion that profound transformation—which the Bible seems to promise—is something they won’t fully realize until they get to heaven. Though in the meantime they may experience some wisps and whispers of God’s power, for the most part life is too cruel and their circumstances are too difficult to see that God is actively at work right here and right now.
Maybe your problem is a crisis of belief. Maybe you feel as if your circumstances are so far out of control that only a complete miracle could make any difference.
Well, it’s hard to imagine circumstances more out of control than the situations faced by many throughout the Bible. We read stories of sick women, blind beggars, guilt-ridden fathers, even murderers and prostitutes. We are reminded of God’s power as he takes these individuals and transforms their lives into something beautiful. The Bible is full of stories of individuals in far worse situations than ours . . . people who called upon the name of the Lord and found healing, hope, encouragement, and new life.
One story that always strikes me with power is found three places in the Bible (Matthew 17:14-20; Mark 9:14-29; and Luke 9:1-6, 37-43). It’s the story of a demon-possessed boy and a father who struggled with his faith.
If you’re familiar with the story, you know that the boy had been afflicted since childhood with an evil spirit. The father had brought the boy to some of Jesus’ disciples to see if they could cast out the demon; but they were unable to— even though Jesus had specifically given them the power and authority to heal.
When Jesus eventually arrived on the scene, the father, who by then was at the end of his rope, pleaded with Jesus to heal his son. He called out to him, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. . . . Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
“What do you mean, ‘If I can?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
As soon as the father realized his folly, he fell down next to his son at Jesus’ feet. With tears in his eyes and pain in his voice, he humbly pleaded, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” At that, Jesus turned to the boy, knelt down, and prayed. With authority and power he rebuked the evil spirit. And within seconds, the boy was healed. Peace returned to his young body. Hope returned to the scene.
If you’re at all like me, when you read a story like that, you get encouraged. You get excited to see Jesus show up to save the day and bring peace and wholeness back to the scene. After all, it’s what we all want. It’s what we all dream of, deep down. We breathe a sigh of relief when we see that God truly cares about our circumstances and that he truly is able to heal, even in the midst of our weak faith. And you can’t help but wonder if he will do the same for you . . . someday . . . in some way.
But now for the hard questions: How often have you seen a scenario like that played out in your own life? How often have you really, truly seen Jesus show up and do something so dramatic? Where was he when your friend died? Why did he seem distant when your job disappeared? Why didn’t he stop the cancer? Where was his grace when your spouse decided to leave? Why would he let you lose your baby?
It’s not that you don’t believe. Like Brandy, you trust that Jesus is alive. Like the father of the young boy, you believe, at least in part, that Jesus can have an impact on your life. You know he’s at work in the world. You believe in miracles— you’ve just never actually seen one. You wonder why God is so silent at times, and why you’re not able to bring his power to bear in your own family, community, or circumstances. Maybe, you tell yourself, Jesus just hasn’t shown up yet. Maybe his attention is focused someplace else—in Haiti or India or somewhere in Africa. But in your life . . . with your circumstances . . . you just don’t see it. After all, does Jesus really care about you? Does he really have the power and desire to take your ashes—your pain—and turn them into beauty?
Still, you’d like to believe that the same purpose and power that Brandy experienced is available to you. In fact, you do believe it’s possible, but you want to experience it for yourself—right now. Just like the father in the story, when confronted with tough situations, you can’t help but utter the words, “Lord, I believe. Please help my unbelief.”
On the other hand, maybe you’ve become a cynic. You believe that God exists and you have at least a vague understanding of Jesus. But you just don’t buy into the hype about modern-day miracles and life transformation. And frankly, you don’t see much difference between some Christians you know and anyone else. Sure, faith in Jesus may be great for others, but what’s the point for you? Why should you really care? And why should you subject yourself to that sort of religious lifestyle? It’s so confining—so restricting. Besides, is it really real?
Wherever you fall on the spectrum of faith, I’m sure You’ve thought to yourself on occasion, What’s the point? You question whether faith in God—or trust in Jesus and his Word—can really make a difference in your daily life. We all have times of questioning—wondering about the purpose of it all. We’ve all had our fair share of trials. We’ve felt the pain, struggled with the despair, and been left asking why. We get tired of the rat race and tired of this boring old life. In desperation, we call out to God. We ask Jesus to show up and bring peace and liberation to the scene—to transform our lives into something truly meaningful and powerful. And yet, he seems oddly silent. We’re left wondering, Jesus, where are you? Jesus, what am I missing?
Apathy sets in. Despair takes over.
Like most of us, you shut yourself off from the rest of the world—while preserving the illusion of being connected— and continue life as best you can.
But you were made for more than that!
We live in a broken world. But I don’t have to tell you that. We’ve all had our lives come crashing down around us at one time or another. We’ve felt the weight on our shoulders, and we’ve crumbled under the pressure. Some have turned to alcohol, drugs, food, sex, or other pursuits in order to get through it. Others fantasize about suicide, winning the lottery, or finding their soul mate. It seems we’ll turn to anything to find comfort. We’re all looking to fill our lives with something. And yet the next morning, the pain is still there; the wounds are still fresh.
Let’s face it: All too often, our lives are not what we hoped they would be. The grass is never green enough. The sky is never blue enough. The vacation is never sweet enough, long enough, or relaxing enough. The money never goes far enough. The relationships never satisfy. The expectations never pan out. And the plans never turn out the way we expected. Regardless of what we believe, we all seem to be struggling with the same not-quite-what-I-signed-upfor reality.
If that is where you find yourself today, take heart! No matter what you’re struggling with, there’s hope. I know it! I’ve experienced it, and I want to share it with you. As you read this book and consider how this all fits together, I want to encourage you to think long and hard about who you really are, what life is really all about, what you really believe, and how God—our Creator—fits into your story, if at all. I’m not talking about a “Sunday only” type of faith. I’m talking about real, transformational faith. I’m talking about a life that is worth living—and a faith that doesn’t disappoint. After all, isn’t that what we all want?
I’m not writing just to make an argument. I’m writing from my heart, which is why you’ll find elements of my own story throughout these pages. I’m writing from personal experience, from my deep passion for other people and for God, and from my desire to see people set free to live life the way it was meant to be lived.
Jesus is still alive. He is at work. He is redeeming our lives. And yes, just as he did for Brandy and the demon-possessed boy, he is still raising people from the ash heap of life. It’s time to stop holding your breath and expecting the worst. It’s time to stop merely dreaming of a better life. Whether or not you can see where the road leads from where You’re standing doesn’t matter. It’s time to put your faith in the one who sees the end from the beginning, the one who has the power to cast out demons, heal our diseases, and set our feet on solid ground.
It’s time to say, “I believe. Lord, help my unbelief!”