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The Day Of Small Beginnings
“All the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. I’ve dumped them all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by Him (Philippians 3:8-9 – MSG).”
The first part of this book describes a number of events in the life of Zac Poonen – from the time he was converted as an officer in the Indian Navy to the time when he left the Navy to serve the Lord full-time. It describes some of the ways in which the Lord trained and prepared him to be His servant.
The second part of this book describes something of the ministry that God gave him and the lessons that he and his coworkers learnt as they sought to serve the Lord and build the church – the Body of Christ.
This is not an autobiography nor a record of Zac’s ministry, but rather an account of the lessons learnt and the principles followed as he did the Lord’s work.
Zac has written this book primarily to challenge young people to be faithful to the Lord, so that they can be trained and prepared by the Lord for His service and to build the church according to New-Testament principles.
Listening to God’s Voice
Large doors swing on small hinges. God tests us in many areas many times, before He commits any important ministry to us. He tests us to see if we are faithful in the little things before He commits greater things to us. As with Adam and Eve, God asks for obedience to His voice first of all.
One of my earliest memories of obeying the voice of the Lord was when I was 15 years old, soon after I had joined the National Defence Academy at Khadakvasla (Pune) for training to be a Naval officer. The year was 1955 and I was on vacation (from the Academy), with my parents who lived in New Delhi. One Sunday evening, my younger brother and I had gone to attend a church service. After the service, at about 8 pm, both of us were waiting at the bus stand to catch the bus to return home. Suddenly a thought began to grow in my mind that I should witness to someone about Christ. I had heard the good news of the gospel again that evening and felt I must share it with someone, before going to bed that night. But I was not sure whether this was a prompting from the Lord or just my own thought. In any case it was getting late – and I needed to get back home soon.
In the distance, I saw the lights of a bus coming towards us. I told the Lord silently, “If that is NOT the bus to my home, then I will take it as a sign from You that I should witness to someone before going home. If it IS the bus for my home, then I will take the bus and go home.” The bus drew near and I saw that it was NOT the bus I had to take. The sign I had asked for was fulfilled. So I told my younger brother that I had to go somewhere else before coming home and asked him to go home alone. I then walked to a nearby park hoping that I would meet someone there whom it would be easy to witness to – because this was the first time I was venturing out to witness for the Lord in a public place, alone.
I saw an old man sitting on a bench in the park and went and sat next to him. I made casual conversation with him for a few minutes in Hindi and soon became bold enough to talk to him about eternal things. I told him about the love of God for man and how Christ died for our sins and the simple gospel message that I knew. He listened to me patiently. Since it was God Who had put an urge within me to witness that night, I assume that He must have had this man in mind to reach with the gospel. I hope I shall meet this man in heaven one day. That was my first venture at witnessing openly and all by myself in a public place. God tested me to see if I would obey the inner promptings of His Spirit.
That was “the day of small beginnings” (Zechariah 4:10). Since then God has given me the opportunity to preach His Word to crowds of many thousands of people in many parts of the world. But it all began with a small act of obedience one Sunday evening in New Delhi.
Be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. You will never know until you stand before the Lord how much you missed whenever you did NOT obey that voice.
Assurance of Salvation
Some believers can remember very clearly the exact date and time when they were born again. But I cannot. In fact I don’t even know in which year I was born again. That does not mean that being born again is a gradual process. It is not. Passing from death to life in Christ takes place in an instant. But many people like me who were born and brought up in God-fearing Christian homes, cannot pinpoint the exact moment when that miracle took place. That is because many who are like me, ask the Lord to come into their heart, many, many times and we can’t say which of those times was the real one.
If I remember rightly, I asked the Lord to come into my heart for the first time, when I was about 13. But I did not know whether He had come in or not, because I did not feel or experience anything, when I prayed. So I kept on asking the Lord to come into my heart again and again – perhaps over a hundred times during the next few years – but each time I felt nothing! And so I did not know whether I was saved or not.
As long as I was at home, the restraints imposed on me by my parents kept me from many worldly forms of entertainment like the cinema etc. But once I joined the military academy and the Indian Navy, I was on my own and such restraints were gone. Gradually I became a worldly Christian who went to church only as a matter of habit – and not out of any conviction.
But one good thing came out of my trying out the world’s entertainments. I discovered that everything the world had to offer was empty and hollow – incapable of satisfying me in a lasting way. One day, in July 1959, as I was sitting in my room in the Naval Base at Cochin and thinking about all this and reading the Bible, I came to John 6:37, where Jesus said, “I will certainly not cast out anyone who comes to me”. I had read that verse many times before. But that day it struck me forcefully – and I believed it. I knew that I had come to the Lord many times. I suddenly realized that if I had done my part, Jesus must have done His part – He must have received me. It was then that I realized that unbelief was the greatest sin (See John 16:9). For if I did not believe God’s word, I was then making Him out to be a liar – and that was the greatest insult anyone could give to God. So, after 6 years of being tossed about, I believed – and I was sure that I was saved. What did I learn from my experience? Two things.
First of all, that when you are not sure of your salvation, it is very easy to get discouraged and to backslide.
Secondly, that faith is a gift of God. I was 19 years old when I first got assurance of my salvation. More than 46 years have passed since that day, but I have never once doubted my salvation. I have doubted many other things in these years, but I have never doubted my salvation. I dropped an anchor that day on the ground of God’s infallible Word and my ship has never drifted since then. I have been battered by many fierce storms in these years, and my ship has swung wildly at times, but my anchor has held. How can I explain that? I can only say that God gave me the grace to “believe” His Word that day. Even faith is a gift of God. So we cannot glory even in our faith. All we can do is humbly glorify God.
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 theatre, 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 any more. 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 theatre, a constant cry was going up from my heart to the Lord to somehow save me from this situation.
When we reached the cinema theatre, 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” (Psalm 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 any more.
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 colours 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.
I have discovered through the years that God leads us one step at a time. His promise is: “As you go, step by step I will open up the way before you” (Proverbs 4:12 – Literal translation). The pillar of cloud led the Israelites day by day. So does the Holy Spirit lead us today.
Soon after I received the assurance of salvation, I was told that the next step for me was to be baptized in water. I had been christened as a baby in the Syrian Orthodox church – a ceremony that they called “baptism”. And I knew that there were born-again Christians on both sides of this theological fence – those who were “baptized” only as babies like me and those who were baptized as believers. I decided therefore to study the Word of God on this subject to see what it said.
As I studied the Word, I discovered a number of truths: First of all, there was not a single mention of child-baptism in the entire New Testament. A few instances of baptism of entire families were there, but there was no mention of whether there were any babies in those families – and we cannot prove any doctrine from the silences of Scripture. John the Baptist baptized only adults. Jesus Himself was baptized only when He was an adult. Jesus baptized adults but only laid hands on (blessed) children. (Many churches however do the exact opposite: they baptize children and lay hands on adults (confirmation)!) When God blotted out my past completely, that included my unscriptural child-baptism as well!! The first step of obedience that every believer took in Acts of the Apostles was water-baptism.
All this convinced me that I needed to be baptized. But some child-baptized believers told me that there was a far greater need for preaching the gospel in the Orthodox churches than in the believers’ assemblies; and if I got baptized, I would be expelled from the Orthodox church and would then lose opportunities to give the gospel to the unbelievers there. This seemed a very convincing argument – and so I decided not to be baptized.
I remained thus for 18 months. But every time I knelt down to pray, I felt as if God was saying to me: “If you are not listening to Me, why should I listen to you.” And in all those 18 months I made NO spiritual progress at all. This began to disturb me. Finally I told the Lord that I would obey Him, even if I was thrown out of every church in the world. And so in January 1961 I got baptized.
After that, I began to grow in my Christian life by leaps and bounds. I then realized that I could not possibly be a blessing to others, if I was disobedient to God’s commands myself. I decided thereafter that I would obey God’s Word immediately in every matter – big or small – whatever men or churches may say. How much spiritual loss we suffer when we to listen to the arguments of human reason and disobey God’s Word.
Since that first step of obedience 43 years ago, God has shown me many more steps of obedience. But each time, He showed me the next step, only after I had taken the step He had already shown me. God’s Word is “a lamp to our feet” (Psalm 119:105), meaning that it shows us only the next step for our feet and not the whole road in front of us. This is like holding a torch and walking along a dark road. We can see only a little bit of the road at a time – just enough for the next step. To see more of the road ahead, we have to move forward.
If I had not taken that first step of obedience, I might never have seen another step in God’s will for my life – and I would have wasted my days on earth, even if I did go to heaven. If God has clearly shown you some step of obedience now, obey Him immediately, lest you miss the will of God for your life.
Obedience is a step-by-step matter.
Clearing My Debts
In early 1961, immediately after my baptism, the Lord showed me the next step that I had to take in my walk with Him. My debt to God had been cleared – completely. It was now time to clear my debts to man – equally completely.
I remembered that I had cheated the government of money in the past. Jesus said that we had to “give to Caesar what was Caesar’s” first, before we could “give to God what was God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Otherwise we will be giving God money that we have stolen from “Caesar”. So I calculated how much I had to pay back to the government. I hesitated between two figures – one of them 20% more than the other. Finally, true to human nature, I chose the lower figure. One day I read in Numbers 5:6, 7, that God had commanded the Israelites that when making restitution, they were to add 20% to what they owed!! This was a clear and direct word from God to my heart: He wanted me to pay back the higher amount. This amount came to about four times my monthly salary! So I began to save as much as possible each month, so that I could repay my debt as soon as possible.
When I had finally saved up the amount, I faced another problem. The government did not have any department where honest people who wanted to make restitution could repay their debts!! So I went to the railway station and bought a number of tickets for a long train journey to the other end of India (that covered the amount that I had to make restitution for). Then I tore up those tickets. That way I ensured that the money went to the government’s coffers. My bank account was now empty, but my heart was full – with the joy of the Lord.
It was only when Zaccheus decided to repay all those whom he had cheated that the Lord said, “Salvation has come – for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:9, 10). Like all human beings, Zaccheus was lost in the love of money and Jesus saved him from it. I too was lost in the love of money, and Jesus saved me from it. “The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10), and the Lord wants to save us from it. Only then can He say that “salvation has come”. He alone can root out this evil completely from our hearts. But He will do it only for those who ask Him to do it.
Debts are not only financial. Sometimes, what we owe may be an apology. When I was a young boy, I used to collect stamps, and I had once stolen a stamp (of almost no value) from a friend’s collection. The Lord reminded me of this small matter and told me to confess this sin (that I had committed more than 10 years earlier) to that person and to ask his forgiveness. This was even more difficult for me to do than repaying money to the government – for this involved my having to humble myself before another person. But I decided to write that letter of apology. Again the joy of the Lord filled my heart.
In some cases, it may be impossible for us to make restitution for the wrongs that we have committed. In such cases, we must not allow Satan to harass us perpetually, but accept God’s forgiveness and be at rest. God will show us the matters that we need to set right. And when He shows us some matter, He will test us to see whether we will humble ourselves and obey Him immediately – whatever the cost.
If I had not obeyed God promptly in these two matters, I would have dragged a chain behind me, these 43 years. And I would have missed God’s calling for my life. And the Lord would not have given me the ministry that He did. What regret would then have plagued my mind for all eternity in heaven.
God wants His children to be free from debt to all men. Is there some debt from your past that needs to be settled? Settle it immediately, lest you miss your calling in life and have many regrets in eternity. Now is the time for total obedience! Large doors swing on small hinges!
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.