Unshackled from the "Small Screen"
What Changed Wilkerson?
adapted from Kairos Journal
"It is God, and only God, who heals."
An onslaught of restlessness hit David Wilkerson as he watched the remnants of "The Late Show" fade slowly from the television screen. He began to pace the room, calculating the amount of time he spent absorbed by the media´s lure every night-at least two hours. Wilkerson glanced at the ceiling and wondered aloud, "What would happen, Lord, if I sold that TV set and spent that time- praying?" Within a few minutes, Wilkerson determined that if God wanted him to substitute prayer for television, then He would allow him to sell the television no more than half an hour after a newspaper ad for the TV hit the streets. The morning came, and the Wilkerson family sat in the living room watching a big alarm clock posted beside the telephone. Twenty-nine minutes after they began their vigil, a man called and purchased the set, sight unseen.
That was February 9, 1958. A few months later, during one of Wilkerson´s prayer sessions, God spoke to him through a courtroom drawing in Life magazine, a picture of seven boys in a murder trial. Wilkerson realized God was calling him to New York City to bring the gospel to these troubled teens. The next day he announced his intentions at a prayer meeting in his Pennsylvania church. They took up an offering to cover his transportation costs, and he departed for New York City early the next morning, full of conviction but with little direction.
After a series of trips to the city, Wilkerson began street evangelism in the most dangerous areas of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx. By August of 1959, several of the most violent gang leaders, including Nicky Cruz and Israel (and their entire gangs), had genuinely converted to Christianity-the story captured in the best-selling book The Cross and the Switchblade. A few even decided to attend seminary. Within two years, Wilkerson permanently left his burgeoning parish in Philipsburg, dropped his wife and children off at her parents´ in Pittsburgh, and moved into a grungy office space in Staten Island to start a "program aimed at setting youngsters free." He soon retrieved his family, purchased a home in Brooklyn, and with a staff of young evangelists in tow, established a safe haven for New York´s urban, troubled youth.
So began a journey that grew into a worldwide youth ministry, today called Teen Challenge. It provides faith-based rehabilitation services to teenagers plagued by addiction. Its program has broken addictions psychologists claimed impossible to overcome; it maintains a high success rate of long-term recovery. Wilkerson opened the first center in Brooklyn, and now centers can be found across the U. S. and around the world.4
People may wonder what attributes made Wilkerson such a formidable force in New York City and beyond. First, he pursued the Lord in prayer before he made any decision or took any action regarding his calling. As he prayed with Bible in hand, he learned the power of balancing petition and praise. Second, once he discerned God´s will, Wilkerson was readily obedient: He started going to New York City every week. He walked the crime-infested streets, and he talked to as many teenagers as possible about the issues they faced. Essentially, he took the trouble to become well-informed. And though he faced obstacles, Wilkerson kept going back. Third, Wilkerson´s ministry was led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. When a teen suggested he was "trying too hard," Wilkerson realized that he needed to step aside and allow the Spirit to win the hearts of his unconventional congregation. It was not that Wilkerson ceased to prepare for his interactions with the teens or to work diligently at his ministry; it was merely that he remembered that "it is God, and only God, who heals." And the healing began at a stunning pace.
Who knows what can happen when the man or woman of God turns off the TV long enough to hear the Lord speaking to him.
"Be Ye Ready" Is No Joking Matter by David Wilkerson, sermon audio.