A passage in the Bible perfectly describes the before and after picture of my life:
BEFORE: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
AFTER: But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:1-9).
Speaking of before and after pictures, this picture of me before I became a follower of Jesus Christ is worth a thousand words. There I am on the cover of Minnesota Monthly. “David Wheaton: A Smashing Success. What more could a 22 year-old ask for? There they are: fame, fortune, success.
But what makes this magazine cover really interesting is the actual photograph. It can be viewed a number of ways, all perfectly representative of my life at that time:
I appear to be a prisoner behind my racquet. I’m holding a mask in front of my face. The broken strings represent my relationships with God and others. There is no joy in my countenance.
That was me before I came to know Jesus Christ: outward success, but inward conflict.
But why? How could a young man be so internally conflicted and empty when he had already attained what most people in this world seek after?
At the Grand Slam Cup in Munich, Germany in 1991, I experienced an overdose of fame, fortune, and success. I had just won the largest prize money check in tennis history in one of the biggest tournaments of the year and my success was being broadcast all over the world.
But within 15 minutes after one of the biggest moments of my life, all 12,000 fans filed right out of the stadium. I vividly remember experiencing an incredible letdown and thinking how quickly it all came to an end.
I had spent my whole childhood and teenage years practicing tennis, I had played hundreds of matches in junior, collegiate and professional tournaments, I had worked so hard just to qualify for and win this tournament, and now everyone just gets up and leaves. For the first time in my life, the brevity of earthly success hit me hard.
Yes, that week in ‘91 changed my life, but one thing is for certain: I didn’t become a happier person as a result of my big win. As a matter of fact, my life continued to become more filled with internal strife, relationship conflicts with my parents and others, and an emptiness caused by a misguided life purpose. Instead of contentment brought by fame, fortune, and success, deep down I was unhappy and unsettled.
Growing up as the youngest of four children in a close, church-going Christian family, I was clearly taught the Bible and Christian values by my parents. I knew the right way to live, but I felt like I was somehow missing out on what the world had to offer: pursuits that I later learned resulted in a guilty conscience, regret, and spiritually unhealthy relationships.
I may have thought I had a faith of my own, but my life bore very little resemblance to one who knows Jesus Christ. Cultivating a relationship with God through reading the Bible and praying, honoring my parents, and living a holy life were not characteristics of my life. My inner conflict stemmed from knowing God’s way, but living another way according to my own desires.
In the midst of my outward success and inner conflict, God allowed two things to occur in my life:
- He let me experience the emptiness and vanity of what the world seeks.
- He brought me to the low point of understanding my own sinfulness and need for a Savior.
A couple years after my big win, I began to earnestly read the Bible and study some of the biblical principles presented in a Christian seminar I had attended that year. Finally, the rose-colored glasses came off my eyes and I saw my own sinfulness.
During this time of intense study and soul searching, I confessed and repented of my sin to God and trusted in His Son, Jesus Christ as both the Savior and Lord of my life.
My life began to change immediately, though not easily. Difficult choices needed to be made between my old way of living versus God’s way. Previously, I could not reform myself from my sinful thoughts, actions, and relationships. Now, these sinful habits were being overcome through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit reminding me to obey God’s Word.
God was changing me from the inside out. These positive changes in my life gave me great motivation to continue following Jesus Christ.
During the last twelve years, a few practical things have helped nurture and deepen my relationship with Jesus Christ:
- A daily time with God reading the Bible and praying.
- Honoring the God-given authorities in my life.
- Spending time with like-minded Christian friends.
- Avoiding anything that would offend my Savior.
Please don’t get the idea that I’m perfect or sinless. But God’s goal for every Christian is that they become more like His Son, Jesus Christ. I try to keep this as my calling.
These last ten years of being a committed believer in Jesus Christ have given me the most important thing in life—something fame, fortune, success and the “passing pleasures of sin” could never offer: a sense of joy and contentment to be in a right relationship with the God of the universe when I put my head on the pillow each night. That is truly priceless.