Derek Prince - Conversion
When World War II broke out I was aged about 24. I was 24 when I was elected into a Fellowship at King’s College, Cambridge, and about the same time I was called up. Taking the stand of Conscientious Objector, I agreed to do non-combatant service. All that was a tremendous emotional crisis for me, because every member of my family that I’d ever known has been an officer in the British Army, so I was definitely departing from tradition. I mean, it was a departure from tradition when I became a philosopher. But worse still when I became a conscientious objector. But worse was still ahead for my family. They didn’t know it because when I was called up into the army my one big question was what will I take with me to read? Because up to that time I’d had one of the largest libraries in the world at my back door.
And I said to myself, here I am a philosopher. I’m supposed to be an expert. But there’s one book of philosophy of the world that I know very little about, and it’s the most widely read and most influential book in the history of the human language. And, of course, I was referring to the Bible, which I considered to be a work of philosophy. So I knew I would have very little room to carry things in the army, so I decided I’d invest in a Bible and take that with me. So I bought myself a nice new black Bible, and my first night in the Army in Boyce Barrack Group of Hampshire there were 24 other new recruits and I thought, well, where do you start to read the Bible? And just said like any other book you start at the beginning.
So my first night in the army I sat down on the bed, I pulled out my Bible and started reading Genesis chapter 1, verse 1. Well, I had no anticipation of the impact that it would make when somebody was seen reading the Bible in the Army. A sort of uneasy hush fell over the whole barrack room. But I baffled everybody, including myself, because when I wasn't reading the Bible, I didn't live the least bit like somebody who reads the Bible every day. I won't go into all the details. But I’m a determined person, so I said this book is not going to beat me. I’m going to go to the end of it and when I’ve read all I’ll be in a position to give an authoritative evaluation of it.
Well, I plowed along for nine months and I’d got somewhere in the book of Job when I got invited to a Pentecostal church. Now I had never heard of Pentecostal people. As a matter of fact I don’t think I’d ever heard of Baptists to say the truth. I knew there were some people called Methodists who’d made trouble early on in British history, and of course I was a member of the church, the Anglican Church, the Church of England as they used to call it. But anyhow, this soldier came to me and he said, I’d like you to come with me to a place I’ve found Sunday afternoon. And because it was Sunday afternoon and he was rather apologetic, I concluded it was a church. So I said to him: I want to tell you I don't believe in religion, but I've got nothing to do on Sunday afternoon so I'd be happy to come.
So we went to this Pentecostal church and I mean you have to know, I had never even heard of pentecostals. And it was different, there is no denying that. They sang from red hymn books. They clapped their hands and when they came to a chorus, they repeated it. I mean it was a culture shock for me. Anyhow I made up my mind. But I really wanted to know was, did the preacher know what he was talking about? And I mean, I had been trained to analyze or criticize for years. The preacher actually had been a taxi driver before he became a preacher. But anyhow he took his text from Isaiah chapter 6. In the year that King Uzziah died, had a vision of the Lord, saw Him in His glory Isaiah said And he said: "Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips". And when I heard that phrase, I said to myself, "No one ever described you more accurately than that: A man of unclean lips dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips". Because no group of men in the world excel the British Army for uncleanness of speech.
So after that he had my attention. I thought, you know, he must know something I don’t know. He was one of these preachers who didn’t stick with any particular theme or period of time, and he was going up and down in the Bible and I was getting little dizzy following him. But he got to a stage where he was talking about the shepherd boy David and King Saul and some sort of interview between them. And he emphasized the fact that King Saul was head and shoulders taller than the rest of the people. So he did this rather vivid dialogue between the two imaginary persons, and when he was speaking in the person of Saul he jumped up on a little bench and looked down at where he had been when he was speaking as David. And I was following all this intently, but when he was on the bench speaking as Saul, the bench collapsed, and he fell to the floor with a loud thud! I mean if he’d been planning something to impress a Cambridge philosopher, you’d have left that part out! But as a matter of fact I said to myself, No matter how strange this all is, he’s got something I don’t have.
So then they came to “the appeal”, and you have to know I’d never been in a church where people made appeals, or asked you to do something so embarrassing as to put your hand up in public. And I couldn’t understand what they were appealing about, but it got something to do with what had been happening to the man. So I sat there in this stony silence. There was no background music in those days. And two voices were speaking, inaudible voices, one in each ear and one voice said, If you put your hand up in front of all these old ladies, you’ll look very silly. The other voice in the opposite ear said at the same time, If this is something good, why shouldn’t you have it? And I was absolutely paralyzed. I could not decide which voice to respond to. And then a miracle took place, a real literal physical miracle. I saw my own right arm go right up in the air and I knew I had not raised it. Somebody had raised my arm.
And I tell you, talk about being emotional, I was frightened. What have I got into? Well, that was all they were waiting for, this one soldier in uniform to raise his arm. After that they went ahead with the rest of the meeting. Nobody came up to counsel me or inquire about why I did it. But there was an elderly couple in the congregation who kept a boarding house and they took pity on these two soldiers and invited us out for supper. Well, the army didn’t feed us very well, so supper sounded very tempting. As we walked to their home from the church, this little lady of about sixty, began to tell me some of her experiences. She said that her husband in World War I had been exempted from military service because he had tuberculosis of one lung. Well, I knew enough to know that if he got exemption on that basis, it was a valid medical diagnosis.
Then she said to me, I prayed every day for ten years for God to heal my husband. And that staggered me! I couldn’t imagine anybody praying every day for ten years for anything. Then she said, after ten years I was in the parlor, if you know Britain, you know what the parlor is: praying by myself. My husband was sitting up in bed coughing up blood, and as I was praying an audible voice spoke to me and said ‘Claim it.’ And she said, I answered out loud "Lord I claim it now". At that moment her husband was instantly and completely healed in the bedroom. So I said to myself when I heard this, maybe this is what I’ve been looking for all my life!
Well, we went there and we had a very good meal. They prayed at the beginning. Well, I said to myself, this is part of the whole package deal, goes with the rest. There were about seven people around the table. The end of the meal without any preliminaries they started to pray again! And they were praying one by one around the table. And I looked and I saw my turn was coming quickly and I had never prayed out loud in public. I had no idea what to say. When my turn came I opened my mouth and I said, Lord, I believe; help mine unbelief, and my mouth shut like a trap. I couldn’t say another word. And that’s probably the best prayer I’ve ever prayed. Well, in this strange jargon that they used, somebody mentioned at the supper table, there’s going to be a revival at the Assemblies of God on Tuesday. Well, I didn’t know what a revival was and I’d never heard of the Assemblies of God, but I said to myself, if it’s the same thing I’d better be there.
So I was there, same sort of people different building, different preacher. And he took his text from a statement in Genesis, Enoch was not because the Lord took him. And he was one of these preachers who believed in everything vivid and up-to-date, so he described how the CID if you know what that is, the police, came out with their tracking dogs to trace Enoch who’s disappeared. And they followed the scent to a certain point and then it ceased. So they concluded he must have gone up. And I thought, well, that’s logical, my logic was my field of study. Well, when he got to the end I knew what to expect, every head bowed, every eye closed, If you want this, put your hand up. So I thought to myself, somebody else put my hand up for me last time, but I couldn’t expect that to happen twice, so I put my hand up.
And afterwards the preacher came to me and I think he realized he had a problem on his hand. He asked me two questions. He said, do you believe that you’re a sinner? Well, my specialty was definitions. So I quickly ran through some possible definitions of a sinner and all of them described me exactly. So I said, yes, I believe I’m a sinner. Then he said, do you believe Christ died for your sins? I thought it over carefully and I said, to tell you the truth, I can’t see what the death of Jesus Christ nineteen centuries ago could have to do with the sins I’ve committed in my lifetime. And I think he was wise. He didn’t argue with me. I’m sure he and others prayed for me. But after that I felt like a person suspended between two worlds. I’d stepped out of my familiar world, but I hadn’t stepped into any other one.
I was suspended and so inner pressure increased. It came about Thursday or Friday of that week, I don’t know which, I made up my mind I’m going to pray until something happens. I had no idea what I expected to happen. Well, we were billeted in a hotel on North Bay in Scarborough in Yorkshire. I shared the room with one other soldier who was a friend of mine. We had no furniture, just two straw mattresses on the floor, but we had picked up a little folding, backless canvas stool you know, the way soldiers pick things up when they see them. So I waited until my friend had gone to sleep, planted this stool in front of the window, sat on it, put my elbows on the windowsill and said, now I’m going to pray. And then I realized I couldn’t pray. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know whom I was praying to. I was just lost. And I sat there for maybe an hour, It was getting quite late, struggling with this attempt to pray.
And then without any process of reasoning, I somehow became aware of a presence. I didn’t see anybody with my eyes, and I found myself, incidentally, I had read the passage because I’d read that far in the Bible where a man met Jacob in a certain point in his life and wrestled against him all night. And Jacob in the morning said, unless you bless me, I will not let you go. And without having that consciously in my mind, I began to say to this invisible person, Unless you bless me, I will not let you go. And I was saying it with great determination. And when I got to the phrase, I will not let you go, I could not stop saying it. I will not let you go; I will not let you go… And at that point something moved in and began to take control of me that I couldn’t understand and didn’t recognize. And my arms went up in the air.
Well, I mean, you know, an Anglican never puts his arms up in the air and that was bad enough. But then I found myself slowly going further and further backwards on this backless stool. And I thought to myself, If I go any further, I’ll fall off the stool. Then I said to myself, I got into this thing now. If I stop now I may never get this far again. So I let go and I went backwards off the stool. It wasn’t like I fell off it. It was like I was deposited on my back on the floor with my arms still in the air still saying, I will not let you go. And then I didn’t choose what I was saying, but this speaking to this same person I began to say, More and more and when I got to more and more I couldn’t stop saying, More and more and more and more. And my arms were up in the air, I was on my back on the floor in the middle of the night in my underwear and I was, at that point I was no longer in control.
After a while I began to sob. Deep sobs that shook my whole body. But I had no idea what I was crying for. It was just like something had moved in and taken control. Well then after about maybe twenty minutes the sobs changed to laughter; and at first I began to laugh very softly. But the more I laughed, the louder it got. And I mean after a while the laughter was reverberating around the room. And there I was in my underwear, on my back on the floor with my arms up in the air about midnight laughing, and I thought, what will happen if anybody comes in?
Well, the only person who woke up was the other soldier and I could see him at the top of my head, slowly and reluctantly uncoil from his mattress, and walked towards me keeping a safe distance. And he said, I don’t know what to do with you. I suppose it’s no good throwing water over you. And something inside me said, Even water wouldn’t put this out. But having a background in the Anglican Church helped me because I remembered that somewhere, in some lesson, I’d read that men must not blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Without any possessive reason, quite contrary to all reasoning, I knew that what was in me was the Holy Spirit, so I thought I mustn’t make things difficult for him. So with great difficulty I got on my hands and knees, crawled to my mattress, got into it, pulled the blanket over my head and went to sleep, but still laughing softly.
Next morning I thought, Well, what happened? Was it a dream, was it real? The army didn’t give me any time to ponder that, but the extraordinary thing was the night before, I hadn’t known how to pray, the next day I couldn’t stop praying. Even if I got a mug of water I had to pause and thank God for the water before I could drink it. And I discovered I was really, I mean, contrary to all my natural reasoning, I was a different person. I had been a habitual blasphemer. But no words ever came out of my mouth from that moment onward, Prayer was now as natural as breathing. So the evening came and I usually went to the local pub to get a drink. I’ve no scruples about drinking alcohol, so I made my way to the pub intending to go in and get my usual drink, but something strange happened. When I got to the door of the pub my feet locked and they would not go through the door.
So I had the strange experience of standing in the doorway and arguing with my feet. And then I realized, I’m not the least bit interested in what’s going on inside that place. I don’t want to go there. So I thought, I’ll go back and go on reading my Bible. I went back and I was looking for the place in Job which I’d got to, and somehow I opened in the book of Psalms, at what they call, the Songs of the Ascent, and it said, When the Lord turned back the captivity of Zion then we were like those that dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with singing I said to myself, that’s what happened to me! I wasn’t laughing. My mouth was filled with laughter. So I then came into a relationship with the Bible which I’ve had ever since. That God speaks to me through it. It’s a living Word. It’s not just theology or history. It’s God the Father speaking to His child. And that was really a total turning point in my entire life.