When MLK First Met God

On this 40th anniversary of his death, I thank God for the life and cause of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was not the first day that he had met God. Twelve years earlier there was another meeting:

He put his head in his hands and bowed over the table. “Oh Lord,” he prayed aloud, “I’m down here trying to do what is right. But, Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I can’t face it alone.”

He sat there, his head still bowed in his hands, tears burning his eyes. But then he felt something—a presence, a stirring in himself. And it seemed that an inner voice was speaking to him with quiet assurance: “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And, lo, I will be with you, even unto the end of the world.” He saw lightning flash. He heard thunder roar. It was the voice of Jesus telling him still to fight on. And “he promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No, never alone, No, never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone . . .”

He raised his head. He felt stronger now. He could face the morrow. Whatever happened, God in His wisdom meant it to be. King’s trembling stopped, and he felt an inner calm he had never experienced before. He realized that “I can stand up without fear. I can face anything.” And for he first time God was profoundly real and personal to him. The idea of a personal God was no longer some “metaphysical category” he found philosophically and theologically satisfying. No, God was very close to him now, a living God who could transform “the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope” and who would never, ever leave him alone. (Stephen B. Oates, Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., 85)

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.