I recently (and finally) took the time to read a book that I’ve had on my shelf for years, and I’m so glad I did.
It’s called "The Cross and the Switchblade" by David Wilkerson.
If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a biography style book telling the story of how God used David Wilkerson to start a movement reaching homeless and drug addicted youth in the New York area (and beyond).
It’s an incredible story and I encourage you to read it too. In case you don’t, here’s a brief overview, some of my favorite lessons and highlights from the book, and some of the best quotes.
Story Overview: The Cross And The Switchblade
The book starts with the story of how David Wilkerson became the pastor of a rural church. Even at this point, it’s cool to see how he truly believed God to answer prayers and guide him and his family in the big and small things.
One of the most important moments in the book, and his life, was when he decided to sell his TV and devote his evenings to prayer. In a funny and god-filled story of him essentially trying to find any excuse to keep it, he sells his TV and begins devoting extra time to prayer.
And that changed everything.
Shortly after, he came across an article of some boys in New York being put on trial for murdering a disabled child in the park. And he felt God wanted him to go there and help the boys.
Up until this point, his life had been a simple one. He obeyed God, but he had never had such an impression of God telling him to do something so crazy. After wrestling with the desire to go, he goes and is completely humiliated. No good is done and he comes back home with his tail between his legs.
From here, he gets some encouragement from his mother and wife and ends up continuing to pursue seeing what he can do to help them.
He quickly finds out that there’s nothing he can do for them, but there is much to be done for all the other kids in their situation: homeless, abusive families, drug addicted, and more.
David’s vision switches and the rest of the book is filled with "God story" after “God story”, with him doing his best to obey God and get “out of the way” so God can reach and help the at-risk youth in New York.
The book ends with an incredible big picture view of what God had done through this ministry and then giving some post-book information on what happened to some of the specific and first youth that David poured so much into.
Favorite Lessons, Highlights And Quotes
This book is packed full of encouraging lessons and reminders, but here’s just a few of my favorites…
Don’t Dismiss “Failure” So Quickly
When David first obeyed God to go to New York, it seemed like he completely failed. He didn’t help the kids, in fact, it seemed like his actions would now make it impossible to ever help them.
He had embarrassed his church, his family and even put a bad name on preachers in general.
But it was part of God’s plan.
When he stopped by his parents house on his way back home, his mother encouraged him to not so quickly say he was wrong. He felt like God told him to do it and he did. Now it was up to God to finish whatever God had started.
Pray Expectantly And Don’t Doubt It When It Starts Happening
Shortly after David started seeing results in New York, he started getting worried that this wasn’t what he should be doing. This led his wife to tell him:
"You asked the Holy Spirit for a miracle, and now that you’ve got one you’re trying to argue it away. People who don’t believe in miracles shouldn’t pray for them."
If you don’t believe in miracles, Then you shouldn’t pray for them.
But if you believe God can do anything He wants to further His Kingdom and work on this earth, Then pray. Pray expectantly.
The Lamb Chop School Of Evangelism
At one point, David reflects on some wisdom his grandfather had passed onto him regarding reaching people. It is what his grandfather called “The lamb chop school of evangelism.”
"You win over people just like you win over a dog. You see a dog passing down the street with an old bone in his mouth. You don’t grab the bone from him and tell him it’s not good for him. He’ll growl at you. It’s the only thing he has. But you throw a big fat lamb chop in front of him, and he’s going to drop that bone and pick up the lamb chop, his tail wagging to beat the band. And you’ve got a friend. Instead of going around grabbing bones from people… I’m going to throw them some lamb chops. Something with real meat and life in it. I’m going to tell them about New Beginnings."
The Story Of The Snake
When David reaches out to his grandfather for more wisdom and encouragement, he is told a story of a snake becoming new. It’s such an incredible reminder of the necessity of new birth as well as being patient while waiting, as David had to.
“Some time ago I was taking a walk through the hills when I came across an enormous snake. He was a big one, Davie, three inches thick and four feet long, and he just lay there in the sun looking scary. I was afraid of this thing and I didn’t move for a long time, and lo and behold, while I was watching, I saw a miracle. I saw a new birth. I saw that old snake shed its skin and leave it lying there in the sun and go off a new and really beautiful creature.
When you start your new work in the city, boy, don’t you be like I was, petrified by the outward appearance of your boys. God isn’t. He’s just waiting for each one of them to crawl right out of that old sin-shell and leave it behind. He’s waiting and yearning for the new man to come out.
Never forget that, David, when you see your snakes, as you surely you will, on the sidewalks of New York."
Do What We Can Do And Ask God To Do What Only He Can Do
The final quote I want to leave you with is a reminder that God has purposed us for good works, but only He can bring healing and new life.
"We humans can work hard for each other, and we should, and we must work. But it is God, and only God, who heals.”
This is a reoccurring theme throughout the book.
Many times, David would begin to experience some forward motion in the ministry God put before him, and he would start feeling the pressure to keep it going. Quickly, God would remind him that he was “trying too hard”. That he was trying to lift a weight that only God could do.
Yes, David had to do his best and work hard, but only God could bring the results that would make any of it worthwhile.
And this is true for all of our lives, as we are reminded in Zechariah 4:6 and Galatians 3:3:
"Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.’" – Zechariah 4:6
"Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" – Galatians 3:3
It’s easy to want to step in and “help God” in what only He can do, but we must resist that urge. God has given us plenty to do, so let us focus on that and ask Him to do what only He can do.
My life, and your life, will look very different from David’s. God has different plans for each of us, but can you imagine how our lives would be different if we approached God and His plan for our lives more like David did?
Willing to put aside everything for whatever He had… Willing to be put outside of our comfort zone… Willing to step out in faith and sacrifice money, pleasures, status, our plans and more for His plan and work…
I pray mine will continue to become more like David’s, and I pray yours will too.
Again, I encourage you to read the book. It’s an incredible and encouraging story of what God can do when someone gives their life to God for whatever He would have.