(Photo: Merge PR)
Contemporary Christian music's newest artist, Zach Williams, is sharing the freedom he's found in Jesus with his new smash hit single, "Chain Breaker." The former rock star walked away from a life of drugs and rock 'n' roll to follow God's plan for his life and to share his newfound hope with others.
Williams grew up in a Christian home where both his mother and father were heavily involved in church. But as a teenager he drifted away from the values his parents had instilled in him.
"Everything we did as a child revolved around church until my high school years. I knew at a young age I had an experience and an encounter with the Lord. I just never understood salvation. I always felt like the kid that every Sunday had to get in front of the church at the altar call and get resaved, it just never really clicked with me," Williams told The Christian Post.
His parents, he said, did everything they could to bring him up in the ways of the Lord, but when Williams entered high school he took full advantage of his free will.
"I think that the decisions I've made and the things that happened in my life are all just the results of me taking my eyes off of the Lord and turning my back on the things that I had been raised around and taught," he said.
As a young athlete he took an interest in basketball, but then started making some bad choices by hanging out with teenagers who didn't have a relationship with Jesus.
"Who you're around really plays a part in what you do. For me, the crowd that I was around had a lot to do with the things that I got involved in. I kind of ran from the Lord. I felt like the Lord had a calling on my life at an early age but it scared me," Williams said.
"I would go to church for years and be in church and get this conviction on my life and then I would run from it. I was really caught up in myself and doing things that I wanted to do because I knew that being a Christian wasn't easy."
Williams said he saw how hard being a Christian was by watching his parents' example, so it made him run farther from the calling. He didn't want to go back to church because he wasn't fond of the feeling of conviction he felt when he was there. Soon after, his life choices would cause everything to spiral out of control.
"I think sometimes it's harder being a Christian than not being one because you don't have any conviction in your life. You just kind of live doing what you want to do for yourself and you don't worry about how that's going to affect your future or your family," Williams explained. "I do believe that my parents instilling those beliefs in me at such a young age is what brought me back. They continually prayed for me for 20-plus years."
While still in high school, Williams got involved in drugs and alcohol, and as he encountered failures in his life he tried to drown his misery away.
After losing the division 1 basketball scholarship at his school he was crushed because he had dreamed of playing professional basketball. "When that happened, I started filling that hole with drugs. And when I moved to college I ended up getting a scholarship to play at a junior college. [However] the day before my first game I tore my ankle and that ended my basketball career, so I filled that hole with more drugs and alcohol," the Arkansas native said.
Around age 20, Williams learned how to play the guitar and started writing songs to fill the void he felt in his life. The rock 'n' roll music he wrote also suited the party lifestyle he was living at the time.
"I was away from home; I was never around my parents for accountability. I lived this separate life in front of them than when I was around my friends who knew me," Williams said, describing his former lifestyle as living a lie in front of his loving family.
The multi-talented artist subsequently dropped out of college with only 30 hours left to complete a design degree. He was married but then soon divorced, all while touring with a rock band. Living the rockstar life on the road continued for years and it wasn't until four years ago that everything clicked for him.
"I was running from all these things that I was trying to succeed so hard at but failed. I was trying to put the blame on everybody else, but instead it was all my fault and I just needed to own up to it and be a man about It," Williams said.
"It really wasn't until 2012 that I truly met Jesus and got saved. I just surrendered my life and gave Him control of everything I was doing in my life. That hole that I was trying to fill for 20 years was finally filled. I didn't have those desires to get messed up on drugs and alcohol like I used to. It was a pretty easy transition for me."
Williams says he's not sure if there was an actual addiction to drugs and alcohol, but knows he was always trying to fill something that was missing in his life. Before surrendering his life to Jesus, Williams remarried while still touring with his rock band. While off the road he and his wife started attending a church with their children.
The songwriter said his true coming to Jesus moment happened after he went back on the road and realized he wasn't strong enough to withstand the temptation that comes with that lifestyle.
"I convinced myself that I could do it, so I went and I fell right back into the same lifestyle that I had been living," he said, explaining that that was his final tour in Europe with the rock band.
While on tour and driving about eight hours across the country, Williams said he removed his headphones for a moment and overheard the song, "I Am Redeemed" by Big Daddy Weave on the radio.
"It spoke to me in that moment and God told me: 'I've given you a gift; I've given you all these things and this is what you're going to use it for for the rest of your life?' Then I called my wife from the hotel room and told her that whenever this tour was over I was going to quit my band and come home and start going to church," Williams told CP.
"I think that was the moment for me when everything changed and turned around.
God's timing was perfect and his encounter with God that day on his tour bus didn't only save Williams but also saved his marriage and family.
"When I came home I didn't only cancel a few shows but I quit the band. It was a bad breakup," he said.
As a member of the band for many years his sudden departure definitely caused some tension but Williams was certain that it was the right thing to do for his family and future.
"I remember coming home from that tour and it was the first time I had ever really fallen on my hands and knees and cried out to the Lord. 'I'm sick of this; I'm sick of what I'm doing, I'm sick of my life, make this new.' There was a freedom in that that I've never experienced before. Immediately, I felt like everything was going to be alright. I didn't have any reservations that what I was doing was wrong," Williams said.
From that moment forward anytime his faith was tested he said the Lord would miraculously show him favor and open doors to let him know that he was now on the right path and shouldn't have any reservations.
"When I met the Lord that hole was filled in my life. I even quit playing music for a while after I got saved because I was happy and didn't think I needed any of that anymore. It wasn't until six or eight months after I got saved that I started writing Christian songs and God started opening up doors for me that I never thought were possible."
Because Williams worked on construction sites for years with his father who always played Christian music on the job site, when doors began to open for Williams and he was asked to be a worship leader at a church, he knew all the songs in the repertoire by heart.
"I look back now and I know God was preparing me. He was putting those songs on my heart and in my head," he said.
Life for Williams then started to become one leap of faith after the other. And perhaps the most amazing part of his story is that the Lord used a worship song to help lead him back to the throne of grace and in turn the singer is now using his gifts to do that very same thing for others.
Williams eventually became the campus director and worship leader of Central Baptist Church's new campus in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Over time, he began to write songs with popular songwriters like Jonathan Smith and Mia Fieldes. That led the three of them to write his Christian radio hit song, "Chain Breaker."
"I was able to be a part of a song now that just like I heard 'Redeemed,' there's somebody now that could hear this song and I can do the same thing for them," Williams said, celebrating the achievement. "Then to be asked to go out on Big Daddy Weave's tour in January is another God moment."
Big Daddy Weave is well aware of the impact their song has made on Williams, and even though they haven't yet met in person, Williams is looking forward to being on the road touring with them — this time living for Jesus.
Williams says his intention for writing "Chain Breaker" was to reach both churchgoers and those who never go to church.
"My ministry now is to just tell the world about what God has done in my life and hopefully that will bring other people to Jesus. I'm just a normal guy just like anybody else. I don't feel like I'm changing at all other than the fact that God is giving me opportunities and I don't want to miss those opportunities of where I can go out and share who Jesus is and what He's done in my life," Williams explained.
"I don't want to take it for granted and I don't want to forget that He's the one in control of it and I'm just a small part of this big plan that He's got. I'm here to be a vessel, so if He continues to bless me with songs then I'll sing these songs and go out and try to reach as many people as I possibly can."
"If I'm going to go out and play in a club or a bar or place like that it's going to be intentionally to go out and do that for bringing people to Jesus. It's all for a purpose."
To get a copy of Williams' new EP, Chain Breaker, click here. Check out his video for the title track below.