New Song Changes Musician's Life

“I’d been in Nashville for an entire week. Written songs all week long. Had a 4-hour drive and all I could think about was getting home,” Zach Williams recalls. “And I sat down with my co-writers Jonathan Smith and Mia Fields. At the time, me and my wife were very involved in prison ministry at our church, and Chain Breaker was thrown out as a title. Mia said, ‘You should write a song called ‘Chainbreaker.’ And the first thing out of my mouth was, ‘If you’ve been walking the same old road for miles and miles’ And they were like, ‘Wait go back.  What did you say?’ So literally like 15-20 minutes later, we had written that song.”

Christian artist Zach Williams’ CD Chainbreaker won a Grammy in 2018 for best Contemporary Christian Music Album. But there was a time in Zach’s life when he had chains of his own.

Zach was born in Jonesboro Arkansas to Christian parents and was raised in church. “It was a storybook childhood,” he says. “I mean, I had a great family. From as early as I can remember we were in church on Sundays and Wednesdays and, I knew all the stories in my head. I knew the scriptures and the teachings and things. I’m not sure that I really understood, as far as like the heart part of it.”

In high school, however, he began drinking and doing drugs.

“It just kind of sucked me in that lifestyle,” Zach says. “There wasn’t anything that happened in my past or in my childhood that would have pushed me to using drugs or alcohol. It was more of a, you know, just kind of the wrong crowd. I knew it was wrong. But it was also, for me at that time, fun. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but obviously, as I got older, it began to be a much bigger deal in my life.”

Zach was also a prep basketball star who hoped to go on to play college ball. but when an injury sidelined his career, he began to play guitar and his life goals changed. “I was like, ‘I want to be a rock star now. So I can do all this and it’s justified and I can just continue to do this with my life.’ So for the next 10 years of my life I literally carried a guitar with me everywhere. I went.”

He eventually formed his own band, ironically entitled, Zach Williams and the Reformation. “We had some success. We toured Europe a couple times and did a tour with the USO and played some music for the troops over in Japan one summer,” Zach says. “For me, I felt like I’d made it.”

Zach met and began dating Crystal. The two later married, but Zach refused to change. “For the first several years of our life I was pretty bad, drinking a lot, still using drugs quite a bit,” Zach says. “I just remember telling my wife ’You knew this when you met me. I’m not going to change. That was always kind of my thing, whenever she would come to me and say, ‘You need to grow up. We need to make some changes in our lives.’ And I knew she was telling the truth about everything. I did need to make some changes.”

All the while, his wife and parents continued to pray for him. “That’s where their faith was tested. But I also saw them never quit praying, never give up. Even when I didn’t want to hear them pray for me, they would come to my house and sit on my couch and pray for me and my wife and my family.”

Eventually, however, Zach tired of the rock life and the toll it was taking on his marriage and family. “Living the lifestyle I was living, obviously, I couldn’t be a good dad,” he says. “For all the success I had, with the band and all the places we played, I was just a miserable shell of a person. And going out and playing these shows wasn’t making it any better. I was standing on stage every night, just kind of for the high that I got of being out there in front of the crowd. And then I was walking offstage every night, coming home miserable.“

While driving through Spain with his band, Zack heard a song on the radio. “I heard ‘Redeemed’ by Big Daddy Weave come across the radio while we were in Spain. God just got my attention and basically said, ‘I see you differently than you see yourself. And I’ve given you this gift. I’ve given you all these chances. And, I want you to use this for me. And if you will, I’ll give you things you’ve never dreamed of.’” That night Zach called Crystal.

“I said, ‘When this tour’s over, I’m done. I’m quitting my band, we’re going to cancel our showsl,’” Zach says. “I remember walking in the door and just busting into tears and just asking for forgiveness from my wife and kids and just apologizing for the past and all the wrongs I’d done. I felt horrible. And it was like this moment with God where I just said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I don’t care if I ever play another song or I play guitar. If what I’m supposed to do with my life is work with my dad in this construction company and just be a good dad and a good father and go to church, that’s what I want to do.’ And when I got done praying that prayer and asking God to just come live in my life, just be the Lord of my life, it was like, ‘Whew! I don’t have to do what I’ve been doing anymore. And that’s when, for me, things just started changing in my life.”

Zach and Crystal both accepted Christ in 2012 and began attending a local Baptist church in Jonesboro.  “I stopped playing music for about 6 months. And then out of the blue one day I was walking around on a construction site with my dad and I started hearing words to a song in my head and I started writing them down and before I knew it, I had written a Christian song.”

Soon after, the leadership at the church asked Zach to be their worship pastor.

“It just kind of blew me away because they were willing to take a chance on somebody that they really didn’t know that much. But they had seen God working in mine and my family’s life. And the first time I stood on stage, leading worship, it was the first time in my life I felt like I wasn’t faking it. I just remember I had my eyes closed and I was just singing to the Lord.”

Other doors began opening for Zach, including the chance to write with several noted Nashville songwriters. He began making the four-hour trek regularly from Jonesboro. One evening, he got a call from a record label executive.  

“He said ‘hey, are you sitting down?’ And I was said ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Well, I played your song for the record label today in a meeting and they want to offer you a record deal.’ And I just said,, ‘What?!’ The prayer I had prayed six months before that--God heard my prayer.”

Zach, Crystal, and their children recently moved to a home near Nashville. He is currently touring with his band, and is excited to see the plans God has for him and his music. “Since I hit the ground and fell on my hands and knees that day in my bedroom in 2012, it’s been one thing after another that God has just shown up and really done in my life, and in my family’s life,” Zach says. “He’s strengthened my marriage, my relationship between me and my wife. It’s just been really neat to see and to be a part of. It’s been so humbling. Just to know that He hears your prayers and your cries. It's just really cool.”

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