Remembering President Nixon’s right hand man

In 1974, prisoner 23226 at Maxwell Federal Prison Camp watched on a small black and white television as president Richard Nixon resigned.

Chuck Colson
Chuck Colson, of Watergate fame, quotes from the Bible during one of his speeches. (Photo Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Only months before Chuck had been serving as special counsel to the president, and now as he sat in prison he was hit with the fact he had lost everything – "power, prestige, freedom, even my identity."

But, he wrote in the introduction to his memoir Born Again, in another sense, he had found everything, "all that really matters: a personal relationship with the living God. My life had been dramatically transformed by Jesus Christ."

Chuck became a Christian in 1973, the same year he began to be a suspect of and later tried for the Watergate scandal that exposed corruption within the US government.

He spoke openly of his faith both during and after his seven-month prison sentence but many dismissed this conveniently timed change of character as a hoax. When Chuck began ministering in prisons around the country and founded Prison Fellowship, an organization that works towards the restoration of those affected by incarceration, it became obvious that his conversion was genuine.

Chuck, who died an 80-year-old man in April 2012, had always strived for greatness. From childhood he wanted to serve his country, do something important, change the world and make it a better place.

He wanted to be a man of influence and with an office next door to the president of the United States, he certainly was.

He seemed to have it all yet still felt empty.

Then one day in 1973 Chuck was intrigued to find out the secret that had left his friend Tom Phillips a changed man.

"[Tom] looked up at the clock," Chuck recalled, "and he didn't look me straight in the eye but he said, 'I have accepted Jesus Christ and given my life to Him.'

"I gotta tell you I took a firm grip of the bottom of my chair, I had never heard anyone talk like that. I'd never heard anybody talk about Christ as a person. I'd gone to Sunday school and learned all the lessons, but it didn't mean anything to me."

For three months, he could not get Tom's response out of his mind; so he returned to him and begged for more.

Tom read him a chapter from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity called "The Great Vice," the great sin: pride.

"I listened to that chapter and I realized; he's writing about me!" Colson said. "I thought I'd done all these great things because I wanted to serve my country and I wanted to be a success at my profession and it was really all about me."

Tom suggested they pray, and Chuck refused, having never prayed outside of church before. But as he got into his car, he said, he was crying so hard he could not see the road in front of him.

"I pulled over and sat there [for at] least an hour ... thinking about my life, thinking about could there be a God, and if there were, could I know him?" he remembered.

"And I just called out to Him. I didn't know any of the words. But that night for the very first time in my life I felt sure there was a God, and I was sure He was here with me."

Later, on a trip out of the city, Chuck quietly surrendered his life to Christ and asked Him to come into his life.

"Nothing about my life has been the same since, nothing about my life can be the same again," he said.

“For the first time, I was sure [God] was with me”"I am convinced Christ is who He says He is. I am more convinced of the reality of Jesus Christ than I am of my own reality."

In prison, he was confronted with the thought he would never have the chance to do something significant and important again. "Disgraced politician, public enemy number one, butt of all the jokes and ridicule," he said.

He then added: "Don't ever underestimate God.

"I discovered in prison [that] when you come face to face with yourself and God you find that which eludes you through life when you're seeking all the things of the world.

"You seek to save your life, you lose it; you lose your life for Christ's sake, you find it."

Even after he was released, Chuck felt God was calling him back to prison. Using his first book's royalties as humble beginnings he started Prison Fellowship, and from that has grown a ministry that has spread to 113 countries around the world.

"He did far more with my life out of my brokenness and out of my weakness than I'd been able to do with my life out of my own power and influence and abilities."

Chuck considered this one of the main lessons he learned. If he wished to impart any wisdom into this world before he left it, it was this.

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