In this story from June 1972, one of America's best-loved broadcasters shares the discovery that made his life complete.
Newsmen are said to have tough hides, cold hearts, “printer’s ink in their veins.” We see so much of tragedy, disaster, the mud and blood that make news. Understandably, we can become insensitive, cynical, hard.
That’s why I’m grateful for what happened to me just about a year ago. It took place up a little mountain road in Cave Creek, Arizona. I think today that all the experiences in my life had been building up to this one.
First, the Christmas Eve when I was three, a gunman’s bullet took the life of my policeman father. To provide an income for my sister and me, mother had apartments built in our house. As soon as I was old enough, I, too, looked around for ways to earn money.
Radio was just coming into its own; by age nine I was making cigar-box crystal sets which I sold for a dollar. A few years later I took part in a seventh-grade class play presented over Tulsa’s KVOO radio station. After that I spent every spare minute hanging around that studio.
Finally they put me on the payroll. I was 14 and I did everything from sweeping, to writing commercials, with a little announcing on the side. I kept remembering what one of my teachers had said, “Paul, in this wonderful land of ours, any man willing to stay on his toes can reach for the stars.”
Radio became my star. At 17 I did some of everything on a local station in Salina, Kansas; then came jobs in Oklahoma City and St. Louis.
In St. Louis at KXOK radio I met a lovely girl who was doing educational programs. We were married and she has been the Angel -that’s what I call her-in my life ever since.
Together we worked hard. By 1945 I had my own network news program. By 1968 I was on television and doing a newspaper column as well.
Seemingly, I had achieved everything for which a man could ask. Everything, that is, except for a quiet heart.
Something was missing. There was a vague emptiness in my life an incompleteness that I could not define.
This emptiness was still with me in March of last year when Angel and I were vacationing near Cave Creek, Arizona. We noticed a small church on an isolated hilltop. On impulse one bright Sunday morning Angel and I decided to attend a service there.
We drove up the mountain road and as we rounded the last turn, the little steeple pierced an azure sky, and white clapboard siding reflected the morning sun.
Inside were a dozen or so worshipers on wooden folding chairs, a scene reminiscent of ones I had seen many times as a youth.
During those formative years, there was one scripture verse I learned that had stayed with me throughout the years: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Sometimes I would get to thinking about that–how wonderful it was. I never made it to the altar in any church, but I liked that promise of “everlasting life.” So one night, alone in my room, kneeling at my bed, I offered my life to Christ.
Now, as the upright piano sounded a familiar melody in this unfamiliar little Arizona church, I was reminded of my long-ago expression of “belief.” I did indeed “believe.”
The minister mounted his pulpit. As his eyes swept the congregation, he said, “I see we have visitors here.” He paused for a moment, then added, “I don’t often talk about baptism, but today I’m going to talk about baptism.”
Inside I yawned. But then, for some reason, my attention began to focus on the simple eloquence of this country preacher.
He talked about how alone man is without a heavenly Father, how much we needed to surrender our lives to Him to find any real purpose for living.
But, I thought, hadn’t I done this?
“Now I’m going to assume,” continued the minister, “that most of you here this morning have already made this commitment. But the giving of your life to Jesus is just the first step in your life as a Christian.
"There is another step: baptism–the way Jesus experienced it, by immersion in water. This becomes the outward expression of your inward commitment.
“This baptism,” he continued, “through the symbolic burial of your old self and the resurrection of a new one, is your public testimony to your commitment.” He quoted supportive scripture, paused, let it sink in.
“There is no magic in the water,” he added. “One’s immersion is simply an act of obedience, a sign of total submission to God.”
Submission to God.
I twisted on my chair, new understanding discomfited me. Long years ago I had asked to be saved but had I offered to serve? I began to realize how much of me I had been holding back.
I thought of my prayer time each morning driving to my Chicago studio at 4:30 a.m. Often on the dark, deserted expressway I would seem to hear God’s plan for the day. But by the time I was halfway downtown, I’d be arguing with Him, making exceptions, bending His directions.
Could this be the source of my uneasiness, the inconsistency within me?
Now the minister was looking over his spectacles at the congregation. “If anyone here agrees with me about the importance of this and wants to be baptized, step up here and join me beside this pulpit.”
I found myself on my feet, down the aisle, by his side.
The preacher had said there was nothing magic in the water. Yet as I descended into its depths and rose again, I knew something life-changing had happened. A cleansing inside out.
No longer did there seem to be two uncertain contradictory Paul Harveys–just one immensely happy one. I felt a fulfilling surge of the Holy Spirit.
Afterward, I cried like a baby, a kind of release I suppose. I remember looking at Angel and her eyes were shining. She knew well what this meant to me, for she had been blessed with the same experience as a girl.
The evolving joy has been escalating. Yesterday I was praying for guidance and not really meaning it; today the difference is in a genuine desire to know what He wants and an eagerness to do as He says.
Though I had learned John 3:16 early in life, it took me till last year to learn John 14:15 as well: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” The Christian life is one of obedience, not partnership.
Sometimes I see a similar eagerness in the faces of young people caught up in the growing Jesus movement so prominent in the news today.
I can identify with their joyous expressions as they rise up out of the water after their baptisms. And I see their increasing number of baptisms as irrefutable evidence the Holy Spirit is everywhere He is invited, changing for good all those He touches.
The change this simple act has made in my life is so immense as to be indescribable. Since totally yielding to Him through the symbolism of water baptism, my heart can’t stop singing.
I’ve shaken off a lifelong habit of fretting over small things. A thousand little worries and apprehensions have simply evaporated.
Also, perhaps because baptism is such a public act–and because one’s dignity gets as drenched as one’s body–I’ve discovered a new unself-consciousness in talking about my beliefs.
The other evening, on a speaking trip, I was flying over west Texas into a beautiful sunset.
My heart swelled with joy in my new surrender and I thought how wonderful: If this is no more than what the unbelievers believe, a sort of self-hypnosis, it nevertheless affords an inner peace which passes all understanding. And, if it is what we believers believe, then we have all this–and heaven too!
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