P.J. Bedwell leads a ministry with Youth For Christ Australia, creates Bible resources for young people and teaches Scripture in high schools. He is married to Mikaela and has two young daughters: Adelaide, 2, and Florence, 7 months.
My parents were both believers and raised us to love Jesus and to love people, which I am forever grateful for. Throughout childhood, I played a high level of sport and didn’t regularly attend church and I had a pretty poor Bible knowledge, but I always loved Jesus and I can’t remember ever not believing that he was right there.
At age nine, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder after my parents found out I was bright and moved me forward in school. I was gripped with terror at night. I felt if I didn’t get enough sleep, I wouldn’t be able to function well the next day. I had developed this messiah complex, and I felt like if I don’t get enough sleep, how am I going to save the world? I’d lie awake for hours and it was torture.
One of the things that helped was I just got so busy. I played a really high level of sport and academic stuff and was constantly active. Then when I’d go to bed at night, I was so exhausted that I slept fine.
Fuel your faith every Friday with our weekly newsletter
All I would do is exercise and eat egg whites and study.
But once I started studying for my medical degree, the coping mechanisms I’d used previously weren’t working and I went into full-blown obsessive-compulsive studying and exercise. I was very skinny. All I would do is exercise and eat egg whites and study. It was really crazy and extreme.
I discovered that after my exams, I could unwind with alcohol and other drugs. It was like medicine. It was very, very calming and soothing. When I took certain depressant drugs, I thought this is what normal people must feel like; this is what it must be like not to be anxious.
But I didn’t get really addicted until I finished medical school, and I was working as a hospital intern. It was very stressful work, doing crazy hours and night shifts, and I’d come home and self-medicate with a combination of alcohol and prescription medicine like Valium and occasionally cannabis.
I would justify myself to Jesus, saying, “You made me; you know how painful life is, so you must understand why I’m taking drugs.” But God’s grace and protection were on me. I could have been dead so many times. I ended up driving a car around the mountains in Victoria in East Gippsland while I was intoxicated with prescription meds and I ended up dinging my car and falling asleep in the car. And my parents found me with the car still running.
When I took certain depressant drugs, I thought this is what normal people must feel like.
Although I believed in God, I didn’t understand his ways, how the world worked, and how I was created to work. I didn’t have a biblical worldview because I didn’t read the Bible. I didn’t have a clear radar for obedience, so I was doing what was right according to me and then running into brick walls and then blaming God for the crash.
I was almost the hardest person to reach because I wasn’t living God’s ways, but I thought I was a faithful believer and therefore considered myself entitled to his protection, and I’m completely blind to the truth.
I desperately tried to stop the drugs and alcohol, but I couldn’t. I was also addicted to the idol of success, accomplishment, recognition, relationships, travel, experiences. This was a young man who had no idea who he was and was trying to wrestle meaning and satisfaction from life. I was living out Ecclesiastes 3. I tried it all. I was young. I was a doctor. I was dating a model. I was living in the city. And yet, in the midst of that, found myself completely unsatisfied, distracted and still searching for the next thing. I was making an idol out of every other thing because I was trying to build my life on something that wasn’t God. And by his grace, he never let any of the idols satisfy me.
I wasn’t living God’s ways, but I thought I was a faithful believer and therefore considered myself entitled to his protection.
The crunch came when I drank so much alcohol I had to get admitted to hospital. So I checked into rehab and began to see clearly that I might be in trouble. I was semi-functioning for the next three years, working a little bit. I’d have months of sobriety and then binge drug or alcohol use and my outlook was getting darker and darker.
The final kicking-off point was when I was meant to go on a surfing trip. And my dad said to me, “You really shouldn’t go on this. You need to book yourself into rehab.” And I had the grace to listen. I booked myself into St John of God in Burwood. On the first day, I just got down on my hands and knees and said, “God, I need help.” And I had an encounter where I came to understand that not everything I’d been thinking was true. There were things I believed that were just really unhelpful. So I went and found a sister or a nun and said, “I just need to pray with somebody. I need God’s help.”
Within about 24 hours, God supernaturally filled my heart with hope and I didn’t have the desire to take drugs or alcohol anymore. I’d tried everything you could try medically – all the medications, cognitive behaviour therapy, acceptance treatment therapy, schema therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and none of them worked for me. But I experienced God and he put all these people in my life who took me out of where I was. That was in October 2012, when I was 28.
I heard this voice that sounded like my own thoughts, saying, “There’s no way God would want you if he knew everything you’ve done.”
God gave me the perfect man at that moment, a Christian who mentored me as I did a 12-step fellowship. He was an absolute godsend. He confronted areas of my life and my character that needed confronting. He loved me unconditionally, gave me structure, and suggested I make a commitment to God and get baptised. The first time I walked into church, they were playing worship music, and I immediately knew I had to give everything to Jesus.
I just wanted to run to Jesus. But I heard this voice that sounded like my own thoughts, saying, “There’s no way God would want you if he knew everything you’ve done.” I went to sit back down. I was like, “Yeah, that’s completely true. Of course.” And then I hear this other voice. “No, my son, I know everything about you and I love you. I chose you.” This happens three times. So it’s a full-on battle. By the time I get to the front, I’m crying, giving my heart to Jesus on my knees.
It’s just an incredible story of God’s grace. God just redeemed and resurrected so many things in my life very quickly. I found myself employed with a Swiss pharmaceutical company doing medical research into diabetes, getting paid well and travelling around the world. But I got a job offer for a doctor job over in Perth. By this stage, I’m hearing from God through the Bible every day, so of course, I commit this to prayer. I’ve started leading youth ministry at church, and as I read the Bible, everything I read says, “Don’t take the job; stay and look after these little ones, your flock.” So I did a fleecing test. I said, “Lord, if you really want me to stay, would you give me a promotion at the company I’m working for.”
I cancelled all my meetings and locked myself in my hotel room.
This company was losing money to a competitor and no one was getting promotions. But at the end of a meeting, my boss says, “Oh, I forgot to tell you, we’re also giving you a promotion.” So I emailed the hospital and said, “I’m not going to take the job. I’m sorry.” Two days later, I’m travelling in Adelaide for work, and I get this email saying, “It’s too late for you to withdraw; we really need you to take this job.”
Now, I was confused. So, I cancelled all my meetings and locked myself in my hotel room. I said, “Lord, I’m not leaving this room until you tell me what to do.” So I just prayed and cried, and after about an hour, I checked my phone. And my friend, who’s got no idea what is going on in my world, said, “I just felt you needed to hear this. It’s 1 Peter 5.” And I just collapsed because one of the key sentences says, “Stay and look after the flock that I’ve entrusted to you.”
I was just exhilarated to know that God had answered me. So I left medicine and spent the better part of a decade looking after this flock, youth pastoring these guys, many of whom are now dear friends.