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How a Moment Changed Zach Williams’ Faith

The Christian singer talks about his new album, working with Dolly Parton, and the moment that changed his life.

Zach Williams sitting on a pickup truck sharing his story of faith
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When Zach Williams sat down to write his new album, he thought about all the moments in his life that led him there. There were moments as a child growing up in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Moments as a young man when he made some bad decisions. And a moment on a bus when God changed Zach Williams’ faith forever. This album is his most personal. It tells his life’s story, which wasn’t always easy.

Zach Williams Finds His Calling

Williams grew up with faith and music. His dad was a worship leader and musician, and his mom sang in the church choir. “At a very early age the seed was planted and took root,” he told Guideposts. “I had that foundation.” However, in his young adult years, Williams took some wrong turns. He started using drugs and alcohol and ended up dropping out of high school. When he went to work for his dad’s construction company, it was not what he wanted to do. “I just remember thinking it’s over,” he said, “that my life was done.”

Determined to do something else with his life, Williams got his GED and entered junior college through a basketball scholarship. Unfortunately, college did not turn out to be a better situation. He drank even more. “I was always the guy that wanted to impress everyone and be the best at everything,” he said. “So, I made it my point to be the best partier in school.”

His antics turned worse when he hurt his ankle before the start of his freshman season. Stuck in his room unable to play, he felt like he was back where he started— having no idea what to do with his life. Then his eyes caught sight of his roommate’s guitar. “Here I am holding this guitar, thinking this is what I want to do with my life,” Williams said. “I didn’t realize then that God was going to do something with it in the future.”

The Rock Star Life

In 2007, Williams formed a band called Zach Williams & The Reformation. They did well and toured the world playing Southern rock music. During that time, Williams got married and started a family. Despite Williams’ success, his dad felt like he needed to do something different. “My dad would constantly tell me, ‘I don’t feel like this is the music you’re supposed to be playing,’” he said. “He always prayed that God had a different plan for my life.”

It turns out his dad’s prayers were needed. Even though the band was about to sign a major record deal, Williams’ personal life was on the ropes. His constant touring, partying, and “rock star” life was becoming too much for his family. His wife, Crystal, didn’t think she could take it anymore. She told him she was thinking about leaving with the kids.

The Moment that Changed Zach Williams’ Faith

Williams was on a tour in Europe at the time, far from home and feeling lost. Not sure what else to do, he prayed. “I just started praying that God would reveal Himself to me,” he said.

While on a long drive in his tour bus, Williams sat in his seat and stared out the window listening to music. At one point he paused the music and took his headphones off. The bus driver scanned the radio for a new station. Over the speakers, the crackle subsided and rested on a song—“Redeemed” by Christian band Big Daddy Weave.

“It stopped me dead in my tracks. I went to the hotel that night, looked up the song, and listened to it again,” said Williams. “It struck me that God saw me in a way that I could see myself. It really hit home.” That moment on the bus changed William’s life forever. He called his wife and told her he was cancelling his shows and quitting the band.

Williams returned home ready to recommit himself to his faith and get his life back together. In 2012, he started attending church with his family. He became a worship leader, just like his dad. Still, Williams could not forget one of his true loves: music. He still felt called to play, except this time, he wanted to do something different with it. And he knew where to start. Williams once again had his dad’s faith to thank for this.

During his years working construction, William’s dad knew his son wasn’t going to church. To bring a little faith to his son’s life, he would play Christian music all day long on the job site. “I didn’t realize how much that affected me,” Williams said. “When I started going to church and playing music there, it was like all those songs had been ingrained in my DNA. And all the music I’d grown up on as a kid, it just all came back to me. It’s funny how God works on you and prepares you for certain things.”

Working with Dolly Parton

His album Chain Breaker (2016) was a huge step in Williams talking about his faith through his music. Then his next album Rescue Story (2019) included a single titled, “There Was Jesus” featuring country music legend Dolly Parton. They performed it together on stage at the 2019 Country Music Awards. The two formed a bond after that song. This year, Williams will appear on her Christmas special Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas, along with other music icons, including Willie Nelson, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Miley Cyrus.

Zach Williams and Dolly Parton together before performing at the CMA awards for a story of faith
Zach Williams and Dolly Parton at the 2019 CMA awards (photo courtesy Dolly Parton)

For Williams, working with Parton has been an inspiring experience that taught him some important lessons. “She stayed so true to her roots, and she never forgot where she came from,” he said. “You can tell she had a very humble beginning. She never stopped rooting for the underdog or championing the generations coming out behind her.”

 

Getting back to his own roots is a major part of Zach William’s new album, A Hundred Highways. For him, this album is a culmination of all his experiences that led him to where he is today. The good and the bad. The mistakes and the wrong turns. The decisions he made and the lessons he learned. And perhaps most importantly, it’s about what he found.

“I tried everything to fill the hole [in me] to make me feel better,” he said. “Material things I could buy or things I could do. It wasn’t until I was at the end of my rope that I tried Jesus. It was the last place I looked, but I’ve been looking for Him all this time.”

Zach Williams’ album A Hundred Highways is available on streaming sites and online stories. He will appear on Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas in December 2022.

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