WATCH: With Over 2.5M Views on TikTok, Denzel Washington Explains How He ‘Put God First’

Denzel Washington quickly became a household name for his acting career. Countless blockbusters—such as Malcolm X, Training Day, and Crimson Tide—allowed him to rise to stardom. Whether a screenplay focused on military tactics or a film depicting real life on the streets, Washington has embraced each role. And, at a recent graduation, Washington challenges the graduates (and everyone) to, “Put God first.”

Denzel Washington challenged all graduates to share his reason for success

Washington has quite the platform on and off the screen. Recently, he was invited to give the address at Dillard University’s graduation. Just a portion of the address has received more than 2.5 million views on TikTok.

“Put God first in everything you do. Everything that you think you see in me. Everything that I’ve accomplished, everything that you think I have – and I have a few things. Everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift,” Washington shares.

Listen to the portion of the address where Washington drives home his point of putting God first.

In the address, Washington goes on to share a story where a stranger spoke a prophecy over him. He was naturally at-ease and transparent as he gave less-than-stellar details of his life. Willing to be humbled, Washington shared a real story before his fame.

He recalls, “Forty years ago, March 27, 1975 – it was 40 years ago just this past March, I was flunking out of college. I had a 1.7 grade point average, I hope none of you can relate.”
Washington was beyond discouraged. But, he remembers this day vividly. His mom owned a beauty shop, and Washington often visited her at work. This particular day, he was sitting in her beauty shop.

He continues, “And I’m looking in the mirror and I see behind me this woman, under the dryer, and every time she looked up – every time I looked up she was looking at me. She was looking me in the eye, I don’t know who she was and I said you know, she said somebody give me a pen, give me a pencil, I have a prophecy.”
“March 27, 1975, she said, ‘Boy, you are going to travel the world and speak to millions of people,’” recalls Washington.

How the prophecy prompted Denzel Washington to ‘put God first”
Washington was not doing well in college and questioning not only his future but his very next step. This prophecy came out of no where and made little sense in his current circumstances. How was Washington to believe (and live out) the prophecy, “You are going to travel the world and speak to millions of people”?
“Now mind you I flunked out of college. I’m thinking about joining the army,” Washington reflects. “I didn’t know what I was going to do and she is telling me I’m going to travel the world and speak to millions of people.” It just didn’t make sense at the time.
But, Washington continued, “Well I have traveled the world. And I have spoken to millions of people, but that’s not the most important thing – the success that I had. The most important thing is that what she taught me, and what she told me that day has stayed with me since.”
It can be easy to list the successes and possessions, the incredible accomplishments in life. But, Washington isn’t focused on those things. As God has humbled him a number of times, he knows that life is so much more than material wealth.
“I’ve been protected, I’ve been directed, I’ve been corrected. I’ve kept God in my life and it’s kept me humble. I didn’t always stick with Him but he always stuck with me,” says Washington.
And, Washington wraps up the segment with a challenge to all listeners, “So stick with Him, in everything you do, if you think you want to do, what you think I’ve done, then do what I’ve done. And stick with God.”
How Denzel Washington ‘put God first’ from the very beginning
Growing up in a Christian home, Washington giving this type of message doesn’t come as much of a surprise. His father was a bi-vocational Pentecostal minister, and his mother owned a beauty shop. After his parents divorced, Washinton’s mother sent him to a private school. This decision changed the trajectory of Washington’s life. Before the private school, Washington was hanging out with friends who would have led him down a dark path. Many of these friends spent time in prison.

He went on to Fordham University. While he was deciding on his next steps, he served as a summer staff member at a camp. One evening, Washington participated in a staff talent show, and another staffer suggested he go into acting. Washington earned his bachelor’s degree in drama and journalism.
Washington began his acting career in 1979 in an off-Broadway production of Coriolanus by William Shakespeare. And, his first big break on screen was in St. Elsewhere (1982-88). And, in 1983, Washington married his wife, Pauletta. Together, they have four children. As a rare long-standing marriage in Hollywood, the Washingtons renewed their wedding vows in 1995 in picturesque South Africa.

Over the years, Washington has considered becoming a preacher. He listens closely to God’s prompting and where he can shine God’s light the brightest. He explains, “I’ve had an opportunity to play great men and, through their words, to preach. I take what talent I’ve been given seriously, and I want to use it for good.” Every person has an opportunity to preach. People will always have an audience—big or small. And, the content of the message is up to the individual. Washington has chosen a wholesome message of pointing others to God and His saving work.
With dozens of movies, theater productions, and countless endeavors—such as being the spokesperson for the Boys & Girls Club of America—Washington has plenty of opportunity to share his faith in God with someone across the table and across the globe.

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