Have you ever made a deal with the devil? Nick Dutt made such a deal one afternoon among the steel racks in the back of a factory in Pakuranga, New Zealand, where he was working as a 19 year old. He badly wanted something he felt he could not get on his own. He told the devil, “If you give me what I want, you can have my soul.” Soon after Nick got what he wanted.
Nick grew up in a largely non-Christian family. Heavily influenced by the music he was listening to, Nick found Satan to be much more real than God. The things labelled as wrong and even satanic, he found to be “cool and fun”. Nick remembers about his teens, “I used the devil’s number 666 quite freely. I had it written on the steering wheel of my car and even tattooed it on myself.” Nick was certain that “the God thing was just a big con by the churches to get rich”.
His tattoo shops are now regularly places of spiritual discussion and prayer with surprised but needy customers, and places where he regularly hands out copies of 'Steps to Christ'.
“I’m a control freak,” confesses Nick. “Even when I drank alcohol, to stay in control I rarely drunk to excess.” In New Zealand, things were getting out of control for his mates and were closing in on him. Australia looked like a way out from the gangs and jail. The shift to Brisbane and later a baby daughter caused him to think. “It’s about time for me to get my act together.” Within a few weeks though, he had lost his job and was in Boggo Road prison facing an 11-year sentence for drug possession. A lack of evidence saw him released after a few weeks and a job offer in Melbourne appeared to provide the opportunity to get his life under control.
Before heading to Melbourne, Nick decided to visit his father in New Zealand to show him his new granddaughter. He said to his father that there might be some complications getting through customs because of significant unpaid fines he owed but at least his partner and daughter would get through. Despite the concern, he passed through customs and met his father exclaiming, “Hey, they didn’t get me.” “I know they didn’t,” his Dad said, “I went and paid your fines!”
In Melbourne, the job didn’t work out and before long, he became a “debt collector”, enforcing deals and making people pay up. His direct methods got quick results and required no lawyers! He successfully started a tattoo shop and then another one. He was also playing in a band that regularly did gigs in pubs and bikie clubhouses. “I was happy,” says Nick. “I thought I had it all, I was doing pretty well. Everything I had dreamed about and wanted had become reality and I thought I was leading a fulfilled life. I was living how I wanted, without being controlled by anyone or anything. I was living it my way.”
His new partner had an Adventist connection. One day the opportunity to attend church arose. “Something must have been playing on my mind,” remembers Nick. “Having knocked and mocked religion all my life I thought, ‘How can I knock and mock something I know nothing about?’” He went along wearing his usual gear—a singlet and jeans, but then decided to hide his tattoos, including those on his neck, so he pulled on a polo neck jumper. He recounts, “I wanted to look more conservative to fit in.” However, he sat under a heater that blew warm air on him and forced him reluctantly to take off his jumper.
Sitting there feeling awkward, the projected words of a song, Come As You Are, hit him. Nick recalls, “I was sitting there for the rest of the service with tears in my eyes and an overwhelming emotional feeling and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a much better buzz than I have ever had.’” On hearing about his experience with the Holy Spirit, a church member said he needed to come again. Nick smiles, “I wasn’t sure whether she said that because she thought I needed all the help I could get or something special was going to happen to me if I did come back. It turns out it was both!”
Fast forward a few years. Nick now describes himself as a “budding” Christian. His life has seen some big changes. He half-jokes, “I haven’t belted anyone since attending church.” He started “taking his hands off the wheel and letting God steer”. Within 12 months, he was on his first of several mission trips to Cambodia and Laos. He has learnt lessons in humility, compassion and empathy. Nick now enjoys Christian fellowship and discovering Bible truths. His tattoo shops are now regularly places of spiritual discussion and prayer with surprised but needy customers, and places where he regularly hands out copies of Steps to Christ. God has used him to reach people who otherwise might not be reached. Nick is acutely sensitised to sin and sees more clearly the traps the devil lays everywhere. He warns young people, “Don’t be fooled by the media and things that tempt you away from what deep down you know is right.”
Copies of Steps to Christ are handed out regularly at Nick’s tattoo parlours. [Photo courtesy: Jessica Symes]
On the other hand, Nick appears burdened by some things from his previous life that have hung around, despite often his own efforts to overcome or control them. Noticing this, I asked him, “How does God see you?” Words like “struggling” and “trying” started to feature in his answer. I pressed further, “No, how does God see you, given what Christ has done?” There was silence. Tears welled up in his eyes as he sat there, wrestling with the enormity of the answer and its implications for a past life for which he feels remorse. The trap for Nick, and for many of us, was worrying about what he was bringing rather than focusing on what he had been given, even while a self-declared enemy of God. He needed to truly “come as he was” and receive God’s gift in its full measure.
By the look on his face, you might have thought Nick had just been hit. In an emotional voice, he hesitatingly answered, “God sees me today as without sin . . .” Nick’s deal with the devil is terminated. Just as his dad once did, Christ has already paid Nick’s penalty for him. In Christ, the deal Nick made has no power to be enforced. For Nick, increasingly sensing every morning what Christ has done for him opens him up even more to the transforming power in his life. Praise God!
[Originally published in My Edge Mag—Spring 2014]
Derek Rippingale writes from Launching Place, Victoria. He is co-founder/managing director of an IT company.