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Success on the Outside & Emptiness on the Inside with Jesse Bradley

Jesse Bradley was a professional soccer player. He was successful and from anyone looking in they would thing he had everything together. The truth? He was empty on the inside. This is the story of the journey he took to finding God and finding what would truly fill his life.

Special thanks to our sponsor Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, who have been serving the homeless population and helping the lost become found for over 90 years. Our vision is to see every homeless neighbor — beloved, redeemed, restored. Find out more about them at


Jesse Bradley: This is where my spiritual journey really began because I looked like I was a success on the outside and I was empty on the inside.

Narrator: We’ve all experienced it. You run into a friend from the past, but there’s something different. They are changed. Maybe there is a calm where there once was a storm. Maybe there is gentleness, instead of harshness. There’s a new passion, a new life. What changed? Welcome to Brought Back To Life, a podcast where we explore stories of ordinary transformation.

Producer Luke: Hey, producer Luke here. After this incredible story from Jesse sharing his insight and the moments that led him to the Lord, we have another powerful testimonial to share, from Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission. You’re not gonna wanna miss it, so make sure you listen all the way to the end. [00:01:00]

Jesse Bradley: My name is Jesse Bradley. I’m pastor at Grace Community Church in Auburn, speaker, author, former professional soccer player, and I love to talk about the hope of Jesus, because that’s what changed my life, a relationship with God.

I didn’t grow up in a Christian family. I didn’t grow up going to church or reading the Bible, and honestly, I wasn’t even that interested in God. My parents were divorced when I was seven years old, and at that point, I really put my time and energy and focused on school, academics, also sports, and then having a lot of friends.

And that’s how I went through high school. And I figured if those three things are going well, sports, friends, and school, then my life’s gonna be pretty solid. And that was my path. I went to a great high school, played three sports. We won high school state championships. Kinda the highlight was in the Metra dome in Minnesota with 6,000 fans. And we won in a shootout. I was a soccer goalkeeper, and then I went to Dartmouth, and I played on the east coast. Continued to played soccer, strong academics, and a lot of friends. And my freshman year, [00:02:00] again, we won the Ivy League. It was the first time in like, 25 years for the school, and receive personal awards.

And this is where my spiritual journey really began because I looked like I was a success on the outside, and I was empty on the inside. And in life, so often we have two stories; what people see on the outside, they might get a glimpse from social media and know some things about you, but there’s another story on the inside that not that many people know.

That freshman year, I took a class, introduction to World Religions. In that class, it was the first time I read the Bible. The professor assigned many different texts. Now, as I read the Bible, it was the Gospel of John; it was assigned to me, and it was like no other book that I had read before, and it really led to dozens of questions.

The first Christian that ever had any conversation with me, his name was Mike, and he was on the track team, and he was on my dormitory floor. And I started to ask Mike question after question. I was reading the Bible and I was also reading Mike. I was doing both cuz I didn’t know any Christians, and he was [00:03:00] patient, he was kind. He created a safe place for me, where I could be honest, I could bring my doubts and I could get more information. And in that process over the year, You know, I still wasn’t ready to follow Jesus. It took time, but he kept praying for me. He introduced me to some other Christians. And this is what I learned; Christianity’s different than any other faith.

I studied the different religions. I celebrated that there’s some commonalities; and the different religions, it’s important to love your neighbor, but I had to make some decisions with intellectual integrity on some crossroads. Either there was no God or there was a God. Either there was one God or there were millions of Gods.

And then I, I chose one God. And then as I looked at the different religions, grace set Christianity apart. Because grace means an undeserved gift. We don’t earn our way through performance or achievement. Trying to be good enough that God will love us and will make it to heaven. That’ll never work. We’ll never be perfect. But grace means that [00:04:00] there’s forgiveness. Jesus died for our sins, and He’s risen. Its relationship. I knew that religion and rules and rituals could not satisfy me. I mean, the laws don’t change the heart. But this relationship with Jesus, where I’m already loved and pursued and known, it was like nothing, it wasn’t even on my radar. And as I was taking in that information, CS Lewis said, when someone claims to be the son of God and the Messiah, there’s only three options.

They’re either a liar, lunatic, or Lord. And I knew I had to make a decision. Was Jesus a liar? A lunatic? Or Lord? And I made the decision my sophomore year to put my trust in Jesus. And when I made that decision, there was a new joy in my life, and it was like a song that was inside of me. I’d walk around campus and I was singing on the inside. I don’t play any instruments. My piano teacher said, you shouldn’t play anymore cause you’re wasting my time, your parents’ money. So, I, saxophone was brutal. I don’t know who my parents made it through, that I’m not musical. I, I sing once in the choir and someone told me, please stop singing. [00:05:00] You’re distracting me. You’re throwing me off. So, out of that, I had this song that just wouldn’t go away, and it really has never gone away. It’s a song of hope. It’s a song of joy, of acceptance, of love. I knew when I made the decision, because of what God has done in his promise, that I have eternal life and I have peace with God.

And I’m in God’s family forever and no one can take that away. And I became a Christian, a follower of Jesus. I didn’t have a church at that time yet, because again, my first experience was just in the Bible and meeting a few Christians. But I found a solid church and was baptized, and ever since I was two, I told my parents I wanted to play professional sports.

And that dream came true. After college, I played overseas. And I played in Scotland, I also played in Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe I signed a contract. In Bulawayo, played for the Highlanders football. I couldn’t believe it. It felt surreal that I get to play professional soccer. During that season, there was tragedy, because I was taking a prescribed medication to prevent malaria. Took it every week, and it built up toxic levels [00:06:00] in my system, and my system started to shut down. The doctors saw it was happening, and they advised me to fly home. Now, there were many symptoms, physical symptoms, like double vision, migraine headaches. I never have headaches, but I couldn’t handle any light or any noise. The most serious, in addition to sweats and chills and a long, long list, there were problems with my heart. Tachycardia, racing heartbeat because of the drug. It inhibits the inhibitors, and I can’t regulate my heart anymore. So, 160 beats a minute, sitting still. Atrial flutter, abnormal rhythm, pain in the left side of my chest, day and night.

I was fighting for my life for one year. And it took 10 years to fully recover. It was brutal. It was stressful, it was painful. In addition to the physical ramifications, there were also psychological side effects. I experienced panic attacks, waves of depression, and I felt like it really just took away any sense of normalcy, any sense of health in my life. And I no longer was in control [00:07:00] of my body and my mind in the same way. And I was losing so much. I lost my career. I flew back to California. We paid out of pocket. And as a doctor in Stanford that listed 10 possible causes. One of them was side effects of the medication. And I knew at that moment that was the cause.

All the doctors told me, keep taking the prescription because malaria can be latent. It can stay in your system. You need to keep taking it for another month, and they advised me to keep taking it because if I had malaria on top of my illness, they thought I would die. Now, it was one of those moments where I prayed and I listened to God’s still small voice, and I heard clearly from God saying, stop taking this medication. So, I went against the doctor’s advice, and we had my blood sent to the Center of Disease Control. They confirmed toxic levels of the medication. If I would’ve kept taking the drug, I would’ve died. And I thank God that he answers prayer. He’ll hear you when you cry. Even when no one else understands a [00:08:00] situation in full, ask God for wisdom. Ask God for clarity. Ask God for courage. And what I discovered in the middle of that tragedy, was a hope greater than our challenges. There’s a hope available to everyone. The passage that stood out, and I started to read the Bible every day, I started to memorize the Bible; in Matthew chapter seven, jesus says, if you abide with him, your house will be like a house on the rock and not the sand.

My whole life felt like it was on the sand, it was crashing, and that foundation wasn’t solid. And I made a decision then that I’m gonna follow Jesus. I’m all in. And I’m ready to grow, whatever it’s gonna look like. Because my previous coping mechanisms wouldn’t work in this situation. You know, I just thought, you try harder, you do better, you persevere. Well, that’s not gonna make this go away. So, I had to learn how to let God into the pain. I had to change my view of God. I thought God only loved me for my success, good grades, sports, friends, everything going well. But no, I had to learn that God loves me and my failure, in my questions, in [00:09:00] the doubt, in the darkness, in the disappointment. That God is with me when I mourn. I didn’t even wanna mourn. I don’t like mourning, but I learned that God is there. He’ll comfort you. He’ll be the lifter of your head. He’s a refuge, strength and ever-present help in trouble. And there were a lot of shifts in my life. I started to memorize scripture. See, when I was a goalkeeper, I’d keep the ball outta the back of the net. But now I didn’t get to play that physically, so, the game was really between my ears. And psychologists say, we have 6000 1st thoughts that come into our mind during the day. Well, you don’t have to believe and receive all those. They’re sometimes not true. They’re not helpful. They’re destructive. So, I learned how to reject the first thought and replace it with the second thought.

It’s good. It’s true. That’s noble. It’s Philippians 4:8. That’s what Paul says. Think about what’s true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. It’s the power of the second thought. Hope habits is what I say. They come right from scripture. Things that you can learn that are practical. The renewing of the mind. And I started to saturate my mind with scripture instead of the junk and the [00:10:00] fears and the worries and the despair; and that replacement, that shift in my thinking.

God started to teach me about gratitude. I learned in Africa from people that really didn’t have much. There was drought, aids, famine, poverty, not many jobs, and yet they were so thankful. The kids would sing in the classroom. People would walk around with joy. They would show love, they would connect with you. And I learned that gratitude is not about how much you have in your bank account or your house, but it’s about what you have in your heart. And the same with hospitality, anyone can give thanks. So, I started to write down 10 things I’m thankful for every day during my recovery. And I also made a chart, because if you’ve ever gone through something that’s long term, feels chronic, it doesn’t change overnight, and it doesn’t feel like there’s much progress.

So, I made a chart on my wall month after month, charting how many minutes I could walk before my heart would race too quickly. And I celebrated, that I went from 10 to 15 minutes over several months. There was progress, and the doctors didn’t know if I’d recover. They didn’t know what abilities I would have, but I learned that [00:11:00] it, today’s a gift, and tomorrow’s not guaranteed.

And I was truly thankful for everything that God has provided. So, there was an inner renewal even though outwardly I was just suffering on so many levels. And God redirected me in ministry. Never saw that coming. I’m so grateful to be a pastor, evangelist… now. It’s my joy to share the hope of Jesus, the very thing that changed my life.

You see, you’ve been through some trials and how God meets you there and what God teaches you and how he provides, in those moments and protects you, that story is what you’re gonna share with other people. You’re gonna be able to relate to them, and you’re gonna just speak practically about how God makes a difference in your life.

I love, you know, Brought Back To Life podcast, that’s what it’s all about. God meets us in our deepest, lowest points, and we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We don’t stay there. That’s not our permanent dwelling. We’re gonna keep walking forward with Jesus and by his grace, he’s gonna raise us up.

And now it’s my joy in pastoring here in Seattle, being part of saturate the Sound a hundred [00:12:00] Churches and Ministries United together, cuz Jesus’s longest prayer in John 17 is for unity. The fullness of unity so that people would see him in us. Our church is now multicultural, multiethnic. It, it’s exciting. We do faith and family with Tacoma Stars and Seattle Sounders. We have collaboration with World Vision and we’re able to bring hope, clean water to kids in Africa. Our church just partnered with 200 kids in, in Cambodia, and we’re empowering them. And we do digital ministry now. During Covid, we learned so many new opportunities. It’s kinda like the printing press was historic and for this day, digital ministry, podcasts, we have hope campaigns. And the last one we had this month, two and a half million views; 350,000 people went through the gospel, and 8,200 indicated first time decisions to follow Jesus. And we help them in discipleship to find a church. And I just feel so grateful to be alive in what God’s doing. And it just comes back to that place that we [00:13:00] worship the God of all hope. And when you trust him, he brings peace and joy, and that that hope overflows through the power of the Holy Spirit. So, my encouragement to you is don’t try to do the Christian life on your own strength. It’s not gonna work. But instead, open up every door, every room in your house, open up every part of your life, so that your faith in God is a 24/7 relationship where you live, work, learn, and play. It’s not compartmentalized to one building, or one hour, or one church. But instead, it’s a vibrant relationship.

And if you abide with Jesus, you will bear much fruit. There’s no limits with God. Your story is gonna inspire so many other people. Start small, build on islands of strength. Trust God with the results. Be faithful today with what he is given to you and then collaborate. Find other ministries. Partner together. You can partner with CRISTA in so many ways; but partner together cuz we’re gonna go further together and know that it’s gonna be a lot of surprises and the greatest blessings in life, [00:14:00] god brings them. We don’t always plan them. It’s not like we sit here in a room, in a committee and then plan out the next five years and it just looks exactly like that. Check out the Book of Acts. It’s an adventure, it’s trust, and you go all in. God doesn’t give us spirit of timid and fear, but power in love.

And this hope I wake up every day genuinely excited, because right now the world’s starving for Hope. Center of Disease Control says there’s never been more deaths by drug overdose. Census Bureau says that half of our country is feeling hopeless right now. In American Psychological Association says that Americans have never been so stressed.

So, let’s not retreat, be silent, scared, isolated, intimidated. But again, God doesn’t give us a spirit of timidity, but power and love. Thank you so much for listening to my story and I’d love to connect with you. is our new website. On social media, jessejbradley. I’d love to hear your story. Let’s keep receiving the hope of Jesus, [00:15:00] and then also giving hope; locally and globally together.

Producer Luke: Jesse, thank you so much for your time. For being open, honest, and most importantly, vulnerable with your struggles. So many of the people who have been through Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission’s programs have been there. In a place where they don’t feel like there’s a way out/ but Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission gives them hope. Take a listen.

Narrator: Helping The Lost Become found with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission. Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission doesn’t just provide food and shelter. They offer a path out of homelessness, giving men and women a safe place to recover from addiction, and start on the path toward a new life.

SUGM Testimonial: I was homeless on and off for 20 years, and it was a nightmare. The whole time I was addicted to meth. I knew I wanted a different life. But I didn’t know how to obtain it. One night, the mission Search and [00:16:00] rescue team reached out to me, but I wasn’t ready. They kept checking on me for two more years. They really cared about me as a person. When I got clean, I knew I never wanted to go back.

Now I’m working as an outreach specialist for the mission. I am just so blessed to have this opportunity to help people out on the streets in the same position that I was. With God’s love, anything is possible.

Narrator: Even when it seems impossible to see, hope can be found. Local men and women in our area desperately need a fresh start, and that’s what they find at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission. From learning to trust again, to that first hot meal to a recovery program, and then job training. The Mission’s recovery programs offer counseling, case management, chemical dependency classes, and so much more. To hear more, volunteer, or donate, visit [00:17:00]

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