I’ve always believed that a Christian’s life should revolve around the Bible. I always thought that mine did. I’d read through the Bible 3 times, which was 3 times more than anybody else I knew my age. I read one chapter a day whenever I wasn’t too busy. I thought that was more than enough. I even had plans to start my own bible study. I thought that I had the Bible covered and that I knew it front to back.
One summer, I was travelling around Montana and selling jewelry with my brother. We went to Billings to sell jewelry at the pro rodeos. I went to Cowboy Church and I had a sore throat. During the whole sermon, I was praying to God to heal me, because I got sick often. I just kept asking God, why do you let people suffer with sicknesses when you can heal them? Can’t you just heal me? Then something the speaker said caught my attention. I don’t remember her exact words, but she said something like, “Many of you are suffering ailments, and you want to be healed. But if you want to be healed physically, first take care of your spiritual self. You need to get right with God and start reading his Word. Make your spirit stronger first, then your physical body.”
Immediately, I dismissed the thought that that applied to me. I told God, “But I already read the Bible! I read the Bible every day whenever I have the time. I know I’ve been busy lately, but in a few weeks when I’m done with my work, I’ll start reading 2 chapters a day. But I have to get done with my work first.”
Then that night, I had this dream. I dreamt that there was a tall man dressed in a long dark robe. His entire body was covered by the robe including his hands and feet, and his face was hidden under a hood. He called himself Shemhiel (which I later discovered is derived from two names that together mean “The name of the living God” in Hebrew), and he claimed to be God. I believed him. And I began to worship him and bow down to him. Then I slipped and accidentally called him Jesus. “What did you say?” he asked sternly. “That’s not my name. My name is Shemhiel. You called me by the wrong name. I think that deserves punishment. But I need your permission before I can punish you.” I thought, what? You need MY permission to punish me?? What kind of God would need MY permission? You’re not god!
“No!” I said. In a fit of rage, he began to slowly raise his arms, trembling with anger, and the sleeves of his robe fell to his wrists revealing terribly deformed, withered hands with 7 inch long razor sharp claws protruding from the fingertips. If you have ever seen Nightmare on Elm Street, that’s what his hands looked like, his claws were just as sharp and long as Freddy Krueger’s, but they weren’t made of metal. And he reached for my neck and clenched my throat with his claws and began strangling me. It was incredible that his fingernails didn’t penetrate my skin, because they were razor sharp and he was putting tremendous pressure on them. He was apparently frustrated by this and began to squeeze my throat harder and harder, until it began to cut off my air supply. I couldn’t breathe anymore and I felt like I was going to pass out. And then I awoke, out of breath, and I could feel the pressure points where each of his ten fingers had been pressing into my skin.
It was about 2:00 am and I laid there praying for about 10 minutes, trying to figure out what the dream meant. I knew this was no normal dream. I was somewhat afraid to go back to sleep again, but I finally gave up and told God, I know you’re trying to tell me something, but I can’t figure out what it is. Please show me what this dream means. So I decided to just fall back asleep and trust that God would explain it to me.
Immediately, I fell asleep and started dreaming again. I dreamt I was in all these different situations. It was always one of three things: Either I was being tempted by some sin and I had to resist it, or I was experiencing another person’s life and the struggles they faced, or I was in some sort of life threatening, critical situation where I needed to do exactly what God wanted me to do or else I was stuck in that situation. Once I did the right thing, then a bright white light would flash and transport me to somewhere else.
So in one situation, I was working at a store. A man walked in with a gun and demanded I give him all the money. So what’s the right thing to do in this situation? Do I give him the money? Do I call the cops? Do I try to wrestle the gun from his hands? Do I run? What is the right thing to do? As I thought about it, he became impatient and started grabbing cans off the shelves and throwing them at me. The situation got more dangerous by the second. He began shouting angrily at me and threatening me. I felt I was seconds away from death. I couldn’t escape the situation by logical reasoning, I had to make the best moral decision that I possibly could, without fault, or else I would be stuck there until something happened to me. I don’t even remember now all the different predicaments I was in or how I got through them, but I eventually figured them out and moved on.
In other situations, I would be facing temptations that I needed to say no to. It was such a struggle to stand my ground against some of these sins and I didn’t really understand why it was so hard to do the right thing. But I learned a lot about myself and I was surprised by some weaknesses I wasn’t aware that I had. It’s simple in theory to do the right thing, but much more difficult in reality, when you realize that you don’t know what the right thing is.
Other times I would be experiencing somebody else’s life, and the struggles that they faced. It gave me insight into what some people go through and what makes them who they are. I had greater sympathy for people after I understood where they were coming from and the kind of pain they feel in their lives.
But the hardest situations I had to get through were the ones where I needed to figure out what God wanted me to do, because I never knew what the right thing to do was. And it had to be exacly right, if I did anything even a little bit less than perfect, I would be stuck in that situation until something happened to me. I was constantly praying and crying out to God, “Show me what you want me to do, Lord! I don’t know what to do! I can’t figure this out by myself!”
For about an hour, but it seemed like forever, I found myself in the most intense dangerous situations I’ve ever faced. My life was threatened in so many different ways I can’t even remember them all. So many times it seemed impossible to figure out what the right thing to do was, but I always barely escaped with my life in the nick of time. After about an hour of this I felt completely drained. My head hurt from the stress and thinking so hard. You know when you study for a really hard test, and you can’t understand it? And then you take the test, and you don’t know the answers to the questions? That was what I felt like. Like I had been studying something I didn’t understand for hours and hours, and now I was trying to pass the most difficult test of my life.
I didn’t quite understand why God was putting me through all of this. I thought, ok, God’s trying to show me what I’m supposed to do if I’m ever in any of these situations, but when am I ever going to be in any of these situations??! I’m probably never going to be robbed while I’m working in a store, or any of the things that have happened to me, so why is God trying to show me what I should do in these situations? Why is God giving me this dream just to teach me something I’ll never need to know? And I thought, there must be something more to this. There must be a deeper meaning that I’m missing. So I started praying for God to help me understand.
Then I was transported to a room, and I braced myself for whatever disaster was about to come my way. An angel walked into the room. He looked like the stereotypical angel, with blonde curly hair, but he was dressed in modern, every day clothes, with a t-shirt and ripped jeans, and wore a baby blue bandana around his head.
“Come,” he said to me. “It’s time for the next scene.” And I said, “But wait, isn’t there some sort of danger I have to face or temptation I have to say no to or something??” He laughed at me and said jokingly, “We don’t have time for this. Come with me. it’s time to go to the next scene.”
He walked out the door and I followed him. As we exited, the bright white light flashed again, and I found myself in the car with my brother in Billings. It was night time and we were in the parking lot of a gas station. He was driving and the car went dead and was slowly rolling backwards toward the busy lane of traffic. “Come on!!” he yelled frantically as he slammed on the brakes and pulled back on the shift. Nothing was working. We both became increasingly more panicked as we tried again and again to shift, brake, and steer, to no avail. I yanked up on the shift but it wouldn’t budge. I pulled back on the emergency brake, but nothing would stop our slow, gradual slide into certain death. “WHY ISN’T THIS WORKING???!!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. I too was yelling, calling out to God, “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO??!! GOD, HELP ME!! SHOW ME WHAT TO DO!! I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!! WHAT AM I DOING WRONG??!”
At this point, I felt like I must have been nearly perfect. What could I possiby be doing wrong? After surviving all those situations and learning all the different lessons that came with them, what could I possibly be missing? What wasn’t I doing right?
I opened the car door and considered jumping out, but at that point the car was moving too fast, and I hesitated when I saw the hard concrete passing by under my feet faster by the second, so I slammed the car door shut again, and continued my futile attempts to stop the car. I looked back just as we were about to roll back into the busy lane of traffic…
Suddenly, the bright white light flashed and I found myself in a palace eating a great feast in a foreign country. The queen was there, with many honoured guests at the table, important people from their own country and visitors from around the world. The food that was spread across the red tasseled table cloth looked delicious and exotic. I started praying over the food, but the queen stopped me. “What are you doing?” she asked me. “I’m praying to my God to bless the food.” I began to explain to her about all the great things God had done for me and who Jesus was. “You can’t do that,” she said sadly. Her face became very serious. “It is against our laws and customs to worship any God other than the gods of our ancestors. You need to take back what you said right now, or else you must die.” “I’m sorry, but I can’t do that,” I said. She seemed deeply affected by my decision. Tears began to well up in her eyes. She seemed puzzled as to why I would choose death over denial. “Well then,” she said, “Come with me.”
She led me into the execution room. There I found 3 swords hanging on a rack, made of precious metals and richly decorated with all kinds of different gemstones, each one unique. She told me to choose the weapon I wanted to die by. I took my time to observe them closely. If I was going to be stabbed to death, I wanted it to be as quick as possible. After some consideration, I chose the blade that looked the sharpest.
“Do you want to do it, or do you want me to do it?” she asked, still shocked by my decision. You could tell that she had never had to execute anybody before, and that she didn’t want to do it now, because she considered me a friend. I knew she didn’t understand why I was choosing to die for my faith. I sighed and said, “You do it.” “Ok,” she said, and got in position to strike me down.
All the honoured guests who had been attending the feast were watching my execution. Suddenly it occurred to me, these are the last words I am ever going to say. Here I am, about to die for my faith in front of all these people witnessing my execution. I need to make a statement. These are my famous last words, the words everybody is going to remember me by. I suddenly remembered part of Ephesians 6 and decided that it would be the perfect passage to quote for my last words. “Wait!” I said, just as she was about to thrust the sword through my heart. “I want to change the sword that I die by!”
I attempted to recite Ephesians 6:10-20, but I couldn’t remember it. “Now, brothers,” I muttered, trying to remember the words Paul wrote from prison. “Take up the… helmet of… peace? And the… shield… of…. love?” Everyone watched me curiously as I struggled to remember the pieces of the armor of God. “The chainmail of faith? The belt of,uh, love? Or something like that…” I was more frustrated now than I had ever been! I was trying to recite the passage, but I couldn’t make even one complete sentence! I wanted to make a statement and encourage people to follow in my footsteps, to be brave enough to stand up for their beliefs, to lead them to Christ, and to be remembered as a great martyr, but all I was doing was making a fool out of myself! I was totally messing it up! I just felt so stupid. “And the sword… of…” I became more and more desperate for words as the truth set in.
I came to the sudden realization that here I was, about to die for this book. And I don’t even know what it says. I’m about to die for my beliefs, and I don’t even know what they are. And at that moment, I regretted my entire life and I despised every moment I had spent not reading God’s word. Everything else I had done in my life suddenly seemed completely worthless to me. And suddenly I understood what the entire dream was about. It wasn’t about every individual situation and the lessons I learned from them. That’s not what mattered. It was the bigger picture. It was the fact that I didn’t know right from wrong. That’s why it was so impossible for me to figure out what the right thing to do was. That’s why it was so hard for me to resist temptation and to stand my ground. That’s why it was so easy for me to be led astray and fall for false beliefs. I might as well have been worshipping a false god, I didn’t even know who my God was.
In addition to my embarassment, I was overwhelmed with this sense of shame and guilt. If only I could turn back time and spend just another hour reading the Word of God! If only I had another chance! I would have laid everything else in the world aside! But I had failed so miserably in every way. And here I thought that I was doing everything right, but now I saw that I had completely missed the point of everything! All that time I was crying out to God, praying for Him to show me the answers, but it was in here all along. This book had all the answers to life’s problems. All I had to do was pick it up and read.
I looked out into the audience. Everybody was waiting for me. I had a sudden urge to warn them not to make the mistake I had. “Listen, all of you!” I called out, “Don’t let this be you up here! Don’t make the same mistake that I did! Read the word of God! Take time to know what your beliefs are!”
And with those words, I accepted my fate, and said, “Ok, I choose to die by the sword of truth? Yeah, I think that’s it. I choose to be pierced by the sword of truth!” I braced myself for the sharp pain. But just as the sword was about to be plunged into my chest, the bright white light flashed again, and the angel appeared.
“Everybody in this dream is acting,” he explained. “It was all an act to show you something you need to know.”
And then I woke up. It was 3:00 in the morning. I had been dreaming for roughly an hour.
Although the bright flash of white light saved me, I was still pierced by the truth that night. The truth that there are people today in other countries who would give everything they had to own a single copy of this book, and here I was with about 20 copies lying around my room, all of them unused. The truth that there are people in other countries where reading the Bible is illegal, and they would do anything to have that right, but here I am, with all the freedom in the world to read it, but I keep it on the shelf. The truth that there are people who have given their lives for my right to read this book, there are people who have died for this book and everything it says. And I was not worthy to be included in their company. I claimed that I was willing to die for my faith, but I hadn’t yet lived for my faith. The awful and wonderful truth that we are only here for a little while on earth. During that time, we can vainly chase after a happiness that is fading, or we can chase after the truth, and pursue righteousness, for the sake of our God, ourselves, and our fellow human beings. Anything which distracts you from this pursuit is complete pointlessness and you will realize that when your time is up.
I never again took for granted the truth in the Bible. After I woke up, the first chance I had, I picked up the Bible and read Ephesians 6:10-20. And I didn’t put down that Bible for about 3 days. For about 3 days straight, all I did was lay on the couch and read from the Bible. I felt terrified to face another moment of my life without God’s word in my heart. I started timing myself to see how long it took to read a chapter. It takes on average only about 3 minutes to read one chapter in the Bible. I felt like spending the whole day reading the Bible, but I knew I couldn’t live life that way, so I prayed that God would show me how much to read every day. Then I turned out the light to sleep at exactly one minute to 12, and exactly an hour later, at a minute to 1, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep until I read another chapter. From then on, I read a chapter every hour, or 16 chapters a day. It was surprisingly easy, and I was more than happy to do it.
I was so happy to have a second chance, and I knew I would never let myself make the mistake of neglecting God’s word ever again. Never again would I put God second, never again would I struggle to know right from wrong, never again would I be decieved by false beliefs, never again would I find myself at a loss for words, but I would take the time to live and die for and by my faith, I would not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God, so that I might be able to give a reason for the hope that I have, so that I can resist temptation and not give evil the permission to harm me, and not be deceived by the devil’s schemes, and instead reply like Jesus did in Matthew 4, “it is written”, to know what to do in every situation and be ready to fight the good fight with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and not find myself unarmed, so that some day, I might be worthy to be counted among the martyrs, and stand unashamed before a crowd of witnesses and be able to say, as it says in Ephesians 6:10-20,
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and the forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” God bless you all.
Read the rest of my story at mtgrl.wordpress.com