"Just to show you what the tiniest amount of faith in Jesus can do, let me tell you another story from my own life. In 1968 my life was nearly snuffed out, and God did an incredible thing. I had spent five years full of anger against God (because he seemingly had not fulfilled his promises to me), full of anger against myself (for not being what I felt God wanted me to be), and, of course, full of anger against others (because I blamed others for most of my problems). This anger caused me ultimately to carry a gun and to think often of murder and suicide.
In 1968, I became deathly ill and had to be hospitalized for over three months. I went from 165 to 104 pounds. My death became so certain that one day my doctor called my parents, who lived two hundred miles away, and told them that if they wanted to see me alive they needed to be at the hospital before five o'clock that afternoon. The Lord did not, repeat, did not put me in that hospital! But I didn't know that at the time. I thought God was punishing me for all my sin and failure. Obviously, I didn't die, but I got out of the hospital and returned to my flea-infested apartment. I weighed about 112 pounds. My return home was a return to depression and hopelessness and marijuana! The only way I can describe it is that my total environment was dark all the time—no light at the end of any tunnel. Just more tunnel! The only friends I had who I felt totally comfortable with were my two cats. I was ten thousand dollars in debt with medical bills and no work. Psychedelic music and paperback books were the mainstays of my environment. What a horrible fate, what agony, especially for a person whose self-worth had been totally based on his productivity! Life was over for me, even though I had not stopped breathing. I still hated everyone.
Then something incredible happened. I know that the Lord did it. One day when the darkness became so thick I couldn’t stand it anymore, an idea came to me. I decided to pretend, mind you, that somehow God could still save me. I figured such pretending might bring welcome temporary relief from my darkness. I would pretend that there was a make believe God in whom there was hope, even for me! Perhaps this little game could ease the hopelessness for a day.
I dug out my Bible. I knew my Bible well; I had been a Christian for many years. I turned to Romans 8:28-29:
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.”
Then, for relief from the darkness, I began to pretend that those verses were true for me. I didn't believe this, mind you. I knew I didn't love God. But I pretended that the Lord could accept me as I was. I pretended that he could use every tragedy and every disaster in my life and every terrible thing that I had ever done to anyone—and even my present physical, mental, and financial condition—and work all this together for good, to conform me to the image of his Son. I pretended that I was called of God and predestined (whatever that meant; this was no time for theological gymnastics!). I pretended that God was in control and that he had included me in his plans.
I knew there was no hope in trying to change myself because I had tried unsuccessfully to change myself in the early years of my Christian life. Nothing worked. So I pretended not only that God could change me but also that he would change me! I pretended that he could and would bring me into a powerful ministry. I took the psychedelic music off my turntable and put on an old Mahalia Jackson album I had. She sang, "All hall the power of Jesus' name, let angels prostrate fall.”
I started out pretending but God intervened within 24 hours by giving me a measure of actual hope in Romans 8:28-29. Somehow during that 24 hour period He assured me that these verses were true for me because I was still His. He had never forsaken me. He showed me that I was pretending the truth. What happened next astounded me. I believed Him! Then everything began to change. I changed. In one year I was preaching and teaching, and many were coming to Christ. I was filled with the Holy Spirit. My bills were all paid. I I gained weight. The Lord taught me to forgive everyone including myself. By the mid-1970s I was ordained and married.
This permanent transformation could happen only after the Lord showed me his grace plus nothing and I simply received it, first by pretending, then by believing. The grace of God is radical, more radical than any love you have ever imagined. Believe it. Or just pretend, as I did—just act as if it's true. If you will act on God's grace, it will work; I don't care whether you initially “believe” it or not.
Do not attempt to dictate to God what he is supposed to change-or when. Just accept his acceptance. Something will happen, if not outside you, at least inside—you'll see.
Those of us who are becoming grace people can learn to capitalize on everything we have ever done to ourselves, using everything for God's glory, through grace. And then we can learn to take everything that the devil has ever done to us and, in effect, cram it right back down his filthy throat! All the evil, all the suffering, all the tragedy: We can cram it all back down the devil's throat because of Romans 8:28 and 29. God causes all things to work together for our good. Defeat is transformed into victory. “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). This book is a good example of what I mean, because the Lord has enabled me to take years of past failure and torment and turn it all into material to teach God's precious people how his grace works.
God wants to use everything in your past for his glory and for your good, now and in your future. You can appropriate this. The Lord will show you how. It's all a reasonable and biblical response to his radical love. "