You are walking along a road. It seems safe, though it doesn’t, anymore, seem to be heading in the direction you once thought it might. After a while you notice that it’s not so much a road any longer as it is a path. It’s become narrower and you are starting to have some twinges of despair. Turning around, though, doesn’t seem to be an option because you’ve been on this road for quite a while, and retracing it to find another route holds no appeal. Anyway, you don’t feel as though you’ve got the strength to find a new direction. So you persist.
The path is now strewn with rocks. At either side, boulders now create what you hope are really barriers that will provide some protection from the world. Maybe people won’t see that your life isn’t heading the direction that you had hoped. Best to keep others in the dark. Besides, you’ve got this. It’s just another of life’s detours, and you’ll make through to the other side.
Time progresses, and so does the path. You hadn’t realized the change, but the boulders have been replaced by low walls and the sunlight seems to no longer be landing upon you with its warmth. That’s okay, though. A little bit of darkness allows you to hide a little better, and the walls that you are beginning to notice will afford another layer of separation from those around you, especially those who are starting to intrude on your life-decisions with their words of caution and “support.”
And, yes, time goes on. The walls are high now. You cannot see over the top. There is no longer any sunshine falling upon you. There is enough light to see where to step, but the path ahead is un-seeable. You’re finally admitting something to yourself; you’re scared. Now you want to turn around. You do so. You peer down the path from whence you’ve come and see that the walls that were once low appear as high as those ahead of you. What’s the point of turning back? And asking for help? No one needs to know your business. Right? Why drag someone else down with you? Who wants words of “comfort” that fall flat? Yes, they will be well-meaning, but it will all sound so cliché. You turn around again and walk.
The cliff walls are extremely high. There appear to be no hand holds for which to climb and pull oneself out. Now you notice two more things about your path: it’s descending and it’s getting colder.
You wonder, again, if you should turn around. Maybe this is the right point at which to call out for help. The niggling scariness of your situation has turned into something more: deep-seated fear. It’s becoming more and more difficult to think clearly—to focus on potential answers. All you know is that you are scared, lonely, and without a destination that seems to lead to anything happy or fulfilling. The realization has struck. You are without help, hope, and a future. All you want now is an exit.
This is the path to suicide, and it’s a decision that has been whispering to your conscious mind for a little while, now. Maybe the darkness is actually providing a peaceful solution. Death sounds final and appealing; a loss of consciousness forever. If not oblivion, certainly a better experience than is being lived at the moment. Something better.
As I write these words, I remember my own journey into the long, dark ravine. I remember my desperation, my unspoken fears and secret tears. I remember calling into the darkness for relief, hoping that if there was a God he’d hear me and help me escape. I remember the whispers, voices assuring me that death just might be the best avenue for me. After all, it wouldn’t just fix my current situation, but it would also relieve others of the pressure of having to deal with me and my problems. It sounded so logical. Relieve multiple burdens from myself and others with one pull of the knife. But there was a problem. One that I hadn’t initially foreseen during my deliberations.
My grandmother—the only Christian that I knew—believed … actually believed in a place called Heaven. It was a place. A destination. A resting place. It was where, in my mind, “good people” went. But, if only good people went there, then …
Could there be a real place called Hell? If so, could it really be worse than the “hell” in which I currently found myself?
Fear on top of fear. More anguish. More reason for me to hate who and where I was. Misery.
Friend (please, allow me to call you that), I know where you are. I know the feelings. I know whispers. I know the darkness.
I know the way out.
As an author, I wrote a book called Deliver Us from Darkness. Toward the beginning of the book a desperate teenager named Brent is forced to look at his desperate situation honestly because of a man who stepped in; a man willing to enter into Brent’s dark place.
“Something’s wrong. And, while you may think of me as just another authority figure doing his job, I want you to know that I really do care. If I can, I want to help.” He paused to allow his last statement to have a little impact. “Can you tell me what’s going on? Does it have something to do with life at home? Here at school?”
Brent looked up at his coach, a wary look touching his eyes. Would it hurt to trust this man? Could he just lay things out and expect someone like him to understand? He looked down at his notebook again. He’d risk it. His pride was pretty much demolished anyway.
“Coach, it has to do with a lot of things. Home, school, you name it. But I don’t think you’ll understand. God sure doesn’t seem to.” He shook his head. “I’m into something that even I don’t understand; something that I can’t get out of.”
“I’m listening,” said Coach Chamberlin. He stood and pulled his chair out from behind the table. Placing it a couple of feet away from Brent, he straddled it and sat down, the back of the chair providing an arm rest.
“Coach, I really don’t want to talk about this.” Brent began to choke up, tears pooling in his eyes.
“Brent, it’s okay. You may not believe it, but you’re with a friend.”
Brent rubbed away the tears before they fell. “You’re going to think I’m crazy.” How he wanted to get up and run. The heel of his left foot began tapping the floor nervously.
“Coach, I’m lost. I’m lost, and I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid … and …” Brent stopped. His tongue seized. He had actually believed he could follow through. He fought in his mind for clarity. I can’t, he thought to himself. I’ve still got too much to lose. This could get me cut from the team.
Brent looked up, his red eyes showing the stress behind the tears. “I’m sorry, Coach. I thought I could, but I can’t. I can’t tell you.” His eyes trailed downward again.
“Okay, Brent. Relax. I’m not going to force it.” He began to get up to move back to his work area, but paused and sat back down.
“Brent? You said something a minute ago. I’m going to ask about it because you brought it up. You mentioned God.”
“Oh … yeah … him. What about it?”
“Do you believe in him?”
“I’m forced to believe in him. I don’t really have the luxury of not believing.”
“What do you mean? Are your parents forcing their beliefs on you?”
Brent released a cynical laugh. “My parents? Nuh-uh. They could use some religion, if you ask me. Coach, the reason that I can’t explain what I’m going through is the same reason I can’t tell you how I know there’s a God.”
“Okay,” Coach Chamberlin continued, “Let me ask you this, then.” Again he paused, obviously making sure that he had Brent’s full attention. Brent’s eyes met his again. “If you were to die tonight, would you go to Heaven?”
Brent looked up into his coach’s eyes, stunned. “What?”
“I … uhh …” How was he supposed to respond to this? He panicked, searching within himself for some way out. This was cutting too close. “Yeah … I mean … I don’t…” Brent looked down again, knowing the next words out of his mouth were going to be a lie. “Yes,” he said firmly. And seemingly without the ability to keep his mouth closed, he followed it up with, “I hope.”
“Let me ask it another way. If you were to die tonight and found yourself standing before the throne of God … If he were to look you in the eyes and ask, ‘Why should I let you into my Heaven?’ what would you say?”
What the… Brent was at a total loss. If he were standing on a log in the middle of a lake he couldn’t have been more off balance than he was now. “Coach, I …” He stopped. He took a deep breath and spoke the only truthful answer that he could manage. “I’ve … I’ve never killed anyone. I don’t mean to hurt people. I …” He couldn’t find any more words. I what? I … what? He was staggered by his inability to produce another sentence. That was his best argument? That was the single statement that he could give to God as his defense against Hell?
Brent looked up again into the eyes of his coach, his own registering fear. He could see that Coach Chamberlin recognized it.
“Brent, listen to me…”
“Coach … Coach, I…” Brent’s thoughts were a torrent of emotions, of horrified realization.
“Brent. Shhh…It’s okay.”
Brent looked back and forth in his coach’s eyes, looking for something—anything—that would steal his panic away. He wasn’t seeing it.
“Brent,” Coach Chamberlin said more insistently. “It’s okay. Focus on what I’m saying.”
The fog in Brent’s mind seemed to clear a little bit.
“Brent, what are you doing tonight?”
That evening Brent goes to a place with his coach that is nerve-wrecking. Not because it’s a place of danger, but because it’s a place that runs completely against the grain of everything in his life. What he doesn’t understand, initially, is that he’s in the midst of a bunch of people who have his back, who are rooting for him, though they don’t know him nor are they even paying any attention to him at this time of great apprehension. He’s in a building filled with a bunch of people who know what broken lives are all about. These are people who know what it feels like to be mentally and emotionally trapped. People who have found that freedom for which Brent is so desperately searching.
A man by the name of Bob Naze speaks:
“Now I’m going to ask that everyone hold still. It doesn’t matter where any of us have to be in the next few minutes when you compare it to making sure everyone in here knows where they’re going to be for eternity.
“There are a lot of Christians in here—most of you, in fact. Many of you came to know Christ by coming to these meetings over the years. It is for those who do not yet know our Savior that we dedicate the remainder of our time together this evening.”
Brent felt queasiness return, and perspiration began to form on his brow and in his hands. What’s going on?
Bob continued, “I’d like for everyone in this room to bow his or her head right now; eyes closed.”
Brent glanced quickly to his right to see Coach Chamberlin and his wife bow their heads. He did the same. He was getting increasingly nervous. And now he understood why.
He recognized the awful presence, and he heard a confirming whisper in his mind. “Brent, don’t listen to this. This is foolishness.”
Brent forced his mind to focus on what Bob Naze was saying.
“Christians, I want you to begin praying for those in this room who do not know Jesus. Pray for barriers to be broken through and lying tongues to be quieted, in the name of Jesus Christ.”
“All of you here who aren’t quite sure what all of this is about, it is you that we are here for. It is you that we are praying for right now. And we pray for you because we know what Jesus Christ has done for each of us.
“Some of you here tonight are caught up in drugs and alcohol. Others of you are stuck in a rut of sexual addictions and perversions. And others of you are involved in some form of the occult—demonism, witchcraft, sorcery, divination, and the like. And there are also some of you here who have been struggling with the idea of suicide.”
Brent’s eyes shot open. He stared straight down at his feet, then chanced a look to see if his coach was looking at him. He wasn’t. He and his wife were visibly praying, their lips moving silently. Had his coach told this preacher about what he’d been going through? No. How could he? He didn’t know.
“Many of you men and women all over this church building have been going through such private hells that you’re scared to reveal the darkness behind your torment. But, listen to me. Jesus knows. He knows!
“He knows … and … he loves you still. There is nothing that you have done, and there is nothing that has been done to you, that has stopped him from loving you and wanting you to be his brothers and sisters, not to mention his friend.
“Jesus, himself, said that those who ask him to come into their lives will have a Friend that sticks closer than a brother.”
Brent’s mind was trying to take this all in.
You want me? How could you? My life’s a mess!
“I’m going to extend to you an invitation in a moment. An invitation to ask Jesus Christ to come into your lives. But first, I want all of you to know what the Bible has to say about all of this. And to do that, we’ve got to start at the beginning.
“You see, the earth as we know it wasn’t always broken. When God first created it, it was utterly perfect. A perfect Adam & Eve had a perfect relationship with God. They all shared a perfect love. There was also no death, no sickness, and no sin.
“God had told Adam that if he ate the fruit of a certain tree that he would die. Later, Satan tempted Eve and told her that God was holding back on them and that if they would eat that fruit they wouldn’t die, but that their eyes would be opened and they would be like God. She fell for it and got her husband to fall for it, too.
“That first sin caused the whole of God’s perfect creation to shift. Death was introduced, both spiritual and physical. Chaos erupted in, and through, the first family. Every succeeding generation has perpetuated that chaos. Every murder, every misuse of sex, every false religion, every war, and disease … all of it … is a result of that original sin.
“Remember, I said that spiritual death was also introduced. You see, Hell was not created for man. It was created for the devil and his angels. However, God cannot allow sin to do to Heaven what it first did to Earth, so no man or woman, boy or girl, will ever be allowed to bring it in.
“After that original sin was committed, God took the life of a spotless animal, shedding its blood in order to cover the guilt of Adam and Eve. Scripture makes it clear; ‘without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin.’ By doing that, God was showing Adam and Eve that he still cared about them; that they still mattered. He also showed that there was a high price to pay for sin: The blood of an innocent.
“For thousands of years, God accepted the blood of animals to cover the sins of people, but the sacrifices were only good for one year. Each year the people were again reminded of the high cost that had to be paid for what they had done. God, though, had a plan that would result in one final sacrifice; one last shedding of blood. This last sacrifice wouldn’t just cover sin for one year; it would wash it away forever.
“Listen to Romans, chapter three, verse twenty-three: ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ Romans, chapter six, verse twenty-three says that ‘the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’
“See? All of us—every single one of us—has fallen short. There is not one single person in this room, or on this earth, that deserves anything other than eternal punishment. No amount of doing good can save you. It is only through Christ, and the shedding of his perfect blood, that we can have salvation—the forgiveness of our sins that will allow us into God’s kingdom instead of Hell.
“Some of you have been beat over the head with religious dos and don’ts. You feel like God is up there on his throne with a big hammer just waiting for the next time you do something wrong so he can make an example of you. But, that’s not how it is!
“Listen to what Jesus, himself, said: ‘God loved the world so much, that he sent his one, and only, Son, so that whoever would believe in him would not know eternal punishment, but, instead, would know eternal life!’ He went on to say, ‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but that the world, through him, might be saved.’ Isn’t that great news?”
God, Brent asked, is this true? Really? A hope rose within him.
“Right now, those of you who want to know this God – this Jesus – I want you to raise your hands.”
Before Brent could give himself time to think, his hand was in the air. He was so shocked by his response that he actually looked up at it. He closed his eyes again, returning his attention to the preacher.
“That’s it. You, there, sir, God bless you. You can put your hand down.”
Did he mean me, Brent wondered? He began to lower his hand.
“And you, young man, you can put your hand down. Yes. God bless you. Young lady in the back, God bless. You can put your hand down.”
One after another after another, hands went up and were acknowledged, for what seemed like several minutes. Brent was stunned by the realization that he wasn’t the only one whose life was messed up. But, then, Bob Naze had said that everyone needed Jesus, right?
Finally, Bob continued. “I want all of you who raised hands to make a bold statement. I want each of you to slip out of your seat and come down here to the altar. Come on now, don’t be afraid. There’s nothing to fear from forgiveness and peace.”
And with that, the band began to softly sing.
Just as I am, without one plea;
But that they blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Brent couldn’t just stand there. He wanted to believe that all of this was true. But he was struck with a new fear: What if this didn’t work?
What if I go down there… Tears developed in his eyes. What if … Oh God … what if this doesn’t work? There’s nothing else.
I’ve got nothing else! God! I’m scared! Do you hear me? I am scared!
Just as I am and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
With a resolve that came from desperation, Brent slipped out of the pew and walked the fifteen miles to the altar. He saw that others were kneeling, so he did the same. He looked down and saw a box of tissues sitting right in front of him. Good thing, he thought. But he was going to try not to cry.
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
The song—written just for Brent over a hundred years prior—came to an end. Dozens of people filled the front of the church. He could hear people, men and women alike, sobbing … just like he wanted to do.
Bob began to speak again. “I’d like for everyone down here at the altar to look at each other for a moment. Look the full length of the altar area. I want you all to see that you are not alone when it comes to trials and complications in your lives. Now look up at me. I’m going to lead all of you in a prayer. I’d like for all of you to repeat it, out loud, as I say it. But I don’t want you just saying it. I want you to pray it. Speak it to God. He’s listening. I promise you, He’s listening. You’re not joining a church tonight, or some organization. Rather, you are beginning a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe who takes a personal interest in you.
“Now, pray this after me: Father, in Heaven … I come to you now … broken and defeated. … I know that I need you. … I know that I’m completely lost without you. … According to your Word … all I have to do is believe and receive. … Right now, I confess … that I believe that Jesus … was conceived in, and born of, a virgin, … that he led a sinless life, … and because of that sinless life … He was able to take my place in death, … suffering and dying for my sins, … to make me right with you, Father God. … Jesus, right now … I ask you to come into my heart, into my life. … Forgive me of all of my sins … Clean me up inside; … inside my heart, inside my spirit, inside my mind. … Tonight I give you my life. … I will serve you and love you for the remainder of my days. … In your name, the name of Jesus, I pray … Amen.
‘Amens’ sounded throughout the sanctuary. Brent found out that trying to keep back the flood of tears was futile. He grabbed at the box of tissues, buried his face in a handful, and he wept.
He wept because God had accomplished in him what he had thought impossible.
He wept because the fears and pains of his life were gently being washed away.
He wept because he knew, now, that God really was good.
He wept because he knew … he was free.
Is it possible that it’s really as simple as that? Just surrendering to an invisible person up there in the air somewhere?
Well, first, God is visible in his creation. He’s actually visible in you and me, as we were both created in His image. Second, as with Brent, it’s got to be more than looking at prayer as some sort of mantra or spell. You are not in charge of anything. God is. Therefore your freedom is a request to be made, not a command to be ushered forth. Just know, and be comforted by the fact, that God joins with the desperate in their places of darkness.
If you decide that you want to try this whole “God thing” to “see how it works,” you’re still not getting it. Jesus is real, He’s alive, and He really does care. It’s time to drop your pretentions, your guard, and your secular “reasoning” and take a step of faith. You do have enough faith to reach out, and God promises to be found by those who seek Him with all of their hearts. Not only did He say that, He also said, “Draw close to Me, and I will draw close to you.”
Should you make this most-important decision, follow it up by reaching out. While a relationship with Christ is most certainly deeply personal, it is certainly not meant to be private. If you know a Christian whom you respect, talk with him or her. Let that person know about your decision or that you want to make the decision to know Christ. Get into a solid, Bible-believing church. Ask for help in finding the right one. There are a lot of churches that are “Christian” in name only. And, yes, I know there are fakers and hypocrites in the church, but that’s primarily because churches aren’t for the perfect. True Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, Christian churches are places of healing for imperfect people. It’s okay. You’ll survive the experience and even become part of the solution. For me, it’s great being around a bunch of people who know they aren’t the answer to everything. We all still have challenges, but we’ve got each other’s backs.
If you need or want to talk further about the things contained herein, please feel free to contact me. Also, my novel, Deliver Us from Darkness, is available on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. It’s not just an exciting story.