Now I lay me down to sleep,/I pray the Lord my soul to keep…”
As I grew up it was a ritual for me to go to bed saying that prayer. I remember one night, after we concluded this prayer and my father went to the door, my brother asked, “Daddy, what’s it like to die?” My father said, “It’s dark.” Then he turned off the lights and closed the door.
I can recall lying there listening to my brother cry uncontrollably. He was five and I was three. He was my idol.
For the next 14 ½ years of my life the most dominant thought on my mind was “if I should die before I wake”…”if I should die before I wake.”
My father represented to me love, hope, security and truth. But because of that one simple statement all these things took a back seat because I knew that one day I was going to die. As a child I didn’t know how to handle it. When I went to Sunday school and learned about God, I realized that God saw everything we did, be it good or bad, and he heard everything we said, good or bad. So it became my philosophy as a youngster to do good and outweigh the bad so that God would not reject me from his Kingdom.
Then as a six-year-old I was crippled with a disease called “perthese.” It was hard for me because people had a tendency to feel sorry for me, which I didn’t like, so I became competitive. I played baseball with a brace on my leg. I had to prove to people that I was capable of doing things. By the time I overcame the illness I was really competitive.
At the age of 13 death came my way again. This time it was a train accident. I was expected to live no more than 24 hours. (I had been crushed and then thrown 30 yards down the tracks. I had broken my pelvis in four places, dislocated my hips, broken my cheekbone, and had nine blood transfusions and 250 stitches in my face.) But I lived.
I spent nine weeks in the hospital and missed football season that eighth-grade year, but in ninth grade I became captain of the football team and won various school honors at Puyallup High School, including all-state in football. I was trying to accomplish everything that I could academically, socially, physically, thinking that if I did God would not keep me from his Kingdom.
So it went on. It came to a point where I just couldn’t do enough to please God. I said, “God, what do I have to do?”
By this time in my life I was beginning to develop another type of philosophy, the brotherhood of man philosophy – make the other guy’s path a little bit easier. Yet, all the time when my friends would come to me for help, I never felt that my advice was good enough. I couldn’t really offer anything that would change their lives. I couldn’t make their lives better. I tried to change my life to meet their needs. But I knew myself better than anyone else did and I couldn’t change my life. I had failed and I couldn’t cope with failure.
Then a friend, Rick Gienger, came to me and said, “Steve, I’m concerned for you. Let me show you a verse from the Bible. It says, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
I answered, “If this means that God doesn’t want me to gain the world, then what does he require of me?”
Rick said, “Well, let me ask you a few questions, Steve. What are you going to do with your life?”
I replied, “Well, I’m going to the University of Colorado and play football, settle down, get a job, and get married.”
“What will you do then?”
There it was: the very thing I had tried to overcome all my life. I still had no answers.
Several months later I went to an evangelistic meeting in the Baptist church. I heard a man speak as if he were revealing my life’s story. Afterward I talked to Rick’s Sunday school teacher, Dick Irwin, and the best I knew how I asked to receive Christ as my Savior. That evening, November 24, 1972, my senior year in high school, I prayed, “Lord Jesus, thank You for dying for me and cleansing my sins. Thank You for rising from the dead, for giving me victory over death. Jesus, thank You for coming into my life.”
I did not see angels, I never saw lightening, but I knew that something was different. Christ began to change me.
He settled that question about death and gave me assurance that “he who has the Son has life.”
He enabled me to love people and heal relationships with my family. And he has helped me to love my friends.
He gave me a purpose. I learned from Psalm 32:8: “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” God turned my “have tos” to “want tos.” I needed that. In our high school paper we had the “boy and girl of the month.” My picture was the last one that year and the caption over it read “Steve finds security in God.”
I met Steve Davis, a former quarterback for the University of Oklahoma, at a Hall of Fame banquet. He taught me about commitment. I realized that God was not so concerned about my ability as he was about my availability. So I asked, “God, what kind of man do You want me to be?”
And I found out. God wants a humble man, a man with a contrite spirit who will continually seek his will. God wants a man who will tremble at his Word – one who will obey him.
Jesus Christ has freed me from the fear in my mind about death. I no longer worry about it. He has shown me that there can be a consistency in my life. I don’t need to ride a roller coaster any more. I’m not afraid