When I was sixteen years old I had a dream that has never left me even until this day.
In the dream, I was sitting in a car that was on the side of a road in the low income projects area similar to the ones in Chicago. I saw the sky rise apartment buildings behind me and all of a sudden, there was gunfire shooting at me. I did not die, but drove off into the horizon. Then, that scene vanished and I saw a beautiful blue sky with clouds, and out of the sky a voice spoke to me and asked, “Are you willing to die for me?” I remember vividly saying “Yes” and then I woke up. I knew the voice in the dream was Jesus speaking to me, but I had no clue what that dream meant.
Over the next 15 years of my life, I would go through some of the most difficult trials and failures and experience God in a whole new light.
Shortly after experiencing my dream, I learned that my parents were getting divorced and then I was sexually abused by a friend of the family. This caused a lot of pain, distrust and anger in my life toward family and others and I did not know how to deal with it.
Afterward, in college, I went through a total questioning phase and almost gave up Christianity altogether because I was not experiencing the victorious life that God promised me. To make matters worse, I started having all these homosexual thoughts and feelings in my mind and I gave into them. I went into denial that this could be happening to me. These things happen to other people, but not to me. After all, I am above this or so I thought.
As reality sunk in, I was so scared and felt so alone. I did not know who I could turn to or how I was going to make it through all this confusion and turmoil. I remember thinking what a failure I was and how could anyone possibly love me with all of the mistakes I had made. I felt so dirty and beyond repair. In the midst of this storm, I was reading the Bible and this verse jumped off the page at me, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs,” (Matthew 5:3). For the first time in my life, I realized just how desperate I was for a Savior. I was so poor that I had nothing to offer God to earn my way into Heaven.
I used to think I was a good person and secretly judged and criticized others who did not measure up to my self-righteousness. I finally understood in the deepest part of my being that I was not good. I learned a huge truth that day – my righteousness does not depend on my performance, but on the finished work of Jesus Christ.
After almost 16 years of being a Christian, I finally experienced what it was like to receive real grace and mercy. I was loved by God and I knew it with all my heart. I began giving mercy to others who didn’t deserve it because I had received it from God and did not deserve it either. Little by little God began to change the way that I thought and I was able to forgive my parents for their divorce, the person who had abused me and even forgave myself for all the mistakes I had made. I truly was forgiven and now I could freely give it away.
I finally grasped what my dream had meant. The low income projects in the dream were a parallel to people who were poor in spirit and who found themselves in difficult seasons of life. God was going to use me to pull them out of the dumps of despair and teach them to know God as He healed me from my past mistakes. Jesus asked me if I was willing to die in the dream. In essence, God asked me if I was willing to die to my reputation and self-confidence and find my worth in Him alone and be willing to share my life story with others so they could be set free.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” (Galatians 2:20). The Apostle Paul understood that real value in this life is not attached to himself, but in being connected to God and being lead by Him.
God takes broken vessels and displays His power in and through them to shame the wisdom of the world. My life had been redeemed and is now being used to help so many people find Jesus Christ and forgiveness through Him. The Bible says that Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith. He sees the end from the beginning and He uses flawed people to do incredible things as they learn to yield their lives to God.
Do you feel like you have made too many mistakes for God to use you? I have good News for you; God can forgive any sin and redeem any life – you may feel broken but you are not destroyed.
Cory Nickols is a regular speaker and the Missions Director at Envision Life Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Check out Cory’s blog at [email protected]. For speaking engagements or more information on Cory, you can contact him at [email protected]